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Patriots Unfiltered Tue Sep 29 | 11:55 AM - 02:00 PM

Bill Belichick Press Conf.

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            **B:**  Just to catch everybody up on a couple of roster moves we made. We released Todd Rucci yesterday and I just would like to say on that Todd has really done a good job for this organization. He was here in '96 when I was here. I know him pretty well. It was a very difficult decision to make. Basically, the clock had run out, we had to make a decision as to whether we would either activate him or not activate him. Putting him back on injured reserve was not a legitimate option, so that was the decision we made and it was a tough one. I think that as I spoke with Todd yesterday, in my mind, I didn't want to close the door on anything. The situation could change here in a day, a week, two weeks, I don't know when we could need a guard. Right now that is the way it stands. We re-signed Tony Gaiter to the practice squad, which brings our practice squad up to five now. Dane Looker had a little tightness in his leg last week, and that seems to have carried over a little bit through the weekend. So, between that and Sean (Morey) had a problem with a finger, felt like we needed another receiver in here at least to help get us through practice. Andy Katzenmoyer is not here today. He is getting another opinion on his back. Hopefully we'll get something there, definitive pretty soon. As we talked about last week, it's been nagging him for a little while. He went to see a couple people to get it looked at, so he's having another opinion, so we'll let you know once we know where that stands. That's kind of where we are right now.  

Looking at Buffalo, this is really a good football team. They're third or fourth in the league defensively in the AFC, third offensively in the AFC in terms of yardage and moving the ball. They've got good specialists, good punter, good kicker. They don't give up very much rushing yardage. They're hard to move the ball against. They seemed to have found their running game in the last couple weeks with (Sammy) Morris. (Doug) Flutie gives them another dimension offensively with (Eric) Moulds. (Jeremy) McDaniel is a young receiver who is really coming into his own here, so this team has played very well. They played pretty well every week. A couple weeks things have gone better for them than others, but overall, it's a real impressive team. I think that they're, you know, I'm sure their win last week is going to give them some momentum, some rejuvenation. That is probably about the same thing we're looking for is that type of win and that type of game this week, but I'd like to see us play, not them.

Q: Was releasing Todd Rucci a financial decision?

B: It wasn't really a financial consideration, because everybody that is on our roster now is on our roster. We're under the cap, as every team in the league is, we have what we have. That wasn't really a consideration. The main consideration was that we would have release players to bring players on to the roster whether it was Todd (Rucci) or anybody else. He had an exemption based on the status he was under. The NFI's (non-football injury) status, and that was about to expire, so we had to make a call one way or the other. As I've been saying, I think that our guards are improving. I think that the interior part of our line is as much in transition and as much in flux as it was earlier in the year and in training camp and the first couple regular season games, then it started to settle down. I can see some improvement there. Had that not been the case, that could change tomorrow. We just have to go with where we are right now. This whole situation could change in five minutes. That's the best, what I feel like is the best thing for the moment.

Q: How much upside do you think the guards have?

B: I don't know. They're still relatively young. As long as they keep getting better, then it is encouraging. Once it does level off and plateau, then you've got to wonder whether or not that is going to be the level it is going to get it, or is it temporary and it is going to go higher. I think that the longer that they play together as a unit, the better we'll get to a point. We'll keep giving that some time.

Q: In the locker room, Joe Andruzzi does not look like he has an impressive physique. On film, does it look like he has the strength to play effectively?

B: Yeah. I think that is the strength of our center and our guards is their ability to anchor the line of scrimmage, to not get pushed back and power rushed. Sometimes there is some pressure in a gap, and that kind of thing, but I think we've done a much better job of staying firm on the line of scrimmage which then gives the quarterback an opportunity to step up and throw the ball. It keeps the running back from having a guy get knocked back into the running lane you're attempting to go in right off the bat and then have to make a real quick cut one way or the other. What you'd like is some type of firmness on the line of scrimmage so the back can get up into the hole or the quarterback can step up and throw. I think that has also made our tackles' jobs easier, because the quarterback can step up. It gives him a vertical path up into the line so when the rushers come from the edge, the tackles can either push him back or wash it inside or whatever the case is. If you're not strong up the middle, it is hard to do anything. It is hard to pass protect, it is hard to throw the ball because there are arms and people in the way. It is hard to run the ball, because you're not running north and south, you're not running toward the goal line, you're always running laterally so if you don't have strength in the middle of your line on both sides of the ball, it creates problems, there is no way to get around it. The other team can have the greatest player in the world playing over here at left end, and you can snap the ball and run it over here to the right if you want to, but when you have problems in the middle, there is really nowhere to go. That's what those three guys (Joe Andruzzi, Sale Isaia and Damian Woody) have given us relative to what we've had going through training camp and the early part of the season. I'm not nominating anyone for the Hall of Fame, I don't think we need to retire any jerseys or anything this week, but I'm just saying that has been a significant improvement in our team. It was good in the Colt game, it was good because they were able to run the ball inside, the quarterback was able to step up, we didn't have a lot of pressure there. Other than our fourth quarter execution, there were a lot of good things. I mean it wasn't perfect, but it was better.

Q: What is the status of Adrian Klemm?

B: The clock is running on him too. We're coming right down to the wire with him. I'd say in the next 24 hours we're going to have to do something with him one way or the other.

Q: The perception initially of Sale Isaia and Joe Andruzzi was that they were stop gap players. Today you sound like they could be here next year. Can these players be here for the long term?

B: Yeah, I think it is a possibility. I think that is fair. If they're the best players, then they'll play. If somebody comes in and plays better than they do then they won't. I'm not trying to anoint anybody, but relative to what we've seen there through the 13 weeks, plus a couple training camp weeks. We've played 13 games, five and eight. Relative to what else has been in there, that part has been fairly solid. Again, I'm not trying to categorize it as John Hannah and Leon Gray that type of situation, but relative to where we were at the beginning of the year, it is a lot better.

Q: But their progress has been enough to displace an established NFL guard like Todd Rucci.

B: Right. Had Todd been here at the beginning, had he been in that spot from day one, I can't tell you what would have happened. Maybe the same thing. Maybe it would have turned out differently. I don't know, but that wasn't case. What was the case was just what we had to go on and I just didn't feel like we could make a change at that point.

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            **Q:  How did Todd Rucci take the news?**  

B: I think anytime you've been with a team for a long time, then you're not with them then you're obviously disappointed.

Q: Is Bobby Hamilton a young 29-year old?

B: I would say so. I would. I would say so. Bobby hasn't, I mean, I think it is an interesting question, my guess would be that maybe it is at this point or certainly when the year is over, he will probably play more plays than in all the other years combined. That would be my guess. He played a little bit in '96, then rotated would probably be overstating it if anything, spot played, was inactive some of the time. So, yeah, he's had a lot less wear and tear on him than some other guys have. Bobby gives himself in pretty good condition, and he works hard and is a very conscientious player. I think this year he has really taken advantage of the opportunity that he's got. I'm not sure that he's any better or any worse now than he was, but the opportunity is different, therefore there is more to evaluate, more to go on.

Q: Can you talk a little but about what you see in Sam Cowart?

B: He's a real good football player. I think he's similar to Marvin Jones, we saw a couple weeks ago. He's probably a little faster than Marvin, but he's got a real good nose for the ball, he's instinctive, he's got real good balance. He runs well. He makes a lot of plays sideline-to-sideline. He's hardly ever off his feet, he's not on the ground much, so he has good range, good balance, and has a good feel for where the ball is. One thing that helps Cowart, is playing behind Ted Washington. It is hard to, offensive every team in the league struggles with it, it is hard to pass Washington to go block Cowart. So, a lot of times your blockers end up on Washington and they never get to Cowart. It is a good situation, it is kind of like when (Jack) Lambert played behind Joe Greene in Pittsburgh. Greene, you couldn't pass Greene to get to Lambert or else Greene would get you.

Q: Washington is much wider than Joe Greene.

B: No, but he still was the same kind of dominating, in fact Greene was probably more dominating, but when you have that kind of dominating player playing in front of another real good football player, it is hard to get to the second guy. Tampa does the same thing with (Derrick) Brooks and Warren Sapp. It is hard to single Sapp, when he's in the gap and run up and block Brooks without Sapp being in the backfield. That is not taking anything away from Cowart, he's a tremendous football player, he's fast, he's got good range, he's tough, he knows where the ball is, he's very productive and playing with Ted Washington, makes that a tough combination offensively to go up against. They are very formidable.

Q: Are there any other position switches other than Eric Bjornson at wide receiver and Chris Floyd at tight end?

B: We've used those guys in additional positions. Chris (Floyd) has played in the backfield, we've also got him playing a little bit on the line of scrimmage at tight end or h-back kind of position. Eric (Bjornson) was a receiver in college. We've had him split out some as a tight end. We're kind of cross training those positions a little bit. It is something that if we were a little bit further along as a football team earlier we might have done it earlier. Given where we were into the bye week, I think we have a lot better understanding and feel for the team than we did two months ago. We think we can get a little bit more out of those guys if we, again, cross train them. It gives us a little more depth.

Q: Anything else?

B: No, I think you've pretty much got all the inside stuff that I was trying to keep from you.

Q: Is Chad Eaton at the same level he was at before the injury?

B: I'd say, probably close. I think you'd have to ask him that. He moved around out there pretty well on Monday. I wouldn't say he's where he was a month ago, probably not. He's gaining on it, probably gaining pretty quickly. Hopefully by the weekend, within the next 10 days, he'll be back there pretty close.

Q: Do you take the one game at a time approach still, or do you have long range goals for the team?

B: Buffalo. I don't even know who we play next. Buffalo is what we're thinking about. That's a big challenge right there. They're a good football team. We've had a little extra time to get ready for them, and we used it on that. When we get done with Buffalo then we'll move on to all the next games on the schedule. Is there a long-range plan? Yeah, you always think of your team in a month, in two months, in a year. You can't make a decision based on the next five minutes entirely, but like I've said, I have a lot of confidence in our team, the players I think are still working hard. We're still improving, I don't think we've played our best football yet this year, hopefully we can play it this week against Buffalo, that's about what we need to do.

Q: Can you talk about (Doug) Flutie's ability to improvise?

B: He's tough. He's tough. He's very accurate passer, especially on the deep ball. He can really, really put the ball on the money and does it a lot to (Eric) Moulds. So he stretches the field on you, then he's very quick in the pocket, he's extremely quick, his speed is good, but his quickness is really exceptional. It puts a lot of pressure on your pass rush, because you're so concerned about containing him. I think once he gets out of the pocket and can really improvise and can scramble to run or scramble to throw that he is really at his best element, and defensively you're probably in your worst, that's probably the worst case scenario because he's so much better at that, then defenses are at defending it, that it is usually going to be good plays for him and bad plays for the defense. You really don't want that to happen, and the more concerned you are about keeping him from getting out, then kind of the less aggressive you are and you can end trying to be too cautious, so you have to guard against that. He's really the total package. He's a smart guy, instinctively he's probably as good as any quarterback I've ever seen. He just knows what to do and when to do it. I can't really tell you why, you see a guy coming on the blindside and think he is going to take his head off and he ducks. I don't know why he knows to duck then, but he just knows. Other times a guy is coming on the blindside and he gets rid of the ball before he gets there and he doesn't duck. I don't know. He's just a very, very instinctive football player. Like I've said the play he made against Jacksonville in '98 to win that game is still one of the best plays I've seen.

Q: Would you expect your team's execution to be at a higher level than the first half?

B: Yeah. It already has been. We've already outperformed ourselves, as we've gone through the games. We still have to perform a lot better, I'm not saying we're satisfied with it, but there are things that offensive that we're doing now, that we couldn't come close to doing against Tampa or Minnesota or even the first Jet game. I look back at those games and there is a quite a bit of difference. I'd like to see us keep going in that direction. Maybe a little faster.

Q: How has Drew (Bledsoe) played, has he improved?

B: I think offensively that our whole team has improved. I think Drew has become more effective, has become a little more efficient, I think that's been a combination of things. Part of it has been his work, his work after practice, working with the receivers, trying to really concentrate on certain routes, and I think as we're going along we're getting a better feel for, and he's getting a better feel for what things we're definitely going to run in the game, and what things are the top priority and what things are maybe on the second tier, and to make sure those top priority things get the most attention and the most time for execution. Drew has really done a good job this year, it started in preseason, but I think he's really maintained it, of keeping his feet alive in the pocket, moving in the pocket, not necessarily running out of the pocket, although he's done that a little bit too and most of it has been productive, but just in terms of staying alive in the pocket and buying more time for himself to throw with his quickness. I think that has been a very, a good part of his game this year. He's shown a lot of toughness. Let's face it, he's taken some hard hits, he showed a lot of toughness and continued to stand in there, make his reads, have confidence and go through his proper route progression and reading out the plays. Sometimes that is hard to do for a quarterback when he's taken some hard hits, I think Drew has done a good job of that.

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