Go back one year ago and it’s doubtful that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would have ever expected to see himself in this position.

Back then he was getting set to head down to Tennessee for the season opener against the Titans, and in the meeting room that week were guys like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd.  Three out of the four were established players in this system, as well as guys who had faced the fire and intensity of the high expectations that are placed on this football team.  Meanwhile, Lloyd was a veteran who was new but at least had NFL experience to fall back on during his own learning curve, as well as some familiarity having worked with Josh McDaniels.  So the atmosphere last year was likely similar to previous years for the 14 year veteran.

Fast forward to a year later and things are, well, a little different.

Welker is now a member of the Broncos, Hernandez is in jail, and Gronkowski is still here but he won’t be an active participant in this offense for at least a few weeks as he continues working his way back following offseason surgeries.  As for Lloyd, the Patriots made the decision not to re-sign him and reports later surfaced citing odd behavioral issues that fans never had a clue were even a problem until well after the season ended and he was subsequently released.  Apparently whatever it is/was has scared away everybody else because he still remains a free agent.

Now Brady is surrounded by guys who haven’t yet battled the rigors of what he’s gone through over his NFL career.  Some people say football is football, but things are different here in New England.  The expectations are higher.  The intensity is greater.  Players who have come and gone have discussed it when they arrived and then talked about how much they missed it once they were no longer a part of it.

What they’re doing here is special, and if they each do their jobs correctly those players know there’s a chance they could end up playing for a Lombardi trophy because that’s how things work here.  The one constant has been Brady, and he’s never been a part of a losing season.  They’ve had double digit wins every year he’s been the starting quarterback with the exception of 2002, and they’ve won their regular season opener nine straight years.  He’s the catalyst in this offense and he’s used to things being done the right way.


Patriots QB Tom Brady finds himself dealing with one of his biggest challenges yet this season.
(USA TODAY Images)

This time around in the meeting room he’s now sitting with three rookies who haven’t played a regular season game with him yet, and the same can be said for veterans Danny Amendola and newcomer Matthew Mulligan.  For Amendola the learning curve is probably a little easier since he’s familiar with Josh McDaniels due to his time in St. Louis, while Mulligan has at least been in the league for the past four seasons.  But for guys like Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins, as well as rookie Zach Sudfeld, things are definitely a little different.  They’ve each got the challenge of starting off their NFL careers on the road in what will likely be a pretty intense environment, but it’s not the fans they’ll need to worry about.  They’ll need to worry more about the guy in the huddle who will be all over them if they don’t execute at the level he expects, and Brady admitted on Wednesday that his patience is definitely being tested as he tries to let these guys settle in.

“Yeah. I’m not the most patient guy to begin with, so that’s something that I’m working on,” Brady admitted during his press conference. “But you understand that there’s a learning curve, and there’s things that are going to come up that, you know, look, some guys haven’t experienced the things that I’ve experienced.

“So you try to talk about, ‘OK, this is possibly going to happen, if it happens then I want you to make this adjustment.’ Well it happens and then the adjustment’s not made and I say ‘Well I told you…” But sometimes that’s what I do with my three-year-old too and he doesn’t listen either.”

While Brady was smiling as he made that comparison, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who has seen him over the years that he’ll have no problem voicing any displeasure he has on the sideline if a play isn’t run correctly or an adjustment isn’t made.  To this point Brady says he’s enjoyed being around each of them, and he’s hopeful that they’ll each do what they need this weekend.

“They’re all a little bit different in terms of their skill set and I think they’re all fun to be around,” said Brady. “They’re all excitable players, guys that are really willing to work hard by doing the right thing, by listening to the coaching they’re getting. But look, everyone feels really great about how far they’ve come, because they’ve really worked hard and they deserve the opportunity that they have. So hopefully they all play a big role in the upcoming regular season.”

It’s always important to get off to a good start, especially against a division opponent like Buffalo.  The Patriots are a team that obviously has a target on their back every season, so every team they face is always elevating their game because they treat it as a barometer to find out if they’re playing at a championship level.  Obviously for New England it will be up to Brady to keep the offense as competitive as we’re accustomed to seeing, and the chances of each of the newcomers doing everything perfectly is probably asking a lot.  Needless to say you can probably expect to see quite a bit of ‘on the job training’ this season.

Change is part of the NFL but this has certainly been one of the bigger overhauls we’ve seen.  Training camp is in the rear view mirror and they’ve been through the practices going all the way back to minicamps and OTA’s and everything that’s gotten them to this point.  Now Brady says we’ll find out for real if this group can get it done when it counts this weekend.

“There are always challenges to determine really what kind of team you are going to be,” Brady told the Buffalo media during his conference call Wednesday.  “Like I said, the mental toughness, the work ethic, the core principles and fundamentals of the game have not been tested under game conditions. They’ve been tested in preseason, in practice and workouts, but nothing is like the games. Especially when there are 70,000 people in the stands, they’re televised and there are millions of people watching on TV.  That’s where you see the best of the best.

“That’s what it is all about. We all are excited to see where we are at.”

BILLS FOCUSED ON AMENDOLA, SUDFELD IN PRACTICE WEDNESDAY

NFL Network analyst Albert Breer was in Buffalo on Wednesday and apparently caught a glimpse of Bills practice, and he reported that Buffalo had two scout team shirts with numbers 80 (Amendola) and 44 (Sudfeld).  They likely expect Amendola to play similar roles to what Welker did during his time here, but it seemed a little curious they decided to include Sudfeld in that mix considering his lack of NFL experience.  Just goes to show the type of respect they must have for the rookie, who will be looking to improve on some of the good moments he had during the preseason.

POSITIVE SIGNS ON GRONKOWSKI

The reports of him being an active participant are becoming old news, but Rob Gronkowski at least finally addressed the media on Wednesday as he discussed his rehab and his recent return to practice.

Gronkowski told the media that he didn’t really have a percentage for where his body is at in terms of his progress at this point.  But one big key that stood out during his Q&A session was the fact he said there weren’t any movements he’s wary of performing at this point of his rehab and that he hasn’t suffered any setbacks, which is encouraging.  For the most part he seems to be getting back into his routine and he’s continuing to work hard toward his eventual return. However, he says he needs to get his whole body strong before he’ll be comfortable getting back out there.

“I’ve got to get the whole body strong, keep on grinding, work on all aspects of the body in order to get back out there,” Gronkowski told the Boston Herald. “It’s not just the forearm and back, obviously. You take off (time) like that, you’ve got to get conditioned again. You’ve got to get stronger throughout your whole body, your legs, your upper body, your arms. That’s all at play, too.

“You can’t just jump out there because your arm is ready. You’ve got to get your whole body ready. That’s what it takes with the hard work, the dedication, the conditioning and everything to get back out there. That all plays a factor.”

BELICHICK HAS PRAISE FOR GREGORY

Belichick was asked about his thoughts on safety Steve Gregory on Wednesday and he had some praise for the veteran, and feels that having a year of experience in this system should help him improve on what he did here last seaon.

“Steve has been a pretty solid guy for us,” said Belichick.  “All the way through on defense and in the kicking game. Smart, very well-prepared, instinctive player. I think the biggest thing for him is it’s another year in the system, another year of working with his teammates – linebackers, communication, with the safeties, that communication, corners.

“I think he understands everything we do and he has a great handle on it. A lot of things he’s done before in his career. I think it’s just the communication, the timing, the execution, disguises, reads, all those things with his teammates. I think the improvement is more with the group. I think individually he has a good handle on things. ”

MARRONE REFLECTS ON CHANDLER JONES

Bills head coach Doug Marrone knows Patriots defensive Chandler Jones fairly well having coached him during their time together at Syracuse, and told the New England media he’s proud of how much Jones has progressed now that he’s in the NFL.

“He was outstanding,” Marrone said of Jones during his conference call Wednesday. “I had Arthur (Jones), Chandler’s older brother, when I first came there and was fortunate to have Chandler and meet his family. They’re outstanding people and it’s easy to see why the three boys are who they are in the way they grew up. Obviously we were very proud of Chandler at Syracuse and I’m very proud of him now.

“I’ve seen him get better and better. I’ve seen him really step it up and really be a good professional. He’s one heck of a football player and we’re going to have our hands full with him.”

ON TO THIS MORNING’S MEDIA LINKS:

A little crunched for time this morning after a technical issue, but here’s a rundown of today’s links:

PatsFans.com
Razor’s Edge: Patriots vs Bills – Steve Balestrieri – Balestrieri has a great piece this morning in a new weekly feature breaking down the offense and defense for the Bills and Patriots and writes why each unit will/won’t have the edge this weekend.

BOSTON HERALD:

Patriots grow from winning roots - Jeff Howe -

Borges: Tom Brady walks tightrope – Ron Borges

Whole body of work key to Rob Gronkowski return - Jeff Howe

Patriots coverage still remains big question - Karen Guregian

Turbulence becomes motivation again - Karen Guregian

Notebook: Patriots strike gold with green QBs – Jeff Howe

None Better in AFC East – Jeff Howe

Buckley: All eyes on Tom Brady – Steve Buckley

Borges: Defense must get stingy to help Tom Brady, ‘O’ -Ron Borges

No end to Chandler Jones’ ability – Jeff Howe

New targets draw high marks – Mark Daniels

Tight end picture cloudy – Adam Kurkjian

Stevan Ridley & Co. to carry larger load – Mark Daniels

Links to past glory – Karen Guregian

Defense needs throwback stars - Karen Guregian

BOSTON GLOBE:

NOTEBOOK: Tom Brady learning from rookies too – Shalise Manza Young -

Rob Gronkowski mum on when he’ll play – Boston Globe

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski improving, hopeful for quick return - Rich Garven

NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST:

Source: Running back Leon Washington visits Jets - Aaron Wilson

ESPN BOSTON:

Patriots tweak back end of roster – Field Yates – Yates has a report with a couple of roster transactions, noting that the team released offensive lineman Chris McDonald from the injured reserve list, making him a free agent.  Yates also reported that the practice squad contract of Jordan Devey was disapproved.

Wednesday’s Pats-Bills practice report – Field Yates – Yates has the complete practice reports for both the Bills and Patriots in this entry.

Picked-up pieces around the Patriots – Mike Reiss – Mike paints the picture of what the scene was like yesterday at Gillette Stadium, and offers up some interesting notes in this entry.

PATRIOTS.COM:

Bill Belichick Press Conference Transcript – Here’s what head coach Bill Belichick had to say to the media Wednesday at Gillette Stadium.

Tom Brady Press Conference Transcript – Here’s the transcript from Brady’s as well.

Bill Belichick Conference Call With the Buffalo Media Transcript – Wondering what Belichick had to say to the Buffalo media?  Fortunately Patriots.com has the transcript – because the Bills site doesn’t for some odd reason.

Tom Brady Conference Call With the Buffalo Media Transcript – Brady also spoke to the Bills media and also had some interesting comments, as it was a different take from what he obviously discussed with the local media.

Bills: Doug Marrone Conference Call Transcript – Marrone spoke to the New England media on Wednesday, and here’s the transcript from that discussion.

Bills: EJ Manuel Conference Call Transcript - Bills QB EJ Manuel also spoke to the New England media, and here’s a transcript of what he had to say during that as well.