In an effort to preach leadership and accountability, New England has made a handful of roster decisions this offseason, and it's apparent the team has aimed to bring in good people.
Free agent wide receivers David Patten and Torry Holt, tight end Alge Crumpler and defensive lineman Damione Lewis each have outstanding reputations, and it should help make a difference in a locker room that wasn’t perfect in 2009.
"I know Bill [Belichick] and [senior football advisor] Floyd [Reese] and [director of player personnel] Nick [Caserio] and all those guys up there, they do a good job of recruiting and studying who they've got," said Patriots center Dan Koppen.
Holt is probably the only lock to make the team out of the group, but Lewis and Crumpler each have very good shots, and Patten has it stacked against him. Because each of them have already been working out at Gillette Stadium, though, they've had a chance to make an impact with their new teammates.
Patten spent four seasons with the Patriots and won three Super Bowls, giving him instant credibility in that locker room, even with the guys he didn’t know before his second go-round in Foxboro. He can share stories from back in the day of what it took for the Patriots to be so successful on a weekly basis.
"We would get out of practice at like 3:30, 4 o’clock," Patten said. "You’d have an afternoon meeting for about 30 minutes to an hour, but then we would spend two to three hours just hanging out in that locker room. I’m absolutely convinced that that’s what gave us the edge on Sundays. Arguably, they would say we weren’t the best or didn’t have the most talent. But the one thing you couldn’t argue with was we had one of the best teams, and that’s because we genuinely enjoyed being around each other."
This isn’t to make a mountain out of a molehill. The Patriots did have a good group of guys in the locker room last season, but they obviously had to rid themselves of one bad influence — linebacker Adalius Thomas — and bring in a fresh crop of quality characters this offseason.
And while character can have a different side behind a closed door, it cannot be debated that quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Wes Welker and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork have each stated the team needed more mental toughness. That’s the stuff that comes from within — Monday through Saturday, and March through August.
"I think the best way I can help and teach those guys," Holt said, "first and foremost, is being here, being diligent, being precise, being efficient, being on time as much as I possibly can, participating in the drills, participating in the workouts, running routes at the proper depth, being efficient off the line of scrimmage, the detailed things. Most importantly, just leading by example."
New England's offseason focus didn’t just zone in on free agents, either. The Patriots drafted Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who oozes George Washington-like leadership characteristics, and cornerback Devin McCourty, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Taylor Price all seem to fit a similar mold. Heck, even punter Zoltan Mesko has been praised for his quality character.
The Patriots' offseason has gotten off to a good start, and the organization's philosophical focus is apparent. They've replenished the locker room with good people who just want to work hard and get along with the other guys.
"These guys don’t know me from Adam, so all I do is keep my head down, and work and be social with guys," Lewis said. "Hopefully, my work ethic passes on to guys my age, as well. I’m going to come in and grind every day, give it everything I’ve got every day and double it up on Sunday."