With less than 24 hours remaining until the first practice of 2021 Training Camp, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reminded everyone that it is a new year, and a new beginning.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday morning, Belichick wiped clean all memories of 2020. Despite the high level of anticipation, stemming from the Pats’ exciting offseason additions, New England will continue to take things one day at a time. No spot is guaranteed and each player is responsible for earning their time on the field.
“Every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is,” Belichick said. “It’s a new season. We’ve done some things in the spring, but this is really the start of football season in terms of the team-building part here in training camp. We all have a lot of work to do. That includes all of us. Until we go out and do anything I’d say it’s pretty much a clean slate.”
On Tuesday, all veterans were expected to have reported to camp, with the team starting practices for the first time on Wednesday morning. Belichick advised that the first few days of this season’s camp would more closely resemble spring practices (no-pads, little-to-no contact) for longer than it has in the past. In fact, it might be early August before we get a look at this 2021 iteration of the Pats in pads.
Still, the competition amongst players is expected to commence quickly. Belichick added that the “clean slate” mentality is not just limited to players. The coaching staff also will have to prove themselves over the course of camp, earning the trust and respect of the players.
Unlike their 2021 counterparts, the Patriots 2021 rookie class will have the benefit of a full training camp, as well as three preseason games in which to showcase their talent. Despite the hype being thrust upon rookies such as quarterback Mac Jones (by members of the fanbase, and media alike), Belichick warned against placing lofty expectations on highly-touted rookies.
“You just have to take it day by day and see how it comes along. Some young players start fast and fizzle out; some start slow and come on strong; some start fast and keep it at that level; some players never really have a big impact. I’m not really big on the expectations,” Belichick said.
At the end of the day, training camp is, was and always will be a time for players and coaches to learn about each other. Whether it be the most wide-eyed of rookies, or the most seasoned of veterans, camp time is a fresh start. Belichick reiterated that point on Tuesday by saying:
“We’ll go out there, continue the process we started in the spring and we’ll see how all the players and our team come along and how it all fits together. I don’t know exactly how that’s going to go, and I’m sure we’ll see some things along the way that we haven’t prepared for that we’ll have to adjust to. That’s part of football, and part of coaching, and part of the season. I think we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Although training camp is a time for new beginnings, some things seldom change.
Belichick, never one to enthusiastically indulge in hypotheticals, took a predictable approach when asked directly about the status of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver N’Keal Harry. The future of both players in a Patriots uniform has been a cause for speculation in recent weeks.
In each instance, however, Belichick was not in a divulgatory mood.
When asked about Gilmore’s status: Belichick replied:
“Yeah, we’re not going to talk publicly about contracts.”
With regard to Harry’s status, Belichick answered in kind.
“Not going to talk about contracts and personal situations,” he stated.
Gilmore is entering the final year of his contract. He failed to report for June’s mandatory minicamp, reportedly in hopes of securing a contract extension or pay raise from the Patriots. As for Harry, the oft-maligned wideout is apparently seeking a new team. His agent, Jamal Tooson, publicly requested a trade on behalf of his client in early July.
Amidst continuous offseason speculation, Gilmore reported to camp last week. However, he was promptly placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after suffering a quad injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve in 2020. Despite his apparent trade request, Harry is expected to report to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday.