If you were to compile a list of reasons why the Patriots have enjoyed tremendous growth for nearly the past two decades, you'd start with the top three. Undoubtedly, New England has flourished under the ownership of the Kraft family, the tutelage of head coach Bill Belichick, and the on-field direction of QB Tom Brady.
Any team with quality and stability in those three areas would have a great chance of winning in the NFL, but this particular troika's achievements on and off the field are unrivaled since the turn of the millennium.
Another reason for the Patriots' sustained success might go unnoticed to many observers, but is no less deserving of consideration: the relative consistency of Belichick's coaching staff. The Patriots had essentially the same assistant coaches for the past several seasons – two of which ended with Super Bowl titles – and enter 2017 with all but one assistant returning for training camp.
"Yeah, I feel like we have a good staff. I mean, these guys work hard. They all do a good job," Belichick remarked Wednesday on the eve of the first training camp practice, when his entire coaching staff was made available for media interviews.
Topping Belichick's assistant coaching organizational chart, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, and Joe Judge have been in place as coordinators of the offense, defense, and special teams respectively for the past several years, another anomaly in the often high-turnover world of NFL coaching. This means that returning players can rely on well-established playbooks and a bank of fundamental knowledge of terminology and communication processes from which to start the new season.
Less time therefore needs to be dedicated to learning whole new systems, as would be the case if new coaches and philosophies were cycled in and out on a more regular basis. Players can also count on a streamlined day-to-day work schedule that allows them to maximize their off-field preparation, as well as their all-important practice time, particularly in these early stages of training camp and the preseason.
"We have a lot of consistency on our entire staff. I thought that was very helpful this year in a relatively short offseason [following the Super Bowl LI victory]," continued Belichick. "Those guys were able to get into things pretty quickly. There wasn't really a catching-new-staff-members-up [period] or bringing them up to speed or going over things. Pretty much everybody's been through everything that we're doing, both in the offseason and the regular season, our game preparation and so forth – not that we don't have a lot of work to do, but at least we have a level of experience together. So, yeah, it's good."
"We never pick up where we left off, that's for sure," McDaniels told reporters Wednesday. "We lost Brian [Daboll], obviously – which is a big loss because he's a great coach – but having our staff, the rest of it, in place and being able to work together… we've done it for a number of years. We know each other very well, we divide and conquer our responsibilities, hopefully the right way."
"We have a great staff, obviously starting with the head coach," asserted Patricia, "but defensively, my guys work so hard, and they don't get enough credit for all the stuff they do and sacrifices they make. I love all those guys. We love working together. We spend a lot of hours together. I'm very glad we've got them all back, ready to roll."
Patriots coaches, ranging from those in their 20s to their late 60s, will need to draw from their stores of energy considerably in the first couple of weeks of camp as the reigning champs transition from the offseason to the fast-lane grind of the new season.
"Absolutely. I mean, I get fired up every day I get to come into this building," Patricia added. "It's exciting. Training camp's great. There's a higher level of energy. Obviously, the urgency and the importance of what we're trying to get done goes up."
"They've got a great energy about themselves right now and they're excited to work with this year's group of players," observed McDaniels. "The biggest thing is, even though you have a lot of familiar faces back, you start so far below where you ended the year prior. Every season it's the same thing. There are going to be a lot of things we're going to get angry and upset about in the next few weeks that you hope you didn't have to, but that's the nature of this game. It's very difficult. You have to earn the right to play well and create all those fundamentals all over again.
"Our coaches do a great job of getting their position groups ready to go each day. Our goal and our focus right now is to try to improve one day at a time, get better a little at a time. Hopefully, we'll be able to make strides as we move through training camp."
The lone alteration to the coaching staff came when the aforementioned Daboll accepted the offensive coordinator position at the University of Alabama back in February. Daboll was in his second stint with the Patriots, had served as an offensive coordinator across the league for many years before returning to Foxborough as tight ends coach, and enjoyed a strong, personal relationship with McDaniels.
Here again, though, Belichick was in a position to maintain some semblance of continuity by promoting from within, giving erstwhile coaching assistant Nick Caley an opportunity this year to succeed Daboll as coach of tight ends and fullbacks.
"The transition's been good. I'm excited," said Caley, who bristled at drawing any comparisons between himself and his predecessor. I can just tell you I'm going to do my best, bring a lot of energy."
Caley was asked how, as a young, inexperienced coach, he can earn the respect of his players, many of whom are well-established in the NFL.
"If you're consistent in your approach every day, you're honest, you work hard to help them continue to improve their craft," offered Caley. "Put your best foot forward every single day. You work your tail off. That's what I try to do as a coach."
During his final remarks to reporters before breaking for the summer, Belichick hinted that his team would be holding joint practices with three of their four preseason opponents.
"[The 2017 season] will be on top of us quickly with training camp and then Jacksonville, Houston, Detroit games after that and working with those good organizations."
The team officially announced joint sessions with only the Jaguars and Texans, however. Again on Wednesday, the coach stated that the Lions were on the practice slate as well, citing "scheduled workouts" with those three clubs. When pressed for confirmation of three different joint practice opponents, Belichick responded, "Yeah, we'll be working with [Detroit]… That's right."
Two joint sessions are commonplace around the NFL, but three is extremely rare, perhaps even unprecedented.
"We thought it would be beneficial to our team," Belichick added. Later, the team clarified Belichick's statement, telling reporters that New England will only practice with the Lions the day before their third preseason contest on Aug. 25, one month from today.
As was previously announced, the Patriots will host the Jaguars from Aug. 7 through 10, including the preseason opener for both teams. New England then travels to West Virginia in mid-August for a few days of joint practices with the Texans at their off-site training camp facility. Afterward, the two teams will head to Houston for the second preseason tilt.
"Those are great organizations. We work really well with those guys. Great staffs, great players," said Patricia. "Anytime you can find an organization like that where you know it's going to be a productive way to compete and evaluate and train, then those are always great ideas."
"We have to make the most of our opportunities out there. We have nine practices before we're going to be out there against the Jaguars," McDaniels emphasized. "They're going to have an urgency about themselves. I know we do as a coaching staff. Our players are excited to be here; we're excited to get started here this afternoon."