New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his conference call on Tuesday, September 22, 2009.
BB: Well, as we turn the page and head toward the Falcons, this has been a pretty impressive job that Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have done down there, really a good looking football team. They do an awful lot of things well. [They're] very good running the ball, throwing it, just in general moving the ball on offense. They have good personnel, talented skill players: tight end, backs, quarterback, big physical offensive line. And they're real fast on defense. They're an explosive team. They've already caused a lot of turnovers - taken the ball away with their speed. They run a lot of plays with their speed. They run a lot of plays down from behind. They play hard. They're physical at the point of attack. They're a hard-hitting defensive unit, hard in the kicking game, just a real solid football team, and they're very disruptive on defense. Offensively, they have a lot of weapons and give you a lot of different looks. They cause you a lot of problems defensively with all the different things they do. It's a team we don't know very well. Obviously, [we] haven't played them in awhile. When we did play them last – they've had a lot of changes since then. We have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball and in all three phases of the game. The last couple days, regardless of who we play or what we play, we've just got to play better, coach better and do a better job all the way around. Those are some of the things we're focusing on today.
Q: Could you detail how you first got hooked up with Thomas Dimitroff when you hired him in New England?
BB: Well, I worked with Thomas's father, Tom Sr., at the Browns and Tom was a scout on that staff with Mike Lombardi, Ozzie Newsome, Dom Anile, Jimmy Schwartz, Phil Savage, Milt Davis – all those guys. [He was] a hardnosed, tough former coach from Indiana, very old school type of mentality and Tom Sr. always was very … If he said a kid was tough, you knew he was tough and you knew he was a football player. I think his son, Thomas, certainly picked up on that and he, after college, worked for a couple other teams – the Browns. Finally, we ended up with him here and he did a really good job running our scouting department, and adjusted some of the things that we were doing grading-wise - evaluations and things like that we may have overhauled a little bit as the game has changed over the last 10, 15, 20 years; the players and the systems that they play in and the type of things that they're asked to do. He played a big part in that and he's gone down to Atlanta and done a great job down there in a pretty short amount of time. [I am] very, very impressed with the team he's built, put together, the way they play and the way they do things.
Q: What has impressed you the most with what he's done? Are there any moves that have stood out to you?
BB: Well, certainly the Matt Ryan selection was a good one. That kid looks like a polished NFL quarterback. He reads coverages well, gets the ball to all his receivers, has a lot of poise, handles himself well in end of the game situations, audibles, check with me's at the line of scrimmage, all those kinds of things. We watched him quite a bit in the offseason and I think the acquisition of [Tony] Gonzalez has made a huge impact on their offensive football team. It's probably opened up a lot of things in the running game and they have a very good group of backs. And, also in the passing game, to attack the middle of the field and also keep some of the coverage off the outside on [Roddy] White and [Michael] Jenkins and make you worry about what's going on inside. Gonzalez has already had a real productive two games. He was productive in the preseason as well. They've done a good job with him scheme-wise, and getting him matched-up, and some advantageous situations, and Ryan's been able to pick those up and get it to him. Then, when teams have tried to take him away, then he's been able to come back to White, in the running game and Jenkins. They've done a good job and probably - Gonzalez, that was certainly a good addition. Peria [Jerry] is a real good football player, too. I know he got hurt last weekend, but he was a good addition, defensively. He played very well in the preseason and then in the first couple games there, when he jumped in there. He's a hard guy to block so I'm sure he'd be a good football player for them as well.
Q: Where is Pat Chung at in terms of his development and is he at a point where he could play a significant number of snaps defensively? Or is he still in the process of learning the defense?
BB: I think all of our rookies are in the process of learning whatever it is they are doing: offense, defense, special teams. But I think all the ones that are on the roster are capable of playing and either have played, or will play, or have played extensively in preseason, and will play at some point, depending on game-plan situation and some other circumstances. Maybe some in their control, maybe some not in their control. Patrick [Chung] definitely will fall into that category. He's got a lot to learn and he's learning it. He's played and he's done a good job for us when he's been in there on defense and in the kicking game. I think he's got a real good future ahead of him. It's exciting to work with him and Darius [Butler], too, in his secondary. I think they're heading in the right direction, no question about it.
Q: What drew you to Brandon McGowan to sign him? What characteristics did you see from him that you liked?
BB: Well, really pretty much everything he did was impressive defensively and in the kicking game. He runs well. He's athletic. He's a hard-hitting guy. He covers a lot of ground, pretty instinctive. He reads things well, does a good job in the pass coverage. [McGowan] really became a starting safety for the Bears and then got injured, missed some time - had a couple setbacks there in terms of not being able to play. But from an ability and production standpoint - when he was in there - he did a lot of good things on defense and in the kicking game. He does a good job blocking in the return game, covers well. Like I said, [he] tackles well in the open field, has good range, good space player. I think there are really a lot of things to like about his game.
Q: In terms of where he's fitting within the defense, can you draw any comparisons to Rodney Harrison? Just in terms of role, not necessarily production, any parallel to what he did to what Brandon McGowan could do or has done to this point?
BB: Over the course of time that Rodney was here, we asked him to do quite a bit. Brandon's been in some different roles and he's done a good job. But it's been a much shorter amount of time, much fewer games, smaller window and all of that. Where all that goes and how extensive that becomes, we'll just have to see. Certainly, he's a versatile player that has some flexibility, can do different things, can play close to the line of scrimmage, can play further away from the line of scrimmage. [McGowan] has shown an ability to play zone and man coverage - as I said - tackle in the open field. [He] plays with good speed and range and he's tough. We'll see where all that goes. But I think he certainly has the ability and potential to have flexibility in our defensive plans, yes.
Q: Have you guys been limited at all offensively from a personnel standpoint only being able to dress four receivers, one of whom is Sam Aiken - who is a huge special teams contributor - and only the two tight ends? Has that effected or limited you at all from an offensive game-planning standpoint?
BB: I think - for the most part - anytime you dress a player to be active for the game, he's probably had a role on your team; the backup quarterback, backup linemen, that might not necessarily be true for. But for the most part all the other players, those guys are very significant. [They] have some kind of significant role on the offense or defense or they're very valuable backups that you feel like - without that person - you just don't have depth to do what you need to do at that position and probably have the player back up more than one spot, if he was that valuable there. Those are kind of the choices. So whomever is on the roster on game day - whether it's a fifth receiver, or a third tight end, or an eighth or ninth defensive back, or an eighth or ninth linebacker, whatever it is - that person's going to have a strong role, whether it's on their side of the ball, or in the kicking game, or it might be a combination of both. Those decisions are made week to week based on the role those players would have or the depth they would give you and you feel like you need that. I definitely … We've been able to run our offense the last two weeks. Would we like to have more depth at positions? Sure. But you can't have depth at every position. So whichever one you decide to have depth at, that means you have a little bit less depth somewhere else. That's the reality of those 45-man game day rosters on a week-to-week basis, it's almost never exactly the way you hope it will be; it's just the best you can do.
Q: Where would you assess where Terrence Wheatley is at this point and why has he been inactive in the first two games?
BB: Terrence hurt his knee in the Washington game. He missed a little time since that. Since the Washington game, that's been part of the situation. But it's kind of the explanation that I just gave. If we can take all 53 players to the game, we take all 53, or more than that, if we could and they'd probably all have a role, as you saw in preseason. We played a lot of people. If we had that many, we'd play them, but we don't. So the 45 that we select are the ones that either are the healthiest or the ones that we feel like will have the most positive contributions in the total team concept for those particular games. So those are the ones that we pick. If we had 46, would that player play in the game? I would say - 90 percent of the time - I'm sure that he would, but that's not an option. Terrence is practicing and whichever players we select to play in this game will be the ones that we think will have the biggest role and give us the best chance to win. That doesn't mean that other players aren't good players, or they wouldn't contribute, or they would have a role. It doesn't mean that at all. It just means that we're not allowed to bring them.
Q: It's still very early on in the process, but it looks like Sam Aiken has taken on more of a leadership role, primarily as the special teams captain. How has he done?
BB: Real good. I think Sam's done an excellent job with the special teams as a captain and really stepping up as a leader. Larry [Izzo] had been our captain here for six, seven years and that was kind of a big void there. Sam jumped into that in the spring. He was one of the captains in preseason and then was - I don't know if it was unanimous or nearly unanimous - but he was pretty much selected by everybody on the team as the special teams captain. He had tremendous support from all [areas] on the team. I think that was something that he's earned through his performance, his hard work and attitude toward his role in the kicking game. He's really on top of things. We ask him to do a lot of things for us. He works hard at them and he does a good job. I think he's done an excellent job at providing leadership and direction - the right attitude for the players that are on the special teams unit. He represents them and I think he represents them very well.
Q: [On running back screen passes]
BB: With what the Jets do defensively, most of their blitzes are man-to-man blitzes. They like to bring five players. If you block a player up, block two up - so you have six or seven guys unprotected - the guys who have them man-to-man, usually follow them right in. There's not a lot of space a lot of times between your backs and tight ends - those players and the guys who are covering them. Of course, one of the keys on the screen is to be able to get a start and get the ball to the back or tight end - whoever you're screening to - adding some space to the blocker in front of him. With as much man coverage as they play, it's kind of feast or famine. If you could block the guy who's covering that player, you might have a lot of space. But if you can't get them - and they're pretty hard to get because they're so close a lot of times it's hard for the lineman to know who that player is … So if you could get him, then you need to get the back out there and you've got a lot of space to work. If you don't and you've got only one guy to throw to on the pattern, and if that guy who's covering him is right on him; then you don't have much. The Jets haven't been screened a whole lot this year. I'm not saying you can't do it, but there's definitely some downside to it and maybe a little more big-play opportunity with it - if you hit it - than against some other teams. It's a little tricky to screen a team like that when you don't really know who's covering the guy that you're screening to and that's the guy you've really got to get.