FOXBORO -- A handful of last season's Patriots captains, including Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, and Devin McCourty, met with local and national media on Thursday. Though the occasion was training camp's open, the discussion was almost entirely about Aaron Hernandez.
That will happen when a former teammate is arrested on murder charges.
Each player dutifully fielded questions about the one-time tight end for several minutes. Their cooperation came with the unspoken understanding that the subject will likely be closed from this day forward.
QUARTERBACK TOM BRADY
Q: What was your reaction to Hernandez's arrest and the circumstances surrounding it?
A: “Those feelings were just personal, you know. I’m sure they were probably like everyone else’s. It was six weeks ago, so it’s hard to remember the exact emotion I felt. But it’s probably what everyone else here felt. You just have them and at some point I have to get back to doing my job. [My emotions], yeah they are important but they come and they go and they pass, and we still have, for me, a task at hand, which for me is what my responsibility to this team is and my responsibility to the teammates that I have. So I just try to focus on that and try to come out here this week and lead by example.”
Q: How well did you think you knew Hernandez?
A: “I’ve had great relationships with so many guys. A relationship you have as a football player is a relationship you have within the walls of this building are what they are, and people have their own life. I typically have great relationships with all my teammates. So I’m hopefully pretty easy to get along with. I just think that’s pretty much all I have to say.”
Q: Did Aaron fit in the locker room, from your perspective?
A: “I don’t think it matters at this point. I don’t think any of that really matters to me or matters to anything that’s going on with the legal process or anything like that.”
Q: What can the leaders of this team do to help move things forward?
A: “Coach [Bill] Belichick really relies on our input and we rely on each other to bounce ideas off each other to really get a feeling for the team and for how the team is feeling and what the team needs. There’s no one who has better instincts on coaching than coach Belichick; he knows exactly how to get the best out of us. I would say we’re always looking for ways to improve. Certainly, our leadership and our ability to communicate with everybody on the team to get the best out of each other is something we can all work at."
NOSE TACKLE VINCE WILFORK
Q: How do you get yourself and the team ready for camp, despite such a distraction?
A: "Control what we can control. First and foremost, it's a sad situation to be in for the victim's family. You're not just dealing with football right now, you're dealing with a human being, with life. So it's just sad. We're disappointed. But at the same time, you get a chance to come do something that we love to do, and play football. One thing we've got to do is just try to keep everything separate, and when we step out on the field, control what we can control, and that's playing football, getting better each day. That's my main focus, is to do that. It's started."
Q: How do you ignore the noise?
A: "Do your job. Put the team first. It's going to be tested. It's definitely going to be tested because this is real life. You're dealing with a real life situation. It's easy to get caught up in the media or in speculation, but we're not here for that. Like I said, I feel bad for the victim's family, but we have to move forward as a football team. That's sad to say, but it's reality."
Q: How do you regain normalcy here?
A: "You move forward the best way you can. I think it's going to test our team chemistry; it's going to test everyone that's in this locker room individually and as a team. It's going to test us to see how important football is to us as a family. We've just got to take it day by day. At the end of the day, the ball's going to continue to roll and the last thing we want to do is get stuck behind the ball."
CORNERBACK DEVIN MCCOURTY
Q: What, as a captain, can you do to help your teammates get through this difficult time?
A: “I think it’s up to us to be leaders right now, to go out and lead the team. And the best way we can do that is to go out and show them, doing things the right way and showing the younger guys what to do and what not to do. That's what we'll do -- continue to be leaders of this team and show guys how it’s supposed to be done."
Q: Vince Wilfork spoke about the mantra of "ignoring the noise." Is that key to moving on from here?
“Exactly. I think Coach Belichick talks about [ignoring the noise] all the time. No matter how it is. If people telling us how great we are, or telling us how bad we are, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what goes on in this building and how we can get better.”