Patriots camp setup: Calm follows offseason controversy

New England quarterback Tom Brady is back to try to reach his ninth Super Bowl.Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Belichick: “Last year is last year. This is this year."

By William Bendetson

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were seemingly once again at the epicenter of yet another NFL offseason, but it wasn’t thanks to another Super Bowl win.

Rather, the wake of the Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles brought endless speculation and storylines that all was not well in Patriot Nation. Rob Gronkowski acknowledged considering retirement. Brady seemingly expressed doubts about his motivations to continue playing in his “Tom vs. Time” Facebook docuseries. Both players skipped voluntary OTA workouts amid speculation they were upset about their paychecks and working environment in New England.

Still, as Patriots rookies report July 22 and veterans on July 25 leading up to the opening of training camp the following day New England is considered a Super Bowl contender if not odds-on favorite with the core of the ongoing dynasty very much intact.

Both Brady and Gronkowski took part in mandatory minicamp in early June and will hit the training camp practice fields as the backbone of what was the NFL’s No. 1 offense in terms of yards and the second-most productive unit based on points a year ago.

After giving up 41 points and 500-plus yards on Super Sunday, a defense that ranked fifth in points allowed last regular season has reason for optimism.

All may not be right in Foxborough, but things seem like they could be all right for at least one more championship run.

“I mean every year has different challenges, you know? There’s some years where, I mean obviously this team has very high expectations. We’re trying to win every game. That’s what our goals are,” Brady said.

“I think those things we have a lot of time to work on literally. Figuratively there’s a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do and it’s going to be up to us individually to prepare as best we can and then collectively when we come together we do the same.”

A team that won 13 games last season and came up just short in the February shootout with Philadelphia has certainly undergone some changes this offseason. Brandin Cooks (65 catches, 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns) was traded to the Rams after just one season in New England. Key contributors from both sides of the ball like left tackle Nate Solder (Giants), versatile running back Dion Lewis (Titans), clutch wide receiver Danny Amendola (Dolphins) and Super Bowl hero-turned-Super Bowl controversy cornerback Malcolm Butler (Titans) took the money and ran in free agency.

Trades brought the addition of possible left tackle replacement Trent Brown, former No. 12 overall pick defensive tackle Danny Shelton, veteran cornerback Jason McCourty and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, while free-agent additions Adrian Clayborn and Jordan Matthews will bring much-needed depth to the defensive and wide receiver spots, respectively.

It’s all a part of the process that Belichick has gone through so many times before as he enters his 44th NFL season, 24th as a head coach and 19th leading the Patriots.

Belichick doesn’t change his approach to a new season. Whether coming off a Super Bowl title — as New England has done five times under his watch — or coming up short of a Lombardi Trophy, the page needs to be turned.

He said, “Last year is last year. This is this year. It’s not last year. We’re in 2018 now, so it’s time to move on. I don’t know what this team will do.”

If it’s anything like its predecessors — which it very well should be with Brady set to once again lead the show and Gronkowski and the rest ready to play their complementary roles — it will compete for its eighth straight appearance in the AFC title game and have a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the third straight season, fourth time in five years and ninth time since Brady and Belichick came together in New England nearly two decades ago.

And given the talk of the offseason, it’s another hope-filled campaign Patriots fans should cherish.