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'It's what I do.' Patriots' Bill Belichick engaged, optimistic entering his 49th season in NFL

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Depending on the day — and the team the Patriots happen to be preparing for in a given week — Bill Belichick can display both his reverence for NFL history and his ambivalence about anything that has to do with the past.

Ask him about what the Pittsburgh Steelers and legacy of Art Rooney have meant to the league and his praise is nearly endless.

Yet a query about a past Patriots’ Super Bowl run or even a recent meeting with an opponent often elicits a variation of “the past doesn’t matter.”

But as Belichick, 71, prepares for his 49th season in the NFL and 29th as a head coach, his history and the present are inextricably linked in the twilight of his future Hall of Fame career.

Belichick leads New England into Sunday’s season opener against the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles with 329 career victories (including playoffs), leaving him 19 shy of passing Don Shula (347) for the most in NFL history.

Still, he made clear on Wednesday that nearly five decades’ worth of scouting and game preparations haven’t dimmed his excitement in advance of his latest NFL season.

“It’s what I do. I enjoy it,” Belichick said. “Beats working for a living.”

Working to remain relevant in what is expected to be a competitive AFC East this season will be another story for these Patriots.

Coming off an 8-9 finish in 2022 in which their offense finished in the bottom half of the league in several categories, all eyes will be trained on that group on a weekly basis.

That is especially true this week opposite an Eagles team that returns seven starters from a defense that ranked second in total defense and first against the pass last season.

After spending most of the spring and training camp under scrutiny as the team adjusted to changes brought in by new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, Patriots tight end Hunter Henry thinks improvement will be noticeable.

“It’s just the consistent nature that we’ve gone about every single day,” he said. “I’m confident of the guys. … I feel like we have a lot of talent in that room, and I think a lot of guys are excited to go out there and show it.”

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson believes O’Brien’s attention to detail has helped everyone stay engaged.

“The plays we run they have a meaning. And if we buy into them, it should be successful,” Stevenson said.

Whatever it ultimately looks like, linebackers coach Steve Belichick doesn’t expect this team to look stale on either side of the ball.

This will be the 12th season he has spent on his father’s staff and he said he has observed a coach that remains open to change despite his long career.

“He’s obviously old,” the younger Belichick said. “He’s definitely old. But I haven’t seen a ton of changes in terms of his approach and stuff like that. I think he does a good job of adapting. He’s not stuck in his ways. He listens to feedback, and he implements it how he wants to.”

Micromanaging is also not part of the playbook.

“There’s always a level of ‘What can we do better? What do we need to do better?’ And I appreciate that from him,” Steve Belichick said. “He lets us do what we do. He hired us to do a job. He has trust in us to do a job. But if it’s not good enough, he’ll step in and tell you flat out it’s not good enough.”

JACK JONES’ STATUS

Belichick said he expects Jack Jones to be available Sunday following the resolution of a gun case that has been hanging over the defensive back since early summer.

On Tuesday, Jones agreed to serve one year of probation and 48 hours of community service in exchange for prosecutors dropping eight of the nine weapons charges he faced in connection with his June arrest at a security checkpoint at Boston’s Logan Airport. The charges that were dismissed stemmed from Jones allegedly having two loaded guns in his carry-on bag. The remaining charge was for an airport security violation.

While his legal case is over, it’s to be determined whether he will face further discipline under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

“Anything from them will come from them, not from me,” Belichick said.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL