PALM BEACH, Fla. – He ate nothing, sipped some juice, and chewed uncomfortably on a lozenge. Were he to have eggs, they probably would not have been sunny-side-up. He certainly wasn't. If you didn't know any better, you might assume he just wasn't a morning person.
But there was Bill Belichick, arriving a fashionable 15 minutes later than scheduled to the AFC coaches' breakfast Q&A session with reporters at the NFL Annual Meeting on Tuesday. That, in itself, was news, after he famously skipped a similar event last year in New Orleans, creating a firestorm among the assembled media.
To his credit, when the scheduled hour was over, Belichick did stay a bit longer to answer a few final queries. In between, he sat and took questions on a panoply of topics –deflecting most, volleying some, and opening up to others towards the end. Gone, at least initially, was the smiling, almost ebullient head coach who seemed to enjoy fielding questions at the Super Bowl last month.
On the most pressing issue with regard to the Patriots – the contract status of franchise-tagged receiver Wes Welker – Belichick returned to his customary circumspect self.
While the Pro Bowler remains unsigned (he has yet even to ink his one-year franchise tender, let alone a longer-term deal with New England), his agent is said to be in the Palm Beach area this week, giving rise to hopes among some followers that the opportunity is ripe for a new contract to be ironed out.
Belichick, though, when asked about Welker, would only fall back on a well-worn phrase he'd used countless times throughout the morning: "I don't know. We'll see how it goes."
Rumors continue to swirl that veteran left tackle Matt Light is contemplating retirement. Anything Belichick could offer on that front?
"Yeah, if we have any announcements to make on any player, we'll make them when it's appropriate," he flatly stated.
Belichick's Patriots have been very active in the free agent market to date, less than a month into the process, although they've chosen to the go the lesser-known, depth route as opposed to making a high-profile splash. New England has targeted wide receivers, in particular, and, somewhat curiously, fullbacks. The head coach would not elaborate on why he's been fixated on the latter position, but did offer some detail on why he opted for wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, the most notable name to join the Patriots so far.
"He's been a productive player, especially the last couple of years, in an offense similar to ours. We'll see how all that goes."
Robert Gallery, a former first-round pick of the Raiders, is another name familiar to most NFL observers. His signing by New England could have been necessitated by reports that starting left guard Logan Mankins played with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee during the Super Bowl and recently underwent surgery to repair the injury.
Thought to be a possible franchise tackle as the second overall pick in 2004, Gallery has been predominantly a guard in the NFL after coming out of Iowa (coached by former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz). Asked about Gallery in the final stages of this morning's gathering, Belichick expounded on the player's traits and potential fit in the Patriots' system.
"What we ask him to do and how he'll do for us, I don't know. We'll see. Obviously we like Robert and we signed him," said Belichick.
"The fact that he was at Iowa, that was a guy that we started working on early [in draft preparations] because there was always a chance that a kid like that could come out early. We didn't know he was going to be the second pick … So, we actually did do more work on him than a lot of guys [projected to be taken high] just because we knew Kirk, Iowa, conversations that he's definitely going to be a good pro player. And I think we know him better than, say, some other players that came out in that draft."
Subjects Belichick chose to avoid no matter how many times he was asked: proposed rules changes, Tim Tebow joining the Jets, and the New Orleans Saints' punishment resulting from their so-called "bounty" system (he grudgingly characterized it as "an unfortunate situation").
Belichick was outspoken last spring at the Annual Meeting on the subject of a kickoff rule change, but insisted this year he had no strong feelings on any of the 14 proposals for 2012.
"I think every rule has its pros and cons … Whatever the league decides to do, we'll work with it."
On the Tebow topic, which was raised a couple of different times, Belichick's response perhaps summed up the entire theme of his public remarks in Palm Beach. "We have a lot of respect for all the teams in our division, they've all made changes, I'm sure they'll all be very competitive, we'll have our work cut out for us. I think right now," he concluded, "we need to focus our attention on what we're doing and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing, and I think we'd be better off doing that. That's what we're going to do. Nothing we can do about those other teams right now, anyway, so we need to worry about our team."
Much of that worrying will be focused, at least in the next few weeks, on the NFL Draft. New England has just six picks, none later than round four as things currently stand. Belichick, notorious for collecting low-round choices, would not say whether or not he intended to stockpile any more selections for next month. The head coach finally cracked a smile when someone mentioned his team's upcoming return to London for its October game against the St. Louis Rams. Belichick said that, while it's still very early in the process, his staff's planning will probably be similar to what the team did in its initial visit in 2009 – universally considered success.
"You want to get started on that trip?" Belichick joked. "You might want to go to Paris then Amsterdam then swing down to Rome and then back to London for the game. Maybe we'll go to Moscow for an afternoon walkthrough."
He ended on a high note.
Asked to name the toughest player he ever coached, Belichick took his time considering the myriad possibilities. Finally, he proceeded to name several former New York Giants. When he appeared to finish, another reporter interjected with a comical question about whether the coach had been invited to receiver Chad Ochocinco's summertime wedding.
Belichick didn't miss a beat.
"So, there are a few Giants players for you," he deadpanned, drawing laughs from those at the table.
Amazing how much good a little breakfast always does you.