In a 'never-good-enough' culture, 2019 Patriots start to take shape

Bill Belichick's Patriots have had a winning record each of the past 18 seasons. Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Few can better understand what drives 67-year-old Bill Belichick than his daughter, Amanda. This is how she explained it in an espnW story: "The Patriots don't settle for greatness because it's never good enough. You have no one to chase but your own ambition. It's a challenging way to live because it means you are never where you want to be."

In that same story, a picture is painted of Amanda Belichick visiting her father and brother (Steve is the team's safeties coach) on an offseason Sunday at Gillette Stadium, where they are breaking down film and asking the question: "How can we get better?"

That focus on self-reflection is timely to highlight this week as the New England Patriots hold their lone mandatory minicamp of the offseason.

The three-day camp, which begins Tuesday, brings the 2019 team together for the first time, with its primary goal to help players enter training camp in late July with a solid foundation. Bill Belichick sometimes refers to this time as more about teaching than evaluating, but come training camp, the evaluation intensifies.

So for those curious about how the Belichick-led Patriots plan to put their 2018 Super Bowl championship season in the rear-view mirror (players will receive their rings on Thursday), it starts with the head coach, who is entering his 20th season with the team: He's constantly grinding ahead.

"Last year's team is last year's team. We have a lot of turnover," said veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman. "Coach Belichick does a good job reminding us that last year is last year."

One of Belichick's close friends, Baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, has long marveled at him in this regard.

"I believe his ability and his staff's ability, and his team's ability to start at zero every year -- refuse to think about last year -- is an important part of why they are so consistent," La Russa said in a visit to a 2017 training camp practice. "It's easy to celebrate the [last] year. The ability to turn the clock to zero is really impressive and very hard."

That consistency is reflected in 10 straight AFC East championships and eight consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots have had a winning record each of the past 18 seasons. They have won at least 11 regular-season games in each of the past nine years, which is an NFL record.

Such success has created an unusual obstacle at times in Belichick's coaching tenure, with newcomers perhaps expecting to find it by simply donning a Patriots jersey. That overlooks the work that goes into it and might also explain why Belichick currently has players practicing without a Patriots logo on their helmets.

As for the 2019 team, Belichick said on May 23 that it's been a "productive spring," and Edelman, the MVP of Super Bowl LIII, hit on the forward-looking theme.

"I'm excited for this upcoming year and this spring to work on our fundamentals," he said, "and mold our team and keep it going."