FOXBORO — Knowing Bill Belichick, he wasn’t thrilled with the way this offseason went with his two best players — Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski — missing the voluntary portion of the offseason program, including OTAs, for the first time in their careers.
Heck, every coach in the NFL would feel the same way. They want their players at everything, whether they are voluntary or not.
With all the winning the Patriots have done over the years, one of the biggest reasons given as to why has been how serious everyone takes the offseason. Their voluntary program is among the best-attended across the league and every player buys in starting in April. Given all the praise it’s received in the past, it would be hypocritical not to scrutinize at Brady and Gronkowski at least a little for missing out.
Everyone knew the two would show up at mandatory minicamp this week, which they did Tuesday morning. But, even with them back on the field this week, there are questions to be asked. How behind are they after missing seven weeks? How much did they miss? How big of a deal was their absence?
Belichick could have made it clear it bothered him and it went against everything he’s preached for the last 19 seasons, as well as noting how important OTAs are, but instead he took the high road. In fact, he actually downplayed their absences over the last seven weeks.
“The OTA system is voluntary,” he said.
“It's a voluntary program,” he added.
Would he have said that if owner Robert Kraft didn’t note the program was voluntary when speaking at the NFL owners meetings a few weeks back? Probably not, but Belichick put on his best performance on Monday to act as if nothing had happened this offseason.
“It's good to have all the players here,” he said. “It's always good to work with all the players.”
Belichick shot down every question that could have been answered in a way that would indicate any tension between he and his two star players. He even said he and Brady have always had a good relationship.
For a coach who is the master at ignoring the noise and limiting distractions, he put on a clinic on how to diffuse a major story and act like it’s not a big deal. He could have easily thrown Brady and Gronkowski under the bus, but what would that have really accomplished?
Everyone is well aware of Belichick’s ego — along with Brady and Kraft’s — but give the coach some credit for checking it at the door and doing his best to move on and focus on what is to come in 2018.
It continued again when he spoke before Wednesday’s session.
Belichick was asked how the two players looked the day before with it being their first time on the field this spring. Again, it was an opportunity for Belichick to give some hint of displeasure towards them for skipping out on the earlier sessions, but once again he didn’t bite.
“Well, again, I think the players and the coaches, everybody that's been out here, each day you get an opportunity to do things,” Belichick said. “Different players are in different stages and have different opportunities to do what they've done over the period of the spring. So it is what it is for each guy.”
The future Hall of Fame coach also didn’t change the way he coaches on the field, either.
With Brady and Gronkowski indicating perhaps they didn’t like the way they were treated last season, Belichick didn’t act any different with them back on the field. After all, he’s the one in change.
On Tuesday, when the entire left side of the offensive line jumped offsides with Brady at quarterback, Belichick was fired up and made the entire unit (coaches included) run a lap around the field and then reamed them out when they returned.
On Wednesday, during two-minute work when Chris Hogan didn’t give the ball to the referee properly, Belichick stopped the drill and let the wide receiver know loud and clear what he did was wrong.
Coming off an offseason like no other, it’s still the same old Belichick — all business on the field, no distractions off the field.
This week could have been the next chapter in the drama-filled offseason, but with his words and demeanor on the field, Belichick didn’t allow it to happen.