While some players outside the organization have suggested there’s “no fun there” with the Patriots, several players on the current roster disputed that notion on Thursday.
“I mean, to each his own. I don’t really have anything to say to them. I mean, guys here, I know – I mean, it’s not for everybody,” said linebacker Dont’a Hightower. “It’s definitely harder than most places, but I mean, that’s part of it. A lot of guys know that when they come here.
“But, I mean, in the locker room, it’s not Bill’s [Belichick] job to make this fun and this atmosphere fun; it’s the guys around it. Every guy in that locker room, I love like a brother. We have fun, whether it’s out here struggling together – blood, sweat, and tears – or we’re back in the locker room or we’re hanging out outside of football. So, there’s a time and place for everything, but we know whenever we walk through the building, it’s time to work.”
Hightower had a similar experience in college, having played for Nick Saban at Alabama. He was asked if guys coming in from other situations have to adapt to playing in New England.
“A lot of guys don’t really have a problem. If you want to get better you don’t mind sacrificing a little bit,” said Hightower. “At the end of the day when you know that you’ve done all that you can do and you go out on Sunday or Monday and you’re winning those games and you go back and you’re watching film and you see all of the extra work and all of the stuff that you sacrificed, that it was actually worth it. You’re not discrediting that at all.
“I love being here. I loved being at Alabama. I love what I’m doing and I’m just looking forward to going further than that.”
Hightower was responding to comments made by former teammate Cassius Marsh earlier in the week.
“They don’t have fun there. There’s nothing fun about it,” said Marsh, who was released by the Patriots in midseason in November. “There’s nothing happy about it. I didn’t enjoy any of my time there, you know what I’m saying? It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much.”
Philadelphia linebacker Lane Johnson and guard Brandon Books continued that conversation after Eagles’ practice on Tuesday.
“All the media wants to talk about is rings,” said Johnson. “Rings. I’m going to get this ring and never wear it one day. I’m going to put it away in a box. The only thing you’re going to remember from your playing days, you’re not going to remember the scores. You’re going to remember the people you played with and how you felt. And that’s the truth.”
Hightower was not the only Patriots linebacker who has worn No. 54 to weigh in on the topic. Tedy Bruschi, now an analyst for ESPN, defended the organization and had some harsh words for the critics on Twitter.
Players that don’t like their Patriot experience are the ones that can’t take tough coaching, get eaten up by the pressure, blame others for failures and expect things are supposed to be given to them.— Tedy Bruschi (@TedyBruschi) May 31, 2018
Safety Devin McCourty was not completely surprised at Marsh’s comments, given how much the linebacker struggled in his brief time with the Patriots.
“Cassius had a frustrating time here so I don’t expect him to say that he had a great time,” said McCourty. “I think if you ask any guy on this team, the fun we have comes hanging with each other. The relationships between the guys.
“A lot of our fun happens right in the locker room before we even come out here and have fun winning football games. Obviously, we work for a living. In this business, you have to win. When you lose, it’s not fun. People get fired. You lose your job. That’s not fun. I wouldn’t believe anyone who told me, if they lost half their games, that they were having the best time of their life. I’m just not here for that.
“I think the value of how we interact and the relationships we have, no one else sees that. No one in Philly can say, ‘those guys don’t like each other. They hate it there.’ You don’t know that.”
When asked about Johnson’s derogatory comments, McCourty joked that Johnson is getting ammunition from former Patriots Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount, who both landed with the Eagles last season, before intimating that Johnson is just trying to capitalize on disdain for the Patriots.
“I texted Chris Long. I said I still blame him because he was probably in there talking bad about us. So, I told him it’s all him and LG’s fault,” McCourty told the Globe. “No, [Johnson] is a good football player. He won a Super Bowl. Live off that attention. I don’t get why he keeps talking about the Patriots. You’re a good football player. You’ve done good things in this league. Don’t you get enough attention after you win a Super Bowl? But if you talk about us it’s great attention for you. I’m sure his followers on social media have gone way up.”
Coach Bill Belichick was asked if he felt it was important to come up with ways for players to feel like they’re enjoying themselves.
“We feel what’s important to us is to win. So that’s really what we’re trying to do,” said Belichick, who was asked about Johnson’s comments.
“Yeah, we’re focused on what we’re doing, trying to get better and taking each day we can to try to improve our football team. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing,” said Belichick.
Christopher L. Gasper contributed to this report. Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.