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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Bill Belichick says no Patriots coaches are opting out, and ‘I feel fine’ about coronavirus precautions

Bill Belichick said he feels the environment at the Patriots facility is safe.
Bill Belichick said he feels the environment at the Patriots facility is safe.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday no members of his coaching staff have opted out of the 2020 NFL season.

As for whether Belichick himself considered opting out?

“I feel very good about the environment that we’re in,” he said. “I feel fine.”

Eight Patriots players have elected to sit out the season because of concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. With uncertainty surrounding the availability of players throughout the year, a strategy involving quarantining quarterbacks — as a way to ensure future depth at the position — has been floated around the league.

Belichick wouldn't tip his hand about what the Patriots have considered.

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“As always, we’ll try to look at our options and do what we feel is best for the football team,” he said. “That’s what we’ll continue to do.”

According to Belichick, the Patriots remain in Phase 1 of their training, which consists of meetings, conditioning workouts, and daily walk-throughs. Players are running and lifting with the team’s strength coaches and have yet to work with their respective positional coaches.

Phase 1 will last four more days, Belichick said, followed by Phases 2 and 3. The target date for padded practices is Aug. 17.

“My impression is, as an organization, as a coaching staff, the support people, the players, there’s a comfort level with what we’re doing and who’s doing it and how we’re doing it and we’re being productive,” Belichick said. “If concerns or problems come up, then we’ll address those. But right now, I think it’s a good working environment. We’re getting a lot done.”

Belichick noted that the organization has taken several safety measures around Gillette Stadium: Everyone wears masks, there’s no longer a buffet line for food, meetings are held in bigger rooms, and the plexiglass bill must be “pretty high.”

“Certainly, there’s a lot of responsibility on each one of us to do things in a way that don’t affect others negatively and that we take the proper precautions that we can and should,” Belichick said.

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Band of brothers

In his first press conference following a promotion to safeties coach, Brian Belichick couldn’t seem to escape the shadow of his predecessor, older brother Steve.

When asking Brian and cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino for their first impressions on second-round draft pick Kyle Dugger, a reporter mistakenly referred to the youngest Belichick by the wrong first name. The slip elicited a smile from Brian.

“You called me Steve,” he said, politely. “I mean, that’s bound to happen, but come on here.”

Brian proceeded to share nothing but praise for Dugger, one of the safeties he will be directly responsible for coaching as part of his new gig. After joining New England’s staff as a scouting assistant in 2016, Brian is entering his first season as a positional coach — and taking on a role that Steve held for the past four seasons.

The 26-year-old Trinity grad said he doesn’t think about whether expectations are heightened because of his surname.

“I’ve been amazingly fortunate to have my dad] be here for 20 years and allow me to come spend time with the team and learn from these great players and coaches that have been here for a long time,” Brian said. “I’m very lucky to have that experience. I just try to learn from them and apply things to my life and try not to think into the future.”

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He will certainly receive support and guidance from his older brother. The two often share information and bounce ideas off each other, according to Brian. Steve mentioned that the presence of veteran leader Devin McCourty should ease the transition, too.

“We’re extremely close, being brothers,” Steve said. “As an older brother and more veteran coach than he is, I’m doing the best I can to lead him through that safety group. I’ve spent a lot of time with Brian in the offseason and so far in training camp to try and bring him up to speed.”

Steve has shifted over to coach the linebackers alongside Jerod Mayo.

“I’m really excited this year to work with a different group,” he said. “I’m obviously going to miss those guys that I coached last year. It’s not that I’m not coaching them anymore, but not spending as much time with them.”

Mayo respects opt outs

Mayo said he was initially “shocked” and “disappointed” upon hearing the news that eight Patriots had opted out of the upcoming season

“Then I stopped and looked at each situation,” he said. “These are personal decisions.”

Like coach Bill Belichick, Mayo noted he respects the choice made by each player.

New England’s linebacker corps will be without one of its key members, Dont’a Hightower, who cited family as one of the reasons why he chose not to play this season. Hightower and his fiancé welcomed a newborn son, the couple’s first child, earlier in July.

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Mayo plans on treating Hightower’s absence like a season-ending injury. When asked how the group will respond without a veteran leader, he referenced a familiar sports trope.

“We’ve always had that next-man-up mentality,” Mayo said. “That’s how we’re approaching it going forward. Even though those guys have opted out, those guys will continue to mentor some of the younger guys, some guys that haven’t played as much ball.”

With the limited interactions that can take place in-person, Mayo said the onus is on the players to “take some accountability” in building relationships. He encouraged them to call one another via FaceTime to help facilitate camaraderie, albeit in an unconventional setting.

Not only will the linebacker corps be without Hightower, but three key members of the “Boogeymen” also departed this offseason: Jamie Collins (Lions), Elandon Roberts (Dolphins) and Kyle Van Noy (Dolphins) all signed deals elsewhere during free agency.

They leave behind a relatively young group, led by 23-year-old Ja’Whaun Bentley, 2019 draft pick Chase Winovich, and three rookies, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, and Cassh Maluia

Mayo expressed excitement about working with younger players, and highlighted their “willingness to try anything” as well as their adaptability.

“Sometimes the older players, they kind of get stuck in their ways, especially players that have done something a certain way at a high level,” Mayo said. “You try to tweak that, it’s kind of a little bit more difficult.”

And the winner is

One way the Patriots combatted WebEx fatigue was the integration of various competitions, including game shows. Troy Brown, coaching the running backs and returners this season, said his favorite was Family Feud. The questions did not pertain to the team’s playbook, but rather general sports trivia. . . . Running backs coach Ivan Fears, who also enjoyed Family Feud, called second-year pro Damien Harris “a doggone good runner.” Harris was on the field for just five offensive snaps last season, but Fears expressed confidence in the Alabama product’s abilities: “I think that’s what he’s going to show you when he gets a chance to play. I think you’re going to like what you see.” . . . Since Matt Patricia left for the Detroit Lions in 2018, the Patriots have yet to formally replace him at defensive coordinator. Brian Flores, who now coaches the Miami Dolphins, unofficially held the role for the 2018 season. The team then brought on Greg Schiano for the 2019 season, but he ended up stepping down prior to the draft that year. Belichick was the de facto defensive coordinator last season, with his older son, Steve, and Mayo also getting some opportunities to call the plays. So, who will be doing so this year? Said Steve: “We’re a long way away from games. So, we’ll see how that goes.”

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