Young Patriots hoping to make own mark on franchise that hasn’t won title since 2005By Howard Ulman, AP
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Belichick wants Patriots to focus on present
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Ty Warren was stunned when he saw the bare spots where pictures of former Patriots stars once hung. He and his teammates wondered what was going on.
Just another motivational ploy by coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick had those pictures and those of current players removed. He wants this year’s team to establish its own identity, not look at the walls inside Gillette Stadium at players who last won a Super Bowl in 2005 or got routed in the playoffs last season.
“There was a shock factor,” Warren, a defensive end on two of New England’s three championship teams, said Thursday. “When it was explained how we’re not reflecting on the past, and we’re focusing on right now, I can understand that.”
Tom Brady, Matt Light and Kevin Faulk are the only players remaining from the squads that won three titles. Only 17 players remain from the team that lost the 2008 Super Bowl. When New England won its first title in 2002, wide receiver Julian Edelman was 15 years old.
“I wasn’t on those teams, so I can’t even say I was a part of anything like that,” said Edelman, a seventh-round draft pick last year. “We’re in training camp trying to build our own team and our own identity, so I can understand where coach is coming from.”
The glamor of those championship teams has faded.
Hard-hitting and vocal defenders Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi retired before last season. The tabloid obsession with Brady is gone now that he’s married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Randy Moss, entering his fourth year with the Patriots after some controversial seasons with Minnesota and Oakland, has kept a low profile.
So when the Patriots opened training camp Thursday morning, the major issue was whether an offensive guard would show up. Logan Mankins, a two-time Pro Bowl player, stayed away after saying last month he wanted to be traded. A restricted free agent, he was upset with negotiations toward a new contract.
“All of the players that are here are under contract and Logan is not under contract,” Belichick said.
Light, the left tackle entering his 10th season with the Patriots, was reluctant to comment on the predicament of the player he’s played beside for the past five years.
“The only thing I’ll say about that situation is, he’s a great teammate, always been a good teammate that’s never missed a game,” Light said. “We definitely miss not having him out here.”
But Belichick doesn’t want his players to look back. There’s too much work to do to get ready for the season opener on Sept. 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals with newly acquired Terrell Owens.
“We’re a team that’s never really relied on what we’ve done in the past anyway,” Light said. “If anything, it’s a learning experience.”
While the starting offense is filled with veterans, the defense is stocked with young players. The best of them are 26-year-old safety Brandon Meriweather and 23-year-old linebacker Jerod Mayo. Gary Guyton, 24, started all 16 games last season at linebacker.
Darius Butler, a second-round pick last year, and Devin McCourty, a first-rounder this year, are leading contenders for one starting cornerback spot.
“We had nothing to do with those Super Bowl rings, none of those championships,” Butler said. “It’s a fresh start. We’ve got to make our own mark.”
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork played on the Patriots last championship team but sees no reason to memorialize it on the walls he passes at work.
“We’ve got to start all over,” he said. “Stop living in the past.”
By rebuilding their defense with youth, the Patriots no longer are the popular pick to go deep into the playoffs as they were when Harrison, Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel stifled opposing offenses. The New York Jets added big-name free agent veterans and the Miami Dolphins signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall, seemingly making it tougher for the Patriots to win the AFC East for the seventh time in eight years.
They won it last year with a 10-6 record but lost in the first round of the playoffs 33-14 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Then Belichick decided that hanging history on the walls wasn’t working.
“I just know after last year’s disappointing loss, we’re just trying to start over from scratch,” Mayo said. “Hopefully, when we start winning a lot more games, we’ll get some more pictures up.”
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