FOXBORO – Devin McCourty noticed the trades and signings the Patriots made the past two months just like you did. He had the same ripple of optimism about the potential of players like Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan and Chris Long being added.
But his enthusiasm is quickly tempered by knowing that on-paper potential can only be fulfilled by going through a brutal 10-month gauntlet of adversity.
“You understand how much work needs to go into it,” McCourty said Thursday morning during an OTA media access period. “You understand just because you were good somewhere else, just because we were good last year it’s not just going to automatically blend and go together. That was evident in 2014 when we signed (Darrelle) Revis, (Brandon) Browner and (Patrick) Chung came back and we started the season 2-2, getting blown out in Kansas City. For everyone who thought it would just happen and we’d go undefeated and win a Super Bowl it doesn’t happen that way. I don’t care who you bring in or who you have back, it’s a ton of work that goes in just to being an OK team. If you want to be a great team you gotta put even more work in and I think that’s important this time of year.”
This time of year – the first round of OTAs – is a period when newly-added players get oriented and the demands of the Patriots program become clear.
After the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2014, Brandon LaFell explained the culture shock.
"Me and Darrelle were driving home one day in [organized team activities] and they must have worked us to death that day," LaFell recalled. "We said it at the time, 'If we don't win the Super Bowl this year after doing all this work, we're going upstairs to the front office and telling somebody something. Man, just the way we worked, the way we worked in camp, I believe in this team. I knew we had enough talent to get here and win this game."
How long does it take players to realize it’s hard in Foxboro?
“I think guys get that from the first day,” said McCourty. “And I think it’s known throughout the NFL this place is a little different. Obviously guys come in they don’t know how different. They might come in and say, ‘Whoa this is really different.’ But guys understand it’s different for a reason. Higher expectations.”
Along with the expectations the players deal with, they also have the knowledge that this process – no matter how hard – works.
“The guys that are here who’ve been here for a while they expect to be playing at a certain level and when you understand that we have a guy in charge that knows what it takes and that we’ll be OK no matter how hard it is, how much you might not want to do it one day, you know what it’s for,” he said. “That’s what makes it tough when you don’t get where you want to get. What you thought was gonna happen and what you envision and dream of happening, when it doesn’t happen that’s what makes it hard. But you understand that’s a part of the game. You have to do the same thing again and hope you take that next step forward.”
One-hundred percent buy-in is what McCourty says is needed.
“It’s not just half the group or some of the leaders, we need to understand as a whole group how much work needs to be put in to be OK,” he explained. “And then how much more work needs to be put in to get back to where we lost last year.”
All that said, what was McCourty’s reaction to some of the adds?
“I know when we signed Bennett I was like, ‘Well he’s pretty good,’ ” McCourty related. “We played against him in Chicago and playing safety we had to cover him so you’re like, ‘Well, if he plays like he did in Chicago we got another good tight end, we should be pretty good.’ But I’m past the point where I’m sitting in my room saying, ‘This is great, we got (this guy and that guy).’ But it’s exciting. When Hogan signed I was already working out with him a week before and then he came up here and signed so it was just funny how that came together.”
The team-wide process of coming together started this week. It’s a long road.