The questions about Richard Seymourthat existed at the start of this day remained at the end of it.
As of late Tuesday, it was still unclear if he had reported to the Oakland Raiders and passed his physical exam, which would be necessary to consummate his trade from New England. And neither Bill Belichicknor his subordinates shed any light on the subject when asked about the situation during conference calls with the media.
"We don't have rights to Richard," Belichick said. "So, I can't make any comments about him … or his situation."
Does that mean, in his mind, the deal is done?
"It's not a topic that I'm going to address," the head coach stated flatly.
"My reaction is … I'm just getting ready for Buffalo," came defensive coordinator Dean Pees'reply. "It's a matter of whoever we have here, and tomorrow morning, when I meet in front of the defense, whoever's there, that's who we get prepared for Buffalo."
Director of player personnel coach Nick Caserioalso refused comment on Seymour's status, insisting only that "the players that we have on the roster right now … we feel comfortable with who's here."
But all three men were willing to acknowledge that Seymour's absence creates both a void and an opportunity for other players on the Pats defense. But how and where will those players get their chances to perform? Without Seymour, might the Patriots employ more 4-3 alignments, as they seemingly have with greater frequency this preseason, or remain true to their 3-4 heritage?
"Schematically, we're going to be whatever we need to be," Pees answered. "We've always been a multiple team on defense. Multiple fronts, multiple coverages. We ask a lot of our players, and they're going to have to know a lot of different spots. So, 4-3, 3-4-wise, I think it's been pretty balanced."
"What we're going to have to do is play good team defense. Whichever 11 players are out there on any given play in any given situation, then those players are going to have to play that defensive play well. That's what good team defense is," added Belichick.
"Which players those are and which situations those'll come up in will vary quite a bit from game to game and even within a game. But that's the bottom line – we need to play good team defense. That's what we're committed to doing here. Players, coaches, everyone involved."
Without Seymour, it seems more players might have to get involved, particularly in the front seven. Players like rookies Ron Braceand Myron Pryor, as well as veterans like the recently acquired Derrick Burgess, who continues to try to carve out a role for himself.
"Those are two young players," Caserio continued, "that have come in here – Ron's been out there a little more than Myron has – like most of our young players, they've worked hard. They have an understanding of some of the things we're doing defensively. They had some experience in the preseason. I think they're moving in the right direction."
"I'm pleased with the rookies," said Pees. "I think they've made a lot of progress … they've got a long way to go. But they fit in well. They've worked hard. They're continuing to improve all the time."
As for Burgess, Pees noted that "he's coming around, he's working hard, learning the system, learning to do multiple things."
With Seymour now out of the picture, the Patriots have parted this year with at least one starter or key veteran at every position on defense. Safety Rodney Harrisonand inside linebacker Tedy Bruschiretired, while cornerback Ellis Hobbsand outside linebacker Mike Vrabelwere traded along with Seymour, the stalwart perennial Pro Bowler on the defensive line.
There's turnover every year on every football team, as Belichick is fond of noting. But such upheaval no doubt will have an effect on what the Patriots do defensively this season. Not just from a schematic standpoint, but also from the basics of working in new or untested players at so many positions.
Belichick, Caserio and Pees, however, all expressed a comfort level with the players they currently have on defense and with the ability of certain veterans – Adalius Thomas, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, to name a few – to assume the responsibilities of leadership.
"I think we have a lot of good leaders on our team, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Belichick pointed out. "And those players, even though some of them are young players, like Jerod Mayoand Gary Guyton, [Brandon] Meriweather, some of them are more experienced players like A.D. and Vince and Ty. Each team has its own chemistry, its own dynamics, its own leadership. And I think ours is very good. It's different, but I think it's good."
"When Tedy Bruschi and all those guys came here, they took over the leadership role from somebody else," Pees said. "And that's what'll happen again. Somebody's gotta step up and be the leaders, and we'll find out who those are. The torch always gets passed on good teams to somebody else. The guys that are in the locker room right now, it's their opportunity to step up and be those guys. I'm actually looking forward to finding out who those guys are going to be."
Clearly, a player of Seymour's caliber won't be easily replaced.
"There are a lot of things that Richard did well," Belichick acknowledged. "But that's the way it is and we're moving forward. Our team is moving forward."
The question is, will the Patriots defense be as good going forward without Seymour?
"Well," Belichick replied matter-of-factly, "we'll find that out starting this week."