FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots are ready to hit players wearing other jerseys.
''It's always fun,'' defensive end Rob Ninkovich said Tuesday, after the Patriots finished their final full workout before the defending Super Bowl champions' Thursday night preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers at home.
''Definitely, when you can get out there and start tackling people and getting in the flow of the game and going against different skills sets and different offensive linemen, it's always fun to test your techniques on different linemen out there.''
The Patriots worked out in the rain Tuesday, without quarterback Tom Brady. Brady was preparing for a Wednesday hearing in the legal dispute over his suspension for using underinflated footballs.
Without Brady, the quarterback play was predictably spotty, but it was clear afterward the players were ready for their first game action - and to really hit people.
''Football is meant to be played in full pads and going full blast,'' Ninkovich said. ''It's definitely exciting for a lot of guys to get out there and play together.''
''It's good to look forward to Thursday night and playing the Packers and just getting out there and seeing some different looks,'' said fullback James Develin. ''Training camp is always a grind . but we definitely look forward to getting out there in a game situation.''
Brady, who has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season, can play the preseason games. But he didn't play in the preseason opener last year, the fourth time in his career he skipped the first game.
Whether or not Brady plays, second-year man Jimmy Garoppolo will take the next step in his development - and toward perhaps being the starter for the first four games of the regular season.
''We'll see what happens,'' Garoppolo said.
Asked if he wants to see the Brady matter decided before the Sept. 10 opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Garoppolo said, ''Whenever it happens it happens, I really can't control that so I'm not really worried about it.''
Garoppolo says it's ''much different'' for him entering his second preseason than when he was a rookie. ''I was very new back then,'' he said. ''Just the comfortability of the offense ... much more than it was last year. It's awesome to get back out there (Thursday). The games are ... this is fun and everything but the games are what we play for. It's exciting. It's going to be fun.''
''It's going well,'' he said. ''I think this is a phenomenal coaching staff. It's a great quarterback room with Jimmy and Tom and I'm trying to learn definitely at warp speed coming in here and having to play on Thursday. So we'll see what happens. You just take what you can every day.''
NOTES: Wide receiver Aaron Dobson returned to practice after missing time with an undisclosed injury, but slot receiver Julian Edelman still didn't take part in the rain. ... Coach Bill Belichick on practicing in wet weather: ''We're ready for anything. We're like the mail - must go through.'' Belichick on getting Deflategate settled before the season opener: ''Today we're just focused on this practice and getting ready for Green Bay.'' ... Former Patriots fullback Heath Evans was in camp doing interviews for the NFL Network.