FOXBOROUGH - Over the last several years, as his young assistants have risen through the ranks of the coaching staff, Bill Belichick has effectively made some of them prove that they have what it takes to receive the title of coordinator.
He did it with Josh McDaniels, who called the plays for a couple of years before officially being named offensive coordinator. And when McDaniels left for Denver, Belichick did the same thing with Bill O’Brien.
Matt Patricia is the latest such assistant. On Thursday, the Patriots announced several coaching changes, foremost among them the formal promotion of Patricia from linebackers/safeties coach to defensive coordinator. The 37-year old had already been the defensive play-caller.
As the Patriots began rookie minicamp on Friday, Patricia and McDaniels, now back and in charge of the offense, were made available to the media, but Patricia shied away from talk of his promotion.
“You know, job titles aside, we all have a job to do on defense, everything is always ever-changing and we’re just trying to get everything done that we can to facilitate this part of the season,’’ said Patricia.
But is being given the title gratifying?
“Uh, I’m not really . . . titles are not really the important thing,’’ said Patricia. “All of us as a staff, defensively, we all work together, we all have a job to do, we all have input, and we just really collectively combine to do what we do every week and put a good product on the field, and that’s really what we do. It doesn’t have to do with titles or anything.’’
During training camp last summer it was clear Patricia was overseeing the entire defense. Getting the coordinator title is more of a formality, though it does signal to other teams that Patricia is in a defined position of authority.
It wasn’t long after Eric Mangini, McDaniels, and O’Brien were officially named coordinators that each moved on to a head coaching position.
Patricia was more expansive when asked about Belichick’s influence on him.
“I can’t really even begin to speak on what he means to me and what he’s helped me learn, football in general,’’ Patricia said. “Just like every place I’ve been, there’s coaches you try to learn from, and like in any profession, try to make yourself better.
“Coach Belichick is a great example for anyone to be able to follow and learn and study from, and I try to take in that information to the best of my ability, along with a lot of the great coaches I work with every day.’’
The Patriots went on a free agent receiver frenzy, signing Brandon Lloyd, Donte’ Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and Anthony Gonzalez. They also re-signed Deion Branch and placed the franchise tag on Wes Welker.
Those six, rookies Jeremy Ebert and Matt Roark, plus returning veterans Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater, will be vying for spots come training camp.
“I think it’s going to be exciting,’’ said McDaniels. “Not only do we have a lot of people who have been successful and provided some results individually, but also a lot of them have some real knowledge and background of our system too, which is a real unique situation. But I think that makes for great competition. I know every year we talk about having great competition at every spot; the receiver position is certainly going to be filled with that.’’
Ebert eager to learn
Ebert, a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, lined up in the slot quite a bit, and he’s relishing the opportunity to learn from Welker, one of the best at the position.
“All the wide receivers here, they’re all great,’’ Ebert said. “They’re playing in the NFL, so learning from all of these guys is going to be awesome. I’m just really excited to meet them and be a sponge and soak up all I can.’’
Belichick at service
Belichick flew to San Diego for a private funeral service Thursday night for Junior Seau. On Friday night, up to 60,000 fans were expected at a public memorial service at Qualcomm Stadium. Belichick was back to oversee the first day of rookie camp . . . Second-rounder Tavon Wilson became the first Patriots draft pick to sign, inking a four-year deal that scout.com reported is worth $4.2 million . . . The rookies not under contract sign a standard agreement protecting them and the team in case of injury. That came into play in 2009 when linebacker Tyrone McKenzie tore his ACL during rookie minicamp.Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.