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Back talk

In his Thursday press conference, coach Belichick spoke on cornerback Ellis Hobb's improvement and the multiple running back sets the Patriots and the Jets will each bring to Sunday's game in the Meadowlands.

Ellis elevates his play

In the season opener on Sunday, Ellis Hobbs was manned-up on Lee Evans for much of the game, limiting the Bills receiver to only two receptions. Although coach Bill Belichick said that didn't say anything about Asante Samuel's ability, he was quick to praise Hobbs for his growth, this being only his second NFL season.

"I thought Ellis [Hobbs] really made a significant move around midseason from maybe the 4th game to the twelfth game, somewhere in there," said Belichick. "I thought that was really a big jump for him. By the end of the year, he was doing things 100 percent better than he did them at the beginning of the year, or maybe more than that, I don't know.

"He really made a big move during the season last year. Part of that was he didn't get off to a really good start and part of it was once he got going and got confident and really understood some of the things we were trying to do, he did them pretty well. Unlike some players who make his move, it was within the rookie year as opposed to at the end of it."

Thursday, Hobbs reflected on his rough start last year as well – specifically the second preseason game against the Saints. In that game, Hobbs tried to make a jump on an Aaron Brooks pass to Devery Henderson, but missed the ball after taking himself out of tackling position. The play resulted in a 34-yard touchdown, putting New Orleans back in a game they ultimately won after being down 16-27.

"(For the media) that was a bulls-eye on my back for the season. It may sound like a nonchalant attitude but, 'Ok, who cares? I have to go onto the next play.' It happens. I learned from it – I had to speed up the timing in my mind of a ball being thrown, the velocity.

"It was just me catching up to the speed of the game. It's just getting the timing down, kind of like a quarterback and a receiver – it takes time. It just took me a little more time to get on that same page – 'Ok, now I see it. Now I understand that the ball's moving a little faster than what it is in college.'"

Hobbs went on to talk about the difficulties involved with playing as part of a collective defense while still managing to perform within his own style of play.

"When you're getting coached, take it in," said Hobbs. "Soak it in, but be a football player. We're not robots out here. If you turn into a robot, you will not have a job for very long. A defense is built, but also you have to learn how to play within that defense. I think that's the one thing that you learn on the fly – learning how to play within a defense and getting comfortable. That takes time."

Asked what he saw during that period of time between Weeks 4 and 12, Hobbs seemed to imply that he developed a greater understanding of the game as a whole, saying, "I saw The Matrix, that's what I saw. I started seeing the green lights. Everything started slowing down. That just came with preparation. I can't tell you how many times I got beat in practice and being frustrated with this and that. The culmination was the Miami game. I just stopped worrying about if I'm going to make a mistake, and the coaching met the preparation and we just played ball."

The Miami game Hobbs spoke of came in Week 10 of 2005. In that game, Hobbs recorded seven tackles and an interception, managing to shake off a blown assignment where Gus Frerotte threw a touchdown pass to Chris Chambers and move onto the next play without losing confidence. It seems the confidence Hobbs exudes came along with a consistency of play he had gained by the end of the 2005 season.

"In the NFL, that's what you have to be, consistently good all the time," said Hobbs reflecting on the source of his improvement. "We're not out here to try to make the great plays all the time, because you're not going to do that. It's consistently making good plays and amongst those good plays are your great plays."

Patriots, Jets both bring multiple backs

Former Patriot Curtis Martin led the NFL in rushing during the 2004 season and has accumulated 14,101 yards in his 11-year career. His performance was seriously hindered in Week 2 of the 2005 season when he hurt his right knee. Martin managed to play in 12 games for the Jets last season, but didn't pass the 1000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. The No. 4 all-time leading rusher in the NFL enters the 2006 season on the Jets PUP list, so he won't be eligible to play in Sunday's game, and hopes to return to the field when he becomes eligible again after Week 6.

Asked about how Martin would have factored in, hypothetically, if he could have played in the upcoming game, coach Belichick responded, "Well, it's a new coordinator, a new offense, new system, so I don't really know how Curtis would be utilized in this system or how he would look running what they run just because we haven't seen him do it. He hasn't been on the field all year. He's a pretty special player."

Coach Belichick followed up by talking about what the Jets running game does have.

"These backs run hard," said Belichick. "[Derrick] Blaylock runs hard.[Kevan] Barlow runs hard. [Cedric] Houston runs hard.[Leon] Washington runs hard. Those guys all get up field. They are good, tough, hard, north-south runners. They very seldom lose yardage because they're always going forward. They're not looking to break it outside and cutback and reverse their field and all of that. That's not really their thing. Their thing is to get the ball downhill, attack the defense and gain positive yardage and they all kind of have that running style.

"Curtis I think had a little more cutback and a little more vision in his running, but maybe he'd run the plays more like these guys do. I don't know," added Belichick.

Belichick isn't just familiar with Martin's running style because he's been in the league so long. He was on the Patriots coaching staff when Martin was still in New England, back in '96, and he was on the Jets coaching staff during Martin's first two seasons with the Jets.

The Patriots are packing a potent running back corps this season, with Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk each having his own kind of impact on last week's season opener. Unlike the quiver of four backs the Jets will bring to Week 2's matchup, the Patriots triumvirate of running backs each has something different to offer.

In talking about the group's versatility last week, Dillon said, "We just bring different aspects to the game. I'm power. You got Kevin [Faulk]. He's versatile and can do many things. You got[Laurence] Maroney – speed, shifty."

"They both run the ball well and that's about it, so we have our work cut out for us," said Junior Seau after being asked about Blaylock and Barlow on Thursday.

He isn't taking the Jets running game lightly and when he was asked if their similar running styles made them easier to defend as a group, he responded, "No it's never easy. It's never easy. It's going to be a great competition."

"I didn't coach Curtis Martin, I was on the team with Curtis Martin and Ottis Anderson and Joe Morris and those guys, but I was coaching defense," admitted Belichick today, thinking back to his years on the Giants and Jets coaching staffs.

"These three guys easily are the best backs that we've had," Belichick said of his current crew before reflecting a bit more. "Kevin Mack is a great back, but he was at the end of his career. He only played, I forget what it was, one year or two years. Whatever it was, it wasn't very long. [Eric] Metcalf was really a receiver. He went to the Pro bowl as a receiver with Atlanta. [Leroy] Hoard was a fullback playing halfback, halfback in a fullback's body, kind of guy. He was sort of a hybrid."

Mack, Metcalf and Hoard were all on the Browns during Belichicks tenure as Cleveland's head coach.

"I think these guys are a talented group, all the way across the board," said Belichick in summary of the present group of backs.

- Hobbs spoke of where he gets his motivation to continue improving today, and took the time to explain the tattoos on each of his forearms. One says 'Grind to shine' and the other says 'Time never stops, why should I?' Hobbs described himself as a motivator, saying "There has to be a drive within you. You don't just sit and wait for things to happen, you go out there and take it. You take the moment. You're always going out there striving for more. I've always been a person where if you work right and prepare right, good things will happen – proper preparation prevents poor performance."
- The Rolling Stones come to Gillette Stadium on Sept. 20, and their crews are already starting to prepare their stage. The crew has filled a large portion of the stadium's parking lots on the South side with cranes, trucks and various scaffolds.
- Richard Seymour was present during the portion of practice available to the press on the team's Dana Farber indoor practice field after going unseen by the media yesterday. Tedy Bruschi attended his fourth consecutive practice Thursday as well, and Garrett Mills was also on the field after being listed as having the flu yesterday. Rodney Harrison was not seen at practice Thursday.

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