The praise for Bill Belichick's coaching ability come from all angles. Media and fans alike bestow genius status upon the New England Super Bowl-winning boss.
But the players are the ones who see Belichick's pre-game preparation up close. They're the ones who know best how Belichick goes about putting his team and individual players in position to succeed.
And from a player's perspective Belichick's never-ending, 24/7 focus on preparation can be somewhat stressful. Even a chance encounter with the head coach in the hallway of the football offices of Gillette Stadium can be a moment of informal preparation evaluation.
View photos from media access during AFC Championship week as the Patriots prepare to face the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 18, 2015.
New England wide receiver Julian Edelman has had those hallway encounters, and while he's more comfortable with them now, that wasn't always the case. Did those seemingly harmless run-ins actually create a level of anxiety?
"Early in my career it did," Edelman acknowledged with a smirk. "When I see him in the hallway now I still just kind of walk – I don't have anxiety, but you're always being tested with him. You could be walking down the hallway and he'll say, 'Who's the opponent, what [are] his strengths?' [and] this [and] that. It does keep you on your toes, but I've been in and around here for a little bit now and I study all of those things and you kind of have answers for him; or at least try to have answers for him and just work."
Belichick's overbearing focus on preparation isn't limited to any one position or side of the ball.
"He expects a lot," left tackle Nate Solder said after talking about how weekly game plan quizzes prove players' "accountability" in the preparation process.
"Coach Belichick is my coach. He asks a lot of us, and we come to work every day and prepare to work hard," captain Dan Connolly echoed of what it's like playing for Belichick, something that never changes. "We're working hard every day. That's one thing that has remained constant."
Even Tom Brady, who's as intense as anyone in his own internal drive for preparation, feels the burden that Belichick puts on his troops.
"I think Coach makes it pretty tough for us on a daily basis," Brady said. "I think he tries to really challenge us mentally to be at our best every day, so when you get put in tough situations on the field you've got something that you put in the bank."
Stressful or not, to a man it seems these Patriots wouldn't have it any other way, or want any other coach.
"I think it's an honor to play for coach Belichick. You never go into a week thinking you are not prepared," Edelman said. "Even if it's one play that the defensive coordinator had when he was a GA at LA Tech, you're going to see that play and you're going to be ready for it. It's definitely a different mentality around here. We definitely do the whole grind thing to the max here, in comparison to anywhere I've ever been. Like I said, it's an honor to play for coach Belichick. He's our leader and [the] reason why we've been here and we've won a lot of games is because he's our leader and he's showed us the way and showed us what we've had to do."
While Edelman, like most of his veteran teammates, is now more comfortable with the impromptu Belichick verbal tests, that doesn't mean the anxiety of those encounters ever completely disappears.
"There are plenty of times I didn't have an answer – where he got me," Edelman recalls. "That was all in the past. I'm still looking for the answers and he'll still have crazy questions for you, but [you] just got to [be] prepared to know."
The carrot to get through it all – the mental and physical grind of preparing to win – is the winning.
"The funnest thing to do is win. No one likes going out and sprinting 20 sprints, but you do it because it's going to help you," Edelman said. "Whatever the coaches prepare for us the week, the material, whatever they have for us – it's not the funnest thing to do, but you know it's going to put you in the right position to succeed, so you do it. I'm not saying you always do it with a smile on your face, but you know that coach Belichick and the coaching staff, they've won Super Bowls and they've done all of that stuff, so you know that whatever he does is one of the formulas that's going to help you to get to the next game. Right now we are thinking about those Indianapolis Colts."
And fully confident that Belichick and his staff will prepare them to beat those Indianapolis Colts.