The Patriots return to training camp Thursday to begin their quest for a third Super Bowl title in four seasons. Their summer of celebration — from the post-Super Bowl parade to the ring ceremony — is officially over, and it’s time to look ahead to 2017-18.
The Patriots kick off the season in Foxborough against the Chiefs on Thursday, Sept. 7.
Quick fact: Ten Patriots were born in each of California and Texas, the most of any state. Florida is next with nine, followed by Georgia with six.
Player spotlight: Alan Branch
The Patriots re-signed Branch to a two-year deal worth up to $12 million on March 9. He has been a run-stopping force at defensive tackle since arriving in Foxborough in 2014. Branch forced a fumble in the AFC Championship game and recorded a career-high 49 tackles last season.
One of Branch’s top moments last season came on the biggest stage. With less than nine minutes left in the Super Bowl, Dont’a Hightower popped the ball loose from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Branch located the ball and jumped on it, which led to a scoring drive that cut the Falcons’ lead to 8 points.
The 32-year-old Branch has played some of the best football of his career in New England. Branch’s ability to clog the line was a major reason why the Patriots didn’t allow a 90-yard rushing performance in 2016.
Trey Flowers played his best football down the stretch last season, capped by a 2½-sack performance in the Super Bowl. Flowers, who is only 270 pounds, and Branch, the heaviest player on the team at 350, complement each other in the middle of the defensive line.
Branch will start training camp on the PUP list.
Coach spotlight: Bill Belichick
In the pantheon of all-time great coaches, Belichick may stand tallest.
Consider this: The other 31 active head coaches in the NFL have combined for the same number of Super Bowl victories as Belichick (five).
He has 237 career victories, fourth all time. He has led New England to 11 conference championship games in the last 16 years, a stretch of dominance unlike any in NFL history.
The normally reticent Belichick loosened up a bit in the offseason, whether he was posing for a photo shoot in Nantucket with longtime girlfriend Linda Holliday or celebrating with his team at the Super Bowl LI ring ceremony.
He returned to camp in Belichickian fashion, refusing to reflect on the 2016 Super Bowl triumph and instead focusing on the 2017 season.
This offseason, Belichick supplemented his roster with some key additions, including Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, and David Harris.
On paper, New England’s schedule is more difficult than it was last season. But the Patriots may be better. They are heavy favorites to emerge from the AFC once again. And Belichick, 65, shows no signs of slowing down.