TB: It’s a great time of year. It’s a regular season Wednesday, so I think everyone’s really been looking forward to this throughout the offseason training and training camp to get to this point. This is where we really need to be picky, and it’s where we really need to have a heightened sense of awareness about all the things that we’ve talked about, things that we’ve covered, that we’ve got wrong, that we’ve made corrections for, because you play a team like Buffalo with the new coordinator and you’re really not sure what they’re going to do. In a way, you have to prepare for everything, and a lot of the focus from the last four days has been just that, trying to really put together a game plan, go out, and we’ve had three good days of practice and now we’ve got to follow it up with two more.
Q: You are familiar obviously with their defensive coordinator… What other tendencies have you noticed about Mike Pettine over the years?
TB: Yeah, it’s a very good defense. It’s a challenging scheme because they use their players very well. I think they have very multi-dimensional-type players. Similar to what we do on offense: we use everybody, they use everybody. Everybody has a role in their defense. Whatever they feel like is working, they stick with. But from game to game it’s always been different, so we’ve got a lot of information on the team based on what they’ve done in the past, so you really aren’t quite sure what they’re going to do. You can just kind of prepare for what you think they’re going to do, certainly what their strengths have been, and try to go from there.
Q: How different is their personnel from what he had with the Jets?
TB: Well, every team has some differences. I think they’ve got, Buffalo, one of the best defenses in football. They’ve got guys from Mario [Williams] to Kyle Williams and [Alex] Carrington and Marcell Dareus. They’re super talented up front, can rush the quarterback. They get a lot of pressure on you with just the first four guys. They’re young in the secondary, especially with [Stephon] Gilmore getting hurt, but still very talented, very good young players, good linebacking group. I think they’re very athletic and their scheme is very challenging, so [it] puts a lot of pressure on us in all areas. We’ve got a young team too, so trying to make a bunch of corrections and go against what we think they’re going to do in practice has been challenging but really good for us.
Q: In other years in training camp, you’ve had to get used to new receivers and new people and young people. Comparing this year with new people and young people, how comfortable are you this year compared to where you’ve been in the past with the same type of situation?
TB: At this point, we’ve had 40 or 50 practices throughout the spring and summer, so we’ve had quite a bit. We’ve had a lot of communication with the young players, with the veteran players, just a lot of new guys, and especially with Gronk [
Q: How does this compare though to other years when you’ve had the same type of situation?
TB: Every year ends up being different, so it really remains to be seen, what we’ve done and what we’re capable of. That’s why we’ve got to go out and play and earn it, and I think that’s the exciting part for the players too, because we’ve been going at it for a while, we want to see what we’re all about too. We want to see how hard we’ve worked and how well we compare and match up with the other teams in the league.
Q: How important is patience for you with these young players, and how do you balance patience with the immediacy of a Sunday game?
TB: Yeah. I’m not the most patient guy to begin with, so that’s something that I’m working on. But you understand that there’s a learning curve, and there’s things that are going to come up that, you know, look, some guys haven’t experienced the things that I’ve experienced, so you try to talk about, ‘OK, this is possibly going to happen, if it happens then I want you to make this adjustment.’ Well it happens and then the adjustment’s not made and I say ‘Well I told you…” But sometimes that’s what I do with my three-year-old too and he doesn’t listen either. You try to just hang in there, and when you communicate you determine how good of a communicator you are by the feedback that you get, and if you’re not getting the right feedback, then you communicate more and you’re obviously not doing a great job of it so I’ve got to do a better job. And that’s I think part of what I tried to do this offseason.
Q: You were without Rob Gronkowski last year for a few games. Does that help if you’re without him for a few games this year? Is that in a way a good preparation so you know what to do without him?
TB: Sure, yeah. And I think that for the first couple years of his career he didn’t miss anything, you know? And then he missed some games last year and we kind of went into ‘OK, well this is what we’re going to do without Gronk,’ and that’s the situation that we’ve been in all spring and summer and developed, and it’s like he hasn’t even been a part of the team. I mean, he’s been a part of the team doing what he needs to do to get ready, but what our offense was doing, it’s other guys have to step in and do the job that we’re asking them to do.
Q: What do the three rookie wide receivers bring to this team?
TB: Well, they’re all a little bit different in terms of their skill set and I think they’re all fun to be around, they’re all excitable players, guys that are really willing to work hard by doing the right thing, by listening to the coaching they’re getting. But look, everyone feels really great about how far they’ve come, because they’ve really worked hard and they deserve the opportunity that they have. So hopefully they all play a big role in the upcoming regular season. But we’ll see how that goes, and we’re going to do what we need to do to win games and hopefully those players are a big part of the reason why we do it.
Q: Do they help to keep you young at all? It’s your 14th year, not that you’re old.
TB: I’d like to think I’m at the halfway house.
Q: But do they help to maybe re-energize you?
TB: Well, yeah. And it’s part of a different situation than we’ve been in, so there’s a newness to that. There’s a newness in the teaching and the learning and the work that we’ve done over the course of the years. There’s a lot of things that I’ve done this year that I’ve never done in the past that’s been new for me, in terms of the learning and the meetings and the extra time spent, so that’s all good for me too.
Q: Is that something you like?
TB: It’s great. I mean the more you have, I said to Josh [McDaniels] yesterday, we had a meeting and I was meeting with the receivers and I said ‘I can understand,’ because when you’re holding the clicker and you’re going over play after play after play… I mean, you can go through 70-80 plays, and when you’re holding the clicker, you’re like, you just keep teaching, it’s great, and then when you’re listening, you’re like ‘God, when are we done?’, you know? And then you get done, and when you’re holding the clicker you don’t feel like you’ve covered anything. In reality, you’ve covered a lot, so I think that’s part of it. It’s good to see it from the other side, from the coaching – not coaching, I’m not a coach, I’m a player, but there’s teaching, there are things I see that we’re trying to get on the same page. So a lot of it is me showing them a look and saying ‘Well this is what I expect, so if we get that look, we’re going to do it the way that I really can anticipate.’ And the more of those things that we can cover through past experiences, and maybe it’s not their past experience, but our Patriots past experience, if we can cover some of that in the film room, we don’t have to cover it on the field and we can when one of those situations happens in Buffalo.
Q: How long does it usually take for them to see what you see?
TB: It depends. It’s all up to the individual, and some things come faster than others, but we’re trying to work through it. It’s just a matter of doing it, and everyone learns differently. Hopefully it’s good enough. I mean ultimately we’re just trying to score more points than the other team, so it’s hard to compare a rookie receiver to Calvin Johnson – that’s unfair to anybody. But you’re trying to be the best as we can possibly be, and I think that’s been our goal for the year.
Q: How has Gronk looked on the field?
TB: Gronk’s done everything that everyone’s asked him to do, so I know he’s working hard. I mean, he’s out there busting his butt, which is great to see.
Q: Can you still relate to what those guys are feeling right now going into their first start of their careers? Do you share any of those stories about what you felt in that first week going into your first game?
TB: A little bit, a little bit. I think that based on what we’ve gone through in the preseason and what we’ve gone through in the spring and the kind of pressure that Coach [Bill] Belichick puts on the team, I think they have a pretty good understanding of what to expect. It’s a great environment for football. Coach Belichick always says ‘If you love football, then one o’clock on a Sunday in Buffalo is a good place to be,’ so that’s how we feel.
Q: Do you remember the experience of your first opening day?
TB: Yes. It wasn’t a very good day for our team.
Q: As someone further down the depth chart, what were some of the emotions you were going through that day if you can remember?
TB: I can’t remember all that. I remember more the day, but yeah. It wasn’t a good day for the Patriots.
Q: Do you have an idea of who’s going to break out this year, or do you typically end up as surprised as we do?
TB: Well hopefully everybody contributes. To the level they contribute, that’s up to the individual, and there are a lot of things that go into that: game planning, and the scheme, and good fortune, being able to be on the field, so we’ve got to go through it. But when you have expectations, everybody that’s active on the roster is supposed to contribute. We’ve got some veterans that everyone expects to contribute, we’ve got a lot of rookies that people expect to contribute, and to what level, who knows, but we’re going to put as much as we can into it.
Q: I know he just got here the other day, but what are your early impressions of Matt Mulligan?
TB: This was the first day that I had him on the field, so we’ve got a long way to go. I’ve just gotten to know him, but he seems like a really great guy and happy to have him on the team. We need help at that position, and hopefully he can provide some.
Q: Stevie Johnson said that he could do some things against your defense including Pat Chung. I was wondering if you’ve ever mentally prepared for a guy that wasn’t actually on the other team?
TB: I have never done that. No, never done that.
Q: How important is it for you with these young guys to understand who reacts well to what? One guy you can yell at him and he’s fine, another guy you yell at him and he disappears. How hard is that for you to do since you hardly know these guys?
TB: Yeah, that’s part of the communication, and everyone does respond differently to different forms of motivation. Usually you can figure it out pretty quickly, it doesn’t take too many practices to see how a guy responds, but ultimately we all want the same thing, and that’s to do it right and to do it right consistently so that we’re able to score points. At this point everyone has a pretty good feel for each other, but it’s also different on game day and it’s different on opening day when they count. I think it’s one thing for something to come up during a preseason game where, yeah you know it’s not great, but it’s a learning experience like what happened in Detroit. If that happens in a regular season game, things aren’t going to go very well around here, so that’s just the way it is. But the guys that are here have earned the respect of Coach Belichick enough to be on the team. He obviously feels like we can all contribute to us winning games, and that’s what we have to hopefully be able to do is go out there and string together a bunch of great plays in a row, and the more great plays, the more we’re going to score points, the more points we score the more margin of error we’re going to have. He always tells us, ‘Your job is to go out and score points, we’re not putting you out there to go run through three plays and punt,’ so we’re going to try to go out there and score as many points as he can.
Q: How challenging is it opening on the road in a loud place like Buffalo? Obviously you’ve had great success against the Bills, but a lot of these games have been cliffhangers.
TB: I mean look, this is a very good team that challenges you in a lot of ways. They’ve got a new coaching staff, there’s a lot of excitement and energy, a lot of young players that they have that have never been a part of the history between the Patriots and the Bills. None of those games are going to matter, what’s going to matter is who plays the best, who executes the best. I said a few days ago, football’s not a game of gimmicks. It’s about good, solid execution – running, throwing, catching, blocking, tackling – that’s what football is about. The more you do that on a consistent basis, the better you’re going to be. You may get away with a play here or there, but ultimately the best teams are the ones that have the best fundamentals. That’s what we really work hard on, that’s what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to work on our fundamentals every day in practice, and hopefully it’s at its high point on Sunday.