PHOENIX — The food at the AFC coaches breakfast on Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore was fairly standard fare: fruit, muffins, ham and egg croissants.
And when Bill Belichick sat down, many of his answers were standard fare as well: for players who have left the team, he said rosters change every year; for players the Patriots have signed, he said he’s looking forward to working with them, and in all things, he’s just trying to do what’s best for his football team.
There were a couple of things that caught the ear, however, and one of them concerned Rob Gronkowski, who has undergone three surgeries on his right forearm over the last four months after breaking his arm twice. One surgery was to clean an infection.
Belichick was measured in his first two responses to questions, and gave an indication with the third that he might not be too happy with his Pro Bowl tight end.
Question No. 1: “Do you feel Rob is on a good medical track to be ready for training camp?”
“Well, that’s a long way away,” Belichick said. “A lot of players have a lot of things to do between now and then. Coaches, for that matter, in terms of just getting ready for the season. I’m sure, hopefully, everyone will be working hard at it. We’ll see how it comes out.”
Question No. 2: “Have you been happy with the way he’s been attentive to how he’s dealt with his rehab?”
Belichick: “With his rehab? I mean, again, I think every player has a process they go through to get ready for the offseason program and training camp. Every player, or most every player, has to deal with some aspect of it, including the normal things like conditioning, overall training relative to their physical abilities and their position.”
“The program hasn’t started yet. When the program starts on April 15, we’ll have a lot better evaluation of where everybody is.”
“There’s some limited information now, but I wouldn’t put too much on that at this point. I’d say in most cases, it’s pretty incomplete.”
Several minutes later, Belichick was asked if he had caught Gronkowski’s wrestling moves, a reference to the grainy video of the tight end dancing shirtless on stage at a Las Vegas nightclub during Super Bowl week, still sporting a black cast and picking up a companion and body-slamming him to the stage.
Reporter: “Guess not?”
Belichick: “Let’s stick to football questions.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that over the past six weeks things have been pretty quiet on the Gronkowski front. He’s been spotted at a Yankees spring training game (he owns a house in Tampa not far from Steinbrenner Field) and has tweeted only sparingly since his barrage during Super Bowl week, when no fewer than three companies paid him to promote their products and attend events.
Gronkowski has been at Gillette Stadium in the past week, likely for the Patriots’ medical staff to check on his arm.
During the 50-minute breakfast session, Belichick was asked about Wes Welker, and several times deferred to team owner Robert Kraft’s statements from Monday.
The first question was whether it was a tough negotiation — Kraft essentially put the blame on Welker’s agents.
“I think Wes was everything we hoped he’d be when we traded for him,” Belichick said. “He was tough, competitive, and very productive. I think what Robert said yesterday covered it pretty thoroughly. I don’t have anything to add to that.”
As other reporters arrived at Belichick’s table, Welker came up again, and he reiterated that he agreed with what Kraft had said.
“I thought he did a good job explaining the situation. I don’t have anything to add to it . . . It’s been covered, very thoroughly,” Belichick said.
Belichick spoke highly of quarterback Ryan Mallett and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, both entering their third season.
Mallett, considered a talented player with a big arm coming out of Arkansas in 2011 and Tom Brady’s only backup last year, has been the subject of recent trade rumors.
He has been most strongly tied to Cleveland, where Belichick friend Mike Lombardi is now general manager; Lombardi was high on Mallett during the draft.
“I think Ryan improved a lot last year. I think he really had a good season,” Belichick said. “I think he was obviously, like every player that came out in the ’11 draft, was slowed by the lack of preparation heading into the seasons, but last year I thought he really performed well.”
Though Sebastian Vollmer remains a free agent, New England is confident Cannon can play right tackle if Vollmer does not return.
“Huge gains last year,” Belichick said of Cannon. “Obviously he dealt with his physical situation in ’11 [when he underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma], he wasn’t really able to start participating until whenever the PUP thing was.
“This year was a totally different situation — he got a lot of reps in training camp, given our offensive line, specifically tackle situation [Vollmer was rehabbing from an offseason back procedure], and he’s improved tremendously as a player.
“The opportunities he had to play early in the year, and even late in the year, he showed that improvement on the field in games as well as the practice field.”