The New England Patriots successfully navigated the first virtual draft in NFL history. Now comes the hard part.
With all team facilities shuttered and offseason programs pushed online amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Bill Belichick and his staff now will be tasked with getting their 10 draft picks and various undrafted free agents up to speed without the benefit of on-field training and in-person instruction.
They have a plan in place, though, which Belichick laid out during his post-draft video conference.
“We’ll pretty much follow the format that we’ve done with the veteran players,” Belichick said. “We’ll have a rookie minicamp, if you will. Take that time to try to orient the players the best that we can to some of the things that they’re going to be dealing with and also to try to start the process of new terminology, nomenclature, terms, so forth. Then eventually, we’ll follow that up with the rookie developmental period that, according to the league I think is May 11.
“That will eventually merge into a full-scale OTA-type meeting schedule that we would normally have, without the on-the-field work, but try to use that time to bring the team together in terms of putting our plays in and so forth, also trying to help them structure their training so they can best prepare for the season. Whatever guidance and direction we get on that, when we get it, we’ll modify things as necessary.
“At this point I’d say we’re planning kind of a normal spring in terms of covering material and giving them information, testing them to make sure that they are comprehending it, can give it back to us. But we’ll just have to modify that as we go. Whether it’s training camp in the early part of the season, so forth, however that ends up happening, we’re ready to adjust along the way.”
The Patriots’ veterans went back to work this week as they and a handful of other teams kicked off their virtual offseason programs. New England reportedly is one of just three teams to include “virtual workouts” in their program, with the rest choosing to focus on meetings and film study.
Belichick, whose disdain for technology is well-documented, said he’s been pleasantly surprised with the smoothness of his team’s operation thus far.
“So far, I would say after a week of meeting with the players last week that these Webex meetings have gone very well — in a way surprising,” the coach said. “Better than I would have expected. Haven’t really been any problems. Players are engaged. They’re learning a lot of material and putting a lot of time and work in it. They’re following the guidelines that we’ve given them in terms of their training program, on-the-field training program, weight lifting and so forth.
“There are obviously varying degrees of facilities, equipment and so forth. But one way or another, I think they’re finding a way to work around it, and we are, too. I commend them for that. Hopefully, we can string a few good weeks together and be the best prepared we can to get ready for training camp. (It’s) certainly not what we’re used to doing, but everybody is dealing with the same situations. We’ll try to make the most of whatever opportunities there are.”