BB: This rookie mini-camp weekend is always an exciting weekend for us. It is a chance to see the new players out on the field and actually see them doing the things that we do and get a look at what kind of skills they have and start projecting where they could fit in on our team. I think that overall this group has some talent. I am sure, like all rookies, they have a long way to go in terms of getting in condition and certainly learning our system, learning how to be a professional football player and catching up to the players on this roster who have been working pretty hard in the off-season conditioning program for pretty much the last month and a half. They have a lot of catching up to do. It is fun to be back out there and see the team actually start to formulate on the field as opposed to just on a piece of paper or on a board with a bunch of names on it. That is where we are. The big part of this for us is to evaluate the players, where they are, what they need to work on and the things that they can improve on between now and May when they come back and also give them a little bit of information that they can start studying so they can pick up on the system and gain a little ground on that, again, relative to where our veteran players are and what they already know about what we are doing. So, that is the update for today. Everybody is will be out there and should be ready to go.
Q: Last year you had some early mini-camp strains and tweaks. Have you looked at what you were doing last year and tried to reconfigure some of the practices?
BB: I think we are pretty much doing the same thing. Hopefully, those things won't occur this year. We can't get any better by doing nothing. We won't get anybody hurt if we don't do anything. I think we have to progress our program along and hopefully that won't set anybody back but it is the only way we can move forward.
Q: So do you pretty much look at Chas Gessner, and I think Asante Samuel, who got hurt the first day, do you look at those as flukes as opposed to too much running?
BB: I don't think it was too much running. It was a third of the way through the first practice. Sometimes those things happen. Hopefully we won't have any this weekend.
Q: The late round draft picks and the rookie free agents, is this like the biggest job interview for them these next couple of days?
BB: Not really. I think everybody is in the same boat. At this point, I don't think it really matters how anybody got here once they are here. The only thing they are being judged on is what they do going forward. I don't think anybody cares how many touchdown passes some guy caught last year or how many tackles he made or missed or whatever. All it is about is what he can do for our team, what he can do for himself in terms of finding a role on the team and that all will be based on his performance not based on some game he had in college or somewhere else last year. I don't think anybody cares about that at this point.
Q: What are the odd like for a guy like Dante Balestracci making the team? What does he have to do to impress you?
BB: Play better than the competition. The same things that David Givens did in the seventh round, the same thing that Tom Ashworth has done, you can go right down the line, [Tom] Brady, those guys didn't come in here with some of the hype that somebody else comes in with. They came in and they played well enough to establish themselves and earn a role and be able to contribute to the team. Everybody will get the same opportunity. What each guy does with it will be up to him.
Q: Some of these rookies are going to be filling holes. What kind of hole was left when Ted Washington left?
BB: We played a good part of the year without Ted last year so the players that are on the team we will put eleven of them out there on offense, defense and special teams and try to put ourselves in the best opportunity we can to be competitive with our respective opponents and that could change week-to-week regardless of who the players are anyway. This team will be different from last year's team; we know that, everybody knows that, every team in the league will be different. We are just moving forward with the people that we have and are trying to put them in the best situations that they can be in and at the same time make sure that they know that they have to be in condition, up on their assignments and ready to perform in order to establish a role for themselves on this team so it is kind of a two way street. This part of what this weekend is for, for us to get to know them and for them to get to know us.
Q: Why was Vince [Wilfork] the right fit for your team?
BB: We took Vince because we thought that was the best thing to do for our team at that point in the draft so that is why we drafted him. What exactly he will do? I don't know. We will have to see.
Q: How come be was the best available to you?
BB: Based on what was up there and based on the way we evaluated him, we had the highest grade on him.
Q: What do you like about him?
BB: Vince has played at a very high-level of competition collegiately. He has been a solid player at Miami. He is strong. He is a physical guy. He has good quickness. He runs well. I think he has a good team attitude. I think that he will be able to play on the defensive line and has the ability to play on the defensive line the way we would like to have it played. Whether that will happen or not we will see. Those are reason why we took him.
Q: What kind of condition are these guys typically in?
BB: It varies. Some are in better [condition] than others. It is the end of April. A lot of players, as they prepare for the draft, workout pretty hard through that February, March early April area. Sometimes it backs off a little bit as you get two or three weeks closer to the draft. Sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't really matter where everybody is. Wherever they are, we want to evaluate that. Nobody is ready to go. That is obvious. Everybody will need to improve. They will need to improve their conditioning, their stamina, their techniques and all of those things will be addressed in this camp. They will be addressed later on in the spring. Hopefully we will get as close as we can to being ready to go for training camp.
Q: Do you set an expectation level to the new rookies through comparison of what last year's rookie class accomplished?
BB: Everybody is different. To try to compare one player to another, it is always difficult. Two guys are never the same and the situation is never the same. I think what we want to try to do, and I think what each player's goal should be is to maximize his potential, to put everything into it to, give himself the best chance and to get as much out of it as he possibly can in the experience. Where that leads and what happens within that, a lot of things affect it. Right now that is the main goal. Not about what somebody did last year or even about where they are going to be in November but actually what they can do today and tomorrow and Sunday and where they can be when they leave here and what they need to do when they come back. That is really the most important thing for those guys.
Q: You are bringing three defensive backs. Is that because of the uncertainty of Ty Law's situation?
BB: No. I think it just more of a reflection of the quality of the players that were available to us at that time. The fact that we really didn't have very many defensive backs play defensively for us last year. We carried some defensive backs, a relatively small number, probably fewer than we have carried any other year that I have been here in terms of an active 45. We usually had eight. I think there were a couple of cases where we had seven. In the past we have carried as many as 10.
Q: You have talked a lot in the past about improving the roster from one to 53. How much more difficult is this team to make now than maybe it was a couple of years ago?
BB: I don't know. That depends on the players. That depends on their performance. I don't really know. How everybody plays this year? We are not going to know until they get out there and start playing. We know how people played last year but nobody cares about that anymore. It is on a moving forward basis and that is what the evaluation is going to made on. Some guys may come in here and play better than they did last year and that could change their status or their opportunity on the team. Others might not play as well and that could change. I really don't have any idea how that is going to turn out.
Q: One of the concerns you expressed your last game was the late finish of the season would kind of hinder your preparation for the next season. Where you in terms of that? Do you feel like you are catching up? Is this pretty much even ground?
BB: It doesn't really matter. We are where we are. I think we have to make the best of our opportunities in the future and we have tried to maximize the time that we have had even though it was a later start than everybody else. I know what you are saying and I haven't really thought too much about where we were relative to one year ago. I would say we are probably not quite as far along. But I don't really know. What is more important to me, again, is to try to take advantage of all of the opportunities that we have, the off-season conditioning program, passing camps, mini-camps, the conditioning heading into training camp and try to have the team as ready as we possibly can for training camp. Where that will be? We are not going to know that until July.
Q: How much does the fact that the season ended on such a successful note and the kind of program that is in place now, how much does that mitigate that problem? Or does it at all? Do you have a built in head start as it is?
BB: I don't know what it is. We haven't played anybody, we haven't won a game, and we haven't scored a point. I don't know what we have. I don't know what anybody else has. We are just trying to get it ready for the point when we start competing against them. But we haven't done anything.
Q: Can you characterize how you think you were hit by the free agent market this offseason?
BB: We have lost players; we have had four players sign with other teams right? You are referring to [Damien] Woody, Mike Compton, Ted and Chris Akins. Look, we understand what free agency is. We know that there are going to be players going off of our team and coming onto our team. That is what it is. There are other payers that are unrestricted that haven't re-signed with us and haven't signed with anybody else either. What will happen to those players, I am not sure exactly. A couple of them have retired. I think we know what is going to happen to Brian Kinchen and Anthony Pleasant but other than that I don't know exactly how it is going to turn out with anybody else either. We will see. But we know there are going to be people going on and off the roster. I don't think that comes as any surprise. You manage the situation the best you can. We brought some on and some have left. It is probably going to be like that every year.
Q: What are the unique challenges for a Super Bowl champion to try to improve their team?
BB: You look at your team each year and just try to improve it. I don't think you sit there and say, 'Well this was our record last year. This is okay. That wasn't okay.' You try to get ready for the coming year and I don't think you can worry too much about how many games you won or didn't win or how productive one part of your team was or wasn't. All of that is going to be reevaluated on a whole new basis the following year so you are always starting from scratch no matter what your results were the year before. You are starting from scratch and you are trying to build it to the highest level you can.
Q: How do you communicate that to the players?
BB: Just tell them as directly as possible. There is no need to say it any way other than the way that it is. And that is exactly the way it is.
Q: Other than on the practice field, how much time will you and the coaches spend with these guys just trying to get to know them better? Will you spend a lot of time with them?
BB: Well, we have already spent quite a bit of time with a lot of these players. We have scouted them. We have seen them at the combine and at their workouts. Some of them have come in for visits and we will take as much time as we can this weekend to work with them and address a lot of things on the field, the transition the NFL, the transition to the Patriots, and so forth and so on. Some of them will each have maybe an individual situation that they have to work through that is different from somebody else's. We work with those guys collectively but we also try to address their individual needs. Then, when they come back in May, that process will just be further developed when we have more time with them and have a better feel for how some of those things are coming along in the transition. It is really a never-ending process from looking at the players, to get to know them, and then once they are actually either signed or drafted by the team, then the whole process of transitioning from whatever situation they were in into ours. That will go all the way through their rookie year and probably well into the second year. We are still doing a lot of those same things with our rookies from last year now, the 2003 draft class, in terms of their still development as a professional football player and a professional athlete, relocating into an area, other than [Dan] Koppen, that they weren't really familiar with. So, all of that is still part of an ongoing process.
Q: You talked about the importance of scouting a draft class. Guys that are in this rookie camp who may not make the team, how important is it for you and your staff to get to know these guys in terms of just keeping an eye on them for later on, like to bring them back later down the line?
BB: Right, well some times that happens. Players that you like some things about them but for whatever reason, either you don't have a roster spot available or they are just not ready for that. In time that situation can change. Everybody that is here, we evaluate them. I think that goes without saying. What we do with those evaluations just depends on a) the player's development and b) our situation and if it changes. And it frequently does. We may not be able to keep everybody that is here or maybe we will. If we don't keep them, that doesn't mean that at some point in the future there might not be an opportunity for them.
Q: Do you communicate that to them
BB: It totally depends on the situation. I am not going to tell a kid, if I don't think he can play for us or play in the league, 'I think you should spend the next two or three years of your life training for something that in my opinion I don't think is realistic.' If he wants to do it, he can do it but really if I think it is time for him to move on, I will tell him it is time for him to move on and do something else. That doesn't mean that he has to do it, but I would tell him that as an honest opinion. He can do whatever he wants with it. If it were different, then I would tell him differently.
Q: You have coached in programs that have come off both unsuccessful and successful seasons. Do players seem to be a little bit more earnest, the rookies at mini-camp, if you are coming off of a successful season? Do they have more of a tendency to sit up straight and listen?
BB: Their eyes look like saucers no matter where they are. I mean this is a whole different world for them. The competition is so much higher than it was in college. A good player in college, maybe there are a handful of guys that are really at his athletic level, depending on the school and the situation, in relative terms, on his team, and then in the competition that he faces. Most of them are not as good as he is. That is why he is one of the best ones. To come to this level where all of a sudden you drop from being one of the top ones, certainly in terms of overall experience and technique, at the bottom of that list ability-wise, I don't know, comparable, maybe a little bit better, maybe a little worse but comparable in ability to all of the other players, that is a whole other ball game and to be that inexperienced and to have relatively little knowledge in terms of what we do, our system and the overall way the NFL game is played relative to college. It is just a different game. Their eyes are wide open and I am sure that the people that they have talked to since they have played their last game in college, whether it be teammates that have gone pro, or other people that are advising them, they can tell them the same thing. They are heading into a much tougher situation and a much more competitive situation and a much longer football season than anything they have ever experienced. You can tell them that all you want, but until they have experienced it, they are never really going to know the depth of it until they go through it.
Q: Will they encounter any of your current players in the next couple of days?
BB: Sure. A lot of these guys know some of our current players. Obviously, you can put them together. A lot of these guys played with some of the guys who are on this team or even competed against them in high school, that type of thing. Yes, there will be interaction. Our guys are in here working out today. There will be interaction with them in the locker room or those types of settings.
Q: I think that is a good thing in terms of helping to get them oriented, with the older players talking the rookies. Is that advantageous for the team?
BB: I think a lot more of that is going to take place in May and June than this weekend. I think some of it will take place this weekend but I think it will take place more when they are back here for longer. Again, we are trying to give them a lot of information in a short amount of time and try to make sure that we can get them as ready as can get them to when they come back in May. But I think when they are here in May, when they are actually out on the field with those guys and they are interacting more with them, those conversations I am sure will take place.
Q: Anthony Pleasant seemed to be a key component in terms of helping younger players while he was here. Have you talked to him at all about perhaps coming back like kind of a Mark Bavaro type, not an official coach kind of thing?
BB: I have talked to Anthony. He has shared some feelings with me. I don't know. I don't really have any comment how that would go in the future. But I have talked to him about that. He is a smart guy. He is very perceptive and he has been very helpful to me throughout his career both as a player and having a perspective of what the coach is looking for and how that can blend together with what the player needs. Yes, I have talked to him.
Q: How often are the first impressions you draw on guys in this mini-camp turn out to be accurate?
BB: Well, I learned a long time ago to just kind of take it day-by-day. Guys can have good days and they can have bad days. Some guys, once they get comfortable doing something, can do it a lot better than the fist time they have been asked to do it. A lot of the things we are doing out here this weekend, I don't know whether some of these guys have done it before or not or how they were instructed to [do it] even if it sort of looked like they did them [before]. Obviously, I have a pretty good idea of how the defensive players at LSU were coached but, again, in general terms, I would say it is an all new ball game and just take it day-by-day and evaluate these guys over time once they have had a chance to settle into the situation and develop some degree of comfort with what they are doing and some kind of confidence in doing it and then see how that looks and that will a little happen in training camp and in the preseason games. That is really where the big evaluation will come. This much more of a teaching/introductory/trying to get them/on the right page-type of weekend as opposed to a big evaluation weekend. We are not going to sit down at the end of this weekend and say, 'We have this. We have that. We have something else.' We don't know. They are not in pads. We are in such an infant stage of the evaluation in the program with these guys that I don't think you can evaluate it, other than the guys that we have to make an evaluation on, like some of the potential free agents, whether to sign them or not. But other than that, that is it.
Q: Has anybody in the past few years here really just jumped out at you? Like Richard Seymour when you got him?
BB: Well, I didn't think we blew it if that is what you are asking. But, again, everybody has a long way to go. I don't think anybody walks in here the first day in mini-camp and is an instant star including Lawrence Taylor. You can see some things. You hope you see some positive things with all of the players and that is why they are here. Otherwise, if they can't show you anything, then you have to ask yourself what is that guy doing here. No, I can't remember feeling that way really about anybody. They just have so far to go. They are all a long way off. Believe me. A long way off.
Q: Have you ever had a player who has out performed the competition? Suppose with the punter Josh Miller, you get another punter that kicks better than Josh then what?
BB: Well, I think if you take a look at my history and our history here with the New England Patriots, we have kept the players that performed the best. That is what we try to do. That is the way it is. You always reach a point with a younger player who is ascending and an older player whose play may be declining a little bit and where those paths/intersections cross, or if they cross, or maybe you think that they will cross and you have to make a determination on that, that is a little bit of a different story. But I think if you have two guys who are competing equally and one plays better than the other, then that is who we would prefer to play. A lot of times it isn't quite that clear cut. One guy does one thing better and the other guys does another thing better and sometimes it comes into the over mix of how you are putting them together, what skill or what set of skills or what roles are more important to you based on maybe what other people can do.