FOXBOROUGH — It’s too much to ask Patriots players to describe their thoughts on their roster status.
It’s not that they don’t have any thoughts (they do). They simply cannot share them. That would be breaking a golden rule in Bill Belichick’s house.
But at this point in the year, when the roster is trimmed from 90 to 53 players within a span of five days, the topic of anxiety and focus leap to the forefront, despite a Thursday night game in New York and the regular season only 13 days away.
“Our focus is always on worrying about what we can control,” Patriots offensive lineman Marcus Cannon tells me. “And that’s our technique and how we practice, and that’s all you can control. You can control yourself. And that’s it. What I can do to help the team is all I can control.”
In only three minutes, Cannon tells me in one form or another that he can only control what he can control seven times. We’ve heard this before. The laser focus and talking points are drilled into the team, keeping players seemingly distant from each other (they’re not) and more intently concerned with bettering themselves (they are) in an effort that benefits the team dramatically, but dulls their personality. It starts with Belichick, of course, but it has seeped into the very core of the franchise, with each player outwardly unaware or unconcerned with the mechanisms of the franchise, and awkwardly immune from direct questions about it. It is what it is.
“You can only worry about yourself,” Cannon said. “I can only worry about myself. All I can worry about is coming in here and getting in my playbook and seeing the things that I’m doing wrong and fix ‘em. That’s what I have control of.”
Wide receiver Brian Tyms, who is fighting for a job, echoes that sentiment, adding that, for whatever reason, there is a distinct lack of nervousness in the team’s locker room, just one day ahead of 75-man roster. (He has yet to be fully assimilated by the Borg.)
“You really couldn’t tell the way it’s so chill in here,” Tyms said. “Everybody’s kind of like a family in here. Everybody still does the same stuff.”
It helps that Tyms is an optimist. He has spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, and Cleveland Browns and knows what it feels like to be cut out of training camp.
“If somebody gets called up [to Belichick’s office], it’s all love, you know what I’m saying,” Tyms shrugs. “Because it’s not the end of the world when you get cut. I’ve been cut three times. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just that God has a different plan for you. You never know, you could be back in the same place that cut you. There’s always different reasons.”
But is there reason to worry for him, even after catching nine passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason? Will he be able to sleep in these next few days not knowing whether or not he’ll have to actually find a place to live or in fact another job?
Maybe, he says. He’ll probably be up watching film at night until he knows, playing catch up after lost time in the spring, he says sheepishly. The offense is hard.
The camaraderie is harder, especially for those never guaranteed a place on the roster.
“I think everybody is focused on themselves,” said punter Ryan Allen, who beat out fan favorite Zoltan Mesko in the 2013 training camp. “There’s some anxiety and whatnot that I went through last year, but like I said, you can’t control any of it. It’s just a matter of what you do and your performance. So that’s all that really matters and all that I’ve been focused on.”
Weighing that focus with the natural and instinctive feeling of anxiety, particularly when a player is on the bubble, is not an easy task. It takes a Zen-like master to truly zero in on the job at hand, which happens to be the Giants this week.
“It’s tough,” tight end Michael Hoomanawanui said. “I won’t lie about that. I’ve been there before. You just gotta stay focused. There’s still a whole week pretty much, and our daily routine until that time. So you can’t worry about it. The best thing you can do is stay focused on the game and task at hand. Take that time to improve your status. You know the old cliché, you never really stay the same, you’re either getting better or worse. So my advice is to stay focused and get better.”
Patriots players and other like-minded athletes purposefully push the possibility of being cut from their minds, emphasizing the task at hand so much that they can appear as if they do not care for their own fellow players, which is far from the truth. But they are also wary of how quickly worrying about others (and not about themselves) can be a detriment to their own fortunes.
“When the cut goes from, whatever, 90 to 70 and then to 53, whatever the exact numbers are, we really can’t pay attention to it,” Hoomanawanui said. “Whether it’s some other part of the team or directly within your group, you just can’t worry about it. You just gotta do your job and do it to the best of your ability.
“Everybody knows what the week is and what it means, so I think if you spend time worrying about it, you’re just putting yourself behind,” Hoomanawanui adds. “I don’t try to think about it, and hopefully other people don’t either.”
Do your job! That’s it. It’s that simple. Anything else will get them in trouble.