For someone just days away from the start of a month-long suspension, Julian Edelman is in a surprisingly good mood. Inside the Patriots locker room Tuesday, the 32-year-old receiver held court with reporters and spent much of the time laughing and cracking wise.
Edelman must stay entirely away from his Patriots teammates, coaches, staff, and Gillette Stadium altogether during Weeks 1-4 of the regular season, his punishment for offseason violation of the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy. He acknowledged that he's already made plans for how he'll train during the month of September, but when pressed for specifics, replied, "I'm going to keep that public… or private."
Though he laughed at his own gaffe, he also confessed to feeling the emotional strain of knowing that he'll soon be temporarily separated from the organization.
"It's been a hard week," he continued. "It's definitely been a reality check, but I'm not going to sit here and worry about things I can't control. Ultimately, I put myself in this situation.
"I definitely put a lot more value into these practices, every opportunity I've had this week to do extra. Yeah, I won't be there for the first four [games in September], so, I don't want to go into those weeks saying, 'I wish I would've done this or that.'"
Normally, high-profile players like Edelman sit out the final preseason game, but given his unfortunate situation, he didn't rule out the possibility of sneaking in some game reps Thursday night against the New York Giants. After that, he'll begin serving his sentence.
During the forced hiatus, Edelman plans to do what he can to heal his body from the rigors of training camp while maintaining his football conditioning as best he can. He said he's sought the advice of a "very helpful" QB Tom Brady, who was in a similar position two seasons ago for other reasons.
Of course, Edelman will also closely follow his Patriots teammates by watching every game in which he's not involved.
"I'm still part of the team," he explained. "I'm excited for the guys that are going to get opportunities and for this 2018 season. A lot of guys worked hard and have done some good things. You've seen improvement. It's been a competitive group.
"There's definitely been some good stuff," he concluded about his summer on the whole, "a lot I've taken notes on that I'll be working on with [former Patriots defensive end Rob] Ninkovich chasing me around with his pads on. That's what we're going to do."
Edelman paused to let what he'd just said sink into reporter's brains.
"That's a joke… or is it?" he laughed.
Cut to the chase
Following the Giants game, head coach Bill Belichick and his coaching and personnel staffs will be busy making difficult final roster decisions. Part of that process includes examining players who've been let go from other teams, but who might fit with New England.
Before then, though, the players currently on the Patriots roster have one last chance to impress the staff with their performances Thursday at MetLife Stadium.
"If a player's improving, then you're most likely to take the high water mark," Belichick told reporters, "as opposed to where he was three weeks ago when you feel like he's passed that and he's shown that that wasn't the player that he was. He's taken the experience, the coaching, the reps that he's had, and he's become more efficient at those things, whatever the position is.
"So, when you see that improvement, then you start to weigh what happened most recently over mistakes that were made a month ago, if you feel like those have been corrected and that we've moved past those. That's the most important word for any player, young or old. But, especially players with less experience."
"Just go hard, play hard. Give it all you got this game," tight end Rob Gronkowski advised players who might find themselves in a precarious roster position come Thursday night. "I mean, you're not just showcasing for the Patriots but you could possibly be showcasing for around the league. So just play hard, do the best you can and finish plays."
Dealing with it
Reporters wouldn't let Gronkowski out of their grasp before asking him about the mega-contracts signed this week by guard Shaq Mason and Giants receiver Odell Beckham.
"Those are great players," he said. "It's always good to see guys like that that got that talent – I'm in for the players always. I mean, I'm a player, so it's good to see that."
Media reports have suggested since the offseason that Gronkowski is angling for a reworked deal with the Patriots.
"I'm always open for that," he admitted, adding, "That's not really my focus. I got a long season ahead and just trying to focus on what I need to really do and just let everything else play out."
Media were only granted access to watch the Patriots stretch at the start of Tuesday's practice. It seemed, however, that the same four Patriots who didn't suit up Monday were not on the field Tuesday, either: linebacker Harvey Langi (kidney, according to media reports), offensive lineman Luke Bowanko (unknown), rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (left Achilles), and rookie tight end Ryan Izzo (unknown).
This marked the final padded practice of training camp and the preseason. New England will conduct a walkthrough session on Wednesday before flying to the New York area.