FOXBOROUGH — Following Bill Belichick’s lead, nose tackle Vince Wilfork echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying he, too, was saddened and disappointed by the arrest this month of former teammate Aaron Hernandez on a murder charge.
Wilfork joined fellow captains Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, and Devin McCourty on the upper practice field Thursday at Gillette Stadium, where each player was surrounded by reporters eager to hear them discuss the Hernandez situation.
“First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for the victim’s family,’’ Wilfork said. “You’re not dealing with just football right now. You’re dealing with a human being; you’re dealing with life. It’s sad and disappointing, but at the same time you get a chance to come and do something we love to do and play football.
“One thing we’re going to have to do is try to keep everything separate,’’ Wilfork added. “When you step on the field, you control what you can control and that’s playing football, getting better each day.’’
Asked for his reaction when he saw Hernandez on TV being led out of his home in handcuffs,Wilfork said, “Disappointing. It was a disappointment. Sad. There’s not really much else to say. It’s just sad and disappointing is the biggest thing.’’
McCourty was asked about the distractions as the Patriots prepare to open training camp Friday at Gillette Stadium.
“The focus is right now with training camp starting,’’ said McCourty. “Just getting ready, coming back to play football, we’ll have the same goals we always have as a team; to get better throughout training camp. This will be a distraction if we let it.’’
Rookies reported Sunday while the rest of the team reported to Gillette Thursday to undergo conditioning tests.
“I think the guys are doing an excellent job of ignoring the noise and continuing to work hard,’’ Mayo said.
Wilfork praised Belichick for his proactive approach before the media Wednesday.
“I think he handled it very, very well. I think he put it the best way,’’ Wilfork said. “I think Robert Kraft and Bill handled it pretty perfectly.’’
Belichick’s humility was something seldom seen by the media or fans.
“You know what, he gets a lot of grief about who he is as a coach,’’ Wilfork said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all human beings and a lot of people are seeing that because it’s beyond football. It’s not just football; this is real life. This is a human being. This is life.
“And I think a lot of people are seeing that from the way our organization handled it, from Bill and Robert. And I hope people respect them for that.’’
With Rob Gronkowski on the mend from offseason back surgery, Brady was asked a simple question: What are the Patriots going to do at tight end?
“I think Coach talks about your role being what you make of it,’’ Brady said. “There are a lot of tight ends, guys like Daniel [Fells] and Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui] who have been here last year and certainly Jake [Ballard] and [Zach] Sudfeld are going to have an opportunity to come out and find a role for themselves.’’
Who will emerge is anyone’s guess.
“The competition plays out on the field,’’ Brady said. “That’s the best part is you can think about all these different ways that it could play out, but it’s going to come down to who comes out and plays the best.’’
McCourty, unable to participate in the organized team activities, minicamps, or voluntary workouts while recovering from offseason right shoulder surgery, said he was eager to get back on the field.
McCourty, however, wasn’t prepared to declare himself 100 percent.
“It’s still day to day,’’ said McCourty, who is entering his fourth year in the league. “Any time you come off of any type of surgery it’s hard just to jump back and be 100 percent. I’m just doing what I have to do as far as rehab and different things like that, what the training staff says. I’m just happy right now that I can be back on the field and functional enough to be out there.’’
McCourty is looking forward to getting on the field with veteran safety Adrian Wilson, who was released by Arizona March 8 and signed with the Patriots March 16. McCourty dubbed Wilson “The Incredible Hulk’’ because of his chiseled 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound physique.
“Defensively, we have a good core,’’ McCourty said. “Especially with a guy like Adrian being able to come over. I can’t wait to put on the pads and be out there with him on the field.’’
Wilfork said the team will continue its community service and will not have to reestablish “The Patriot Way.’’ “One thing I know about this organization is that we have a lot of players, hundreds of players, come through this organization and haven’t had too many problems,’’ he said. “In the community, this organization is big in the community. We’re going to continue to do what we know how to do. As far as doing things any differently, that’s a question for the organization, not me.’’ . . . When the Patriots offered fans the opportunity to exchange Hernandez’s No. 81 jersey, Wilfork’s No. 75 became a popular alternative. “There’s a lot of good jerseys to get this year, a lot of No. 12 jerseys, so hopefully you [can] go buy a few of those,’’ Brady said with a laugh . . . The Patriots re-signed free agent offensive lineman Tyronne Green, 27, a veteran of four NFL seasons with the Chargers (2009-12). Green was signed by the Patriots May 13 but released May 31. The Patriots released offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch, 23, who signed as a rookie free agent out of Penn State May 3.
Globe correspondent Craig Forde contributed to this report. Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.