Tedy Bruschi came walking off the Gillette Stadium practice field for a mandatory meeting with the media hordes, and as he was surrounded by cameras and bodies there was a moment of awkward silence - 30 people, suddenly lost for words.
Finally, Bruschi broke the spell.
"What's up, everybody?" he said. "Somebody got a question?"
A year earlier when Patriots veterans prepared to report to camp, there were nothing but questions about Bruschi. Would he play, just months after suffering a stroke? Could he play? Should he play?
In the end, he didn't show up for that camp, or any other camp. He began the season out of the spotlight, on the PUP list, and the Patriots suffered without him. Their once-solid defense was suddenly subpar, and only a soft AFC East kept the problem from becoming dire.
Then Bruschi came back. And when he returned, the Patriots defense started healing, week by week, until it was playoff ready. Were it not for a few painful plays in the AFC semifinals vs. Denver, the Patriots could have won their third straight Super Bowl.
But that was then, and this is now. And as they opened minicamp Tuesday morning, Bruschi was just well, Bruschi. No sideshow dramas, just good, solid football. Rosevelt Colvin said that's the only kind they play in red-white-and-blue.
"Everyone's just trying to acclimate themselves and get ready," he said. "It's the team. It's each player, trying to be their part of the team. That's it."
And that was the tone of minicamp, which opened with one minor controversy and a whole lot of focus on football.
The controversy was the absence of Deion Branch. The Pats' No. 1 wideout is AWOL from this camp, presumably because he's working on a one-year contract. Tom Brady, for one, wasn't too worried about it.
"I've been working with him, he's in great shape, he looks good," Brady said. "It's not going to take long for him (to catch up). When he gets back, it's going to be like he never missed a day."
And controversy can provide opportunity. Undrafted WR Matt Shelton, a flyer from Notre Dame, is probably at or near the bottom of the 12-wideout depth chart. But with only eight receivers actually in camp, Shelton got some reps with the first team.
"When I do get an opportunity, I'm just hoping to make the most of it," he said. "It's a lot of hard work, for sure."
The first day working with veterans was a good one for Shelton.
"There's a lot of leadership on this team," he said. "You're out there working, and learning, and the vets are there leading."
Even second-year players like Matt Cassel are in the swing of leading by example.
"I've got a year in the system, and I feel like I know what to expect," Cassel said. "Everyone's out here trying to get better, and I'm just trying to be part of that."
Just remember, on Planet Patriot, it's all about working hard and helping the team - and no job is safe in June.
Right, Tom Brady?
"Hey, I'm competing for a job too," Brady said. "I'm trying to prove myself every day out there."
The best part was, he said it with a straight face.
Virginia coach Al Groh, who took the New York Jets job Bill Belichick turned down in 2000, was on hand Tuesday morning. The subject of Ben Roethlisberger came up frequently during the media session, but the sentiment was the more or less same across the board - relief that the Steeler QB was OK, and that Veteran tackle Matt Light didn't have much to say about any of the possible changes the Pats are facing. "It's always strange not seeing guys out there, but I don't bother myself with that," he said. "I guess I've got enough things to worry about trying to get myself ready." As usual, the last man on the field after the morning session was offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, running windsprints across the practice field. Corey Dillon looked lean, mean and happy. He was laughing with teammates throughout the morning session, and appeared to be free of whatever physical ailments accumulated in 2005. Rookie WR Chad Jackson got a lot of attention from the coaches and quarterbacks. Daniel Graham didn't see the morning session but was reportedly seen around the facilities in the afternoon. Other non-participants: S Rodney Harrison, DL Jarvis Green, C Dan Koppen, OLs Nick Kaczur and Brandon Gorin, DBs Artrell Hawkins, Randall Gay and Raymond Ventrone, RB Patrick Pass. Bill Belichick on new DL Johnathan Sullivan, traded from New Orleans last week: "(Sullivan) used the words 'starting over,' I don't know if that's right or not, but there's certainly something to that. There are a lot of things done in some schemes that aren't done in others, and this is a good case where there's a contrast." Sullivan, who didn't live up to potential in New Orleans, was humble and soft-spoken in his media interviews. With the entire team watching to add a spice of pressure, rookie kicker Steve Gostkowski just snuck a 44-yard field goal attempt over the bar. Martin Gramatica had one blocked by Richard Seymour, who didn't leave his feet. Tebucky Jones was back in his old No. 34 uniform like nothing had ever changed; he saw the majority of the snaps in the morning session. Rookie Laurence Maroney looked smooth and quick. The camp continues Wednesday and Thursday at Gillette; all sessions are closed to the public.
Jonathan Comey is a special contributor to Patriots Insider. A long time Patriots beat reporter for local media outlets, Jonathan's articles can be found regularly here on Patriots Insider by searching for "Jonathan Comey" in the archives. You can read his blog on his wesbite www.jonathancomey.com.
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