Your phone calls to Bill Belichick probably won't get answered over the next five weeks, and your e-mails to him probably will result in an auto reply.
Belichick is a busy man now.
The Patriots are officially back in action for 2016. The coaching staff reported back to Foxborough last week, the rookies checked in on Sunday, and the rest of the 90-man roster arrived on Wednesday for training camp.
Grueling two-a-days are a thing of the past, but training camp is still an ordeal, long days filled with meetings, film study, scouting, roster/injury management, and game-planning for the regular season. And while the Patriots' roster on paper looks like that of a Super Bowl contender, there's a lot of work and preparation that needs to be done over the next five weeks to turn the Patriots into a championship-caliber team.
Belichick's lengthy to-do list this training camp includes . . .
1. Preparing two starting quarterbacks. For the first time since the 2001 training camp, the Patriots have an issue about splitting quarterback reps. For the previous 14 years, the answer was simple — Tom Brady gets the majority of the snaps. But Brady's four-game suspension complicates matters.
Third-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is finally going to get his chance to play after keeping the bench warm for the past two seasons. He has thrown just 31 passes in his NFL career, and only four last season. So getting four games to start at the beginning of the season is going to be a huge test, and for the Patriots to remain competitive and emerge with at least a 2-2 record, they're going to have to give Garoppolo a lot of work with the starting offense during the preseason.
But Belichick can't (and won't) go overboard in giving Garoppolo too many snaps, either. Brady is still the most important piece on the team, and he will be the starting quarterback for the majority of the season — the final 12 games, plus the playoffs. Brady still needs training camp to get on the same page with his receivers and offensive linemen — and this training camp is arguably more important than previous ones in that regard, since Brady will be placed on ice and not allowed to have any contact with teammates and coaches for the first four weeks of the regular season.
Oh, and the Patriots need to get work for rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, too. So Belichick will have to strike a delicate balance this camp — giving Garoppolo more snaps than usual, getting Brissett ready as the backup, but still allowing Brady to get his work in.
2. Whipping the offensive line into shape. The Patriots have the pieces to make a formidable offensive line. Left tackle Nate Solder returns from a torn biceps, Sebastian Vollmer can move back to the right side, and they have backup tackles with significant NFL experience (Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle) and a glut of experienced interior linemen (Shaq Mason, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper, David Andrews, Tre' Jackson, plus rookie third-round pick Joe Thuney).
It often takes some time to find the best combination of five offensive linemen and get the unit playing at an elite level, as we've seen with the Patriots (particularly in 2014). Belichick often uses the first four games to try out new combinations and cross-train players at multiple positions.
But this year, the Patriots should have a little more urgency in figuring out the offensive line and whipping the unit into shape. Considering that Brady struggled behind a patchwork line to start 2014 and end 2015, imagine how Garoppolo, who has never started an NFL game, would fare under similar circumstances. And the Patriots are facing some teams with very tough defensive lines early in the season — Arizona, Miami, Houston and Buffalo. For Garoppolo to have a chance to succeed, the Patriots need to figure out their offensive line during camp and get it playing at a high level right away.
3. Calibrating the ball-pressure gauges. We wouldn't want the Patriots using underinflated footballs this year, would we?
4. Keeping everyone happy. The Patriots seem to have an abnormally high number of players entering the final year of their contracts (particularly on defense) — Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Rob Ninkovich, Duron Harmon, Alan Branch, Martellus Bennett, and Vollmer, and that doesn't include veterans such as Chris Long and Terrance Knighton, who signed one-year deals in the offseason.
Having so many guys in contract years keeps them hungry and motivated to play well. It also runs the risk of alienating players who want to be in New England long-term. But giving a contract extension to one player runs the risk of alienating other players — say, if Hightower gets a new contract but Collins doesn't. Managing this many contract years will be a delicate balance for Belichick.
And just as importantly, the Patriots need to keep their current stars happy, too. Rob Gronkowski and Julian are considerably underpaid given their importance to the team and the crazy money that was thrown around in free agency. The Patriots might be well-served to throw those guys a bone and give them raises.
5. Keeping everyone healthy. As we saw last year, the biggest opponent standing between the Patriots and a Super Bowl berth is the injury bug. The most important part of this year's training camp is making sure Edelman returns to 100 percent from a broken foot, Dion Lewis returns to form from a torn ACL, and that all of their key pieces on both sides of the ball remain healthy.
Gronkowski probably won't play a snap in any preseason games. They should take a similarly cautious approach with many of their veteran stars. Already they lost tight end Mike Williams to a torn ACL suffered in a June practice. Heaven forbid they lose a key piece for the season in a practice or meaningless preseason game.
6. Scouring for running backs. This is the one position that doesn't seem settled. The Patriots had no semblance of a running game at the end of last year after Lewis and LeGarrette Blount went on injured reserve, yet the Patriots didn't do much in the offseason. They brought back Blount, and Lewis should be able to contribute early in the season after tearing his ACL last November, but otherwise the list of Brandon Bolden, James White, Donald Brown, D.J. Foster, Tyler Gaffney, and Joey Iosefa isn't inspiring.
Veterans such as Joique Bell, Toby Gerhart, and Chris Polk remain available. The Patriots will also be scouting the other 31 NFL rosters for potential trades. The Saints and Bears are obvious trading partners with their appearances in Foxborough for joint practices, and the Chiefs also have a glut of running backs, potentially making Knile Davis available.