By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been a relatively noisy offseason, at least by Patriots standards, but amidst all of the rumors and speculation, head coach Bill Belichick has remained mostly quiet. Outside of a pre-draft press conference, Belichick has not spoken publicly too often since his Patriots lost Super Bowl LII to the Philadelphia Eagles in February.
But on Tuesday morning on the practice fields at Gillette Stadium prior to the start of the second day of OTAs, the head coach met with reporters. As you might expect, he was hit with questions about Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, both of whom have been absent from all of the voluntary offseason workouts and practices.
And as you might equally expect, Belichick was not at all eager to answer them.
“Yeah I’m not going to talk about the people that aren’t here,” Belichick said when asked about Brady, cutting off the reporter’s question before it could be completed. “Guys that are here are improving, they’re working hard. And those are the guys we’re going to focus on.”
The next question sent Belichick’s way tried to take a broader view of the situation, focusing on the challenges of running through phase three of the offseason program without the starting quarterback. Belichick swatted it away.
“All the guys that are here, not everybody’s working, but all the guys that are out here working are improving,” Belichick said. “It’s a great opportunity for them and for our team to come together. And that’s what’s happening.”
The next question involved the absent all-world tight end. Belichick was asked if he would agree with Gronkowski that the April meeting between the player and the head coach was productive. Belichick was not in the mood for sharing.
“Like I said, I’m focused on the guys that are here, and those are the guys that we’re working with in this OTA process, phase three,” Belichick said. “Those are the guys I’m concentrated on, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
OK, so with the ground rules firmly established that there would be not even one ounce of indulgence of any comments about Brady or Gronkowski, reporters moved on to ask Belichick about the team’s first-round draft pick, running back Sony Michel. But even Michel couldn’t get a mention from the head coach in a question that would have allowed for a very soft landing with some stock quotes about the traits the Patriots liked in the player.
“Yeah I think Nick did a good job with all of that,” Belichick said, referring to personnel director Nick Caserio’s post-draft press conferences. “I’ll just second what he said.”
What about wide receiver/punt returner Braxton Berrios out of Miami, whom the Patriots drafted in the sixth round?
“Yeah, the same thing,” Belichick said.
Reporters took one last crack at getting Belichick to speak about a veteran player. This one — Julian Edelman — is actually present and working for the Patriots. Considering he’s coming off a season lost to injury, Edelman’s 2018 status is essential to the Patriots. Belichick was asked what the expectations are for Edelman.
“Our expectations are day to day,” Belichick said. “So like I said, every day is an opportunity for us to get better and take a step toward the start of the season. That’s what we’re all doing. All of us are in different states, different parts of that process, but wherever we are, we’re all gaining on it.”
And that was, essentially, that. Nothing on Brady, nothing on Gronkowski, nothing on Edelman … and nothing on Braxton Berrios. After some final questions about the team goals of phase three (“For everybody to improve every day”) and the lack of jersey numbers for rookies (“Really not too worried about the ‘important’ stuff like that, numbers and what kind of gloves you wear and all of that. … Trying to learn football.”), Belichick’s time with the media was over. For those who really want to read between the lines, Belichick did stress in his opening remarks that phase three was “much better” than the previous offseason stages, which seemingly placed a little bit more importance on the work currently taking place in Foxboro. But to suggest such comments had anything to do with the conspicuous absences of the franchise cornerstones would be a bit of a stretch.
Anybody hoping for a development in the ongoing offseason saga should have known better than to expect any advancement being offered from Belichick in this setting.