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Bill Belichick and defending champion Patriots begin 'long journey'

Bill Belichick’s Patriots kicked off 2015 with the opening of the team’s offseason program Monday in Foxborough.

The Patriots are back at Gillette Stadium for their offseason workout program on Monday, April 20, 2015.

On Feb. 1 the Patriots culminated the 2014 season the way all 32 NFL teams wished they could have.

The dramatic win in Super Bowl XLIX kicked off a couple months of celebration in New England that included duck boat parades, late-night TV appearances and Red Sox opening day at Fenway Park. It will even continue later this week with a Thursday trip to the White House and later this summer with a ring ceremony at the home of owner Robert Kraft.

But in bit of a reality check, the work toward the 2015 season kicked off Monday morning at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots began the offseason program with workouts as part of the nine-week program that leads up to the team's mandatory mini-camp in June. Celebration is in the past, work is on the to-do list.

"One step along the way of a long journey," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of the beginning of the offseason program. "A good start in the offseason program leads to a good start in OTAs which leads to training camp, etc., etc., etc."

Monday marked a somewhat official albeit voluntary line in the sand for the players. The championship of 2014 is now in the past. The journey toward 2015 and trying to defend that title has now begun.

The challenge of turning the page is one that all championship coaches face. It's a battle between a team trying to defend its previous title while simply working to win another title, a seemingly minor but at the same time significant difference.

One step along the way of a long journey. A good start in the offseason program leads to a good start in OTAs which leads to training camp, etc., etc., etc.

It's a fine line for a coach that Belichick himself acknowledged in the Op-Ed piece he wrote in the New York Times in January of 2003, after his 2002 New England squad had not only failed to defend its title but failed to even reach the postseason.

"You'll tiptoe on the line between helping your players forget that they're the champions and helping them remember why they're the champions," wrote at the time in what was an open letter to a yet-to-be-determined Super Bowl-winning coach.

It's a challenge that Belichick faces yet again, this time with the experience of having achieved the goal with the 2003 and 2004 Patriots won back-to-back titles.

"Yes, feel the same way and we have already started to address it," Belichick said of what he wrote in the Times. "Every year is different--we can draw from past experiences, but every team is different."

As much as he's probably enjoyed some of the post-Super Bowl celebrations and his annual scouting trips to college campuses, Belichick also very much enjoys a return to work with his team, as the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty and the rest returned to Gillette Stadium, to get back at it on Monday.

"I enjoy the entire process of team building and preparing for the season -- it is always good to work directly with the players from the most inexperienced rookies to the most experienced veterans," Belichick added.

Logistically the first two weeks of the offseason program focus on strength and condition work as well as continued rehabilitation work for players with prior injuries. As such there isn't any individual coaching at this point. Still, as Belichick said, it's the first step in a long journey.

"We follow the NFL rules regarding Phase I-we have some constraints," Belichick said of his interaction with his players at this point. "Eventually, I will talk to every individual, but initially my conversations will be more with groups or the entire team."

And as those conversations play out and expand, Belichick will look to begin molding his team toward the ultimate goal. It's a goal his team celebrated Feb. 1. A goal it will have to work toward for nearly nine more months if it wants to celebrate it again.

The long journey has begun.

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