In a way, the New England Patriots will be going back to school as they prepare for the upcoming NFL season.
COVID-19 concerns resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 preseason, giving Bill Belichick and his Patriots coaching staff just a handful of practices to evaluate their roster and prepare their players for Week 1.
The lack of exhibition games will make those evaluations more difficult and likely will result in some sloppy September football. Belichick, though, struck an optimistic tone Friday when discussing the new summer schedule during his first conversation with reporters since late April.
College football teams, the longtime Patriots head coach noted, do not play in preseason games.
“We’ll just have to take advantage of our practice opportunities and create as much combination of competition to evaluate the players and also situations to get our players ready to play in regular-season games, and combine those things as we go forward,” Belichick said in a video call with media members.
“So it’ll be a little bit different setup, but that’s what college teams do every year. I think ever since the beginning of college football back in — well, I don’t know about all the way back when Rutgers started in the 1870s — but that’s the way it’s been. You go to camp for three weeks, and then you start the season. There are no preseason games. You evaluate your team, and you get ready to play. That’s what all college football teams do. So I don’t think it’s anything that’s revolutionary here.”
The Patriots already trimmed their roster from 90 players to 80 before holding their first training camp practice. That won’t take place until Aug. 12, with the first full-contact session currently set for Aug. 17. Teams will be limited to 14 padded practices, during which roster hopefuls will look to prove they deserve a spot in the final 53.
“We haven’t done it that way in the National Football League for a while, and I certainly haven’t done it that way — I haven’t coached in college,” Belichick, whose father was a longtime coach and scout at Navy, said of the lack of preseason games. “But as a college player and growing up around college programs, I can remember those periods of time leading up to the start of the season. Teams had their scrimmages or whatever you want to call them and ways to prepare their team and at the same time evaluate the players.
“It’s a process that certainly goes into the early part of the season. This is just football, that’s all. I don’t really see it any differently.”