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For rookies, learning now top priority

It wasn't necessarily a threat, but more a statement of fact.

Immediately following the end of the 2016 NFL Draft last month, Bill Belichick told reporters that his incoming rookies "have no idea what they're getting into."

Belichick pointed out that at this highest level of football, "the competition level is going to step up. The volume [of work] is going to step up. In the NFL you're fighting for a job so it's a whole new ball game. Those guys have a lot to absorb, a lot to learn but just like every other rookie class they'll get through it."

Just learning one's way around town – even around the facilities at Gillette Stadium – can be a daunting task for many rookies. And that process has already begun.

"I've figured my way around the building, so, that's what matters. We're all still learning the ins and outs," QB Jacoby Brissett declared Wednesday.

Beginning last week, members of the 2016 rookie class, including draft choices and undrafted free agents, have been making their way to Gillette Stadium and taking part in orientations on and off the football field.

"Everything to this point has been new experiences," fourth-round wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell acknowledged, "not just for me but for every rookie. That's just the reality of it. It's just been a learning process."

For someone like wide receiver Devin Lucien, a seventh-round pick, that process of transitioning from college football to the pros is made smoother because of his friendship with Chris Harper, a fellow Patriots receiver entering his second season. Lucien and Harper have known one another since childhood.

"Being in the NFL is a dream, first … being in it with someone you've known since you were 7 [years old], regardless if we're both on the 53 [man roster] or not, at least we have the opportunity to say we were pros together."

Brissett and fellow third-round pick Joe Thuney, an offensive lineman, also have that in common. College teammates at N.C. State, they're now colleagues here in Foxborough.

"[The Patriots] found something in both of us that they liked," Brissett grinned. "It's awesome to be around him again and get around these new teammates, too. It's been a great experience, learning every day. I'm just excited to be here. It's my lifelong dream to be in the NFL. I'm out here making the most of my opportunity."

There's been so much to absorb, there's been little chance for any of the rookies to be star-struck or even to appreciate the fact that they are themselves now – at least for the moment – NFL players.

"No, from Day 1, it's been all about learning, learning more, and learning more," Mitchell continued. "Truly, that's all we've been doing. We've been working hard, learning the Patriots' way. That's our job. I've honestly just thought about learning the system. That's the only thing that's been on my mind."

"I'd say it hit me on the plane ride over here," Lucien admitted, "and being here, it's just a great opportunity."

Brissett, as a QB, finds himself in an even more high-profile position than many of his fellow rookies, as evidenced by the media crowd surrounding him on the Gillette Stadium game field Wednesday. His was by far the largest group.

With the polish of a seasoned pro, though, he deftly sidestepped a question about whether he sees himself as competition for both Tom Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo.

"They're great. They're teaching me a lot now. Learning as much as I can by observing [Brady], the way he carries himself… Jimmy, [offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels.

"I'm a rookie. I just got here. I'm trying to learn as much as I can. When my chance comes, it comes."

At least initially, the most difficult chore for most rookies will be to grasp New England's complex and voluminous playbook.

"There's a lot to learn," Mitchell emphasized. "My main focus is to learn this playbook."

"We're all doing our best to learn the playbook," echoed Lucien, who played at both UCLA, then Arizona State during his college career. "Going to any team from a college level, it will be difficult to learn. Going from one college team to another probably isn't half as hard as going from college to an NFL team. I'm happy to be with this group of guys and happy to have this coaching staff."

Surely, having perhaps the greatest football coach of all time as their primary tutor should make the learning process more palatable for New England's rookies. Even so, they've only just scratched the surface of what they need to know to do their jobs and earn permanent ones with this club.

"He was absolutely right," Lucien said of Belichick's original declaration. "We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into."

New England Patriots offensive positional rookies meet with the media on the Gillette Stadium field on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

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