Across America, today is Tax Day. In the Bay State, April 15 is Marathon Monday. And here in Foxborough, it’s Patriots Day.
Well, technically, the Patriots Day holiday is marked all across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but at Gillette Stadium, the reigning Super Bowl Champion Patriots returned to the facility to commence Phase One of their offseason training program.
Up until now, players could still use the Gillette Stadium premises for individual workout purposes, including rehabilitation from injuries sustained during the 2018 season, but any such activities could not be officially sanctioned or overseen by coaches or other club personnel, as they now are, with certain restrictions.
Teams like the Patriots who have returning head coaches can begin their official offseason programs starting today and lasting a total of nine weeks over a 10-week period (teams with new head coaches got a two-week head-start on April 1). A maximum of four workouts per week can be assigned to any individual player, and weekend workouts are off-limits.
It’s also important to note that the workouts going forward are voluntary, with the exception of the three-day mandatory minicamp in June. However, almost every player on the roster generally shows up for the offseason program, which is broken up into three distinct phases of escalating activity and involvement, as dictated by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association, the union which represents all players.
For the first two weeks of the offseason program, this first phase is limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only. Only full-time or part-time strength and conditioning coaches, who have no other coaching responsibilities with the Club, are allowed on the field with players. Coaches can’t observe or otherwise participant in these sessions. No helmets or footballs are allowed, with the exception of quarterbacks throwing to receivers, provided the receivers are not being defended by other players.
Patriots players arrive for the first day of the offseason program at Gillette Stadium on Monday, April 15, 2019.
Week 3 through 5 of the offseason program are considered Phase Two, during which time all coaches are allowed on the field with players. However, players are still precluded from wearing helmets at this point.
Coaches can give on-field instructions and oversee drills, but such group workouts must be organized by what’s known as “perfect play” drills. For example, offensive groupings can assemble, but without a corresponding defensive unit to shadow them. Similarly, special teams drills are run on what’s called a “separates” basis. For instance, the kickoff team can work together, but not against a return team only.
Live contact is, of course, not permitted, nor or any team offense vs. team defense drills (i.e., 11-on-11) or any position vs. position drills (such as receivers against cornerbacks).
The final four weeks of the nine-week program conclude with organized team activity practices (a.k.a. OTAs) and the aforementioned three-day mini-camp, with no more than 10 of these combined practices total. Coaches are actively involved in these on-field workouts. Phase Three does allow for the use of helmets, but no other padding. Live contact is still prohibited in Phase Three, but team drills are allowed, including 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11.
No more than three OTA sessions can be held during each of the first two weeks of Phase Three (Weeks 6 and 7 overall). If the team wants to add sessions during those first two weeks, such workouts would be subject to Phase Two rules. In either of the final two weeks of the program (Weeks 8 and 9), a maximum of four OTAs can be scheduled, with the three-day mini-camp taking place during the other week.
The True Offseason
Earlier in Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach of the Patriots, his teams would end the offseason with mandatory mini-camp. In recent years, though, including 2019, New England has elected to hold mini-camp in the penultimate week and conclude the offseason program with a handful of OTAs.
This spring, the Patriots will hold OTAs May 20, 21, and 23. Media will be allowed to observe the third of those. Two more will take place May 29 and 30. Mini-camp is June 4-6, at which media will be present for all three sessions. Media will also observe the June 10 OTA before the Patriots finish up their offseason program with an OTA on June 11.
After that, the true offseason begins. Almost no official NFL business takes place and players must stay in shape on their own for about six weeks until the start of training camp, which traditionally gets going the final week of July. Stay tuned to patriots.com for exact dates and times for those summertime practices, which are the only sessions expected to be open to the public.