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Ready for football, 12,393 fans show at Patriots' opening practice

Spectators packed the bleachers and viewing areas at Gillette Stadium for the first practice of Patriots training camp. AP Photo/Steven Senne

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Where to start when it comes to the top storylines of the first practice of New England Patriots training camp?

The quarterbacks are well covered, and special-teams captain Matthew Slater donning Nate Ebner's No. 43 was a feel-good story.

Here's another thing that was hard to miss: 12,393 fans in attendance.

That was the announced crowd by the Patriots on Thursday as spectators packed the bleachers by the opening of practice at 9:15 a.m. as well as the hillside in the end zone of one practice field. One sign in the front row of the bleachers read "Canada Loves the Patriots."

The cheers were loud at times, such as when fan favorite Rob Gronkowski first arrived on the practice field. There were also some hard-to-miss groans of disappointment, such as when tight end Martellus Bennett dropped a pass early in practice.

And there were three separate chants of "Brad-y! Brad-y! Brad-y!" -- the first coming eight minutes into the practice and another delivered when quarterback Tom Brady found Gronkowski for a touchdown during a drill in which there was no defense.

"The fans add a lot; it's super cool. You've got to give huge credit to our fans. They are always there during practice, during games, during tough times, during the good times," Gronkowski said. "Hopefully they keep on staying loud and proud."

With the fan support as the springboard to look deeper at practice, here is a quick-hit recap of what we saw, with an attempt at humor here and there:

Collins a notable absence. After reporting for training camp Wednesday, linebacker Jamie Collins was not present at practice. The absence was anticipated by the team.

Sun's out, guns out for Belichick. Yes, that was Bill Belichick going with the muscle-shirt look with the high-cut sleeves around the shoulders. Watch out, Ed Hochuli.

Thuney and Cooper at guard. One day after offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia talked about the importance of continuity, it was notable that third-round pick Joe Thuney (left) and trade acquisition Jonathan Cooper (right) continued to be the top options at guard. In the competition at center headlined by Bryan Stork and David Andrews, it was Stork as the top option on Day 1.

Good day for the paddles. Patriots staffers held paddles at the line of scrimmage and they were effective in disrupting throwing lanes for quarterbacks. Brady's second attempt in 7-on-7 was rejected by a paddle, and Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett also had deliveries batted down. Usually the staffers keep the paddles mostly stationary, but in this practice they moved them around in an obvious attempt to knock passes down.

Health report. Cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon were in red, noncontact jerseys. ... Defensive end Jabaal Sheard had his left ankle retaped at one point and it appeared to bother him a bit during his walk off the field. ... Of the seven players on PUP and one on NFI, guard Shaq Mason might be the first to be ready to practice. He appeared to take some reps early in practice with his helmet on but wasn't spotted much after that.

Heads-up play of the day. Running back Tyler Gaffney, playing on the front line of the kickoff-return unit, backed up Chris Hogan on an onside kick attempt that Hogan didn't initially corral. Gaffney was there, however, to cover it up. Later, cornerback E.J. Biggers was ready on the front line for another onside kick attempt and made the play.

Kickoff return in focus. Special teams are always a big part of practice and kickoff return was the focus on Day 1, with receiver Keshawn Martin and cornerback Cyrus Jones the top returners. The 2-hour, 8-minute practice ended with field-goal work.

Extra points. Free-agent signing Shea McClellin, who played off-the-line linebacker in 2015 with the Bears, continues to work with the defensive ends. ... Receiver Aaron Dobson showed up with a few nice grabs in team drills, one in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. ... Rookie receiver Devin Lucien made a diving touchdown catch in 7-on-7 red-zone drills along the left side. ... Good defensive plays in team drills from Biggers (swatting the ball out of the hands of running back Donald Brown), cornerback Justin Coleman (pass breakup in end zone), and safety Jordan Richards (batting ball away from Gronkowski in the end zone). ... Owner Robert Kraft arrived on the field about 75 minutes into practice and he signed some autographs for fans. ... One reporter spotted veteran receiver Nate Washington throwing up. ... Former Patriots running back Sammy Morris was present as he appeared to be working with the coaching staff. He did something similar in spring camps. ... Monti Ossenfort, the director of college scouting, was present with what appeared to be some college coaches, one of whom wore a Harvard hat. ... With top punt returners Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola still on PUP, it was Chris Harper, Jones and Martin as top options in some punt-return side work. ... The 2016 honor for first players to arrive for practice goes to safety Vinnie Sunseri and linebacker Kevin Snyder.

FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE: Bill Belichick news conference at 8:45 a.m.; practice at 9:15 a.m.