BOSTON (CBS) — Getting ready for the 2020 NFL season is going to be difficult for everyone. With no OTAs or minicamps, and players not yet allowed to put on pads and play some actual football, just about everyone is behind schedule.

But imagine what it’s like for a rookie trying to establish themselves while also wading through the waters of becoming a professional athlete. They usually have the luxury of a rookie minicamp well before the other team activities, but those also went by the wayside this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If veterans are behind, rookies have an even steeper hill to climb. Or as Bill Belichick put it Friday, a much tougher swim ahead of them.

“I think all of our rookies have worked extremely hard. They’re in deep water, turbulent water, and it’s going to get rougher,” the Patriots head coach said during his Friday morning video conference with reporters. “Just in terms of the volume and the level of competition, becoming a pro athlete, the full day and the consecutive days that get strung together with very high demands, both physically and mentally. I think all the guys are adjusting to it and working hard at it. It’s a really hard-working group. They haven’t been any problem and they are trying to do the best they can. But they’re swimming in deep water, and their eyes get opened every day as we move through the process. And we’re still a long way away from real football.”

That “real” football will begin soon enough, as the Patriots are set to put on pads for the first time on Monday.

“We’re doing more now than we did before. Each day is an acclimation for them and an adjustment day for them. They’re just trying to keep their head above water and swim or paddle in the right direction, knowing that they can’t keep up but they’re doing the best they can,” Belichick said of the team’s rookie class. “They are way ahead of where they were a week ago, two weeks ago, a month ago. There is a lot of progress there but a long way to go,. They’re really all in the same boat. It’s a hardworking, conscientious, diligent group, They have a lot they have to absorb. We’ll have a better idea in the next 10 days when things start to happen on the football field.”

In years past, New England rookies have had the benefit of easing into their pro careers. Some have even had the luxury of getting a “red shirt” season after being drafted. However, that won’t be the case for many of the Patriots draft picks this year. New England will be counting on a handful of rookies to fill in at key spots.

With the Patriots losing both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency, and Dont’a Hightower opting out of the season, Belichick will have to turn to rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings to play important roles in New England’s linebacking corps. Kyle Dugger, New England’s first selection of the draft, could see time filling in for Patrick Chung at safety, in addition to returning kicks. And tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will be asked to catch some passes and make some blocks on offense.

It isn’t an ideal situation for the Patriots, but Belichick was quick to note that everyone around the league is in the same boat. Every team around the NFL will be throwing out a lot of life preservers as camp ramps up, and the season quickly approaches.


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