FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As his team prepared to take the field for the first official work of its 2014 training camp, Bill Belichick talked about some of the recent improvements that have taken place at Gillette Stadium for his 15th season as Patriots head coach.
“We kind of did it partially in the spring and then finished that off here this past month,” he said of the renovation.
He was talking about physical changes to the facility — “new coaches’ offices, new meeting rooms, new training facility, upgraded the weight room,” he revealed — but the discussion of upgrades might as well have been about his roster.
Since their loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game five months ago, the Patriots have undergone multiple improvements — the signing of five-time Pro Bowl cornerback here Darrelle Revis, the return of the surgically repaired Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo there — in their bid to end a championship drought that will have reached a decade by the time Super Bowl XLIX rolls around in February.
Mayo, for one, seemed eager to put last season behind him and see what the new and improved Patriots can do.
“Every year is a different team,” he said. “Obviously we had a lot of injuries last year, but it’s all about this year and the guys that we have now.”
One of the guys they have now is Gronkowski — back earlier than many expected from the torn ACL and MCL he suffered in his right knee last season. Wearing a brace on that knee, the fifth-year tight end moved around fairly well, though not quite at full speed.
Gronkowski did not participate in seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 drills — Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams and Justin Jones got most of the reps at tight end — but stayed after the conclusion of the full-team practice to run routes and catch passes from Tom Brady.
Other than Gronk, the player Patriots fans seemed most eager to see was Revis, who gained superstar status as a New York Jet, made his own successful return from injury last season as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer but Thursday took the field in New England blue and red.
“He’s worked hard,” Belichick said of his new star cornerback, referring to Revis’ performance in Patriots mini-camp and other organized team activities (OTAs). “He’s a smart player scheme-wise, but he knows how to play. He’s a very instinctive player.
“He played well at Tampa, he played well at the Jets, and then we saw him in the Pro Bowl. Now we’ve seen him ourselves for 13 practices and the time in the spring. But again, it’s a new year, he’s in a new system, so we’ll see how it all plays out. But I’m glad we have him on our team. I look forward to working with him more.”
There’s much work to be done — by Belichick, by Revis, by Gronkowski ... by the entire team, Brady included.
“It’s a long training camp, and I think we’ve got to string a lot of good days together to be the team we want to be,” Brady said. “There’s no easy way about it; you’ve just got to grind and put the work in and listen to the coaches, try to make the improvements. And hopefully when we start the season, we’ll be a lot better team than we are now.”
The Patriots’ 2014 preseason is underway. Clearly, improvements at Gillette Stadium are ongoing.