Bill Belichick met with reporters on a video conference call on Friday, an informal kickoff to what will be a much different training camp in 2020.
"Always good to start camp and get into the process, it's a little bit different this year," acknowledged Belichick. With the NFL and the players coming to a deal just last week, the head coach stressed that safety was paramount and that the Patriots organization had effectively implemented a host of changes to make training camp possible.
"We've tried to move quickly to accommodate everything that's been put in front of us," said Belichick. "The number one thing is safety, for everybody involved -- players, staff, the organization, all our support people and so forth. Biggest thing is to try to start the season healthy.
"Organizationally, Robert and the Kraft family has responded with facility upgrades at the highest level, to put ourselves in the safest environment."
Patriots players have begun arriving, requiring multiple negative coronavirus tests before they can access the facility. With those tests wrapping up, the team hopes to finally meet and embark on an August that will effectively be a condensed version of their usual offseason that runs from mid-April to the kickoff of the regular season.
Belichick said the team made the most of their virtual offseason.
"The meetings were beneficial for all of us, for the players and the staff and we have a couple new staff members," said Belichick. "But just bringing things together, I felt like we did what we could do. We got a lot out of the opportunities we had. They were different than being able to go on the field and practice no question about that. That's what it was, we tried to take advantage of that and we'll continue to do that. We get opportunities, we'll use them as best we can."
Now the team turns the page, starting to build up to the normal kind of training camp practice in a few weeks.
"As of Monday we'll be moving into our phase one of our offseason program," explained Belichick. "I feel like this is a little bit of a combination of March when we sign our free agents. Also kind of a combination of rookie minicamp, the first minicamp after the draft."
As usual, Belichick kept things general when it came to specific players and position battles, including Cam Newton and the quarterbacks. But he acknowledged that the team did their homework on Newton and felt like it could be a good marriage.
"Things worked out," said Belichick of landing the 2015 MVP. "We spent quite a bit of time with Cam, he spent quite a bit of time with us, and I think there was some mutual interest. I'm glad it worked out."
Nothing will be easy about this preseason. That reality hit home this week when six Patriot players announced they would be opting out, but Belichick said he had nothing but respect for the deeply personal decisions that the players face.
"I respect all of them," said Belichick of his veteran players that will sit out this season, while accepting there could still be more opt outs. "I respect all the players on our team, we all have to make decisions. I talked to all those guys and they explained their situation. They had to make the decision that was best for them and I totally respect and support it one hundred percent."
Beyond the roster, there will also be no preseason games this summer. That is just one of many challenges that will make getting players on the same page especially difficult. However, Belichick pointed out college football doesn't play a preseason schedule so it really shouldn't be all that foreign.
"That's what college teams do every year," said Belichick. "You go to camp for three weeks and then you start the season. There are no preseason games, and you evaluate your team and get ready to play. That's what all college football teams do. I don't think it's anything that's revolutionary here.
"This is just football, that's all. I don't really see it any differently."
A more complex challenge that has certainly been delayed is tailoring the team's scheme to their strengths, but in Belichick's view the players all need to learn how to walk in the system before they can get creative.
"It's really the same for all positions," explained Belichick. "You set up a general structure that you implement. Everybody needs to learn certain fundamentals, certain basics and every player, no matter how long he's played, whether he's played two years or 20 years, there's still a basic progression to training camp at that player's position.
"I don't think you start off in training camp with your team putting in a triple reverse and a double reverse pass, things like that that might highlight a particular player or that type of thing. Those are the kind of things that come down the road a little bit. In order to be a good football team, you need to be good fundamentally, you need to be sound, everybody needs to be able to execute basics assignments, techniques, make basic adjustments and those transcend to everybody in every unit. I don't think there's any way around that."
It will be a different training camp for everyone, but Belichick was quick to praise the job his players have done and no matter the circumstances, expects the team will be ready for whatever opportunities they get.
"The players have done an excellent job of coming back, virtually of course, to this point, but coming back and staying on top of a lot of the information that we gave them in the spring. I think we'll be able to move forward when we get the opportunity on the field, football-wise.
"It will be a little while here, but I think we'll be ready to go when it's time to kick in."