Mandatory mini-camp is next week.
Football, for all practical purposes, is back on our agenda.
There's something a bit contradictory about the phrase "mandatory mini-camp." I mean, "mandatory" means attendance is required. But the "mini-camp" part, or more specifically the word "mini" makes it seem almost unimportant, or irrelevant...like, it's no big deal.
But it isn't a little deal, either. Don't we know this already?
Should we call next week's mini-camp a true, Organized Team Activity? It's just semantics, of course. But perhaps a better phrase for practices next week - those mandatory practices, again - should be something like "Three Days at the Beginning of the Road to the Super Bowl."
We're so into dramatics around here, you know.
With a bit of theater in mind, and knowing that "mandatory mini-camp" is likely to be a maximum headline grabber for news media from across the country, there are three things to keep in mind as opening storylines of importance for the 2018 New England Patriots:
1) Ignore the noise
This may be harder to do than anyone realizes. The Patriots have created their own noise in the aftermath of the loss in Super Bowl LII in several ways, and much of the clamoring this off-season has come from a guy who isn't normally noisy - Tom Brady. Whether TB12 is finally at his wits end with Bill Belichick or not, or if he's decided to prioritize his family (as he has said more than once), or if he feels underappreciated by the team isn't the issue.
The issue is - can great minds and abilities come together, at least once more, for the greater good and contend again for Super Bowl LIII? They've managed to excel for most of 18 years, there's little reason to believe Year 19 - which is an eternity in sporting life - will be much different. But make no mistake about it, it's getting noisier as the days and years grow longer around Fort Foxboro. The muffler for this hot-rod will need some adjustment.
2) Re-establish the Patriot Way
This runs in lock-step with the thinking above. Whatever "The Patriot Way" is, or whatever it means to the coaches, players or even you, needs to regain its focus. Football matters will need to be prioritized over all others. TB12 will need to reassert himself, to an extent, on the field and in the locker room. In the absence of Danny Amendola, the re-emergence of Julian Edelman from injury as a leader and "go-to" guy will also be important.
Organizational standards are "The Patriot Way," and the relentless way in which everyone executes them. Reassessing exactly what those standards are and gaining complete buy-in from the players is a big part of what it will take to keep this team at or near the top of the standings. You can't have 40 guys moving in one direction, and the other dozen-or-so rowing against the tide. Progress won't be made, which means championships won't be won.
3) Protect your assets
The biggest personnel issue, right now, isn't at linebacker. It's not on the defensive line, or on putting pressure on opposing QB's, either. No, the biggest issue is keeping your own QB up-right with his blind side now protected by a newcomer. This doesn't mean that whoever steps into the starting role at left tackle can't or won't do the job.
It does mean, however, that he'd better do the job. No lineman is perfect; pressures and hits and sacks are a part of the game, of course. But the lineman who steps into the breach as Nate Solder's replacement (Trent Brown? Isaiah Wynn? LaAdrian Waddle?) certainly needs to understand he'll be watched, criticized and commented upon like few other offensive linemen have ever been dissected around here previously.
TB12 may be pliable and durable at age 40. But he ain't Gumby, dammit.
It all starts next week, with mandatory mini-camp at Gillette Stadium. There really won't be anything miniature about it.
Are we having fun yet?
It sure is good to know that Cassius Marsh is now having fun with football again.
If you haven't heard, Marsh told the San Francisco Chronicle over the past weekend he didn't enjoy his time in New England as a member of the Patriots last season.
"They asked me to do a bunch of stuff that I had never done - covering running backs and receivers and basically almost never rushing the passer, which is what I did in playing defensive line," Marsh told The Chronicle's Eric Branch. "They don't have fun there. There's nothing fun about it. There's nothing happy about it. I didn't enjoy any of my time there, you know what I'm saying? It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much."
Well then. Tell us how you really feel, Cassius.
It might have been a simple instance where the player's talents simply didn't suit the needs of the team or organization at the time. Marsh was primarily a speed-rusher, but the team also needed him to do some other things (like cover and tackle and actually play football) to get onto the field.
If there was ever any doubt, each year you win some and you lose some when it comes to evaluating talent and ability.
But after reading Marsh's comments over the weekend, it seems pretty clear to me - the Patriots were the winners here as this relationship came to a close.
"I confronted (Bill Belichick) about all the things that were going on," Marsh also told the paper. "I won't get into detail, but it was B.S. things they were doing. I just wasn't a fan. And so, I basically without asking to get cut, I kind of asked to get cut. I had confidence that I would have an opportunity elsewhere and I would take advantage of it."
Marsh did, apparently, do just that. But when some fans right away began taking him to task over his comments, he immediately backed them up in a video released on social media.
"I just want to address all you Patriots' fans who don't like this new article. I'm sorry to hurt your feelings. Seems to be breaking your heart. But if you can't handle the truth, stay off my page. Don't read articles. That's how I felt. That's how I still feel and I'm grateful to be away from there, grateful to be where I'm at."
Well then, good for Cassius. We're all grateful where you're at. I'd also kindly remind him of the adage 'there is no "I" in T-E-A-M.' Now that's a trite phrase, sure.
But from the sound of things, it's also a big reason why he's in San Francisco, and not in Foxboro. Good luck to the 49ers, they might need it.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster and has completed 25 seasons 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 30 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.