FOXBOROUGH — If there's one thing that I've learned about NFL teams in training camp, from covering the Dolphins, Packers and Patriots plus various stops at camps as a national writer, it's that there is no better motivation than competition among professional football players.
It was one of my great frustrations in covering the Packers. General manager Ted Thompson — often at the irritations of his lieutenants — seldom used any free agency to increase the competition in spots on the roster in his later years. The Packers had their draft picks, developed them into starters, then backed them up with younger players. In my opinion, that led to a sense of entitlement among some of the young players on the roster. They knew whatever late-round pick wasn't going to take their job, and they often cruised. Benchings were few and far between.
It's like no one noticed that their Super Bowl championship team of 2010 wasn't augmented by well-traveled veterans like Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Ryan Grant, John Kuhn, Ryan Pickett, Donald Lee, Tom Crabtree and Brandon Chillar.
From afar, you could tell competition by any means necessary was a bedrock principle for Bill Belichick when he started with the Patriots and it's only grown in value for him. It's a big part of the reason why the team contends every single year, while other teams are often, as former Packers GM Ron Wolf colorfully put it years ago, farts in the wind.
The reason I bring this up today is, as I looked across the practice field as the Patriots started to defend another Super Bowl title, I think this training camp might be the most competitive for a Belichick team ever.
Seriously ... good luck to the player, rookie or vet alike, who feels like dialing it back for a few days. They might be out of job when they feel like playing again. And that goes for just about everyone on the roster.