FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots opened their three-day mandatory mini-camp Tuesday morning, and before heading to the field for the first practice, Bill Belichick met with reporters for the last time this spring.
The NFL offseason program is a progression, and for the three weeks preceding this one, the Patriots were on the field a total of 10 times for organized team activities. Those workouts, like the three this week, are held in helmets but not pads.
Belichick said the Patriots have gotten a fair amount of work accomplished thus far, but there are some things they just haven’t been able to get done without the players in pads.
“We’re just trying to keep moving ahead here, installing some of our plays, trying to get everybody on the same page, with the new players and some of the players that are back, obviously we’ve made some adjustments and changes in what we’re doing from last year,” Belichick said. “We’ll try to keep building on that and try to put ourselves in as good a position as we can to be ready to go at training camp. We’ve certainly made a lot of progress, but at the same time, we have a long way to go. We’ll just take it day by day and try to keep putting one foot in front of the other and making progress.”
He said the coaches have not been able to install the entire playbook.
“We’ve got a lot in, but it’s not everything. Without pads on, there’s a lot of things that we’re going to need to do when we get to pads, particularly in the running game. I’d say that installation has been held back a little bit because we can’t do the work that we need to do on it,” he said.
Belichick said he would like to see the NFL move its annual draft back to April. Because this year’s draft wasn’t held until the second weekend in May, rookies missed out on valuable time to begin learning and assimilating into their new team.
“The sooner you have your players, the easier it is to start not only getting them integrated into your team, but also building your team. There are certain things you get in the draft, and then you have to fill in other areas of the team with veteran players or college free agents,” he said. “With that process going on, you can see every day when you pick up the transactions there are probably 5-15 transactions on a daily basis. Of course, if you have the draft [earlier], you’d be able to move that whole process up, but whatever it is, it is. That’s not my decision. But I would vote for an earlier draft, absolutely.”
Belichick isn’t the only coach who would prefer to have the draft returned to its previous slot on the calendar, though the NFL seems intent on continuing to change the draft and has even floated the idea of expanding it yet again, to a fourth day. Belichick expanded a bit on what was and wasn’t different for this year’s crop of rookies.
“I don’t think it’s really affected the time frame on what we’ve had with them. What it’s affected is them knowing they’re with their team on May 8 compared to April. That couple of weeks there, that’s time that was lost from when players could start preparing for their new team and being told what they need to do and what position they were going to play, all those kinds of things,” he said. “Once the draft actually happened, the players came in on May 12 and they’ve been here just like they would have been in the past. They would have had rookie minicamp and a little bit of a head start. But from May 12 until now is the same as it was last year.”
Belichick offered a sliver of insight on Armond Armstead, the defensive lineman who has become an enigma since the Patriots signed him more than a year ago. He spent all of last season on the reserve/non-football injury list and has not been on the field this spring.
“Armond has really worked hard. He’s had a lot of adversity personally that he’s had to deal with – unusual compared to most other players – but he’s always had a great attitude, worked hard and really done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Belichick said.
But Belichick did not say when Armstead might be back on the field, or if the team has reservations about his potential availability.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Belichick said.
Belichick wouldn’t elaborate on the rehab process for the team’s recovering players, including tight end Rob Gronkowski after his torn ACL.
“All the players that aren’t participating fully in the OTAs are in their rehab and they’re all in various stages,” Belichick said. “Rehab is a process that each day is a different day. When you can move ahead, you can move ahead. When you can’t, then you back up until you can move ahead. That’s what rehab is. We’ve all been through it. Players that are involved in it, they’re working as hard as they can. We’ll see how it all goes. It’s not a straight line. Some days are better than others, for everybody.”
The Patriots announced the signing of rookie free agent defensive lineman Seali’i Epenesa on Tuesday, one day after cutting tight end Kyle Auffray.