ORLANDO, Fla. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick walked through the door to an outside patio area at the Ritz-Carlton late Sunday afternoon, dressed in a blue checkered suit and greeting a small group of local reporters with a smile. He looked energized and sounded enthusiastic about his 19th season with the club.
Media members usually are left to wait until Tuesday at the NFL's annual meeting for the chance to ask Belichick questions at the coaches' breakfast, if he attends at all. But Belichick, ever unpredictable, accelerated the schedule this year.
"I know Tuesday is usually a little bit of a free-for-all, so I thought I'd take a couple of minutes and talk to everybody here. We can slug it out on Tuesday, too," he cracked.
In his first remarks to local reporters since the day after Super Bowl LII, Belichick began with an opening statement that detailed some key developments with the team's staff -- headlined by Josh McDaniels' return and the process that unfolded leading to that.
Belichick also touched on defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's departure, saying, "Of course, we wish Matt well in Detroit. We'll have some staff announcements as we go through the spring. We're still working through a few things. Other than [assistant special teams coach] Bubba [Ventrone] going to Indianapolis, a lot more stayed the same than has changed, so we'll kind of fill in some blanks there."
He then touched on free agency and transitioned to the 2018 season from a broad-stroke perspective.
"We had some players come, we had some players go -- that's the way it always is in free agency," he said. "We wish our players well that moved on, and we're happy to acquire the ones that we acquired, whether it was free agency or the three trades we made. Obviously this is an exciting time of year as we go through the team-building process between free agency and in this case a couple trades; the draft process. We have a long way to go. We're far from where we're going to be.
"But we're working through the process and that's always an enjoyable thing for me, especially going out and getting on the road and come to the colleges, see the players, work them out. We'll bring them in [with the NFL maximum 30 in-house visits] in a couple weeks and go through that process. It's the same thing every year, really. Starting all over again. We've won the last game. We've lost it. That is what it is. Last year is last year. It's an exciting time of year on the team-building. There are a lot of things we still have to do, so right now it's about acquiring a lot of information, putting things in place, and figuring out what the steps are in the appropriate time to address them.
"Looking forward to getting the team back in a couple weeks [for the offseason program]. I've spoken to quite a few players and I think there's a good energy level. We have quite a few guys who are pretty regularly at the facility. Obviously it's informal -- they’re there on their own -- but definitely seen some traffic coming in. And certainly have some guys rehabbing from last year who finished the year on injured reserve, or some version of reserve. So those guys are obviously working hard to get back and be ready to go.
"So that kind of brings us up to where we are here. We'll see how this goes. There are some things to talk about, but I haven't really focused too much on some of the proposals and so forth. But there's a couple days to get caught up on that, hear different points of view, what the thought process is and so forth. So we'll work through that and see how it goes. That's pretty much my update."
For Patriots fans curious about Belichick's commitment for 2018, his update had to be reassuring -- albeit short on specifics -- when it came to Malcolm Butler not playing on defense in Super Bowl LII, tight end Rob Gronkowski's future, quarterback Tom Brady's mindset, and the health status of 2017 third-round draft picks Derek Rivers and Antonio Garcia.
Belichick detailed how much he enjoys the work, particularly scouting college players.
"I've seen just a handful of them, maybe call it 25. There's a lot more than that," he said. "I evaluate the guys that I see. I've seen a lot of guys on tape. We have all our other coaches and scouts, in varying degrees, doing the same thing. We'll put it all together and try to figure it out.
"I kind of like to give myself the schools in the Southern swing. I'm not going to North Dakota, and Iowa State and all that. We'll send somebody else up there and I’ll just kind of; when you're the head coach you kind of pick where you want to go. But it's some great places. Obviously NC State has a great group. Georgia is a tremendous class. Ohio State. Alabama.
"Places like that -- you see a lot of players in one shot. There are between 8-12 players at those schools, each of them. You can't be at all of them. You miss the Clemsons, you miss the Penn States, you miss the Oklahomas and teams like that. You can't be everywhere at once -- a lot of these workouts are condensed in a short time-frame, so it's more efficient generally to try to stay in a smaller area where you can hit them quicker. These are heavy workout weeks -- last week, this week and this coming week."
Asked how much fun he has doing it, Belichick said, "I enjoy all the parts of the process, from the game-planning and playing in the big games to evaluating prospects to bringing in the rookies in May that have never played or practiced in the National Football League. You start from scratch with them and seeing them grow along the way to some of the players that we've seen do that -- the Matt Lights, the guys that have been part of the program for a long time.
"I wasn't there for all of [Tedy] Bruschi, but when Bruschi came in in '96 I was there, and saw his whole career. And Tom [Brady] going from 2000 to still going, and so forth. I enjoy all the processes -- the beginning part, bringing them in, growing with them, working with them at an elite level. The Steve Gostkowskis and Julian Edelmans. Guys like that, who come from one level and progress to a very elite level."