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Bill Belichick welcomes ‘attentive and eager’ group of rookies to camp

05.03.13 at 10:02 pm ET
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Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

Patriots coach Bill Belichick kicked off rookie camp Friday in Foxboro by welcoming a group of first-year players he called “attentive and eager” as they went through their collective NFL baptism.

“We’re looking forward to getting out on the field over the next three days and working with a lot of new guys, new faces,” Belichick said Friday. “Obviously, we have a lot of information to give them in every area, not just football, but the whole transition in becoming a professional athlete and in most cases for these guys, relocating to a part of the country they’re not too familiar with. We have a lot of ground to cover but I think it’s a group that so far seems attentive and eager.

“Like a lot of groups at this time of year, this group of guys is a similar group to many that we’ve had in the past. We’ll take it day by day and one step at a time with a lot of ground to cover, and hopefully we can catch them up as soon as possible so they can compete with some of the other guys that are on our team as we move into the spring and eventually get ready for training camp.”

Here are some other highlights from the Q&A with the media:

It’s a sizable class of rookie free agents compared to last year. Is this the most you’ve had? “I don’t think it’s the most but it’s probably bigger than it’s been the past couple of years. Certainly the roster expansion has been part of that since ’11. We had the World League exemptions and all that in there so it’s a few more spots, one way or another, that are opened up. Also, probably just a little bit of a commentary on the youth of the team.”

Does that change the approach of minicamp when you have more bodies? “Last year it was a little bit different situation. Of course, the year before there wasn’t one so the one then we go back to is ’10. Last year, if you remember, we had our minicamp the second week of May which led right into the rookies’ offseason program. This year, we can’t do that quite as easily because of the timing. So we decided to go ahead and have it this week and get them in and try to get them oriented as quickly as possible. Then there will be a break before they can come back before the 13th. So that’s the way we’ll do it this time. Yeah, with the larger number hopefully we’ll be able to do a little bit more group work and team work than we did with, I think it was 15 guys we had last year.”

What did you see in Aaron Dobson that made you think he could contribute in this system at this level? “Aaron had a good career at Marshall. He’s a big player that can run, has good hands.”

Do you see Josh Boyce as an inside guy or an outside guy? “We’ll see. He’s a pretty smart kid, I think he learns well. We’ll see what he’s able to handle and what he’s able to execute on the field.”

Does Armond Armstead and Jason Vega’s CFL experience put them ahead of this group? “I think the fact that they’ve been here for a couple weeks probably puts them ahead. Just that they’ve been around our offseason program, been doing drills with the coaches this week. The previous two weeks have been really conditioning work but I think that probably gives them a little bit of an edge. I don’t know how much they did or didn’t get out of Canada, you’d have to ask them that.”

Where do you see Armond Armstead fitting? Is he more of an interior lineman? “He’s done both so we’ll see how it goes.”

But you see him on the line, not as a hybrid? “No, he’s 295 pounds. He’s not a linebacker.  But he has played end, he has played tackle. He’s played three-technique, played one-technique. He’s played on the end of the line so we’ll see how it goes.”

Jamie Collins has played all over the field. When you have a guy that can do that much, where do you start today, as step one? “I’d say he’ll work primarily at linebacker but we’ll see how that goes. Again, he’s done different things and eventually as we go through the spring, we’ll look at him in different spots and see how it goes with him and also see how it goes with him relative to other players we have and what kind of groupings, just how the team breaks up, maybe where he might be able to help us or where things come together the best for him. We’ll have to put all that together as we go. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to turn out.”

Is getting bigger at the linebacker position something the team is stressing this year in bringing Jamie Collins in? “I don’t know. Put the best players out there that we can that we think we need to to win. That may change from week to week. I’m not sure.”

What are you looking for out of this group in the next two days? “Just to get them in step with our program, all the way from top to bottom in every aspect of it, not just on the field but off the field: training, conditioning, relocating. They’re professional athletes, they’re not in college anymore so it’s a lot of transition for those guys to make. On the field is part of it, but there’s another bigger part of it too. We’ll try to gain as much ground as we can in these next few days and then build on it when they come back in May.”

Do you ever deal with homesickness? Is that something you personally talk to them about? “Sure. That’s all part of the relocation system. Every guy’s situation is different. I don’t think there’s any set book on it. Some guys come by themselves, some guys come with somebody else – a wife, a partner or it could be a family member. Everybody has their own situation and most of them are not from here. We didn’t draft, most of these guys are from areas other than in New England, probably 90 percent of them. Yeah, there are all the elements of relocation – there’s housing, transportation, there’s all the basic services that we all need. There are friends, there’s family, all those connections. I’d say each one is different.”

Since you only had five picks entering the draft, did you spend more time with the late round, rookie free agent type of guy when you were doing your visits? “We had two seventh round picks going into the draft, then three after the first day. We always work this area of the draft so I don’t want to say, ‘Well, we worked on it this year, we didn’t work on it last year.’ That would be totally inaccurate. We knew we had two seventh round picks. Definitely we looked at a group of players relative to that basic location in the draft. We did everybody in the draft and we did, as we usually do, the guys that we felt like may not get drafted and so that’s a pool of players. Then at the end of the draft, there were a group of players that we had grades on, where we thought they would get drafted, but they didn’t. Then we try to sign some of those too. That’s always the way it goes. You just don’t know which players those are going to be necessarily. There’s usually the group below the line that you think aren’t going to get drafted. I would say for the most part, most of those players didn’t get drafted. But there are some that we thought would that didn’t, so they were part of the free agency process too.”

Beyond the 19 players, is there another group here for tryouts? “We have another group of players that are not under contract that are here for tryouts. Some of those are rookie players, some of them are veteran players.”

How many are trying out? “I think three or four. It’s a little bit in flux. We have a couple guys that are coming or going. One guy that was going to come ended up signing somewhere else. Another guy, I think we wound up adding to the list. So I’m not sure exactly where we are on that tryout number. I’d say in the three to four range – it’s not like 30 guys, I can tell you that.”

Aaron Dobson could have played college basketball. Do you feel that that skill set gives him any advantage at wide receiver? “I don’t think probably too much. I would say that just based on my experience as a coach through the years that most basketball players, most have good hands. They have to handle the ball a lot. The ball is on them quick, tight passes and handling the ball in traffic and that kind of thing. Usually when you get a basketball player, a good basketball player, those guys usually have pretty good ball skills in terms of handling the ball: strong hands in being able to keep it and quick hands, being able to snatch it and handle it cleanly and hopefully without losing it.”

Have there been any players here over the years that really stood out to you right away in rookie minicamp? “There’s not really anybody that comes to mind. I’d say most of those players are players that have gotten better, improved along the way, going all the way back to guys like [Tom] Brady who didn’t do anything his rookie year. Or players like Mike Wright, guys that are on our roster now like [Ryan] Wendell. Guys like that, they just didn’t jump from undrafted to big contributors. We’ve had guys step in and contribute, the Kyle Loves, we can go back and find a lot of those guys. But I wouldn’t say there’s anybody that just day one walked out here and lit it up. Steve Neal, great story but it was definitely a progression for Steve, like it was for a lot of guys.”

Is this exciting for you? Just to get back to the step one? “Yeah, definitely. To be able to work with the players, get them out on the field and see the team coming together. You get a bunch of names on the board and cards and all that, but we don’t throw the cards out there on opening day. You have to get players out there that play and can fit on your team and contribute to your team so now we’ll start to see how that really manifests itself into actual football, instead of just a bunch of information on paper and cards and nameplates and stuff like that. Now we’re getting to real, this is actually football. So yeah, it’s good.”

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