FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady stressed on Thursday that he is moving on, more than a month after the criminal investigation that centered around now-former teammate Aaron Hernandez began, and he wants the rest of the Patriots to do the same.
The Patriots had Brady and the three defensive captains from last season, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and Vince Wilfork, meith reporters in advance of the team’s first official training camp practice on Friday. The four players were asked almost exclusively about Hernandez, who has been formally charged in the death of Odin Lloyd.
Brady was not open to the idea of discussing his emotions when he learned that a player he’d shared a locker room with for more than three years was involved in a murder investigation.
“How long ago was that — six weeks ago?’’ Brady said. “Yeah, I think everyone had a certain range of emotions, whatever they might have been, but those are really personal. And I dealt with them, and at some point you have to move forward and I think we as a team are doing that.
“The best part is really coming out to start the football season and talk about the challenges we have ahead of us, and certainly it’s been a challenging offseason but we’re going to try to move forward as best we know how.’’
McCourty tried to describe his initial reaction of Hernandez’s link to the murder investigation, “Like everyone else — just shocked, everything that happened,’’ he said.
“It’s a very sad story.’’
Wilfork said it was difficult for the players to confront an issue that is so foreign to their comfort zone on the football field.
“You’re not dealing with just football right now,’’ Wilfork said. “You’re dealing with human beings, you’re dealing with life. So it’s just sad. You’re disappointed, but at the same time we get a chance to come do something that we love to do and that’s to play football. ‘’
In light of the peripheral distractions Hernandez’s arrest created, Wilfork said training camp would likely provide a sanctuary for the team.
“One thing we’ll try to do is keep everything separate,’’ Wilfork said. “We’ll try to control what we can control and that’s playing football and getting better each day. So that’s my main focus; to try and do that. It’s started and now it’s here.’’
Team owner Robert Kraft spoke with a small group of reporters a couple of weeks ago regarding the Hernandez situation, with Bill Belichick addressing it head-on Wednesday afternoon.
Belichick will advise his players on how to deal with things, and Brady knows as a team captain he can play a role as well.
“I know these last six weeks have been distracting for a lot of people, but I’d say for this team, we’re trying to focus on our job and what we have to do to win football games,’’ Brady said. “Certainly it’s a very tragic thing that happened, someone loses their life, but all those things were out of the players’ control here. We’re not really part of that situation so I don’t think it does a lot for us to get too much involved.’’
Brady was asked if he had any contact with Hernandez since his former teammate’s arrest, but Brady said he had been instructed by the Patriots not to address questions about Hernandez, a theme he repeated several times.
Brady and New England’s other two quarterbacks, as well as its rookies, have been in Foxborough since Monday, but Thursday was the first day the entire team was to be on hand. Brady indicated that Belichick had not yet addressed the full team.
“We’ve been away from each other pretty much this whole time; today is really the first day that everyone has been together,’’ he said. “Everyone really takes the lead from Coach Belichick and Mr. Kraft. I know they’ve commented on how they feel. I think we as players should follow their lead. Hopefully we can go out and do something our community can really be proud of.’’
As Belichick did on Wednesday, Brady stressed more than once that there have been plenty of Patriots players over the years who have been standouts on and off the field.
“We’ve had such great examples over the years, whether it was Tedy Bruschi or Mike Vrabel or Troy Brown or Kevin Faulk, guys who have really worn this uniform and worn it well,’’ he said. “Not only have we been successful on the field, but guys have committed so much of their time to doing things that are good in the community, and this obviously is not a time where those things are recognized because there’s another situation to deal with. But I think I’m still really proud of all those guys that have worn the uniform and worn it well and hopefully gone out and tried to make the city of Boston, all of New England, proud of what we do on and off the field.’’
The Patriots may have some growing pains as they seek to replace Hernandez on the field, as well as other players such as Wes Welker (signed with Denver) and Rob Gronkowski (injured). But Brady said he welcomed that, and added that redefining the “Patriot Way’’ is now a priority for him.
“We need to reestablish what we’re all about,’’ he said. “That’s to win games.’’
Brady frequently mentioned that he needs to be able to trust his teammates. He was asked if Hernandez was someone he could trust, but quickly said he could not answer that question. Instead, he tried to paint a picture of the ideal teammate he wants to be able to count on.
“I try never to be a distraction,’’ he said. “I think I owe that to my teammates — to never be a person that someone has to comment on.
“That’s the best example you can set. You hope the other guys can follow along.’’
Being able to trust his teammates allows him to be a better player, Brady said.
“The best teammates I ever had, guys like Wes [Welker] or Deion Branch, I never had to worry about,’’ he said.
Brady did not name Hernandez or any other players who didn’t fit that mold, but said Wilfork was an example of a player he never needs to worry about.
“Everyone is ultimately accountable for their own decision-making,’’ Brady said.
“I’m certainly accountable to a lot of people here, my family and to the community because I understand the role model I am. I try to go out and represent this organization the best way I know how.’’