FOXBORO -- The Patriots are officially one fifth of the way through their OTA practices for the spring of 2018, meaning it's early. Very early. So if there's plenty to clean up, and of course there is, that's to be expected.
Here are some of the observations we came away with from Tuesday's session . . .
* Maybe it was a subtle nod to the fact that two captains, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, were still missing from workouts. Maybe it wasn't. But the face that Bill Belichick went out of his way to laud the leadership the team's received during spring work -- from players both young and (relatively) old -- seemed notable. Belichick is famously meticulous in his preparation, even when it comes to public relations. To bring up leadership in an opening statement at a press conference, at a time when two of his leaders have dominated headlines for their absence, didn't seem like a coincidence.
* The workout seemed to be lacking a certain level of crispness with Brady missing. Again, it's early. Whether Brady and Gronkowski were on the field or not, there was going to be plenty to iron out for the Patriots offense. But the number of footballs rolling around on the ground after passing plays seemed to be unusual -- even for a spring workout. Having a future Hall of Fame quarterback to run the show in OTAs demands a certain level of focus, and provides a measure of intensity, that might've been lacking Tuesday.
* Julian Edelman was not a full participant in the practice -- he didn't take part in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work and did rehab work on a lower field -- but he looked confident in the reps he received. His cuts seemed aggressive, and he showed real enthusiasm on what happened to be his 32nd birthday. Edelman was often one of the first in line, if not the first, for different periods . . . including special-teams periods when he fielded punts. If a patient's faith in his surgically-repaired knee is one of the last hurdles in the rehab process, it looked Edelman had already met and cleared the bar in that regard. He tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Lions last August and missed the 2017 season.
* Speaking of punt returners: Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Chris Hogan and Patrick Chung all lined up for a shot at a return at some point during the afternoon. Hogan muffed one.
* Malcolm Mitchell (who practiced on Monday), Dont'a Hightower, Trey Flowers, Joe Thuney, Jonathan Jones, Brandon Bolden and Cody Hollister were not spotted Tuesday. Flowers' availability bears watching. Derek Rivers and Adrian Clayborn saw a good deal of edge work with Flowers out. Marcus Cannon, Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Nate Ebner, Marcus Cannon and Lawrence Guy all did some rehab work on a lower field. With three tackles among those still not 100 percent, Cole Croston and LaAdrian Waddle got plenty of work there.
* The Patriots had visitors from the football programs at Mississippi State, LSU, Miami and Iowa at Gillette Stadium. Belichick has welcomed college programs in for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during OTAs before -- last year it was the Vanderbilt staff that got a peek -- but to have so many schools represented at one session was not something we've seen from Belichick (at least during OTAs open to the media) in recent years. Josh McDaniels' brother Ben, an offensive analyst at Michigan, according to MLive.com, was also keeping an eye on the practice. The Patriots have two rookies from Miami in Berrios and undrafted defensive lineman Trent Harris. Miami coach Mark Richt, whose last job was as head coach at Georgia, also recruited all five Georgia products who now happen to be Patriots. Iowa is the only other school on the Patriots roster that features five players.
* Former Arkansas coach Brett Bielema, whose staff got an OTA behind-the-scenes look at the Patriots in 2014, was in full Patriots gear and doing some coaching Tuesday. One of the areas he was involved with was on punt and punt-return plays. The Patriots have not yet announced a role for Bielema this season. He coached Arkansas products Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Cody Hollister. Bielema also coached James White during his time at Wisconsin.
* Keion Crossen made what might've been the play of the day when he attacked a Brian Hoyer pass in the end zone for an interception. The seventh-round pick out of Western Carolina was in coverage on White on the play. Crossen's speed is what helped him get noticed at the Wake Forest pro day before this year's draft. But on a short field, his ball skills stood out.
* Brian Flores wore the head set for the defense during team periods, an expected development for the linebackers coach who is presumed to be taking on defensive coordinator duties this season. The entire defensive staff did not let up on their linemen Tuesday as laps were handed out as punishment for anyone committing penalties. Danny Shelton, Geneo Grissom, Marquis Flowers and Adam Butler were all sent running at one point.
* A couple of notes from the receiver position, which might be the deepest on the roster at the moment: Cordarrelle Patterson's size and athleticism stand out, which he put on display when he boxed out a defender and easily plucked a pass out of the air in the end zone; Patterson's understanding of where to be and when still needs some refining, from what we saw Tuesday; Jordan Matthews got work as a gunner opposite Matthew Slater.
* Jerry Schuplinski continues to be the young quarterback whisperer. First it was Jimmy Garoppolo, then Jacoby Brissett. Now it's Danny Etling. Schuplinski, assistant quarterbacks coach, works closely with young quarterbacks in order to bring them along. Sometimes, as was the case Tuesday, that work includes going through mental exercises without a football in between periods of actually having to throw.
* The team finished up its work with runs up the hills -- or the new Mount Belichick? -- to get in some extra conditioning. The Patriots will practice again on Thursday. The next session open to reporters will be the team's fifth practice on May 31.