Patriots taking first steps of a long journey

Patriots taking first steps of a long journey
April 18, 2013, 5:45 pm
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FOXBORO -- New England's offseason program kicked off Monday. Consequently, many players were back in Massachusetts when the Marathon bombings occurred. 

Of course, the world couldn't stop turning. The Patriots, like everyone else, had to try and get back to business and two players met with reporters Thursday as planned. 

"[It's the] start of something new, the unknown awaits us as the 2013 season is out there," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "But there's a lot of work. We're a long ways away from being able to put a team out on the field that's going to compete. We have a lot of work to do. That's exciting. You have to enjoy the process. There's something to be said about the process and preparing for a season. That's something that a lot of us enjoy and something that a lot of people don't see, but that's where the season is made, in the offseason."

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich noted the defensive is already in good form just based on how many key players are returning. 

Of 33 defensive players currently on the roster, 27 were Patriots in 2012. 

"The guys that were out there getting some game time experience will obviously be off to a better start this year," Ninkovich noted. "A lot of guys are together that were here last year, so obviously that will help. It really comes down to being on the field, and playing with the same group of guys, and having a good experience together with communication. Just playing together again as a defense. It's good that we got a lot of guys back."

The indoctrination of new guys -- like receiver Danny Amendola, safety Adrian Wilson, and return specialist Leon Washington -- begins now. 

Slater lauded Washington in particular. 

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Leon has accomplished in his career. He's been one of the elite returners that this league has ever seen. I think he's tied with Mr. [Josh] Cribbs for the most kickoff returns for touchdowns. He's a weapon in that department and in that phase of the game. Something that we obviously needed improvement on. So hopefully he can give us a boost."

Both players stressed that April is only a starting point. 

Does that mean expectations aren't yet elevated? Not in the slightest -- comes with the territory. Ninkovich laughed knowingly when told that 13-year NFL veteran Brian Urlacher recently commented on New England's uniquely consistent excellence.  

"The last 10 years, 12 years here kind of speaks for itself," Ninkovich shrugged. "The work that we put in right now puts us at a good start for training camp and then moving on toward the season."