After the harshest of winters in a century, New England has been making up for it with one of the warmest, driest springs in recent memory. That made for ideal conditions when the Super Bowl champion Patriots returned to the practice field this week for organized team activities (OTAs). These are the no-pads/no-contact sessions that culminate with a three-day mini-camp in mid-June, the last on-field action until training camp commences at the end of July.
Still, the work being done now represents the essential first steps toward defending the Lombardi Trophy Bill Belichick's team captured this past February in Arizona.
"I feel like the players are working hard," the head coach said after Friday's nearly two-hour practice. "We've got a lot of guys who have really done a good job in the offseason, and now they're starting to get the opportunity to play football out on the field, come together a little bit as a team and in different groups. That's encouraging.
"It's always good to be back out here, and I think that these guys so far have done a good job. We just have to build on it day by day, see if we can build on next week off of this week's start and string some good days together."
During a five-minute Q&A session with media on the team's practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, Belichick could not avoid questions about the so-called DeflateGate controversy and subsequent discipline handed down by the NFL to the Patriots and their Super Bowl MVP QB, Tom Brady. However, he did his best to steer the conversation away from those unpleasant topics.
Check out our favorite photos from the Patriots organized team activity on Friday, May 29, 2015 at Gillette Stadium.
"That was a long time ago. We're on to next year. It's 2015," Belichick insisted. "You can forget about last year; that was last year."
Be that as it may, it may be difficult to prepare for 2015 if Brady's four-game suspension remains in place for the start of the regular season this September. Backup second-year man Jimmy Garoppolo would be forced to step into Brady's place under center.
"We're just going day by day right now," he responded. "Everybody's working hard trying to get better. That's what we're all doing."
Garoppolo, who addressed reporters after practice as well, echoed his head coach's sentiments.
"I'm just going out to practice every day trying to improve, trying to get my teammates better and be better. We'll go from there. I just have the mindset that I'm trying to get better. That's all you can control at the end of the day."
During the truncated offseason, Garoppolo revealed that he went to California to throw with "a couple of [unspecified] receivers," but otherwise did not alter his preparation routine, despite knowing that he might have to start the first four games of the year.
"Just went about my business, tried to get prepared for this season, got in the playbook a lot, got out there with some of the guys, threw it around. It was a good offseason. Got to spend some time with family, see all them. Now, back to work. It's good to get back to OTAs, get back out here with the guys. Got a lot of work to do, but we're excited about it. There's a long way to go. We just got a couple practices under our belt."
There have been some vocal fans of the Patriots who are trying to mount a campaign to delay the traditional raising of the Super Bowl champion banner until Brady returns to regular season action, whenever that may be (he is currently appealing his four-game ban). Asked about that grassroots movement, Belichick answered, "Right now, we're just concentrating on our practices out here."
'Happy, appreciative, surprised' Spikes returns*
With no numbers on shirts, helmets, or shorts, Patriots players were mostly inconspicuous during practice Friday. One familiar-faced player, though, is linebacker Brandon Spikes, who spent his first four NFL seasons here before spending last season in Buffalo.
Spikes, a notorious social media maven, made some quasi-inflammatory remarks on his way out the door last year, but he maintained that to him and Belichick, whom he affectionately calls "The Hoodie," that is now water under the bridge.
"I'm happy to be home. This is the organization that drafted me. First-class place, and I'm very, very, very appreciative of that.
"When The Hoodie and I talked, we just put it all behind us. You know, I was a bit surprised to hear his voice, the way I left," Spikes admitted, recalling his offseason phone call from Belichick, "but, that's in the past and I'm very thankful to be here. I just want to show them that I've changed as an individual, as a player, as a man. Better than saying, I'm going to show them."
And to his many followers on social media, many of whom took issue with his outlandish remarks?
"I'm still going to interact with the fans," Spikes laughed. "The Patriots fans, they're very passionate. If a player had left my organization like that, I would have done the same thing. No bad blood with that."
The Patriots will resume OTA practices next week, with media interviews scheduled to take place after Thursday's session. There will be another media viewing practice the following Thursday, June 11, before the three-day mini-camp June 16-18.