FOXBOROUGH — After talking briefly with Patriots head of media relations Stacey James and Berj Najarian, director of football/head coach administration, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard chatted with the media following Friday’s training camp practice.
However, Dennard would not discuss his pending court case. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI this month in Lincoln, Neb., just three months after he was sentenced in the same city for assaulting a police officer in April 2012.
“I’m not going to talk about that right now. It’s football right now,” Dennard said. “I’m just here to play football. I’m not going to talk about it. I’m not going to get into it. I’m just here to play football. Stay focused on what’s important right now.”
Dennard was in Nebraska Wednesday for a hearing on an allegation that he violated the terms of his probation because of the July 11 incident. The judge said Dennard was able to travel out of state, thus allowing him to return for training camp. He must return to Lincoln on Aug. 27 for a hearing on whether his probation will be revoked.
At Dennard’s April sentencing, Judge Stephanie Stacy was given a letter from coach Bill Belichick, who supported Dennard and told the court that he had been a good citizen and teammate in his first season with the Patriots.
Does Dennard feel as though he let Belichick down because of his most recent incident?
“I’m still on the team right now, so that’s what I’m worried about right now,” he said.
Dennard got snaps with both the first- and second-string defense Friday. He played in 10 regular-season games as a rookie, with seven starts.
Like many teammates, linebacker Brandon Spikes offered next to nothing when asked about former tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is facing a first-degree murder charge.
“I can’t really comment on that, guys,” said Spikes, who was also teammates with Hernandez at the University of Florida.
How about Spikes’s initial reaction to the news?
“Can’t comment on that,” he said.
When it came to football, though, Spikes was enthusiastically chatty. The fourth-year pro was the only healthy player under contract who skipped the team’s voluntary offseason workouts — he opted to remain in Florida for his own offseason program — though he did take part in mandatory minicamp.
He seemed thrilled to be back on the field.
“I feel great, the guys are running around again, smelling pads, it feels good to be back, so I’m looking forward to these young guys learning the defense, trying to make some plays for us,” Spikes said. “Hopefully we have a great season.”
The Patriots’ offseason has been anything but tranquil. The start of camp, at least to Spikes, comes as a relief.
“I think so, definitely,” he said. “Last year we came up short, obviously this year we get to rebuild, fix some things we struggled in last year, hopefully we can just come out, execute the D, and do the things we did good last year.”
What is Spikes most looking forward to with the opening of camp? Hitting, of course.
“I look forward to putting the pads on, hit a couple guys, welcome to the NFL, that’s what I look forward to,” Spikes said. “Monday, I think we put the pads on, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft, along with a few guests, watched Friday’s opening session from between the two fields.
Robert Kraft appeared briefly on NFL Network after and was asked by former Patriot Heath Evans what the “Patriot Way” means to him.
“It’s about trying to collect a lot of good people, having everybody in the organization on the same page; doing things in the community,” Kraft said. “Let’s remember: sometimes some of your colleagues, they don’t like to give autographs, they don’t like to do things, but in the end, what’s paying their salary is the fans. Look at the fans out here today on a rainy day the first day of training camp.
“It’s just so special and I think that we — the NFL — bond each of our communities together. When we win, it lifts the whole community and so they want to [bond] with us. We have to always try to make sure we’re doing things to make them proud to be bonded with us . . . I think people in America today, it’s not just about money. They want to be connected to something they feel is special and when they get up every day they look forward to coming to work. We try to create an environment here that does that. We’re not always successful, but we give it our best shot.”
Support for Gill
Belichick threw an unsolicited vote of confidence toward team physician Thomas Gill on Friday. During his opening statement, Belichick mentioned the hard work of players to get ready for camp and said, “I think that Dr. Gill and [head trainer] Jim Whalen and their respective staffs have done an excellent job bringing those guys around. It looks like those players have made a lot of progress.”
The mention is notable because this week the NFL Players’ Association filed a grievance against the Patriots, asking the team to remove Gill under the grounds he was not working in the best interest of former defensive end Jonathan Fanene. Fanene and the Patriots are fighting over signing bonus money after the team released him last year for “failure to disclose physical condition,” saying he lied to the team about never having undergone surgery.
No Gronk update
Not surprisingly, Belichick had no update on the recovery timetable for tight end Rob Gronkowski from back surgery.
“Nope,” Belichick said. “I can’t predict what is going to happen with rehabilitations or injuries of any sort. Players are day to day. As we know, sometimes that’s a steady line, sometimes that’s slow progress, and then a big jump. Sometimes it’s a jump and then it levels off. There’s no way to predict what’s exactly going to happen.
“We’ll just take everybody day by day, see how they do, and treat them the next day based on their performance and how they feel from the day before.”