Patriots head coach addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium following the 2008 NFL Draft.
BB: Who would have ever thought you would be covering a Bill Belichick draft with no offensive linemen, defensive linemen, or tight ends taken, right?
I think I should certainly comment on the draft room this year missing the presence of Bucko [Kilroy]. He's been such a pillar here for so long, particularly as it relates to the draft. I always remember walking into the room with Bucko every draft and he'd have his charts there and he had the values and how they were going to be picked off the board, and it was such an exciting day for him and all of us. Even in the later years, he still never lost his enthusiasm and zest for these two days, so he certainly is in our memory today in this first draft without him.
We started off the day with the three picks in the third round. [We] had [Shawn] Crable on the line and we were actually going to take him in that first pick and San Diego kind of swooped in there and made the trade, and we picked up a second-round pick next year and ended up trading back, or losing that pick, and then we slid back and took Crable on the first of our third-round picks. We've been on him and kind of watched him for a long time, with the whole Michigan connection from Pierre [Woods] and the coaching staff up there that we've got a pretty good relationship with. I think there are probably a lot of similarities between Shawn and Pierre: they're both tall guys, very rangy, fast, good special team players. I think that that's, like I said, a guy that we've been on, really, for quite some time and followed with some interest.
[Kevin] O'Connell is a big, strong athletic quarterback, [who] runs well, very athletic, played on a passing team in a passing league, in all honestly not behind a real good line, so he was kind of on the run a little bit, but I thought he held in there and did a pretty good job of being productive and making good decisions. A lot of times he was under a lot of pressure, as well, so we're looking forward to working with him, obviously.
[Jonathan] Wilhite is a kid we saw at Auburn in the spring. Actually, Nick [Caserio], Scott [Pioli], and I, Dean [Pees], we were all there. The guy has had good production in the kicking game, good production defensively. [He was] really a three-year starter down there, other than a few games he missed here and there, but he's been a pretty durable, productive kid. It goes with [Terrence] Wheatley; I think there are similarities between those two players.
We picked up [Matthew] Slater. That was the fifth round where I think we moved up to get Slater, traded up for him. He's been a very productive special teams player. High-quality, great character kid, comes from, obviously, a good family.
And lastly, we saw quite a bit of him through the years at [Nebraska], whether it was back when they had [Adam] Carriker and the two safeties, in watching [Zach] Bowman there this year, [or] last year the outside linebacker, Stewart [Bradley]. So they've had a lot of good defensive football players there at Nebraska and this is kind of a senior group and we've seen him for a couple of years. But he's another guy that's good-sized, runs well, and he's a real competitive kid, smart kid and I think he has a little bit of position flexibility for us in the inside positions as well.
And of course, yesterday on the Wheatley pick, Terrence has been a very productive player for Colorado. He's played inside and outside on the corner positions, he played the slot, he's a good kick returner, a good special team player, good hands and another smart kid and a very experienced player in a good passing conference, and hopefully he'll give us some good depth in the secondary and a little bit of position flexibility.
That's kind of the rundown on those players and now we'll-when the draft is over here, hopefully shortly-we'll be moving on into some free agent signings to kind of fill out our roster and get our numbers up for training camp, so even though the draft is kind of over, it's really not over because there's still a lot of work to be done. I think that Scott and the scouts have done a great job in this entire draft. We got a late start on it, but they've come up with a lot of good information and they've certainly prepared the coaching staff well for the different contingencies that have come up and getting information on the players. And now heading into this free agency period after the draft, hopefully we'll be able to supplement our draft with some quality players that weren't drafted. So that's kind of where we're at.
Q: Did you go into this assuming it was going to be a more defensive draft?
BB: No, we went into it open minded. We really did. We certainly wanted to get younger and faster on defense, but I have been saying that for the six years. This has been really since the 2001 season. We just had some opportunities here the way things fell that there were players that fell into that category. Whether it be linebackers or defensive backs. [Matthew] Slater in kickoff and in special teams is certainly a fast player and even though we didn't draft [Kevin] O'Connell because of his speed he runs very well. I think we improved our overall team speed and got some quality guys and some guys who have been productive at good programs.
Q: Is Slater labeled strictly as special teams?
BB: Well, I think his forte is in the kicking game and we will see how that develops. But he does have flexibility; he has played on both sides of the ball so we will have to see how that goes. We listed him as a wide receiver but that may or may not end up being the way it is. We just have to see how it is. Again he is a smart kid. He's fast. He's tough. He handles the ball pretty well, as we've seen on kick returns, and tackles well, as he's done on the coverage team, so we'll see how it goes. Maybe a little bit of both. I don't know.
Q: You mentioned in pre-draft press conference that quarterback was the one position where maybe the value idea didn't necessarily apply. What about Kevin O'Connell made him a good value in the third round?
BB: I think I said that about the first round. After that I wouldn't agree with that. I thought he was a good player in a good program. Like I said, he played sometimes in adverse conditions and I thought he showed a lot of poise and a lot of ability.
Q: Kevin [O'Connell] had mentioned working out with Josh [McDaniels] and how much he enjoyed that. How much did feedback from Josh go into making that pick?
BB: It's one of the factors, no doubt. Anytime we visit with a player, whether it's us going to him or him coming to us or whatever, that's part of it. I think the more important part most of the time is what the player does out on the field over a number of games or years or his career and of course the feedback that we get form the coaches that he played or sometimes players that we know who are familiar with him. So it can come from a lot of different places, but our scouts have been out there all year watching him play and Josh's visit out there was certainly valuable information. I think Josh got a good feel for what he's done schematically and what his reads were and things like that and obviously Josh had some good things to say about him as part of our evaluation.
Q: What about the depth of cornerback now with some of the guys you brought in though free agency and now two rookies? You think you have enough?
BB: I don't know. We'll put them out there and let them play and find out. It's about competition now. Once everybody's here, it doesn't really matter where they came from or how they got here. We'll just put them out there and let them play and the players who play the best will play the most and the players who don't play as well will be behind them. First it's kind of a teaching situation in the spring camps here and trying to get everybody indoctrinated into the system if they haven't been and learn what's going on so we can kind of level the playing field and then the bigger part of the evaluation starts of course in training camp, but to some degree it will go on a little bit in the spring, but it's more of a teaching camp and terminology and getting everybody familiar with what they're doing and all that so they can go out there and play when we get to camp. So that's when we'll really find out.
Q: You have had good success with bringing guys in during the middle of the season in the defensive backfield and getting them ready pretty quickly. Is there something about the system you have that newcomers can adapt quickly?
BB: It's hard. It's hard. It's not the way you want to do it. Sometimes you have to do the best you can if you get in a situation. But you're a lot better off brining a guy in in the spring and go through training camp and the whole teaching progression, that's why we set it up that way. But that's not always possible. If you bring a person in midseason you just have to try to scramble and try to get them on a week to week basis until you can get caught up and kind of go back and go through some of the terminology and lay the foundation. But a lot of times you're just getting them ready for one game, it's just a game plan thing and you skip over some of that. But I don't think it's easy. I think it's hard.
Q: Both [Matthew] Slater and [Bo] Ruud come from NFL families. As a rookie coming in, how do you think it will help them in the game and their knowledge of the game?
BB: Well, I'm sure it's helpful. Chris Long is another guy that has been through that. I think it's helpful and there is certainly a lot more that haven't had that than did. Having grown up in kind of a football family, a coach's family, in my situation there are certainly things that you kind of learn and understand. Some of it is by osmosis .
Q: The corners you drafted are both the same size. When you made the picks there was some other corners on the board. What was it about smaller guys that you felt made it a better pick?
BB: We picked players we thought were best for our football team each opportunity we got to pick. Things that Terrence [Wheatley] and Jonathan [Wilhite] do, we feel like they do well and that's why we picked them. There are other good players that went before we picked players and there were other good players that went after we picked ours as the draft progressed. It's nothing against anyone else; we just did what we felt was best for our football team based on all the things we took into consideration.
Q: How did [Shawn] Crable run compared to other linebackers that would project into what he could do for you?
BB: Well there is not very many of them. When you go through the 3-4 outside linebackers, some of them fall that way and then other players with similar size and measurables fall the other way as defensive ends. There are not many there that can toe the line and do both at a good competitive level. There is probably a little bit more of one or the other. In Shawn's case, he is more a linebacker than a defensive end. For a linebacker, I think he is good. He's got good range. He's tall like Pierre [Woods], with a tall thin frame, but he's got exceptional strength. He plays a lot stronger than he looks. He sits kind of like a basketball player, but he plays strong and he is strong. He has good upper body strength and plays with good leverage, but he kind of has a thin lower body.
Q: At Michigan he played more 4-3 but did they have 3-4 package?
BB: They did a lot of that. It's just that in college, like in the bowl game against Florida and games like that, they got spread out a lot. Then a 3-4 team that became a 4-3 team or a 4-man line team I should say, in passing situations, then that's what the outside line does is drop down. He rushed a lot. He did a lot of work in practice rushing a lot against [Jake] Long and a lot of other great tackles. You know, I think any player coming into the NFL, that's an area that he can certainly improve on, his pass rush ability. Every college player can but [Shawn] has got the tools to work with. He's got a good first step and he's got long arms and a long body. He's got enough length to make those tackles.
Q: I read somewhere where they likened him to Carl Banks. Do you see any of that?
BB: Well, I made a comparison to Pierre Woods. He reminds me a lot more of Pierre Woods than he does Carl Banks. Are there some similarities to Carl Banks? I don't know.
Q: What separates a guy like that? Woods went undrafted. Crable was one of the top picks.
BB: Woods was one of the top players in the country as a sophomore. He didn't play as a senior. You'd have to ask Michigan why they didn't play him, or maybe they thought they had better players. I don't know. That's a question they'd have to answer. Athletically, he was an astounding player as a sophomore. I think he got some… the same thing as a junior and then he didn't play much as a senior. A little like Brady. Brady didn't really play full time his senior year at Michigan either until the last three or four games and then he obviously played well against Alabama in the bowl game and all that, but Brady was in and out of there too with [Chad] Henning. Really you should ask Michigan why they played the players the way they did. We can just evaluate the players the way we see [them].
Q: But he was undrafted…
BB: I'm just telling you he didn't play as a senior. It's kind of like Brady… it's hard. It's one thing when you're talking about Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams or Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, it's another thing when you look at a player and he doesn't even start for his college team or he's in a rotation, that type of thing. It's hard to… if a guy can't start for his college team, it's hard for you to go out there and say, "We feel like he's going to come in at this level and play. Or why were there better kids than him?" In some cases there weren't or maybe it was a system thing or whatever. Sometimes that skews it a little bit.
Q: With [Terrence] Wheatley and [Jonathan] Wilhite, is their development now in any way comparable to Asante [Samuel] and Ellis [Hobbs] when they came in?
BB: Well, I think both of those players are productive players. Both Wheatley and Wilhite have been productive players in their programs for several years, as Ellis and Asante were. They have a little different playing styles, but they all have good ball skills and all have good hands and they all run well.
Q: What has been the challenge over those six years, as you talked about getting younger and faster. What has been the challenge of doing that? It seems like you have taken more of a step in that direction this year than the past five years.
BB: I really don't think we have. I just think it kind of worked out that way. There are times when we are sitting on the board looking at players like Logan Mankins or whoever. I mean he is a good player and I'm glad we have him. It was a good pick. He's not a defensive player and he's not a fast player, but he's a good football player. There's nothing wrong with taking Logan Mankins, I'm not saying that. You need those kind of players. We have taken plenty of offensive players around here. One year it was almost a complete offensive draft with [Chad] Jackson, Dave Thomas and [Garrett] Mills two or three years ago. It wasn't intended that way. It was kind of what was on the board and we looked at what the best value was and we did what we felt was best for the football team. I don't think you want to skip down and skip past a lot of good football players to get one just because it's kind of a position you would like to have. We would like to have all positions. We will take whoever the best players are, and try to manage a team as best we can. Sometimes it's pro free agents or trades or you find other ways to fill out the roster, but it's hard to force guys. If they can't do what you want them to do I don't think there is much point on forcing them in there and then be disappointed with them and a year or two later you still don't have anything. I know it looks good on the draft grading charts. Need a guard, draft a guard. Need a corner, draft a corner. Need a tight end, draft a tight end and everybody gets an "A." But two years later if those players really aren't performing in those positions then what do you have?