FOXBORO, Mass. — Offseason workouts aren't about X's or O's in the meeting room, executing on the field or 10-hour days at the stadium. Rather, they're about conditioning and building a solid foundation in team chemistry, which has been the Patriots' mantra for a decade.
Due to the nearly perfect attendance numbers — a league-wide rarity for these voluntary sessions — it's clear the Patriots have made a conscious effort to clean up the issues that plagued their locker room last season. Now that quarterback Tom Brady is in attendance, the Patriots can really move forward with limited distractions during their offseason preparations.
"This is when you build that connection, during the offseason — just coming out here, playing catch, going through the motions, hanging out, having fun with it," Patriots wide receiver David Patten said. "Once the season starts, there's so much pressure, so much riding on it. Now, it's kind of laid back. You just get to know one another and just have fun with it."
The Patriots have been building their strength in the weight room and their endurance by running outside. Their workdays are much shorter in comparison to the regular season — players can be in and out of Gillette Stadium within two or three hours if they're diligent — so the players are spending more time with each other after their workouts, too. Wide receiver Randy Moss has been playing basketball with a number of his teammates, for example.
"A couple of us always keep in contact [in the offseason]," said Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, who took a trip to California to hang out with James Sanders at one point. "I keep with all my [defensive backs] pretty much. Seeing a lot of the other guys that you really don't have a chance to be with too much [outside of the season], it's great to see them again."
Patten said these bonding experiences really helped will the Patriots of years past to three Super Bowls in four years. After regular-season meetings and practices, they'd hang out in the locker room every day for an extra two or three hours because they "genuinely enjoyed being around each other." These offseason workouts will help start that team-building culture, which will only make it easier for them to keep it going when the stress level rises later in the year.
Aside from their sunny moods and good vibes, though, the Patriots remain angry over their 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens, and they're using it as motivation to work harder right now. When cornerback Leigh Bodden was asked if that still bothered him, he responded without ambiguity.
"Definitely, I think that should be every year if you don't win a championship, especially for an organization and a team like this," Bodden said. "You always set your goals high, and that's what I noticed when I first got in the locker room last year. It's definitely something that guys want to accomplish, and that's their goal every year."
New England's younger generation is still trying to keep the organization's legacy alive and moving in the right direction. Including Patten, just nine Patriots remain from the franchise's Super Bowl XXXIX victory, and there are only five players on the roster who won all three Super Bowl titles.
While January's debacle still stings, Meriweather doesn't want to forget about it. By remembering that sickening feeling, they can use these workouts as a metaphorical bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and the 2010 Patriots started chugging that pink stuff last week.
"You also want to embrace it," Meriweather said. "You want to embrace that feeling so you can try your best not to feel like that again."