PATRIOTS LINEBACKER DONT'A HIGHTOWER
Q: How does it feel to be back?
DH: It feels good. Glad to be out here, you know, OTAs were fun. You start building chemistry there, but nothing's as good as getting the actual feeling of getting back out here and getting close to putting pads back on.
Q: How does training camp change as you get older?
DH: Not much, it's still football. Obviously, just being more cautious of what to expect and staying on top of taking care of your body.
Q: Devin McCourty said yesterday that nobody really likes training camp, but they like the end result. How do you feel about training camp?
DH: The exact same way. I mean it's cool just because you're getting back to football and all the OTAs and training in the offseason. That's what you do it for, but I'd be lying if I said I enjoy it. It's part of football, it's part of embracing the suck, but the end result, getting to the pre-season and getting to the actual season, that's the result. So, I'm not saying that I love it or enjoy it – I'm not saying that at all – but it's part of embracing the suck.
Q: What does having the fans' support out here mean to you?
DH: It's good, man – having those guys out there – but ultimately, it comes down to us being able to go out and perform.
Q: Jerod Mayo was your teammate. What's it like having him coach you now?
DH: He's really the same. He was a coach on the field and even more now. It's great to have him leading the meetings and being able to talk. You know, some coaches, it's easy for them to say "X's and O's" but they don't really understand what you actually see. With him, he has a different perspective and he's able to give us a lot of knowledge.
Q: Is it exciting for you to see most of the same faces on the defense this season?
DH: Yeah. I mean, there's still a learning curve. Each year there's always something different. It's always good to be able to have the same chemistry that you had the year before, but at the same time it's still a building process.
Q: Do you feel like you dodged a bullet not having to do two-a-day's?
DH: Yeah, we actually got that speech today about the 11 weeks. Yeah, I don't know how that would have worked out and how they did it, but I'm glad and I'm blessed to be where I'm at. I'll say that.
Q: With a consistent, veteran linebacker group, how does your experience help you when training camp first begins?
DH: I mean, it's still training camp, and there's always new guys coming in who you're going against, but the chemistry and experience in the room. Guys know what to expect. The accountability that we put on each other and the ownership that we take whenever we come out to the field, and whatever we do when we go back in and watch film, it's always fun because we always go back and forth and we jank on each other, but it's all in support and love.
Q: Is Jamie Collins picking up right where he left off?
DH: I like to think so. He's out here, he's doing his thing, he's communicating, he's making the calls. You know, it feels good to have him back.
Q: How much does it help on day one to have guys that know how to communicate?
DH: The more you communicate and the more you talk, the more confirmation and I guess being comfortable being with everyone that's around you. There might be some times where somebody doesn't know what to do, but that communication can kind of get them back on track. So as long as all 11 guys are out there talking, we're on the right roll.
Q: Is there a sense of momentum for the defense coming into the season after the way you finished the year?
DH: I mean, it's a new year. I know you all hear that all the time, but it is, so I don't want to dwell on the past. We know what we have. We knew what we had last year, but with all the tools you have and you're not able to use them or do anything with them, it doesn't really mean anything. So, we all come out ready to work.
Q: Last year at this time you had good things to say about Ja'Whaun Bentley. How has he looked coming back from injury?
DH: He's the same guy, still a sponge, hard working. Again, one of the main guys. Everybody in that linebacker room is a big communicator, from me to Jamie to Kyle [Van Noy] to [Christian] Sam to Bentley to Calvin Munson to Brandon King. Everybody's able to communicate and talk. I think that's a big thing especially being a linebacker you've got to be able to communicate and Bentley's definitely one of the guys who loves to watch film and is always doing extra stuff, so I think he's doing exactly what he did last year.
PATRIOTS CORNERBACK JASON McCOURTY
Q: Does it feel differently going into your second training camp here now that you're a little more used to it here in New England?
JM: I guess you can say that, probably because it's still practice so that feels the same. The hill feels exactly the same. But yeah, definitely, coming back, obviously knowing a lot of my teammates, having rapport with the coaches, understanding the system that's already in place makes it a little bit easier to hit the ground rolling. Having a relationship with all of the guys I think makes things a lot different. You're already here, you're able to talk to guys, help guys and you're speaking from a point of knowledge.
Q: What are some of the things you like to work on in training camp to get you ready for the season?
JM: It's really about just coming out here and trying to get better each and every day. I think for all of us there's something specific that you really want to work on. Corner is probably different from safeties and linebackers, but I think the important part is coming out each and every day competing, not only trying to get yourself better but also for us on defense pushing the offense as much as we possibly can so we can just improve totally as a team.
Q: How does the comfort level this defensive group has with each other help you out and how does it differ from a team that maybe lacks that continuity on defense?
JM: I think it just gives us a chance. Obviously, having those relationships, the communication, I think it helps us there. We've gone through a lot of things together especially for us in the secondary being able to return a lot of guys. You're saying terms and different things that a lot of guys are already used to. I know for myself last year, sometimes they say something and I'm just like, "Hey, everybody wasn't here two years ago." So, I think now having those relationships and guys being here, you kind of can pick up where you left off as far as terminology and things of that nature.
Q: Is it the nature of a professional athlete that there is always something left to prove?
JM: I mean, I think it's just the nature of being at this level. Nothing is given. Nobody cares what anyone did last year, whether you were good, whether you were bad, everybody has ambitions and aspirations for this year. But it really doesn't matter until you go out there and prove it and you go out there and do it.
Q: Did last year kind of feel like your rookie year given that you were in a whole new system here in New England?
JM: At times, for sure it did. You're the new guy so you're trying to get acclimated, you're trying to figure things out. You don't always know where you're going. I think things of that nature makes it feel a little bit like year one. When your family is coming and you don't know where to tell them to go, the small things like that. Once you get out on the field, the experience kind of helps you of just being able to recognize things and just kind of finding your comfort level.
Q: Do you feel more comfortable now in your second year?
JM: Yeah, you definitely do. I think just having a relationship with so many guys around you, being able to walk in the training room and know every trainers name, being able to walk in the equipment room knowing exactly who to ask for what – those are a lot of the small things that you don't really think about when you're transitioning of just knowing who to go to. Not only getting to know your teammates but also being comfortable around the building.
Q: What have you learned about how this team keeps its edge on a yearly basis despite the level of success attained here?
JM: I don't know. I really haven't – for me, being here has been football. It hasn't been terribly different from being in Tennessee. It's just that you come out here and guys have something to prove. It wasn't any different for myself from year one to year 11. Every year I've gone into camp and I've had something to prove and I've wanted to come out here and work extremely hard, and I think it's no different for each and every guy in this building. It doesn't matter whether you had success last year. We each come in this year with something to prove. You're either battling for a position. You may be getting older. You're trying to prove you can still do it. There's always something that's motivating you. There's doubt about something that's going on with you. Maybe it's not individually, maybe it's your position group, maybe it's your side of the ball. There's just always something that's going to push you. I had a coach a long time ago that said when you're tired of competing and you're tired of proving yourself, that's when it's your time to retire.
Q: What's the competition like in the secondary given the depth of talent in that position group?
JM: It's fun. I think you realize as you get older you're never competing with the guys in your room. Every time we come out here to practice, I never get a chance to go up against J.C. [Jackson], or Keion [Crossen], or Steph [Gilmore]. We're always going against the offense, so I think when you start to learn that, "Hey, it's us versus them. How can we make each other better?" At the end of the day, as much as I can push J.C., as much as he can push me, I can push Steph, him pushing me – it's just going to make us better as a group.
Q: Are you glad to not get a hundred questions about your brother this year at camp?
JM: For sure, you get tired of talking about him. I'm not used to standing up here. This is more his job, so hopefully he can come back and I can go back to walking in the shadows and just exiting practice.
PATRIOTS LINEBACKER KYLE VAN NOY
Q: What's it like to walk up those steps onto the practice field and see the thousands of fans?
KVN: Shout out to Pats nation. It's a blessing to play for the best organization and to see the fans come out like they do each and every day here during fall camp. It's awesome to play for them in the big Gillette Stadium. It is awesome, and we're happy they're here to support us.
Q: You have a lot of familiarity with the defense as a whole and your group specifically. How can that help as training camp begins?
KVN: You know, we've been through it, and hopefully we can pick up where we left off and keep that chemistry, keep that fluidity that we had during the end of the season and keep that going. We have a veteran group in the secondary, as well. A lot of guys came back up in the D-line, so we're ready to go. We're hungry as ever. We're ready to prove again that it takes an entire team to win a championship. The levels and expectations are very high here, and we want to match those.
Q: Is it a challenge to have that chemistry carry over?
KVN: Well, every year is a new year, and I think the faster you get it, the faster people understand their roles and know their role, the faster you can get in sync and work as a unit. I think that's the biggest thing we want to do is play Patriots defense that we've been doing. We've finished pretty high collectively over the years, and we just want to continue to do that and get better.
Q: How do you feel you guys are getting organized during the team periods so far in camp?
KVN: What's your assessment so far? It's only day one.
Q: You looked really quick to me, but you're the guy who's out there.
KVN: Well, it's just hard to say after day one, but I have a good feeling about it.
Q: What kind of role does Jerod Mayo have in that? How is he helping?
KVN: I think him and all the coaches are helping out as best as they can. Mayo is very smart, really good coach, great at communication, and that will help us during the season.
Q: Do you ever wonder how guys used to practice twice a day? They'd be out here from 8-10 a.m. and then come back out from 2-4 p.m.
KVN: That's pretty impressive. Shout out to the old heads, right?
Q: Would you have been one of those old heads?
KVN: Yeah, I mean, if that's my job, I've got to do it, you know? I might complain about it, but I'm going to do it. [laughter]
Q: If they told you tomorrow that you were having two-a-day's, how many guys would say no?
KVN: I think they'll be alright.
Q: How much does it help to have a lot of the same veterans on defense? It seems like you guys can kind of coach yourselves in many situations on the field.
KVN: Yeah, that's a good question. When we have the veteran group that we have, we can rely on each other. We've been through it. Bill [Belichick] has been a huge part of it. With the veteran group of guys, it's kind of easy to lean on each other, and the coaches are doing a great job of getting the information out and the young guys are leaning on the older guys. So, I feel like we have a really good mix. We've just got to put it together one day at a time.
Q: What are you expecting from Ja'Whaun Bentley coming back and how excited are you to have him back?
KVN: Yeah, step in and play. The expectations are high for each player out here, and we expect the same thing from him where he left off at.
Q: What was the highlight of your offseason?
KVN: Too many things to say. I can't think of one; just enjoying my time – my time not being on the clock. I bet you enjoyed that, too. [laughter]
PATRIOTS TIGHT END BEN WATSON
Q: What was it like for you to be back out here on the practice fields for training camp?
BW: It's good to be back. This is the first step, obviously, of a long road for all of us. Everybody in all 32 cities I think are excited. That's what the first day of camp is about. Obviously, we've got to string them together. That's what it's about, but definitely good to get the first one out of the way.
Q: What does it mean to you to be back here with the Patriots?
BW: It's special. It's surreal but it's different. It's a different year, it's a different time in my life, it's a totally different team, a totally different situation that I'm walking into. But to come back to some form of familiarity, to come back and see the fans obviously and put the jersey back on, it definitely brings back some good memories.
Q: What's it like to be a part of 16 of these training camps now?
BW: That's hard to believe. Honestly, I didn't think I'd make it past the first five. I was talking to some of the guys, that was before the CBA that we're in now so it was a totally different time. Not that now it's not tough, because it's tough now but it was different then. But I consider it a blessing definitely to be able to say that I'm walking out here for the 16th time. That's something that's really special and I don't take it for granted.
Q: Did it feel like the circle of life coming back around as you were driving into the stadium this morning for the first practice?
BW: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And you still get a little – I'm going to sleep well tonight. You don't sleep well the first night because you've still got a little bit of camp jitters even though I'm 38 years old – why do I have camp jitters? But, you still think about your assignments and the things you want to get right and the ways you want to still try and improve. Driving over, you know you're in for a long haul. The hardest thing I think is leaving the family. Now the family dynamics are different. You're with the kids playing kickball in the back yard and then the next day you're gone for weeks on end, and so there's always that family dynamic where you think about them. It's great to have them come out to practice today, but that's how things change with what you get in life in general.
Q: What's it like to see No. 12 [Tom Brady] in his 20th year?
BW: 12 [Tom Brady] is, I mean, he's halfway there. I think he'll go for 40. There's nothing else I can say about him that hasn't already been said. Obviously, he's dedicated and he makes everybody better. Everybody wants to do well because they know that he's going to bring excellence every single play, every single year, year-in and year-out. He's going to not only prepare himself mentally but physically. He's going to encourage guys. He's going to make us compete in everything that we do, every single drill, whether it's the off-season program or whether it's a Super Bowl or whether it's Sundays or if it's out here in training camp on the practice field. That's just the type of person that he is and that permeates the entire team.
Q: When you decided to retire, was not having to do training camp one of the appeals?
BW: Well, training camp – Bill [Belichick] talked about it today – training camp is not punishment; it's preparation. While training camp is tough mentally, physically, emotionally, it's something that is a grind. It's definitely a weeding out process, I would say. It's necessary preparation if you individually are going to perform at your best, and if collectively as a team you're going to perform at your best. That's what it's for. Obviously, as you get older, training camp becomes harder. Football in general is harder. It's just tougher and tougher, but as a player you know that, hey, if I want to perform, I've got to get in there and I've got to make it through training camp.
Q: Is it more important for you this year to lay down a base in training camp because you're going to miss time in the regular season?
BW: It's valuable every year, but obviously I think it's important when you go to a new place. While I've been here before, that was 10 years ago. It's a totally different offense, there are totally different teams, I'm a different player, we're playing against different guys. There's some coaches that are different, players that are different. It's a totally different situation, although the logo is the same. So, it's important for me this year because any time you go to a new place, it's tough. There's new terminology, there's new ways routes are going to be run, it's a new quarterback that you're catching the ball from that you haven't for a long time. There's a bunch of nuances. So, it's even more important offensively I think, and then especially as a player that's coming to a new team.
Q: Do you see yourself as a leader because of your experience and accomplishments?
BW: Of course. I think everybody is a leader in their own right, but obviously once you've played for five years, 10 years, 15 years – you're becoming more and more rare in the locker room, and so there is a certain level of respect that you're given. But when you put the helmet on and the pads on, nobody can see your grey hair. So you have to compete and lead in that way.
Q: What are the benefits of playing with Drew Brees and Tom Brady?
BW: I would say I just grew tremendously. It's amazing how much you can grow as a player when you have the right coach, the right system, the right offensive coordinator, but also the right quarterback. Certain quarterbacks – really there is a certain gene in a lot of quarterbacks that makes them compete and makes them want to perfect their craft with other players. With Tom and with Drew, if it's staying after practice and running extra routes, if they're on a pitch count and they say "Bump the pitch count, I've got to get this right with my guys," they'll do that. It's in the meeting rooms, when you're running a route in a meeting room and we're watching it on film, and they'd like you to break it a little bit earlier. Even if in the textbook it says to break it at five yards, and they say, "You know what, I need you to break it here and I'll be ready to throw you the ball." It's them vocalizing that. As a player receiving that, it helps you to grow as a player, and in your relationship with them. That's what those guys do and it benefits them because they've been in the same offense for a long time -- so they kind of have their own spin on it -- but they also know how to communicate and coach the players that they're going to be playing with from year to year, because that always changes.
Q: What makes you still want to do this at age 38?
BW: Well, part of it is my kids that are here. I fought through a lot of adversity – physically, emotionally – a lot of things have happened, and I want to show them how to fight through that. Those sorts of things. I also believe that when God opens a door and you walk through it and you don't understand why, but there's other things that are going on, and there's the unknown – the benefits that are going to come from you continuing to do what you've been able to do. Also, just having the opportunity to be a part of a great organization again. As you get older, there's certain places that you don't want to play. You don't want to start totally over, and fortunately for me, there was an opportunity to come back here. I think that definitely played into the decision to keep on going.