Check out photos of the Patriots OTA at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, May 31, 2018.
Ever since New England lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII it's been open season on the Patriots.
Eagles tackle Lane Johnson was critical of the Patriot Way numerous times this spring, claiming the team didn't have any fun despite all the winning it enjoyed. Last week it was former Patriot Cassius Marsh telling a San Francisco reporter that he disliked his time in Foxborough so much that he almost quit the game altogether.
The Patriots were back on the practice field on Thursday as the media was allowed to watch for the second time this month. If there are any players who are unhappy playing for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, they were not among those who spoke on this beautiful sun-splashed afternoon.
"To each his own. I don't really have anything to say to them," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "I mean, it's not for everybody. It's definitely harder than most places, but I mean, that's part of it. A lot of guys know that when they come here. But in the locker room, it's not Bill's job to make this fun and this atmosphere fun; it's the guys around it.
"Every guy in that locker room, I love like a brother. We have fun, whether it's out here struggling together, blood, sweat and tears, or we're back in the locker room or we're hanging out outside of football. So, there's a time and place for everything, but we know whenever we walk through the building it's time to work."
Hightower played collegiately at Alabama for Nick Saban, a close friend of Belichick's and a coach that uses a very similar style to that of the Patriots boss.
"I was with Nick and Nick and Bill are like two peas in a pod," he explained. "A lot of guys don't really have a problem. If you want to get better you don't mind sacrificing a little bit, which that stuff sucks sometimes. At the end of the day when you know that you've done all that you can do and you go out on Sunday or Monday and you're winning those games and you go back and you're watching film and you see all of the extra work and all of the stuff that you sacrificed, that it was actually worth it. You're not discrediting that at all. I love being here. I loved being at Alabama. I love what I'm doing and I'm just looking forward to going further than that."
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who had a rough indoctrination into Foxborough after arriving as a high-priced free agent last year before settling in nicely down the stretch, agreed with Hightower.
"I have fun because I love playing the game," Gilmore said. "I've been playing it since I was 6 and I never let anyone take away the fun from me playing the game. It's fun for me so that's all that matters."
Safety Devin McCourty was asked about Marsh's comments as well and continued the theme.
"I'm always having fun, but I get it. Cassius had a frustrating time here. I didn't think he would get released here and say New England was the time of his life," McCourty said. "He can't wait to try to come back some day. I think every experience for everyone, no matter what, is different. You look at it, a team that beat us in the Super Bowl and you have guys [on their team] who are talking about it, so it's front news. Cassius leaves, he played here, so that's another one.
"But I think if you ask any guys on this team, the fun we have comes from hanging with each other, the relationships between the guys. A lot of our fun happens right in the locker room even before we come out here and have fun winning football games. Obviously, we work for a living, so in this business, you have to win. When you lose, that's not fun. People get fired. That's not fun."
Belichick was asked about the critical comments when he addressed the media before practice. Not surprisingly, the coach chose to focus on the work to be done rather than looking back on any previous comments made about him or his team from the outside.
"We feel what's important to us is to win. So that's really what we're trying to do," Belichick said. "We're focused on what we're doing, trying to get better and taking each day we can to try to improve our football team. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing."
Kobe in the house
The Patriots also practiced on Wednesday in a session that was closed to the media. But thanks to some posts on social media by various players it was learned that the team had a special guest at practice – former Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Bryant retired from the NBA last season after a stellar 20-year career and he took some time to join the Patriots in Foxborough.
"I have a ton of respect for Kobe," Belichick said. "Obviously a great player, had a great career. Spent the day with him yesterday. He had a lot of great observations and things we could learn from. He's a tremendous guy."
Gilmore was one of several Patriots who posted pictures with the future Hall of Famer on one of his social media accounts.
"I had to. I couldn't let him walk out the building without getting one," Gilmore said of his selfie.
"Everybody knows he's a great competitor. He really perfected his craft and the details that he took into the game and how he got better every game. It was great to have somebody like that in the building. He's one of my favorite players and it was an honor to have him here."
Still no Brady
As expected Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski remained absent from the team's OTA work. Both are expected to return for next week's mandatory mini-camp in Foxborough (June 5-7) but have thus far chosen to stay away from practice, which is voluntary.
"As far as work goes, it's honestly the same, man," Hightower said. "Twelve's [Brady] a big part of this team and he means a lot to us in the locker room, but as far as the culture goes, it's always been next man up. Whether it's 12, or Gronk or me missing, or whenever [Jerod] Mayo went down, or [Vince] Wilfork or whatever, it's always been next man up. That's the kind of way Bill has built this culture is whenever the next guy is up they're just looking for that next chance and opportunity. Guys come in and we work hard every day.
"We're not going to work harder just because 12's not here or because Gronk's not here. Dwayne Allen's doing a great job. [Will] Tye's doing a great job. [Troy] Niklas is doing a great job. All of these guys are getting those extra reps and getting better and wanting to contribute to this team. Honestly, it hasn't changed. I feel like everybody comes in, we're all doing our workouts, we're all doing our film and we're not missing any meeting time. Whenever he gets back, we'll be glad to have them both, but it's not going to stop us from working."