Patriots

Bill Belichick says most Patriots players are ‘probably’ vaccinated

The Patriots coach declined to give a percentage of players who are vaccinated and would not discuss personnel changes on his coaching staff due to vaccine protocols.

Bill Belichick Patriots
Bill Belichick at Patriots practice. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
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The Patriots are just starting training camp this week in preparation for the 2021 NFL season, but coach Bill Belichick’s media skills are as ready as they’ve ever been.

The famously cagey coach shut down or otherwise evaded some of the biggest questions facing his team heading into camp during his Tuesday morning media availability.

Belichick first warned reporters that he “wouldn’t get into” specifics about the team’s vaccination status, including the departure of offensive line assistant Cole Popovich over his apparent refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with NFL regulations. The longtime Patriots coach confirmed that Carmen Bricillo, who shared offensive line coaching duties with Popovich following Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement, would take over as the top O-line assistant.

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Sure enough, he spoke vaguely when asked to provide a firm number of Patriots players who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, referring to the vaccination process as “individual decisions.”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Quite a few of them. Most of them probably. Whatever the protocols are, we’ll follow them.”

It is unknown whether the Patriots are among the 16 teams (at last reporting) who have reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold for relaxing COVID protocols.

He also acknowledged that the Patriots will have a system to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated players as required by the league. He did not, however, confirm if they would be using color-coded wristbands as the Pittsburgh Steelers have done.

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As for the possibility of the vaccination debate dividing the locker room – something that is currently playing out prominently with their AFC East rival Buffalo Bills – Belichick demurred again.

“A lot of those things…are out of our control,” he said. “We’ll deal with the things we can control and go from there.”

That approach extended to other big non-vaccination issues surrounding the team, including Stephon Gilmore’s contract situation and N’Keal Harry’s agent requesting a trade.

When asked consecutively about both players by ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Belichick gave a predictably brusque answer: “We’re not going to talk about contracts and personal situations.”

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The Patriots coach had a little more to say about the on-field product, saying that the first week of training camp will essentially be a continuation of the spring “teaching period.” Players will not put on pads until next week as per NFL guidelines. As such, he hinted evaluations would be premature until “actual football” begins.

Partly for that reason, perhaps, Belichick would not confirm that the Patriots would hold a true competition — presumably between Cam Newton and Mac Jones – for the starting quarterback job. But he added a telling remark about how the team is viewing the start of training camp from an evaluation standpoint: “It’s pretty much a clean slate.”`

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