And just like that, the Patriots are back to work and truly looking ahead to the 2012 season. While special teams captain Matthew Slater is among the players still having a difficult time coping with the Super Bowl loss, he can begin to suppress that hollow feeling during the upcoming weeks of official workouts.
For more on those, let’s roll out the Two-Minute Drill.
1. Linebacker Jerod Mayo has been among a number of Patriots who have been working out at Gillette Stadium since last month. The biggest incentive to that is rekindling chemistry and getting on the same page with one another if they want to discuss things about the upcoming season.
2. The Patriots will begin hosting formal workouts Monday. While they’re completely voluntary, players who have workout bonuses in their contracts must attend a certain amount of workouts per week. The first phase of offseason workouts is two weeks, and they’re limited to strength and conditioning. The strength coaches are the only ones permitted on the field with the players, which means Bill Belichick can’t be present. Belichick, obviously, will still have a hand in the orchestration of the workouts.
3. Wide receiver Wes Welker said last week he wasn’t sure if he’d attend the offseason workouts due to his contract situation. Since the franchise tag ensures his fully guaranteed contract, Welker won’t have any financial incentive to show up for the voluntary workouts.
4. It would be a little more alarming if he didn’t report for organized team activities from late May and into June since those are heavily attended by the Patriots. And if this is still a storyline in about a month and a half, all eyes will be on Welker’s attendance at minicamp, which is mandatory. If he skips that — and, from what I’ve been told, I still don’t believe he will — it would turn the cold war into something of a real issue.
5. Patriots wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez is hoping to become the fourth player ever to catch a pass from both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. If you can name the other three without looking, well, you probably aren’t the type who invests much into sunscreen. Those players are wide receiver Torrance Small (Colts 1998, Patriots 2001), tight end Jermaine Wiggins (Patriots 2001, Colts 2002) and fullback Dan Klecko (Patriots 2004, Colts 2006).
6. Gonzalez is trying to avoid the same fate as former Colts tight end Marcus Pollard, who had a nice career alongside Manning before getting cut by the Patriots in training camp in 2008.
7. I asked Gonzalez if he was worried about Tom Brady’s potential reservations of throwing the ball to a Buckeye, which could impact his opportunities. Gonzalez replied, “I didn’t think of that, actually. I guess he did go to Michigan. No, I would hope not. I got along real well with [former Michigan running back] Mike Hart when he was in Indianapolis, and we actually played against each other a lot, so I don’t anticipate that being an issue. I hope not.”
8. Gonzalez had a great line about making the transition from Manning to Brady: “I was joking with my friends. I have a very strict Hall of Famer-only policy. Just stay with that group. It’s good. It’s wonderful, obviously. Quarterbacks make receivers look very good, and hopefully I can get some opportunities with [Brady]. I’m really just looking forward to everybody getting back in. Once we can get with the coaches and get the offense going and things like that, that’s my focus.”
9. Gonzalez was overly complimentary of the Patriots on Tuesday, but he also weighed in on the Colts’ bizarre season in 2011.
“It was just odd,” he said. “It honestly was kind of like a head-scratcher for everybody. It’s kind of one of those things that I kind of don’t think about it much, especially now that I’m here. There’s so many positive things and so many great things going on around this organization that I’m just trying to jump in, and see where I can fit in and help out hopefully.”
10. Linebacker Brandon Spikes has been working out at Gillette Stadium recently. I personally believe it’s a really good sign that he’s taking advantage of his first true offseason in the NFL, especially since he took some heat from Belichick for the way he responded after his 2010 suspension. The other good thing is Spikes is there working with Mayo, who couldn’t be a better mentor.
11. Word on the street is former Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton had a good visit with the Dolphins on Tuesday.
12. Now that he’s been retired for four years, former wide receiver Troy Brown is in his first year of eligibility for the Patriots Hall of Fame, and he should be a lock. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was inducted last year, but Brown is going to be the guy who starts the string of more recent Patriots who receive enshrinement for several straight years.
13. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Willie McGinest will be eligible in 2013, and cornerback Ty Law will be eligible in 2014. Linebacker Mike Vrabel will be eligible in 2015, and left tackle Matt Light and running back Kevin Faulk could potentially be eligible in 2016 if they retire this offseason. Kicker Adam Vinatieri might be there soon after. I’ll stop there before I find myself somewhere around 2030.
14. With all that said, it’s going to be a while before Bill Parcells gets the nod. That was a side effect of losing to Bledsoe last year.
15. The most common question I’ve recently gotten on Twitter has had to do with the future of the Patriots’ running backs. There’s very little need to be concerned about the position at this point. Remember, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was pegged as the fifth-stringer at the start of training camp in 2010, before he rushed for over 1,000 yards that season. Point is, things change in a hurry at that position, and the Patriots still have a lot of talent at running back.
16. Running back Stevan Ridley looks like he can take over as the main guy on the ground, but there is a concern about the two fumbles that got him benched in the playoffs. I’ll say this: Ridley has always been impressive behind the scenes, and his work ethic, dedication to greatness and maturity level leads me to believe he’ll work to correct that flaw.
17. I also went through his LSU stats to see if the fumbles are a trend. He fumbled once as a sophomore in 2009 and twice as a junior in 2010. In all, those three fumbles came on 323 touches (306 carries, 17 receptions) in 39 games. That’s one fumble for every 108 touches. Ridley’s only extensive play at LSU came as a junior when he fumbled twice on 260 touches (249 carries, 11 receptions), which is one fumble for every 130 touches.
18. That’s still too small of a sample size to reach any hard determinations, so I want to compare those numbers to something, even if it’s not a direct correlation. I took the 15 NFL running backs who surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in 2011 for this exercise, and they fumbled the ball 51 times on 4,574 touches (4,033 carries, 541 catches). That’s an average of one fumble for every 90 touches. That’s something to put in perspective.
19. This is a pretty impressive quote from Slater, who was asked Tuesday about the necessary mentality at this point in the year: “I think it’s important for us as a team to understand that we’re not a Super Bowl team at this point. This is a new team. This is not the 2011 team, and we shouldn’t come in here expecting for teams to just [say], ‘Oh, that’s the Patriots. They were in the Super Bowl last year.’ We have to re-establish an identity. There are going to be new players, and we have to create an identity for this 2012 team, and we’re going to have to earn everything all over again. So we’re back at ground zero now, we have a lot of work to do.”
20. Sit down and clutch those armrests with all your might because I’m about to break some news: It’s difficult to predict what the Patriots will do in the draft. (OK, sorry for being dramatic.) Anyway, just look at their first pick in the last four drafts — linebacker Jerod Mayo, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Devin McCourty and tackle Nate Solder. None of those positions were immediate needs at the time, but all four have been very good players. And Mayo, McCourty and Solder were all needed as rookies a whole lot more than expected on draft night.