While certain hot-aired division rivals claim “we won the offseason,” don’t expect that sort of talk coming out of New England. If any team wanted to declare themselves the class of the league, it would be the Patriots and their record-tying five straight AFC Championship appearances, but head coach Bill Belichick will have none of that.
“We're at the bottom like everybody else in the league is, starting all over again,” Belichick said in his Wednesday press conference. “We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot of work to do but it's exciting to start on that trip. “
Belichick is in charge of setting the tone for the entire franchise and he wants his players focused on getting better every day. If the team thinks they’re at the pinnacle of the sport- if they “won” anything during the offseason- then they will become complacent, in his view.
“Look, everybody has got a lot of work to do,” Belichick continued. “I haven't coached a game. Our players haven't played a game in a long time. We've all got a lot of work to do and there's no shortcut to it. There's no magic pill you can take. You've got to go out there and do it. So, that's what we all need to do; me, assistant coaches, veteran players, rookie players, everybody. We just need to go out there and grind through it day after day and work at it and get better. There's no shortcut. There's no secret to it. We've just got to go out there and grind our way through it.”
Not only are these true statements (other than “I haven’t coached a game.” C’mon Bill.), these quotes are extremely intentional. Belichick and his coaching staff are holding up a magnifying glass to the roster and are openly harping on the little things during practice so live action games are easier.
Free safety Devin McCourty was asked if he felt that the defense was ahead of schedule thanks to the continuity and collective experience of the starters, but McCourty revealed how the coaches nip that in the bud.
“It feels like that,” McCourty stated, “but I think it always feels like that until the first play when you don't communicate and Matty P [Matt Patricia] and Bill [Belichick] are ripping us, you feel like you're back at the beginning.”
“The thing that's remarkable about Bill is his approach,” special teams captain Matthew Slater agreed. “He hasn't changed at all, and that consistency in his attitude and preparation, the things that he values and the things he tries to stress to his team. It's really remarkable. I think it would be easy for him to become complacent. It's human nature, once you have success you kind of exhale and think you have it figured out. And if anyone has it figured out it's Bill Belichick. But you wouldn't know it by the way he prepares, by the urgency with which he coaches us, the hours he puts in.”
While Belichick sets the tone, Slater points out that it’s the players that have to buy into the mentality.
“I really think that there's only so much of an impact that a coach can have on a team if he doesn't have players that are on board with him,” Slater continued. “I like to compare our situation to other sports teams. You look at the San Antonio Spurs, and the thing you always hear is how Coach Popovich coached Tim Duncan and how Tim Duncan always fell in line, and I compare that to Tom.
“Coach Belichick coaches Tom hard, but Tom always does what he's asked to do, he's selfless, he puts the team first, and he works hard. And if your best player is doing that, then how are you going to do anything other than that if you're a newcomer? So, I think that it really helps to have players that buy into what coach is preaching, that really understand what we're trying to accomplish, and that is what the 'Patriot Way' is all about. It's really carried out and executed by players like Tom and Devin that have been here for a while.”
So the Patriots will approach the preseason like they’re starting at the “bottom”, even though there are 28 other teams in the league that wish they were in New England’s position. Belichick will deflect questions about the starting quarterback because that removes the focus from the now and looks towards the future.
Belichick will make sure every single player is focused on today and learning whatever is on the schedule, instead of looking towards the regular season, and the players will be responsible for following through with the orders.