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Patriots deflect questions about off-field distractions, try to focus on football

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FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — The New England Patriots say they have more to worry about during training camp than the status of their star quarterback's lawsuit against the NFL and the team's image around the league.

The defending Super Bowl champions are trying to replace Vince Wilfork on the defensive line and Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary. Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower are trying to come back from injuries. New additions such as cornerback/safety Robert McClain are learning the system. Some players — second-year running back James White and defensive lineman Sealver Siliga, for example — are looking for bigger roles, and others are fighting just for a roster spot.

The official Patriots line is that because of those priorities, the team spends little time contemplating the justice of the NFL's punishment for the use of underinflated footballs in the AFC championship game.

"I know that's real important to everbody else, but it's not really very important to me and I don't think it's very important to our football team," coach Bill Belichick said Friday.

Defensive end Chandler Jones said he believes he speaks for everyone in camp when he says the team doesn't feel it needs to validate what it did last year.

"The only person we have to prove anything to is each other, ourselves and coach Belichick," he said.

Brady has not met with reporters since camp opened Wednesday, a day after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the four-game suspension for his involvement in the alleged football deflations.

The lawsuit filed by Brady and the players' union this week is being handled in New York and both sides have asked a judge to rule before Sept. 4, six days before the Patriots open the season against Pittsburgh.

PHOTO: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches his players during an NFL football training camp in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches his players during an NFL football training camp in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Brady and second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo both looked sharp Friday. Neither threw an interception during 11-on-11 drills.

But Belichick would not talk about Garoppolo's progress or address the prospect of the second-year player being ready to start for the Patriots in September.

"I'm not going to evaluate the players minute to minute, day to day," he said. "We've got a lot of training camp practices ahead of us."

Receiver Julian Edelman said Brady has been handling camp just as any other player would — trying to get better despite distractions, such as the raucous crowds that showed up this week, chanting his name, with some wearing "Free Brady" T-shirts.

On Thursday, an airplane buzzed the practice field towing a banner that said: "Cheaters Look Up!" and listing the Twitter handle of a New York Jets fan website. On Friday, there was another, this one reading in part, "Go Pats."

"It's pretty funny actually to see those kind of things," Edelman said. "It's awesome to hear the fans, how they support everything. But, ultimately our mind's on just trying to get in here and get to work and try to mold our team."

And Belichick made it clear the team's focus is on the field, not the sky or anywhere else.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said when asked about Thursday's flyover. "What plane? I'm just trying to coach football."


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PHOTO: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches his players during an NFL football training camp in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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