HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK CONFERENCE CALL
Q: How did you think Leonard Hankerson performed the other day?
BB: It was a little bit of a scramble, probably hard to evaluate a player off of that game with hardly any practice time at all. Most of it was on the scout team and stuff like that, so hopefully with a few extra days here over the weekend and then kind of being able to build off of last week instead of starting at the very bottom, we can get a little more done this week and move it forward, so we'll see how it goes. I thought he went in there and did the best he could, but like I said it's a tough situation. It's hard to really get a good evaluation of that.
Q: You guys have fumbled three punts in the last four games. Is that ultimately an individual responsibility or is there more to it than just the guy who fumbled the ball?
BB: Well, two of the plays were muffs where the ball wasn't caught cleanly. The one last week we had possession of the ball. That could happen on any play. It wasn't the catching of the punt. It was running with the ball, so I'd say that would go in a little different category. In the end we've got to handle the ball cleanly on the exchange and get possession of the ball. That's the first job of the punt return or kickoff return team when you put them on the field is to gain possession of the ball. That's number one; we've got to do that.
Q: When you look at muffed punt, do you look into factors like blocking that could have given the returner more space to make the catch?
BB: In the end, each punt is different, each play is different, so there are no two things that are the same, but at some point the coverage is going to be down on the returner. I mean it could be a great hang-time punt, it could be good coverage, it could be not great blocking, but if the punter hangs the ball up in the air long enough the coverage is going to be down there, so there are going to be situations where you can never just say, 'OK we're going to eliminate everybody in coverage.' It's just impossible. At some point that's going to happen. At some point there are going to be situations where the coverage isn't down there, there will be some grey area, there will be some [punts] where the coverage definitely is, and that's part of the returner or returners if you happen to be in a two-deep situation like on kickoff returns bringing the ball out of the end zone or on punt returns where you have two deep, then you have a communication element involved between the two players. If you only have a single player back there then that's part of his responsibility is to make that decision. I mean I don't know how you could ever take the decision making part out of it. If the ball is short or if the ball is up in the air long enough, there is no way to prevent the coverage from getting down there. It's just impossible.
Q: What are your thoughts on how this year's rookie class has progressed? How have those players benefitted the team as a whole?
BB: I think overall it's been a real good group. Those guys have really come in and done everything we've asked them to do. We've had a lot of groups, had a lot of players fall into this category, but I would say as a total group, these guys have been as good if not better than any group we've had off the field in terms of their preparation, doing what they're asked to do, doing what they've been told to do, improving, paying attention to the little things, trying to do the right thing for the team, all those things. I mean each individual player's characteristics and performance, those are all kind of separate discussions, although I think overall we've gotten contributions from that group, but each one individually has a little different dynamic. But as a total group and the chemistry that they have with each other and with the team has been very good. It's been great; it's been great.
Q: How has Shaq Mason's athleticism helped the team this year?
BB: It's very good. He's probably one of the most athletic players, one of the most athletic offensive linemen I've coached. He would certainly be in that upper category and upper part of that conversation. He runs well. He's got very good balance and short-space quickness and is light on his feet. Fundamentally and technique-wise there are a lot of things that he still needs to work on and Shaq has improved a lot, but there are still things for him to work on, things he can do better and do more consistently, but just in terms of athleticism, balance, speed, quickness, he's very good, very, very talented, and he's got good power and playing strength and explosion, too. Those are all positives with him. Shaq works hard, he's continued to get better all year, but he still has a ways to go with his techniques and overall kind of understanding of the game and how he can … Each play is different, but just in total how he can work with the center – the two guys next to him, the center and the tackle – on different combination blocks and footwork and things like that so that the entire line can perform to a maximum efficiency.
Q: You only rushed the ball four times in the first game against the Jets. How much of that was the result of what the Jets were doing and how much of it was because of your desire to pass the ball?
BB: I'd say quite a bit. Even a couple of the runs that Tom [Brady] had were really called pass plays, so obviously quite a bit.
Q: What are you seeing right now from the Jets run defense?
BB: I think everything is pretty good. I think Coach [Todd] Bowles and the defensive staff has done a great job with the defense. They are strong against the run, they're strong against the pass, they turn the ball over, they pressure the quarterback, they cover well, they tackle well, they're well coached, they disguise well. Really they've done a good job in a lot of areas. Some of the passing yardage they've given up in recent weeks is kind of circumstantial. They're ahead in the game. But they're playing very good defense. They do a good job of, like I said, number one, is they play well in the red area so it's hard to score and it's hard to get big plays, the quarterback gets hit, they do a good job on third down, they're hard to run against, so all those things help each other. Whatever one good, positive thing you want to say is, that helps in other aspects of their defense. So in the end, they're well coached and they have good players and they're playing well. And they're very experienced. They have a lot of experience on the defensive side of the ball in every area – defensive line, linebackers, DBs – they have a lot of guys who have a lot of years in the NFL and really know what they're doing. It's a very good and veteran group.
Q: With Kenbrell Thompkins and Quincy Enunwa set to play in this game, how much more challenging does that make it for you to stop their passing attack?
BB: It will definitely be more difficult and they've done a good job of that. They've kind of gotten those skill players you mentioned more time on the playing field. The tight ends are getting less play time. There are a lot of times you don't see any tight ends on the field and you rarely see two, so they've kind of moved away from that a little bit to more three- and four-receiver sets. And [Bilal] Powell has done a real good job for them as a receiver as well. Enunwa, I'd say he's probably taken some of the plays from the tight ends in terms of the passing game, or he's on the field instead of the tight end when they go to four receivers. They've got a lot of guys to throw to, again a very experienced quarterback who is playing well, playing with a lot of confidence, veteran guys on the offensive line and their passing attack is challenging, especially when you've got to deal with a good back and a quarterback who can run enough on third down and in those kinds of situations to keep drives alive and move the chains. You've got to be aware of that.
Q: Is the way they use Quincy Enunwa similar to the way you guys used Tim Wright last year?
BB: Yeah, that might be somewhat similar, but Enunwa, he's a receiver; he's not a tight end. He's strong, he's physical. He's a big, physical receiver, so it's a little different than a tight end. I don't think I would ever use those words to characterize Tim's game. I'd say their offense is quite a bit different from our offense anyways. But Enunwa, there are a lot of four wide receivers, so there is speed on the field with those guys and they throw to all of them, and then when you put Powell in there it's really a fifth receiver and then with [Ryan] Fitzpatrick scrambling you have to treat him like a sixth receiver. It kind of opens things up a little bit. But at the same time, this is one of the best power running teams in the league. They can move the line of scrimmage, backs get downhill, [Chris] Ivory is a really tremendous back, runs hard, breaks tackles, great balance, very hard to get on the ground, and he's made plays for them on check-downs and screens in the passing game, too. As a runner, he's as hard and physical a runner as we've seen this year or probably in the past couple years. They have nice balance offensively. They can attack you with speed and a variety of issues in the passing game, but at the same time they can hand the ball off and get downhill and run in between the tackles and control the game that way, too. They're on the better teams in time of possession, they're a good red area team, they can make tough yards when they need them, and that's always a good thing to have offensively. Good offense, well balanced offense, and I agree probably a more dangerous and harder to defend group than we saw in the first game.