Around this time last year, the cameras found Bill Belichick as often as they could in Mobile, Ala. There he was, chatting up his old pal Nick Saban. There he was, greeting Matt Patricia on the sidelines with a bear hug.
Bill Belichick is not in Mobile for the Senior Bowl this year, though, according to a league source.
It's a different year, of course. And Belichick is not the only head coach who has opted not to attend.
Outside of the coaching staffs from Miami and Carolina -- the staffs that are coaching up the two Senior Bowl teams this year -- our friend Albert Breer from TheMMQB.com told us on Early Edition that it was his understanding that only two other teams had members of their coaching staffs present for the nation's top pre-draft All-Star game: the Giants and Bengals.
COVID remains a concern around the country, and that's no different at the Senior Bowl where preparations have been underway for some time as its staff prepped for visitors arriving in late January from all over the nation. Along with the expected health-and-safety modifications made to the normal Senior Bowl events -- think plexiglass, plexiglass and more plexiglass -- there has also been a limit placed on the number of staffers teams are able to send to Mobile: Clubs can have at most 10 people there this week.
After dealing with COVID restrictions for the better part of six months, if 28 of 32 coaching staffs decided that the Senior Bowl was too much for them this year, if teams would rather let personnel departments be their boots on the ground there, then that makes sense. For the Patriots, that would include people like Dave Ziegler (expected to have a larger role now that Nick Caserio has taken the general manager's job in Houston), Eliot Wolf and others from the scouting department.
The Senior Bowl may carry more weight this year than it would in a normal offseason, though.
There is no combine. Visits to team facilities and private workouts have been eliminated. The league is all but outright prohibiting teams from timing prospects, working them out or interviewing them in person this year. The only places where those things can happen are at a school's pro day or at all-star games.
And the Senior Bowl is the biggest All-Star game of the bunch.
The Patriots have had a real affinity for drafting Senior Bowl alums recently. In each of the last four years, they've taken on at least four rookies -- via the draft or undrafted free agency -- who participated in the Senior Bowl. Between 2013 and 2016, they brought aboard 20. Last year, their first three picks in the draft (Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings) were all Senior Bowlers.
But this year Belichick, along with many of his peers, will be gathering intel on Senior Bowl performances from afar.