The New England Patriots are inching closer to real football.
After beginning training camp with a ramp-up period of strength training, conditioning and walkthroughs and then focusing on individual and positional drills during their first two on-field practices, the Patriots plan to ratchet up the intensity Friday by introducing competitive team drills. Their first padded practice is set for Monday.
“The first team practice is today,” Belichick said Friday morning in a video conference. “We’ve had endless Zoom meetings, then in-person meetings, walkthroughs since training camp started, some individual drills the last couple of days, and then (Friday) will be the first opportunity we get to really have any full-speed or high-tempo team drills.
“So that’s good. I think we’re all looking forward to that. I’m sure we have a lot of work to do, both coaches and players getting back into coaching at that level and certainly the players playing and reacting at that level and so forth. So this will be a good experience for all of us there.”
This has been an unprecedented offseason for the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.
The COVID-19 pandemic eliminated all spring practices and workouts, resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2020 preseason and delayed the start of on-field training camp practices by more than a week. Teams will be allowed to hold just 14 padded practices before the regular season begins and will have zero opportunities to hit players who aren’t their teammates until Week 1.
“(Thursday) night would have been our first preseason game,” Belichick said. “We haven’t even had a team full-speed practice yet, let alone in pads. So that’s where we are in terms of where we normally are. But that’s not really relevant. What’s relevant is where we are and what we can do now, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
This drastic schedule change has been especially jarring for New England’s rookies, whose first NFL practice came two and a half months later than it would have in a typical offseason. Belichick said these young players are “in deep water, in turbulent water.”
“And it’s going to get rougher,” the coach added.
The Patriots, who are replacing key players at quarterback, linebacker, right tackle, safety, defensive tackle and kicker, are less than a month away from their regular-season opener. They’re scheduled to host the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 at Gillette Stadium.