Tactic is a bit off the wall
Photos gone, Patriots can make their own lasting memories
FOXBOROUGH — Every week during the NFL season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick emphasizes to his players that, win or lose, the previous game is over. Whatever lessons could be gleaned in victory or defeat are parsed out, and the page is turned.
In other words, what’s past is past.
And now, the past is in storage.
The present and future of the Patriots took to the practice fields for the first day of training camp yesterday, and returned to the meeting rooms inside Gillette Stadium through hallways with nearly-bare walls. The tangible reminders of the Patriots’ glory days have been removed. Photos of Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison and Adam Vinatieri, and likely even Tom Brady, celebrating some of the moments that made the franchise the league’s standard-bearer for much of the last decade, have been replaced in some cases by motivational quotes.
But in many cases, it is just painted cement.
New England has selected 25 players in the last two drafts, and all but one remain on the roster. The law of averages being what it is, not every one of those players will be an impact player for the patriots, but the team needs a high percentage of them to develop and produce in order to return to those glory days.
And if they do, new pictures will be put up, perhaps of Jerod Mayo stuffing running back Shonn Greene to preserve a big win over the Jets, or of Brandon Tate hauling in the winning touchdown pass in the playoffs.
This young cast of characters has to blend with the remaining veterans to forge their own identity. They must learn from their teammates who have tasted glory before, but win their own battles.
They began that journey yesterday without the reminders of the past all around them.
“I think for a lot of guys coming in, when you see pictures on the wall, it can be overwhelming,’’ said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, one of the players who bridges the Super Bowl-winning years and the present. “You don’t know where you’re going to fit in the whole scheme of the history of the team, and I think when you come in knowing that you have a chance to be a building block for the future of the team, that gives guys motivation to want to get on the wall, and I think that’s good for everybody.’’
Teams must be made anew every season because faces change every season. New England has undergone a major reconstruction of its roster since its loss in Super Bowl XLII in February 2008, a facelift of sorts that is still settling into place. Of the 80 players in training camp, only 20 were with the team for that game. Just nine remain from the Patriots’ last Super Bowl win, in 2005.
The veteran players, many of whom were likely in those removed photos, understand Belichick’s logic.
“We have to put in work and stop living in the past,’’ nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “I’m all for it. I think a lot of guys understand that. The only thing we can do is come out here each day and try to get better, and hopefully at the end of the ballgame we’re where we have to be.’’
There was some initial surprise among the players when they came into the building in the spring and the pictures were gone, defensive end Ty Warren said, but after it was explained that the focus is on the team now and not the team then, it was understood.
“Whatever the organization wants to do to motivate, by all means, go ahead,’’ Warren said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with coming out here and defending the run or playing the pass or completing the pass. That’s life. We have to come out here and do that. Those pictures, you know, if the building is set on fire they’d be gone, [but] football would still be played.
“There’s definitely good memories and there’s bad ones and you remember them all — that’s what makes a person who he is and an organizatioon what it is. When you can sit back and say, ‘Dang, it hurt like [heck] when we missed the playoffs or it was fun as [heck] when we won the Super Bowl.’ You reflect back on those things and when things are going good, you don’t want them to go bad, and when it’s bad you want it to go good. It’s a process.’’
The process of creating this year’s Patriots began in earnest yesterday, with two practice sessions in the humid weather and classroom sessions througout the day highlighting the major and minor points of playing the schemes well.
And maybe one or two of the young players thought about seeing himself, arms raised in triumph, in a picture on the walls sometime in the near future.