FOXBORO -- The Patriots rookies are well into the team routine by now. Theyre six weeks into the NFL season. Practice, training, game prep -- its all part of the grind.
Taking a break? Thats something new.
Its the first bye week for first-year players. There are seven listed on New England's active roster, including Nate Solder, Stevan Ridley and Ras-I Dowling. Youd think five days away from the practice field might be the easiest thing these guys have done in months, but head coach Bill Belichick disagrees.
I actually met with the rookies this morning for about 40 minutes, he said Wednesday. It's just different for them, it's a different experience . . . what they did in college, what happens in college, relative to an NFL season is just different. It's the kind of thing you can't really prepare for, you just have to go through it and experience it.
But I just try to talk to the players about some of the things that they could expect, some of the things they might experience in the future weeks. We've had players talk to them along those same lines, players that have been through it: 'Here's what the coaches are telling you and here's what a couple of my experiences were.' It might be helpful for them to hear those or let them ask questions.
Devin McCourty is one such touchstone.
Though only in his second season, the cornerback earned Pro Bowl honors in his first. More importantly, McCourtys leadership skills won him the respect of his teammates and one of the shared captaincy titles. The role means more responsibility -- even during the bye week. Especially during the bye week.
McCourtys all over it.
"I told guys make sure you don't do anything crazy," McCourty said. "Because it's not a lot that we get a couple of days off. So I just told them to stay focused, think about anything you do, think about your actions, consequences, all of that. A lot of things they've heard before, so I just kind of send a reminder in because it's a little different when it comes from a teammate, coming from a coach. Basically just reiterating what Coach Belichick's telling them."
"You're excited to go back home," he said. "You haven't been home in a while. See your family, see friends. So that's the biggest thing is being able to see familiar faces. Just relax, that's the biggest thing, is sleep."
Rookie guidance isnt limited to first steps. Belichick makes sure the channels of communication are always open and consistently surfed. Adjusting to an elevated level of play and, consequently, a more high-profile life, is an extensive process. The more involved the coaching staff and veterans are the smoother that process should run.
We meet on a pretty regular basis, whether it's start of training camp, regular season, bye week. We spend a lot of time with the rookies, Belichick said. Trying to help them acclimate to a different area, a different working environment, different team structure than whatever structure they were on before . . . ours is what it is and they have to be able to understand it and be able to utilize the opportunities and tools that we give them to try to help them improve themselves on and off the field, in and out of football.
This is one of those big off-field experiences.
For most, this isnt just the first trip home, its the first trip home in a nicer car, with a fatter wallet in that back pocket. And the words said or old haunts visited are suddenly interesting enough to end up as Twitter fodder.
Veteran running back Kevin Faulk isnt worried about this new batch of rookies. The career-Patriot has remained a locker room leader, despite being held to the PUP list until recently. Faulk has relished the teaching opportunities.
Throughout the course of the entire time that they've been here they all ask questions," Faulk said. "They haven't been here long enough; they trying to figure out what they can and can't do.
His biggest bye-week takeaway is simple. In theory.
Understand that people look at you differently, he said. Understand that the people that probably do look at you differently arent your family. It's one of those hard things you have to be able to balance.
Belichick would approve Faulks advice. Being smart, staying out of trouble? Thats common sense no matter how long youve been in the league.
"I think that's a message for any professional athlete pretty much any day, the coach said. The day you become a professional athlete, things change and they carry that with them wherever they go, whether it's the bye week or any other week.