With on-the-field play beginning this week through scheduled organized team activities, we can begin to see what the Patriots might have in store for us - and the rest of the NFL - next season.
If there are any areas of concern for a team that appears to be locked and loaded for a repeat shot at a Super Bowl appearance, one most certainly comes from the defensive line...particularly at end. Not that the position isn't deep, because it certainly appears to have ample size, speed and ability.
But when personnel changes from one set of skills to another, and when personalities and possible chemistry are involved, you just never know what change can bring. Gone from a title team are veterans Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, but coming in are Kony Ealy and Lawrence Guy.
And let's also add rookies Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise to this mix, since they also figure prominently in the early depth chart settings. The position sure seems deeper now than a month ago, doesn't it?
Ealy especially brings promise to the position, when you consider his three-sack performance in Super Bowl 50 while playing for the Carolina Panthers. Promise, and excitement with that kind of ability. But true to Patriot form, he's apparently not here to talk about his previous accomplishments.
"That Super Bowl game is over, man," Ealy told the media last week. "I really don't like to talk about the past."
Welcome to New England, Kony. With comments like that, you'll fit right in.
Scary, isn't it? It's almost as if players know on cue they need to act differently when they arrive in Foxboro. We saw some of that last season in Martellus Bennett, although he wasn't completely bottled up.
But Ealy's comments stood out as, well, almost Stepford-like.
In case you're not familiar with either the 1975 or 2004 flicks, the original '72 book written by Ira Levin "The Stepford Wives" was set in the small, fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut. A woman who moved into the neighborhood with her husband and children suspected the submissive housewives living there were actually robots created by their conniving husbands.
The word "Stepford" has entered the dictionary over time, used as a satirical term when referring to someone who may be submissive, a conformist, or even docile. No one will accuse a Patriot player of being docile, certainly. But have players conformed to the words - and actions - of those that have come and played before them?
They have. This pretty much falls into the category of "don't rock the boat." What has worked in the past surely can work again. So, whether his attitude comes from observing the organization from afar, a word of advice from veteran coaches or teammates, or from a magical Stepford-like spell cast upon his persona as he arrives, Ealy already knows the drill around here.
"My job, like I've said, is to come in here, buy into the system and make the most of my opportunity here, period." he said. "And let everything lie where they may. Just don't worry about the future right now, worry about the present.
"My job is to come in here, learn the system and buy into the team. Everybody buys in...I love it here and I'm going to continue to work my butt off and try to get better."
Spoken like a true Stepford, er, Patriot player from the past, who wants to be a presence on this team right away.
It's no picnic
The term has always sounded like a picnic-in-the-park. But assuredly, Organized Team Activities are anything but, especially for newcomers to the organization.
Check out some of the best images from the Patriots Off-Season Workout at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
The media won't get to eyeball one-on-one matchups until later in the week. But rest assured, there will be storylines to follow as the 2017 New England Patriots begin to take shape.
*Tom Brady & Brandin Cooks: *
This one will be watched by the entire pro football world. Are the two already on the same page? Can Cooks possibly anticipate where throws are coming from? Does there appear to be any chemistry or confidence between the two? How often will TB12 target his new receiver? Welcome to New England, Brandin, and to the glare of a white-hot spotlight.
Stephon Gilmore & Malcolm Butler:
They won't be throwing to each other, but more importantly, will they appear to get along with each other? The new, big-monied contract and the relatively-still-new-Super-Bowl-hero have a chance to become a special tandem in the defensive backfield. Will ego get in the way of ability, or performance? This week begins the process of creating chemistry and cohesiveness on an area of the team that may need both more than others.
Mike Gillislee & Rex Burkhead:
It's a brand-new dynamic in the offensive backfield at running back for the Patriots next season, and these two guys won't necessarily be replacing LeGarrette Blount's 18 rushing touchdowns from last year. But they sure will offer a different look and different versatility to a backfield that loses a singular ground-and-pound back, but gains a couple of guys who know how to hit the holes in an offensive line.
Meeting and greeting
The spring NFL owners' meetings are taking place in Chicago this week, and while franchise relocation is no longer an issue - even though stadiums may be - some potential rules changes certainly look like they will be up for strong consideration.
Of note, there appears to be a sense for change in the length of overtime periods, shortening the extra "quarter" from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. NFL coaches initially have supported the idea for the reduction in playing time, with player safety being at the front of the issue - guys are simply out of gas as the OT reaches the final few minutes, increasing risk of injury.
I'm not certain how that might sit with you, but as a fan myself, the thought of potentially having more ties in football games is a little baffling. Whatever happened to the Herm Edwards thought of "hello? You play to win the game!"
Another way to look at this, however, is that coaches (and players by proxy) would potentially play more aggressively in an extra period, knowing they have less time to score. Perhaps then, an overtime could be just as exciting - if not more so - than the buildup to it?
NFL.com has also reported the owners are likely to approve a change where teams may be allowed to bring two players back from the injured reserve list before a season is completed, rather than just one. The idea is to give teams more flexibility when it comes to making tough roster choices, especially later in the year.
Got a rule change you'd like to see take place? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is entering his 25th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 29 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame, and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.