The Patriots were back at Gillette Stadium on Monday as the team prepares for a week of what Bill Belichick described as a "clean-up" of some lingering issues from training camp before fully turning their attention to the season opener in Miami.
Coming off a final summer loss to the Raiders, Belichick expressed little concern with the results from the preseason.
"I don't think you really know where your team is until you get to about midseason, you know, mid-October," said Belichick, who also welcomed legendary ESPN commentator Chris Berman as a guest to his press conference and the team's practice. "Play five, six, seven games, match up against some different teams, see for real what your strengths and weaknesses are, and your opponents' as well. You know, what it looks like on paper and what it is in preseason, and what it is in the regular season, I don't think they're all the same."
With the reduced preseason, the Patriots now have a bonus week of work before things get real, but first, New England must make a series of roster moves to get down to 53 players before 4pm on Tuesday. With nearly a full roster in attendance at practice, it appears the team is waiting to get a jump on trimming down their personnel.
It's one of the most frantic times of the NFL calendar, as other teams will make their cuts as well, tossing a number of players across the league into availability while everyone tries to balance their initial roster. It's a complicated process that will keep director of player personnel Matt Groh busy.
"A little over 24 hours before the biggest transaction day in the NFL, so there's a lot of information gathering," said Groh of what's currently on his plate. "There's a lot of evaluating. Just a lot of communication in-house as far as what we're looking for, ways we can improve the team, so there's a lot going on."
"We have to make 27 roster moves, so it's a pretty good chunk of players," said Belichick. "It's always a difficult time for them. For the coaching staff, it's a combination of things: roster movement, Miami preparation, just general team preparations from the end of preseason heading into the start of the regular season, and a lot of situational football, things like that that we haven't really had or have only had minimal practice time on it -- we know is going to be very important to the results of a lot of games this year. Just settling into a regular season type of routine versus a training camp routine. That's a transition for us this week."
For the coaches, Monday was the first chance to practice without the prying eyes of reporters, but for now, the focus isn't changing much from what it was in recent weeks. Still, the transition from preseason to the regular season is a welcome one.
"Now's the time of year we've got to kick you guys out and get to work," joked Jerod Mayo, adding that it's fun to finally get to game planning for opponents, but that, "At the same time you have to go through the process of handling fundamentals and things like that. It's fun now, really plugging in the players and the schemes and things like that. We'll see what happens."
"We can work on some different things now," agreed safties coach Brian Belichick. "But it's honestly a lot of the same stuff we've been doing. Right now at this point in the season, we just need to get better at the fundamentals and then a lot of our basic coverages or run force or whatever. It just needs to get better, especially this week, and then obviously we're building toward Miami. That's in the back of our head but we're trying to get better with ourselves first and foremost."
"There's definitely a transition in there from a standpoint of a lot of times during training camp you're kind of doing everything versus everything, if that makes sense," said Matt Patricia. "You're trying to cover a lot of different ground versus all looks and certainly that's very difficult to do. Whereas, as we push forward here in the next couple days and kind of refocus on Miami we'll be able to get very specific with some of the things that they do or that we've seen and try to prepare from that aspect of it. But there's still a lot of work to do from our standpoint here to finish off training camp and get a couple days of practice in."
Following cuts on Tuesday the team is scheduled to practice on Wednesday and Thursday, as things begin to ramp up for a full go following Labor Day weekend. The true grind is about to begin, but Bill Belichick had no hesitation when asked by his long-time friend Berman if he still enjoys it.
"Love it, love it," said the head coach with a smile.