Questions about a 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII – specifically, Malcom Butler’s pseudo-benching – may never dissipate.
Finally, however, Bill Belichick can mean it when he says the New England Patriots are on to 2018, as training camp officially opened in Foxboro Thursday morning.
It’s the 19th season for the Patriots under Belichick, during which time he’s amassed a 214-74 mark.
“Well, it’s a long day,” Belichick said. “It’s a big day. We have a lot of opportunities today to get better. Hopefully, we can maximize all of them or as many as possible. That’s our goal every day.”
Getting used to unfamiliar players in familiar numbers aside, everything seemed to be in order at Gillette Stadium. After skipping voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) in the off-season, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were on hand for the first day of training camp, even without any news on possible re-worked contracts for either player.
“I’m just focused on getting better and it’s just internal with stuff like that,” Gronkowski said after practice on his contract.
Gronkowski caught a touchdown pass from Brady during an 11-on-11 passing drill, but rather than unleashing a “Gronk spike” or chucking the ball up into the stratosphere as he’d done during the mandatory minicamp in June, he simply returned the ball to the line of the scrimmage and lined up for the next play.
Only Malcolm Mitchell was absent among players currently on the 90-man roster for New England, an ominous sign for the wide receiver who missed all of the 2017 season with a knee injury. Reports surfaced earlier in the week that not only did Mitchell have yet another procedure on his injured knee, the Patriots are gauging the trade value of the 25-year-old receiver.
“I’m not really going to engage in media speculation, unless you have some professional comment on that, which I haven’t seen any,” Belichick said on Wednesday prior to the beginning of camp on potentially shopping Mitchell. “I certainly haven’t talked to any media person about Malcolm Mitchell, so you’d have to talk to whoever that is.”
Mitchell’s uncertain status, along with Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension to begin the season – not to mention Kenny Britt, who opens camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list – leaves New England with as much uncertainty as its had at wide receiver in recent memory.
Chris Hogan, Philip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios and special teams captain Matthew Slater – also on PUP – round out the depth chart at wide receiver for Brady.
Cornerbacks Cyrus and Jonathan Jones, safety Nate Ebner and running back Brandon Bolden are also on PUP, eligible to come off the list at any time. Between Slater, Jonathan Jones, Ebner and Bolden, four of New England’s top special teamers find themselves on the PUP at the outset of camp.
Patterson, acquired in the off-season from the Oakland Raiders in March, should figure into New England’s plans in some way, shape or form. He was drafted 29th overall in 2013 by the Minnesota Vikings, where he returned five kickoffs for touchdowns over four seasons and is also a threat to run out of the backfield on end-arounds.
Patterson mentioned Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, as well as receivers coach Chad O’Shea when he spoke of his transition to New England. By bringing up O’Shea, it begged the question: does Patterson see himself as a wide receiver rather than a return man?
“I’m a guy that likes to compete, no matter where I am on the field,” Patterson said. “If it’s my opportunity to play kick returner, I’m going to go out and do my best. If it’s my opportunity to be a receiver, I’m going to do my best. It really doesn’t matter where I’m at on the field. I’m going to give it my all.”
Another newcomer to the roster for the Patriots is Trent Brown, an offensive tackle who spent the first three years of his career with the San Francisco 49ers. Brown played in every offensive snap for the 49ers at right tackle in 2016 and did the same in nine of 10 games last season before a shoulder injury shelved him for the year.
Brown is now vying for the starting job across the line at left tackle following Nate Solder’s departure, something he has minimal experience in during his tenure in the NFL.
Clearly, New England sees something in the 6-foot-8, 380-pound force, whose value as it to relates to where he was originally drafted (seventh round, 244th overall) has skyrocketed.
“I mean, for me, being a seventh-round [draft pick] and being traded for a third-rounder to the Patriots, of all teams, I’d say that speaks volumes of increasing value,” Brown said.
The Patriots gave up a third-round pick in April’s draft to get Brown while also receiving San Francisco’s fifth-round pick, which they used on linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley out of Purdue.
New England returns to the practice field on Friday morning at 9:15 a.m. Brady isn’t expected to talk to the media tomorrow, but is expected at the podium at some point over the weekend, according to the Patriots’ media relations staff.