Well, it's a start.
With an OTA and three days of mini-camp scheduled this week, Vince Wilfork'sappearance at the Patriots Charitable Foundation Golf Tournament set a positive tone for the long week of work ahead for **Bill Belichick's *team – their last week of group activity until training camp begins late next month.
The former Pro Bowl nose tackle is entering the final year of his current contract and has said numerous times this offseason that he's looking to work out an extension with the club. But that hasn't yet happened, and, heretofore, Wilfork has missed many of the Patriots' offseason workouts (technically, they're voluntary, for the most part).
But he was in town recently for a charitable event of his own, and his participation in the team's golf outing, a major annual event for the franchise and its corporate sponsors, begs the question: will he take part in this week's practices?
"I don't know how this works," Wilfork said last week, referring to his limited attendance-as-bargaining chip maneuver. "I don't know if I'm doing it the right way or the wrong way. I'm pretty sure I could ask a lot of guys in that locker room and all of them would give me different answers. So I'm doing it the best way I can do it. That's what I'm going to do.
"My main thing is that Vince Wilfork is looking out for Vince Wilfork, point-blank. Whatever it may be. If it calls for me to miss something I'm going to miss it because I look toward the future. That's how I'm going to roll. Something may change in a couple of days, something might not change. I'll take it day by day. I'm looking out for my family and myself. That's the bottom line."
Like Wilfork, fellow defensive lineman Richard Seymourhas just one year remaining on his current deal with the Patriots. But their situations are different. Seymour has chosen to be active in offseason workouts with his New England teammates, in part because he hasn't had the luxury of doing so in recent years due to various injuries and the rehabilitation they required.
A strong offseason showing last year helped Seymour match his career highs in sacks and tackles in 2008.
"I'm looking to build on that at this point. That's my focus," Seymour said Monday at the golf tourney. "Statistics can be misleading, but at the same time, I said before that season that I felt a lot better, and the statistics spoke for themselves. I matched my career high for sacks and tackles. I'm looking to be better than that this season because I've put in the work and I've been able to train.
"I'm 29 years old now and I really feel better than I did as a rookie. Total body-wise, I feel great. I'm stronger, I'm leaner. I just feel good all the way around. I'm definitely looking for big things this season. I'm at the end of my contract and I'm in a great situation. I know the ability and talent I have."
As for his own contract status, he wouldn't go into much detail, preferring, he said, to keep such matters private. However, when asked if he thought the worldwide economic slump might play a role in his contract negotiations with the Patriots, Seymour offered a light-hearted response.
"We're going to bring in the stimulus package," he replied with a roaring, good-natured laugh.
Tank ready for battle
Oft-injured safety Tank Williams, who missed the entire 2008 season with a blown-out knee, was in good spirits at the golf tournament Monday. He said he was past the rehab stage and was focused solely on football.
Last summer, Belichick experimented with Williams, then a veteran free agent signing, at both his normal safety position and at inside linebacker during training camp before Williams was injured in preseason.
Before joining the Pats, the 6-2, 223-pound Stanford product had an unfortunate professional history of suffering major injuries that have caused him to miss significant time. Yet Williams, who'll turn 29 later this month, insisted he's ready to pick up where he left off a year ago.
"I hope so. That's the plan. It just feels good to be back out on the field. Knock on wood, hopefully I can stay healthy this year and do some good things out there. Right now my total focus is just football. I feel like I'm in a good place right now … I feel like I'm coming back even stronger and in better shape than before the injury."
Kraft optimistic about '09
Patriots owner Robert Kraftstopped to chat with reporters for a few minutes before hitting the links with contributing fans and corporate sponsors. Among other topics, Kraft addressed the return of QB **Tom Brady *from his season-ending knee injury.
"I personally like what I see, but we all know it's not what happens now, it's what happens the Monday night after Labor Day," Kraft said in reference to New England's season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.
"Last year … the way we played at the end of the year, we didn't make the playoffs, but I tell you what, nobody wanted to face us in the playoffs. So, I'm pretty excited about the team we have this upcoming year. But I've also learned to moderate my excitement because things happen in the NFL that none of us can plan on. We try to put ourselves in the best position to do the best we can and hope that no force majeure or acts of God impact us in a negative way."
Kraft added that although there might be more younger, as-yet unproven players on this year's squad, he's encouraged by the effort they've put in so far this offseason and the team chemistry he's watching develop.
"I think there's a sense of confidence in the locker room, and you can see it in when you walk through and see it in the OTAs. There's a group of young players on this team who are coming up who have a great pride and confidence. And a lot of that comes from preparation. I come in either early in the morning or late and night, and you'd be surprised the number of young players who are in all the different [film] rooms watching tape or hanging out in groups in the locker room. The camaraderie and spirit that's there … it's there at all the positions."
Green on the green
This year's NEPCF Golf Tournament was held once again at The International in Bolton, Mass., just off route 495. The weather, unlike previous years that have been either cold and rainy or hot and humid, was pleasant: partly sunny skies with temps in the low 70s.
As is customary, the day of golf got started with the players taking part in a longest drive competition before they paired up with their foursomes of fans and sponsors. Overseeing the festivities was first-time emcee and veteran Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green, who's many quips as he introduced his teammates brought a steady stream of laughter from the assembled crowd.
Handling the play-by-play duties with ease, Green was the hit of the competition. As Brady stepped to the tee, Green mentioned to the crowd that he was glad the quarterback "finally got here." Earlier, Sammy Morrisshanked a drive, on which Green immediately commented "20 yards … first down!"
When Pro Bowl wideout Wes Welkersliced a shot into the woods and growled at himself in disgust, Green teased him with, "It's not the tee, Wes, it's you."
And after several failed attempts to pronounce correctly the last name of kicker Stephen Gostkowski, Green finally gave up.
"Kicker, Memphis," Green deadpanned, adding sarcastically, "Is it MEM-phis, or Mem-PHIS?"
Bragging rights, by the way, for the longest drive contest went to Tedy Bruschi, whose 287-yard bomb edged Brady's 281. Welker's 275-yard shot was good enough for third-place.