The most vital part of the offseason before training camp has hit in New England, with the team set for its first and only mandatory mini-camp before the 2002 season gets underway.
The camp - which began with orientation work Wednesday and will include full-squad workouts Thursday through Friday – is where the team gets the new playbooks and changes to the terminology and system that have been made. Each year the playbook changes by about 10-15 percent according to Head Coach Bill Belichick in the current issue of Patriots Football Weekly.
Most importantly, the mini-camp helps give the team a rolling start into training camp. Through the years, as training camps have gotten shorter and shorter, the work done in conditioning programs and mini-camps has becomes increasingly important. With a tentative starting date of July 26 for training camp, the Patriots are only looking at about 15 days of camp before their first preseason game, slated for August 10 against the New York Giants.
Having so little time makes the offseason work even more important on young players adjusting to life at the professional level.
"One reason it is more important now than it used to be is because of how short training camp is," Belichick said. "How many days of two-a-days are there? Ten? The first year I came into the league, which was 1975, we went to training camp July 5. The first regular season game was Sept. 21. We had six preseason games, but we were in camp a month before the preseason games."
While the offseason workout programs – with the exception of mini-camp – are not mandatory, they are vital. Players used to have time to work into shape when they arrived at training camp, but now they must be ready to go right away.
New England has just seven rookies on its roster as the team heads into the mini-camp, so many of the players already have a good idea of what to expect. It was at this time a year ago Tom Brady began turning heads with his improvement in what became a rapid climb to the starting quarterback slot. Belichick has seen some of last season's rookies show similar growth.
"I think many of our young guys are doing better. We've seen a dramatic improvement over where they were a year ago," Belichick said. "Leonard Myers would be one. Kenyatta Jones has had a real good offseason. The two tight ends [Jabari Holloway and Arther Love] didn't do anything last year so they're way ahead of where they were. Brock Williams is in the same boat. Rookies make a big jump from year one to year two."
The first chance for those players to display how far they have jumped will be Thursday. Be sure to check Patriots.com regularly through the weekend for updates and reports from the mini-camp practices and media sessions.
For more comments from Head Coach Bill Belichick, check out the current issue of Patriots Football Weekly, which hit stands Wednesday.