FOXBORO (CBS) — They won’t hit the practice field until Thursday, but the Patriots kicked off their 2014 training camp on Wednesday with their coach and three players taking the podium at Gillette Stadium.

I guess in my old age, I’m starting to forget. Bill Belichick, Logan Mankins, Rob Ninkovich and Devin McCourty were each extremely optimistic about training camp, and they cannot wait to get it going. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve heard that sort of enthusiasm for what will be grueling long weeks.

The players called this a necessity and they are looking forward to the competition between each other. Rob Ninkovich went so far as to say they always have high expectations because they are one of the best teams in the league.

“We’re going to be a better defense, but we have to put the work in. That starts today,” said Ninkovich. “It’s definitely an exciting time for everybody, and we’re excited to go out there together, put the sweat in together, and get better as a unit.”

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“We have high expectations every single season,” said Mankins. “We added some good players and we kept some good players from previous years, so I have the same expectations I have every year: For us to have a good football team. We just have to play the games and see how it goes.”

Ninkovich also pointed out that some key players on the defense will be back after missing a chunk of last season due to injury. Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly (currently on the PUP) are back, Just having those veterans in the locker room will motivate the guys.

The defense also has a new star in Darrelle Revis. Players in NFL circles understand how good he is, and now “Revis Island” is setting up shop in Foxboro. The guys believe they can only get a lot better with Revis in tow.

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One big reason for the optimism on optimism was revealed Wednesday: Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to play. Unlike last year when there was a weekly “Gronk Watch,” No. 87 is ready to go. So it’s up to the team on how they will use him.

So everyone is pumped, for now, but give it a couple of weeks in the heat when they keep seeing the same faces. That will surely change.

Follow Levan Reid on Twitter @LevanReid.

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