FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork's first words on the opening day of training camp went to Odin Lloyd. With the young man buried not one month ago, and former Patriot Aaron Hernandez sitting in jail on murder charges, New England's defense was the least important topic of the day.
"It's real life," Wilfork said with a frown. "I think sometimes we get caught up in doing what we do -- if it's your profession, playing football, or whatever it may be. But like I said, this is real life. This is a real life situation. Someone lost a loved one, someone lost a friend, a son. And it's tough."
That point prioritized, the nose tackle took a breath and drew up the full picture.
"Football is an outlet for us. When we come here we expect to play football, we get away from everything. And it's started; training camp is here. But to come in to training camp on a note like this is tough. At the same time, we have to continue to do our job. We're not going to disrespect anything that's going on with the families, but we do have to play football. Our job is to play football."
The reason Wilfork's opinion on Hernandez was sought is because the two were teammates. He was available to give that opinion because the Patriots reported to training camp today. He stood, wearing shorts and a jersey, on the sidelines of a practice field.
A sense of duty, or maybe obligation, made Wilfork address Aaron Hernandez's arrest this time. But one man now plays football for New England and the other does not. The Hernandez association has ended and, after Wednesday, so will the answers.
"When we walk through this door, we have a sign that says, 'Put the team first and do your job.' You have to read it every time you come in. I'm pretty sure I will, even though it's been there for a long time and I do it every year. I think we're all going to do it because that's what we're going to have to do," Wilfork explained.
"There's going to be a lot of things said and done throughout the course of this year, but we're going to have to be able to move forward, we're going to have to be able to come in and ignore the noise and just work as hard as we can to win ball games. And it's going to be tough, but at the same time it has to be done."
It's possible discussions about Hernandez won't be shut down so completely within the locker room as they will be to reporters. But the Patriots' focus, the true meaning of The Patriot Way, has not shifted from winning football games.
And that's just what Wilfork wants.
"We're trying to do that the best way that we can. We've tried to keep the ball rolling the best way we could and it's starting with coming into training camp and getting started with a good season. We're going to do everything in our willpower to ignore the noise, and stay focused on the task at hand."