After a long and, at times, difficult New England winter, spring has finally broken free. Yet, there's a hint of autumn in the atmosphere around Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots have resumed limited on-field sessions with coaches for the first time since Super Bowl LII – what's known in pigskin parlance as "Phase 2" of NFL teams' offseason programs.
Phase 1 began last month when Patriots players were permitted to return to Foxborough for strength and conditioning workouts. Phase 3 will commence later this month with more involved organized team activity (OTA) practices.
"Spring's been good," remarked linebackers coach Brian Flores. "Good to get the players back for Phase 1, the start of Phase 2. This is always kind of an exciting time, really getting started with the 2018 season. So far, so good. I'm glad the weather finally took a turn [for the better]."
For Flores, 2018 will reportedly see him taking a turn in his career by adding the responsibility of play-caller for the entire defense – in essence, he'll serve as New England's defensive coordinator, minus the official title. He assumes control following the departure of Matt Patricia to become Detroit Lions head coach.
The affable veteran assistant enters his 15th season with the club (11th as an assistant on Bill Belichick's staff) and enjoys a strong working relationship with his players. Many of them refer to him as "B. Flo," and he maintains that he's going with the flow, that little has changed for him this spring despite the new role, which he neither confirmed nor denied when reporters quizzed him about it on Friday.
"My goal as a coach is to help our guys be the best version of themselves, on and off the field. That's my goal. I work hard to achieve that goal.
"Every year's a little bit different," he conceded. "There's change on every team every year. Is it different than last year? Well, yeah. That's the game. It's no different than any other organization. I feel like the responsibility is spread across the entire staff. We have a great staff across the board. As a group, as a team, we band together and make it work."
True though that may be, the fact remains that, when the Patriots strap on their helmets for real in September, Flores will be the one member of the staff calling the plays on defense. Naturally, this would seem to give the former Boston College linebacker a chance to add his own influence on the composition of that side of the ball.
Flores at first was reluctant to admit this, choosing a more demure response.
"I've never been big on titles. I'm here to work. I'm here to help this team win any way I can. If they want me to get water, I'll get water. It's not something I spent a lot of time thinking about.
"My role," he added, "is no different than any other coach on the team. We're trying to put something together here and do whatever helps us win. It's a team imprint. I have a hard time… it doesn't resonate with me. It's hard for me to think I would put my own imprint on anything."
For a hint of how Flores might approach his first season as defensive play caller, it might help to revisit his playing career.
"I was tough. I wasn't very good, wasn't very fast," Flores grinned. "Undersized player, but I was tough. That's my coaching style. I'm tough on the players. I think you need to be tough on them so they can be disciplined. You need discipline to play this game.
"The other thing I'd say is, I try to think as a player. What's the best way to teach this? What's the best technique for this specific player?"
Does having that playing experience give Flores an advantage over some of his colleagues on the staff who either didn't play the game at a top collegiate level or the position they're assigned to coach?
"To a degree," he responded, "but I'd also say that playing linebacker at Boston College is very different than playing linebacker for the New England Patriots. But there's definitely some similarity, some carryover there. As much as I can implement it and I feel like it works, then I'll use it."
While emphasizing that New England will continue to play Belichick's brand of defense the way they have the past 18 seasons, Flores gave some clues as to what kind of style he'd like to see the Patriots play this season.
"I'm passionate about this game, passionate about coaching this team. This is going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team: tough, smart, dependable, cool under pressure. That's been a good formula. I'll go with that one."