Bill Belichick is normally a "carpe diem" kind of guy. He's fond of telling us how focused he is on today, on the here-and-now. He doesn't like to admit to looking too far down the road.
Which made Wednesday's pre-training camp press conference so noteworthy.
On the eve of the Patriots' first practice of the 2016 preseason, the head coach brought up the subject of Tom Brady's four-game NFL suspension. Unlike a year ago at this time, when Brady was in the midst of a court battle with the league and his status for the season opener was unclear, there is closure on his immediate future after New England's franchise quarterback recently surrendered his legal challenge. He'll sit out the first four Patriots regular season games as a result.
In opening remarks to reporters at Gillette Stadium Wednesday, Belichick acknowledged that backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo is now the starter, but emphasized that this is only temporary.
"We had, finally, some definition with Tom's situation, so our priority now is to get Jimmy ready for the start of the season, for the Arizona game [on Sept. 11]. That will be, obviously, a comprehensive process.
"Tom will return as the starting quarterback when he comes back [in October], but in the meantime, we have to prioritize the first part of our schedule and that will be to get Jimmy ready to go."
Would Belichick reconsider if Garoppolo were to play exceptionally well in the first four games? The head coach was not asked that question, nor would he go into specifics on how he and his assistant coaches would divvy the practice or preseason game snaps between Brady, Garoppolo, and rookie Jacoby Brissett. However, Belichick sounded eager for the challenge of preparing all three passers.
"We have a good situation. We have three players we want to work with. Look, in some other years I've seen teams that probably don't feel like they have anybody, or maybe they have one. I think we're in a good situation. We'll just see how it plays out."
"I don't think it's really that different than every other training camp, as a position coach," declared offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels, who took media questions along with other assistant coaches just before Belichick.
"Our jobs are to get all our guys ready to go. We're always one play away from the next guy going in. You can't coach them necessarily all the same, because they're not all in the same place [in terms of their development]. We're going to give them a lot of reps. These next five or six weeks of training camp are about trying to create a foundation so they can rely on those habits and techniques as we go through the season.
"We're not talking about who's playing here or when. So, our philosophy really is going to remain unchanged for a while here, in terms of repetitions. We usually split them up pretty evenly. We don't really put anybody in first and second groups, or third groups, at this point."
Garoppolo is expected to speak with reporters on Thursday, after New England's first camp session. In the interim, Belichick pointed out that the his third-year QB "works hard" and has gained valuable experience in his previous two seasons serving as Brady's understudy. Veteran teammates rallied to Garoppolo's side as well. Returning co-captains Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater predicted that life without Brady would be "an adjustment," but expressed confidence in Garoppolo as well.
"Obviously, you can't take the field without a guy like [Brady] and think you're just going to go out there and pick up where you left off last year and fall right into stride," said McCourty, "but I think we have a lot of good players. We have two other quarterbacks that have been very competitive. Jimmy has been here a couple of years now, so I think as a team we'll just come together, go out there and figure out a way to win."
"I can't speak for Jimmy, but I know he's been working hard just like the rest of us have," Slater asserted. "He's prepared himself for a moment to play since he got in this league. He's worked for it, and we believe in his abilities, and we know that he's going to go out to give us everything he has. And again, I'll say that I know Tom is going to do everything that he can do to make sure that not only Jimmy is prepared, but that this football team is prepared to do what it needs to do moving forward."
With the team's 90-man roster full, after today's additions of tight end Bear Pascoe and offensive lineman Jon Halapio, it appears that a fourth quarterback is not on New England's radar right now. That means, should anything injurious happen to Garoppolo, the reins would be turned over to Brissett, a third-round selection by the Patriots in this year's draft.
"I don't think there's an added level of stress [on him]," McDaniels maintained. "I think Jacoby's just trying to figure out the basics rights now – where the meal room is, which locker is his, and all that. He's got so many things to work on. He's a great kid, got a great work ethic. He's soaking up every bit of information from Tom and Jimmy, and we're trying to coach him as many opportunities as we get. All we can ask of him is that he work to try to gain every day and achieve whatever we can achieve that day, because he's in a totally different place in his development.
"We'll focus on the things he does well, and try to get him to improve in some things each day. Then we'll evaluate it as we go through the course of training camp, let him get his feet wet in the preseason. All those experiences will be valuable to him."
For the time being, Garoppolo is the man under the microscope. Belichick was asked directly if the Patriots will make visible alterations to their offense to accommodate Garoppolo's skills. Unlike earlier, the coach wasn't willing to peer that far into the future.
"We'll see," he responded with a hint of a smile. "It's day to day. We'll do what we think is best. That's the priority."
Training camp's first practice is scheduled to commence at 9:15 Thursday morning on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
Patriots players head out to the field to work out on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.