Changing of the guard has officially started in Foxborough

FOXBOROUGH – There was a first day of college orientation type feel at 1 Patriot Place on Wednesday afternoon.

Dozens of media members and TV cameras packed inside the media work room to meet new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, new defensive coordinator Demarcus Covington and new special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer for the first time in a press conference setting.

Head coach Jerod Mayo (that’s still a little weird to type) spoke first before the other three took questions for a total of about an hour. After that, there was another sure sign that things are going to be much different around Gillette.

Mayo had the idea to have the majority of the staff as well as Eliot Wolf meet with the media for a one-hour social in the bar at field level. A top-notch spread was provided and non-alcoholic drinks were served, but there were no cameras, no recorders, no photos, no videos. Nothing on the record. Just an opportunity to meet and shoot the breeze with the newest members of the staff – and there are a lot of them.

Life, local college football, food, cost of living in New England, the Red Sox debacle, the Celtics’ title chances. Anything and everything was on the table as reporters and staff members walked around shaking hands and introducing themselves. It was a true ‘get to know you’ opportunity that just screamed ‘change’ after 25 years of being as mysterious as possible. No state secrets revealed, but still a human element to all of it that everyone could appreciate.

The energy and enthusiasm, along with an aura of confidence (despite not coaching a single practice together yet) from the staff during the press conferences was glaring. For now, there’s little reason to believe that the combination of youth and experience Mayo has put together can’t turn things around sooner rather than later.

Mayo also said that like the roster, the staff is still a work in progress too.

“One thing we wanted to make sure of was that we weren’t duplicating roles. For us, we were thinking about ‘what value does this role bring to the team?,” he said. “Historically, we’ve always had small staffs. It’s hard to get things done that way in today’s NFL. We weren’t really thinking about the size. We were just thinking about, ‘how can we make this staff as good as it can be?’. Honestly, after talking to a lot of coaches, your first year coaching, you hope you put together the best staff, but realistically, it’s a process.”

Van Pelt has plenty of experience – a big reason he was hired so quickly after interviewing – but has the unenviable task of trying to put this offense back together, possibly with a rookie quarterback. As you’d expect, he expressed optimism about the challenge he’s facing.

“The biggest thing is there’s some good pieces in place,” he said when specifically asked what excites him about the challenge. “I think the best thing for everybody is it’s going to be a fresh start. I talked to a couple guys already and said we’re coming in with a clean slate. There’s no preconceived expectations or notions of who these guys are and then we’ll build it from the ground up. Exciting to have the opportunity to do that.”

So, does that mean he could see Mac Jones back as the team’s quarterback? Never say never.

“Really right now, everything is on the table,” Van Pelt added. “As we go through this process, we’re really…this last couple weeks, 10 days, have just been diving in to who we are. Trying to evaluate our guys…we’re trying to understand who we have here as well as looking at other players out there. Right now, everything is on the table, we’re still just working through that process. When that time comes I’m sure it’ll be a collaborative effort and we’ll make the right decisions.”

Springer isn’t used to the Northeast weather yet, but is ready to take the challenge head on. Springer was easily the most enthusiastic and energetic all day long. He was the last coach to leave the social too, seemingly wanting the party to go on all night long as he wrapped up a few different conversations.

“It’s been quite the awakening. I’ve got to wear a sweater everywhere I go,” he said. “I feel like I’m losing every single tan that I ever had. It’s gone, so just trying to get used to that right now…my approach is to get (special teams) back to the elite level it’s been in the past.

“Slater left and those guys and the Super Bowl runs they had…get to a level of being in that Top 5, being a team where every play we take the field teams gotta prepare for us because we’re going to play at an elite level.”

Despite not being used to the cold, Springer knows about the history here and knows there’s only two ways to prepare for it, especially in the kicking game.

“Two ways. We practice outside. All week,” he added. “So, those guys are around it all the time. They’re kicking in it. We’re not going to go in the indoor…if we go in the indoor it’s short…you can hit the roof. So, we’re going to practice in it all the time. And then, my assistant Tom Quinn that I have, he does an unbelievable job. He was the New York Giants’ special teams coordinator for a number of years. He’s been in these environments, he can always help with some of the little things, the inputs…maybe something I’m not used to right there.”

Covington has obviously been around a while, but he too felt like he’s reinvigorated and it sounds like while things won’t change much schematically, there will still be an emphasis on the little things.

“So, I would say the defense wouldn’t change as much, but when you turn on the tape, I think what we want to see is a physical team. A team that plays with good discipline and fundamentals and a team that attacks the football and takes it away from the opponent,” Covington said. “That’s what we’re truing to look for with our defense and a team that goes out there and plays together, for one another.

“That type of togetherness, that’s what we’re really looking for.”

I’m well aware that it’s only February and we haven’t hit the NFL Combine yet. Things could all go south very quickly by training camp, but it’s hard not to point to Wednesday’s events and say that things are already much, much different.

Time will tell if it translates to success on the field, but this is a damn good start.