It will be an even steeper uphill battle than usual for NFL rookies to contribute this season, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seemed pleased with his group of first-year players while acknowledging the challenges they face.
In a normal year, first-year players would have already underwent rookie minicamp, organized team activities, full-squad minicamp, two weeks of training camp and their first preseason game. The Patriots haven’t even put on pads yet, and as of Friday morning, they’ve practiced twice.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, everything leading up to training camp was canceled, and players instead met virtually this spring. Because of the loss of OTAs and minicamp, training camp began with a two-week ramp-up period before practices started this week. Preseason has been canceled, so rookies will have roughly one month of practice to get ready for the 2020 NFL season, which starts Sept. 13 for the Patriots as they face the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
“I think all of our rookies have worked extremely hard. They?re in deep water, turbulent water, and it?s going to get rougher,” Belichick said in a video conference call Friday. “Just in terms of the volume and the level of competition, becoming a professional athlete and the full day and consecutive days that get strung together with very high demands both physically, mentally and rest and recovery and all that. I think all the guys are adjusting to it. They?re all working hard at it. It?s a really hardworking group. There haven?t been any problems. They?re just doing the best they can, but they?re swimming.
“They?re in deep water and their eyes get open every day as we move up in the process and we?re still a long way from anything close to real football. We?re doing more now than we did before. Each day is an acclimation day and adjustment day for them. I think they?re just trying to keep their head above water and try to swim or paddle in the right direction, knowing that they?re not really able to keep up, but they?re doing the best they can and they?re way, way ahead of where they were a week ago, two weeks ago, a month ago, two months ago. A lot of progress there, but a long way to go. But they?re really all in the same boat. It?s a hardworking, conscientious, diligent group. They have a lot that they?re going to have to absorb. We?ll get a much better evaluation of where they are in the next week to 10 days when things start happening on the football field and we start playing some football.”
The Patriots likely will adjust to the loss of preseason games by holding intrasquad scrimmages this summer.
Rookies might need to be counted on at key positions after eight veteran Patriots players opted out for the 2020 NFL season. Among those rookies who might need to step up from Day 1 are tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings and safety Kyle Dugger.
One Patriots rookie, center Dustin Woodard, already retired two days into NFL practice.