As players report to camp, always brace for surprises with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran New England Patriots players report for training camp Wednesday, and entering Year 18 covering Bill Belichick's team, two thoughts spring to the fore:

  • Always brace for something unexpected.

  • Nothing is ever as solidified as it appears to be.

So hang on for the ride as the first official media access of Patriots training camp unfolds, kicked off by Belichick's meeting with reporters at 9:45 a.m. ET.

The first question, as always, should be: Did every player show up?

It sounds simplistic, but this is the "moment of truth" time of year for those toward the end of their careers. While training camp isn't what it once was from a physical-grind standpoint, it's still laborious, and it's only natural for some to ask the question, "Do I still have what it takes to go through this?"

Receiver Andrew Hawkins decided he didn't and announced his retirement Tuesday. It was the first surprise of camp.

In some form or another, more are surely to come.

Belichick is entering his 43rd NFL coaching season, so he's well aware of this by now. Last year, he spoke about how he starts over every year, and that means giving every player as fresh of a slate as possible. In doing so, it takes a level of discipline to erase a player's prior performance and only evaluate him on the present day.

That's why, in essence, nothing is ever as solidified as it appears to be with his team. Players who now appear to be "locks" to make the roster won't be around. Injuries are often a factor.

That's why Belichick will probably mention Wednesday how the goal of training camp is twofold: To prepare for the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 7 (just 43 days away), and to get the team ready for the entire regular season. Building depth and focusing on fundamentals make up the foundation of training camp.

Overall, there's a balance to strike. There are a lot of moving parts, and those parts are already moving on what Belichick sometimes compares to hopping on a treadmill.

So it's time to buckle up, as there will be more surprises ahead. The question isn't "if" but a matter of "when."