The wait is just about over as the Patriots will open training camp to the public on Thursday and with that the 2018 season will officially be underway. But we didn't have to wait that long to hear from Bill Belichick as the coach kicked things off with a press conference on Wednesday morning.
The coach opened things with a smile as he welcomed the media to training camp, but that was not an indication that he would be any more forthcoming with information than normal.
Belichick was asked several questions about some issues from the past – most notably regarding Malcolm Butler's inactivity in the Super Bowl and Jimmy Garoppolo's recent feature stories – but the message remained largely the same: he's only dealing in the present.
"Last year is last year," Belichick said when the first question regarding Butler began. "I'm not focused on that."
Follow-ups persisted but Belichick never wavered, as is generally the case.
"We've talked about it multiple months ago," he said. "I'm focused on training camp."
Would Belichick have done things differently?
"I'm focused on doing the best I can for the 2018 New England Patriots. That's my job, that's what I'm going to do," Belichick responded. "That's what I've always done in the past, every day that I've coached here, I've done the best I can for this football team and I'll continue to do that. Right now, my focus is on the 2018 season. Not 2017. Not 2014. Not 2007. Not 2004. Not 2001. Not 2000. I'm not focused on any of those seasons. They're done."
The final exchange asked if Belichick felt it was important to address the Butler situation with the team.
"It's important for me to have a good season in 2018. I'm going to do everything I can to do that, to do the best I can for our football team. That's my job, that's my responsibility and that's what I am going to try to do."
When the topic turned to Garoppolo, the subject of a couple of recent features that included some details from his days in New England, the coach again stuck with the present. When asked about the texts messages he reportedly sent Garoppolo following the quarterback's wins with the Niners, Belichick declined to confirm the information.
"Yeah, again, those are things that happened months ago and honestly I'm not too focused on October, November, December of 2017," Belichick said. "I'm trying to get our team ready for training camp. That's where I'm at. I'm not going to engage in stuff that happened eight months ago. We could talk about a million things that happened 20 years ago. I'm not there."
Eventually there was more 2018-centric material to discuss and Belichick offered some thoughts.
Mitchell kneeds time – Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell hasn't seen much action in his two-plus seasons as a Patriot as knee issues have kept him off the field. He missed the entire 2017 season and didn't take part in any of the spring practices open to the media.
Recently reports indicated that he was on the trading block and that he underwent another procedure on his ailing knee, and Belichick was asked about the wideout's current status.
"I can't really do that now, no. I mean, that's part of where we are on these first few days of training camp. Physicals, conditioning run and so forth, and that's really for every player," Belichick said. "We have a number of players that are in various I'd say degrees of availability or in various stages of rehabilitation and preparation for the season. Those guys have been not away from us for a month, but they've been being treated. They've haven't been active on the football field.
"As we get into those drills and periods, then we'll know more. So, we'll place some players on PUP, NFI lists and when they're ready to come off, they'll come off. And other players that aren't on those, it doesn't mean that they're full availability; it means that they're not on those lists for one reason or another and that we'll do certain things with them based on their physical availability. So, you know, that's the way it always is this time of year. I'd say it's no different from what it normally is with call it, I don't know, 10 to 15 players that fall somewhere in that overall net of conversation."
As for the trade rumors, Belichick would have none of it. "Yeah, I'm not really going to engage in media speculation, unless you have some professional comment on that, which I haven't seen any. I certainly haven't talked to any media person about Malcolm Mitchell, so you'd have to talk to whoever that is."
Still in the fold – Belichick also talked about another wide receiver whose availability will be limited. Julian Edelman will open the season serving a four-game suspension, but the coach said Edelman continues to put in the work in Foxborough as normal.
"Julian is a very hardworking player. We're all disappointed, but it is what it is," Belichick said. "He's moved on, we've moved on, and we'll just take what we have now and do the best we can with it. I'm sure he's – you know, he's been here the last couple days. I think he's got a good attitude, a good work ethic and he'll make the most of the opportunities that he has, whatever those are."
No end in sight – Belichick is entering his 44th NFL season and 19th as head coach of the Patriots. After all those years it's only natural to wonder when the end will come. He wouldn't get into any specifics as far as a timeframe but Belichick didn't sound like a coach ready to stop twirling his trademark whistle anytime soon.
"I'm focused on getting ready for the team, getting ready for training camp and for the regular season," he answered when asked how long he will coach.
Is he still having fun?
"Yeah, every year is challenging. It's challenging. I mean, there's no easy games in this league. We don't play the Division III teams. I mean, it's the National Football League. Every team has good players. Every team has good coaches. Every team has the same salary cap, draft choices, everything else.
"It's very competitive. We respect all of our opponents. We respect every team we face, every player we face, every coach we face – always have and always will. So, I have total respect for what we have in front of us. We'll have to do our best to be competitive. That's our goal."