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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Jun 18 - 11:55 AM | Thu Jun 20 - 09:55 AM

Bill Belichick Press Conf. Transcript - 8/13/2003

Belichick: Last year it was… the Jets. Two years ago… us.



            **BB:**  [We] made a couple roster moves today.  We placed Dan Stricker on the injured list and he doesn't count against the 80-man roster limit.  We claimed two players, Marques McFadden, an offensive lineman from Dallas, and DeVeren Johnson, a wide receiver from Dallas and also from Sacred Heart.  So that brings the roster back up to 80, which is the limit.  [With the ] offensive line situation, we can use another guy there, and McFadden is a big guy.  He played some in the league, played some last year.  He was in the league last year.  [We] did some work on him and same thing with Johnson.  [He was on] Dallas' practice squad last year.  Charlie [Weis] and Brian [Daboll] worked him out prior to the draft, prior to the other two drafts.  So that's a little bit of background there.  We have had a couple of receivers banged up, been a little short there. So hopefully we will have a little bit more depth.  We will try to get both of those guys ready to play in the game; it might be on a limited basis.  But hopefully, we will get a chance to take a look at them.  Moving on to Washington, this is really our second day of preparation with them.  One area we are really looking to improve in is our third down execution offensively, and our red area execution on both sides of the ball.  Those are areas that certainly could be sured up from the Giants game.  And that's pretty much it.  Otis [Smith] didn't practice yesterday, and he won't be playing in the game.  But I think everybody else that is out there…J.R. [Redmond] practiced as we saw.  I think everybody else that was out there should be ready to go.  

**Q: Did Leonard Myers get hurt yesterday?

BB:** No. I don't think he finished practice. He didn't finish practice, but he is okay.

**Q: This is the end of…the official end of training camp, how are you going to tell a difference?

BB:** What is making it official?

**Q: I don't know.

BB:** [laughter]

**Q: Public access.

BB:** There you go, okay. You know it doesn't really seem like there is an official end. It is something that I mentioned earlier in camp. It just seems like it is almost an hour-to-hour, day-to-day existence that we are in. You are preparing for a meeting. Then you are preparing for practice. Then you are watching film of the practice. Then you are preparing for the next meeting. It doesn't really seem like there is any kind of a break from one day to the next, or one meeting to the next. It is just one continued procession of days of preparation.

**Q: Has this been a better deal for you? If you were down in Smithfield…

BB:** We would be packing boxes and moving them back. Certainly the transition back is nice to not have to go through that. When you move to training camp, it's before camp starts. So whatever the time expenditure is it isn't that bad because it is not like you are losing practice days and all that. But now to pack everything up to relocate it, that's a little bit of a time consuming transition, not just the time it takes to move but all the time and energy of the planning. We can skip that process and that's good. That's definitely a plus.

**Q: How much progress has that defense made in terms of what your vision was when you set out and drafted [Dan] Klecko?

BB:** I think we are down the road and making some progress. We are not going to know the answer to that question until probably the end of September until we've gone out there and put it up there in real games and people get a look at it and people start scheming it and they decide how they want to handle whatever problems we present just like we do with everyone else. And then it will be how it adjusts and improves from there. But right now our objective is to get it ready as we can for a) the opener and b) the 16-week regular schedule. I think we have in probably a little bit, maybe just a little bit less than we thought we would have in at this point in terms of installation. Because we wanted to take a little bit extra time and make sure that what we are doing, everybody understands and make sure that it is executed at a level that we are satisfied with before we move on. But I think overall we are pretty close to where we thought we would be. The players have been able to work together and communicate well so we are having relatively fewer errors than we had at times last year. Hopefully that will continue into the regular season when teams start scheming in, giving you tougher adjustments. Right now we are doing less than we did last year at this time, but I think overall our execution is better than it was last year at this time.

**Q: The way that teams conduct their off-season activities nowadays, minicamps, their offseason conditioning programs, passing camps and so on and so forth. Do you perceive a day when the concept of training camp as it is now might not exist or will be seamless? Or does the influx of new players require that there still be some kind of camp type atmosphere?

BB:** I think that in football, there is always going to have to be a camp type period because of the contact. I think in other sports where there is not the same amount of contact there is in football. There are a lot of things that we can do in those passing camps that are football related and are certainly beneficial, particularly in the passing game. But when you get to the contact, the pass protection, the running game, the blocking, tackling, special teams, all those fundamental things, there has got to be a point somewhere when you work on the contact aspect of it. I think the players need a certain amount of a break-in period, rather than going from no contact to game conditions. I think there needs to be some type of transition period there, or in my opinion you would be looking at possibly a scenario that is not totally safe for the players that are going into it. I know what you mean in terms of getting everything taught. Yeah, there is a lot of new people, but I think the contact is what separates football from a sport like baseball or a sport like basketball where maybe you could get ready to play games a little bit quicker than you would in this sport.

**Q: I am going to ask you to be specific here if you can. Going into camp…

BB:** You know I always try to do that.

**Q: Of course. Going into training camp, the areas that you analyzed as being a weakness for this team, what steps have you seen taken to create more of a positive from the weaknesses?

BB:** I will try to answer that the best I can. I am not sure what exactly you are looking for, so you could help me out there. Just to use a couple of examples that I have used before, two years ago we led the league in punt returns, last year we weren't very good at it. Two years ago, we were one of the teams in the lowest in the league in kickoff returns, last year we were more at the top of that list. Each year you go to camp, you try to go in there to work on what you are going to do and get it to the highest point you can. Sometimes they are strengths, sometimes they are weaknesses. I don't think you really know what you have in terms of strengths and weaknesses until you can actually produce it on the field. I am just saying that from experience. You can look on paper, and say, 'Oh boy. This looks great on paper.' But until you actually go out there and see the players execute it and you walk off the field as a coach and say, 'You know it looks like we got it. That doesn't look too bad. I think we are going to be okay when they try to run, when they try to pass protect, when they try to run play action. I think we are going to be okay on that.' Then you don't see it as a weakness, or you see it as a strength. It's like, 'Whoa! If they try to do that, we are going to be pretty good.' Because you have enough visual evidence of it. It's not just on paper. So to answer your question, I don't really go into camp looking at what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses. You try to get everything as good as you can, then put it out there on the field, then you have got to start evaluating it after everybody has had a chance to run it. Sometimes that's two weeks into camp, sometimes three, four weeks into camp. Now you are starting to see some things on your team. Some things look better than others. The things that don't look as good, if it's a personnel thing you do what you can do, sometimes it's moving a guy or getting a new guy or whatever it is. Sometimes you have what you have personnel wise and now you try to work around it. 'Well we're not very good at this, but it looks like we are going to be a little bit better at that, so we are going to try to put more emphasis in that area.'

**Q: I'll be more specific, in the running game, in terms of down to down production and what you want to see, out of your running game, these would be running backs/ offensive line, are you seeing positive aspects of that?

BB:** I am seeing a positive aspect to the running game, yes. I am seeing a positive aspect to it. I think similar to what I just said defensively, we have a little less in than we had a year ago at this point. I think our execution of doing what we had is better than what it was last year at this point. I am certainly not saying it is sensational. I don't mean to put it that way, but fundamentally I think we are a better running football team than we were three and a half weeks into training camp last year. And we had more variety last year, so we've cut that down a little bit and I think we are doing a little bit better. That's the way it should go.

**Q: You have mentioned that there are a lot of different ways to win in this league, pertaining to using one running back or two. What do you still need to see to decide what direction you will go in?

BB:** Let me try to answer it this way. I think that is an interesting question and a real interesting plan. When we came to camp, we started on Wednesday with all of the veterans; I think it was the 23rd. We practiced that week and we practiced into the Friday of the following week, so it was nine days or whatever it was. At that point, we said okay let's catch our breath here, let's re-evaluate, let's evaluate how everything is going, both our scheme and some of the individual players. At that point we said, 'Here's how it looks.' Now, we practiced another full week and played the Giants and we had another half week of practice this week before we started our preparations for the Redskins. So we had kind of another week and a half. Now we are sitting here saying, 'Well you know a couple of those guys that we didn't think really were going to be too competitive, that they were really long shots, they've worked their way up into the positions.' And some of the, a couple of the other guys that we felt like they looked pretty good, now they are kind of back in the middle of the pack. They didn't stand out to where they stood out after the first week of camp, week and a half. A lot of times that is how it goes. And there are other guys who looked good and they still looked good. There are other guys who were behind and they are still behind. But there is some shifting of the sands on your roster and that is what you are looking for. So when is the time? When do you know? I think when you are sure. Sometimes it is after a week. It might be after two weeks. It might be six weeks. It is when you are sure, when you have had enough examples, enough evidence, enough situations, where you say, 'I know this is it. I know this is it.' And that hasn't happened yet at running back. I can't tell you if that is going to happen this week. I can't tell you if it is going to happen next week. There may be a point in time where we just have to make a decision and we are still not sure. It still could be cloudy, whether it is at that position or at another one. When you are sure, that's when you say, 'This is it and we are going with it.' And that is the end of it. Until you get to that point, then you wait to see if it sorts itself out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. The running back situation is a good, competitive one. I think that in terms of Antowain [Smith] and Kevin [Faulk], both those players are good players. They have good, solid strengths. They have displayed those. I think that both of them are going to be productive for us and they have been in the past. So how exactly it is going to work out, I don't know. I am sure it will be decided on the field by how they perform.

**Q: Does it have to be decided? Does it go by committee?

BB:** We talked about it yesterday. There are a lot of different ways to win in this league. Some teams do it that way. Other teams have one guy. There are different combinations there. Some teams use different rotational systems. We will do what we think is best for the team and what our best combination is, whether that is one guy doing a lot and the other guy doing a little bit or whether it is more of an even split, however it goes.

**Q: Is Tom Ashworth one of those guys that may be pushing to be a starter?

BB:** Tom's had a good camp. Tom's had a good camp. This brings up another point, let me digress for a second. As we are starting to put our team together things are starting to formulate, one thing we have to be conscious of is not only the 53-man roster but really the 45-man roster because that is what we have to play with on game day. When we start thinking about who are our 45 players going to be early in the season at any given game, we have to create our own depth. Using Ashworth as an example, if we go to the game with seven or eight offensive lineman, somebody has to double up somewhere. So now is the point in time, and you try to figure out when the right break is in training camp, but somebody has got to start doubling up. If you take players right on the first day and start flipping around in different positions, left tackle, right tackle, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, all that thing, then a lot of times you don't really give the guy a chance. He's got so many things to do; he can never get into the groove and really be able to compete for the spot that he is in. There is another point in camp, whether it is after the first week, whether it is after the second preseason game, where the player has established his fundamentals but now you have to build your own depth onto your team and build some versatility. Having tackles play both sides, having guards either play both sides or play center or play tackle, whatever the situation is, having a fullback who can play halfback or having a halfback who can play fullback, 'x' receiver playing 'z', 'z' playing 'x'; those kind of things. Sooner or later, you are going to have to build that into your team. In Tom's case and in Adrian [Klemm's] case, as those players flip side like they did this week, part of that is to build our own depth in the offensive line in the event that we are going to have to have some flexibility with whoever the third tackle is, however it goes. Going back to the original question, not to get to far off the track here, Tom has put himself in a good competitive position. He has had a good camp. He's doing things a lot better than he did last year. He's a lot stronger than he was last year, and he's playing stronger. He's stronger in the weight room, that you can see that strength out on the field. And that's really what you are looking for. It's not how much a guy can bench press but what kind of playing strength he has. Tom's done a good job in that area and it has shown up on the field.

**Q: In July, you have had some annoying injuries in you will, where guys miss one day. Do your injuries now get a little more weight because it's close to the season?

BB:** Well, you never want to have any injuries. They slow you down whether you have them in July or whether you have them in August. It's just less opportunity for everybody to work together. And less opportunity for that player to work on the specific skills that he is missing that day. That being said they are part of football and you have to work around them. I don't want to see anybody have any injuries. I never want to see that. I don't want to see it in July, August or November. But when they do occur, then as we were just talking about with the depth, you want to have some kind of combinations so that your team suffers as little from those injuries as possible understanding that there is always going to be some degree of regression, but as little as possible. Anybody who is not out there practicing now, I'd like to see them out there practicing. It would help them. It would help us. It would help the team. On the other hand, it's better for those players to take the time that they need to be able to go out there and practice without fear of re-injury than it is to get them our there for one day and then have them back and missing whatever the amount of time is. That is the balance you are fighting, to get them back as soon as possible without setting them further back, which the more they are set back, the more the team is set back.

**Q: In terms of determining the 53-man/45-man roster, where would you like to see the team be in your mind after the Washington game?

BB:** Where would I like to see it be? Well, I'd like to see the things that I think we did fairly well in the Giant game, I'd like to see us to continue to do those things well. And the things we didn't do as well, that we worked on this week, I would like to us improve them.

**Q: Would you like to have in your mind a pretty good idea of who is going to make it? Like how your roster is going to look after the game?

BB:** Sure. You would love to have that after the first game. That's usually not the way it works. Usually it is not that clear. Again, as I was saying earlier, when players are improving at a different rate, and we've had these personnel meetings about players and say, 'Look, in the last week, this guy is really coming along.' Well he has just been improving at a different rate than somebody else. It's not to say somebody else has gone backwards, although that does happen occasionally, it's just that somebody else is really improving at that rate. Now, what is going to happen in two weeks? Is he going to level off, or is he going to continue to accelerate his improvement at that rate and then where is that going to take you? That is why it is hard to answer those questions because everybody is not going at the same speed. You might think they would be, but it just doesn't work out that way for a combination of reasons but that is just what experience tells me. What am I looking for in the Washington game? I am not looking to see the linebackers blitz up the middle and nobody touch a guy and you kill the quarterback before he can barely get the ball. We don't want that to happen. I'm not looking to fumble the ball on the one-yard line and we have a chance to score a touchdown. We had mistakes in the [Giants] game that I hope we will be able to correct and at the same time, not make other mistakes that end up causing problems as well.

**Q: During training camp where is that 'imaginary line' crossed where you really have to begin to start preparing for the regular season and not worrying about players competing for spots?

BB:** Well, towards the end of training camp. Somewhere between the second and fourth preseason game, somewhere in there is when you want to do it. We're not quite at that point yet. We are in some areas of our game. We know who our starting quarterback is going to be. There are certain things that we need to do to get him ready. There are other positions that aren't that clear. We have to work multiple combinations there. You have to have depth at every position because you never know when you are going to need the next guy. I'm not saying that. But some are more defined than others. As soon as they are defined, then you try to build that to as high of a level you can. The ones that aren't defined, you've got to keep the competition open so that you make the right decision and don't end up going three or four games with one guy and then find out, 'Well, maybe we made the evaluation wrong,' and then try to flip him in the middle of the season. It's easier if you can get it right the first time. Sometimes it doesn't always happen that way. And again, sometimes players improve at different rates in September and October. It's an inexact science, as you know

**Q: After the Washington game, is it still advantageous or beneficial to you to have 80 plus guys out there at practice?

BB:** That's a good question and that is one that we will give some long consideration and thought to. [There are] a couple of different ways I can answer that. Would we need all 80 players? Not necessarily, particularly if everybody was healthy. Basically what you want is, you want everybody on your team to be able to go out there and work and get the opportunities that he needs to improve and work with the team. At whatever point you can't do that and you have too many players in one position, then you really would be better off with fewer players. On the other hand, if you have too few players, then that slows down the whole rest of the team. The last couple of years, not this year fortunately, but when you are out there trying to practice with seven or eight offensive linemen and you've got eight receivers and 13 defensive backs, and everybody else is ready to go, but you just don't have any linemen, that really slows down your whole practice schedule. You want to have the right number, not too few, not too many. Once you start releasing players, then it just really goes against the grain to bring them back. You try to keep everybody involved and you never know when somebody might all of a sudden get an opportunity that they can make something out of. I have seen that through the years in training camp. Could we cut under 80? Absolutely. It's something that we would have an inclination to do if we felt like we had enough depth to do it.

**Q: I am sure it varies, but when you go make a player release generally, does it usually start with his position coach that comes to you?

BB:** I think it can vary from case-to-case. I would say for the most part for the situation that we are in right now, the way it stands here in 2003 with the New England Patriots, I think all of those generally come together at the same time. Charlie, Romeo [Crennel] and I have coached together for, well we're going past a decade now or in some cases two. Scott [Pioli] and I have been together. We all pretty much get to the same point and say, 'You know what? This is what I think this is what we need to do.' We all look at each other and say, 'Yeah, I see it the same way.' There isn't a lot of, 'Well, I think we should release this guy' and somebody else says, 'Well, I think this guy could be starting for us.' There's just not that much of a gap in it. Usually we're all seeing it pretty much the same way. Not to say that it's 100 percent, because it isn't and that is healthy. But for the most part, it comes down at this point, pretty much of a unanimous thought. Rather than somebody coming out and saying, 'Well, here is what we ought to do.' I think everybody probably sees that pretty much the same way.

**Q: That must be healthy too, that you guys don' t have to worry about hurt feelings if one guy says, 'I think this guy sucks.'

BB:** Right. Exactly. I've seen that before. I've been on plenty of staffs where that has happened where there has just been a wide discrepancy in an opinion on certain people and certain players. I think you're a lot more likely to come to that on the final cut than you are in reducing from 80 to the 65 range because then it becomes, instead of having 53 really, we would all like to have 58. Because that 54th guy, we could all see where that guy could help us. It's not do they have value, but just which one has more value and what's best for the team. That situation sometimes comes up a little bit differently. In terms of the continuity that we've had, and it's been in the same system, again when you start changing systems every year, one guy looks good in one system and he doesn't look as good in another system. When they are all in the same system, then there is much more continuity and carryover and it's a lot easier to make the evaluations, and you probably have a better chance of getting it right. We've all seen some guys look great doing one thing and then they don't look as good doing something else and vice versa. Those are hard decisions. What you going to be asking him to do and depending on what you are going to be asking him to do, could affect how he is going to do it.

**Q: In your coaching career, have you ever seen a situation where you've seen somebody saying, 'Hey I think this guy could do well,' and that was the minority opinion and they took a chance and he became a really good player?

BB:** Yes, I've definitely seen situations where somebody will make a passionate, either defense or case, for a particular player. Maybe the consensus is, 'We should release this guy.' And whether it is a position coach, or maybe a coordinator, special teams coach, [will] step up and say, 'Okay, before we release this guy, I'm just going to say my peace and here is what I think about him and here are the reasons why.' Sometimes that makes you [think], 'Well, this guy has got some good points; he's got a real conviction on it. He is throwing his body on the tracks for this guy.' If you respect the coach or the personnel person, whoever is doing it, then that carries some weight. You sit back there and think about it and say, 'Well, he's got some pretty solid points there, let's think about it.' I've definitely seen that happen. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. But I know exactly what you are saying and sometimes there is just one vote. If it comes across strongly enough and you have enough respect for where it is coming from, it can carry a lot of weight.

**Q: Is there a specific situation like that you can recall?

BB:** Well, I wouldn't put this in that category but I would say an example that we are familiar with obviously would be the carrying of four quarterbacks in 2000. Do we want to carry four quarterbacks? The fourth quarterback, whoever he is, isn't going to play, he can't help the team win, we need linebackers, we need receivers and we need everything else. Do we want to carry the guy or not. There is certainly some sentiment to think, 'Well that fourth quarterback can't help you win a game this year.' There is some other sentiment that would say, 'Maybe down the road, this guy is worth hanging on to even though we know he can't help us this year,' that type of decision without getting into a lot of specifics. A lot of times when you have those kinds of personnel discussions, really a lot of times both sides are right. Are you talking about today or are you talking about the middle of the season or are you talking about next year. Who is the better player today, the older, more experienced guy? Who is going to be the better player in the middle of the season? Who knows? Who is going to be the better player next year, the younger guy if he can continue to progress. What time frame, where do you want to be good, now in the middle of the year or next year sometimes that is what affects those decisions. Everybody can be right, somebody has got to decide where you want to put your emphasis. Sometimes, that is affected by your other players too. You can't have them all in one category or another. At some point you are going to have to pay the price on that.

**Q: Did you have a shorter roster that year? The year that you came out of camp with four quarterbacks.

BB:** Right. We didn't have 50 players.

**Q: That would have made a huge difference.

BB:** When you have more depth, it's always harder to find a spot for those last few guys, whoever they are. The decisions always get tougher when you have more than what can really fit into what your spots are. In that year, we had trouble… I think we went down to 50 actually. But we had trouble finding what we felt were legitimate NFL players. Yeah, somebody has got to make the team, and we weren't going to go to the game short, but in terms of legitimate players, we just didn't feel like we had the full compliment that year. That's right.

**Q: Circumstance helped a little bit there to keep four, right?

BB:** Right. It gave you a little bit more flexibility. Again, what I am saying more is just the basic facts of the situation. Like, what fourth quarterback ever plays in a game that helps a team win in that season. Once a decade, if that. You can't really feel like that player is going to help you in any kind of short-term situation. Somebody else can cover kicks. Somebody else can be an extra offensive lineman, you are going to need extra people somewhere along the line who have more value than a player who wouldn't play at all. Or sometimes when you keep a couple of kickers, there are a lot of different scenarios, but then you just have to weigh that out and try to balance short-term and long-term. That was the first year of the program, we needed young players, there was obviously going to be some turnover. That played into it too.

BB: Camp is not over. I know that there is a perception that there it is, but really from our standpoint, we're just getting ready for the season. It's not a stopping and a starting. It's just one progression.

**Q: When do the players get to go home?

BB:** Well, that's an interesting question too. A lot of these guys, their home is in wherever, Mississippi. They stay in the hotel until the start of the regular season. There are other players who have places to stay and they will be allowed to go there by Thursday, tomorrow night.

**Q: If you come out of this


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