New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at the team headquarters for Super Bowl XLII in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 31, 2008.
BB: It was good to be back out on the practice field yesterday. We got a lot of things done and certainly need to have another good day today and try to build things up, cover all of the situations and be ready to go on Sunday. Really, that's pretty much about it. We're trying to have kind of a normal week of practice here, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday leading up to a Sunday game, and we'll try to stay on that schedule today.
(On what the thought process was in drafting Logan Mankins and the advancements he's made since coming out of Fresno State)
BB: When we took Logan, we of course had seen his outstanding career and Fresno and his ability to play left tackle. Fortunately, our left tackle situations have been pretty stable here, and Matt's [Light] done a good job there. I think that Logan has a lot of position versatility for us, but given our situation when he came in -- and it really hasn't changed much in the last three years – he's done a great job for us there at left guard. A player at that position goes up against a lot of different types of athletes and he's up against inside linebackers, some of the big, 350 pound defensive linemen and some of the real quick pass rushers, like a guy like [Justin] Tuck that we'll face this week. Logan has a good versatile combination of skills where he can play with power, he's athletic enough to play in space and pass protect and I think that he could have good position flexibility across the board, if we needed it. That hasn't been the case, but for right now he's done a great job for us at right guard.
(On if anything has changed in the team's approach to this game and where they are in their preparation)
BB: It certainly hasn't changed this week. I don't think you're ever where you want to be. There's always more to do, there's always things that you've done that you wish you could have done a little better or an adjustment you've made that it would have been a little bit smoother if you'd gotten it right in the first place. That's always a process of getting ready for the game. You put the things in, you work on them, you modify and adjust them. You don't have time to go back over everything because you have to move ahead to other situations – third down, red area, two-minute, short yardage, goal line – all of those things, so you can't just keep going back and back and back over things. You have to move ahead. I'm sure that we'll be ready to go by game time – as ready as we're going to be. As I said earlier in the week, playing against a team like the Giants, as many different things as they do and as wide an attack that they have, you could probably take a month to get ready for this game and still not hit everything. We have enough time to be ready. We'll be ready on Sunday. It probably won't be perfect, but it will be as good as it can be.
(On the evolution of Stephen Neal as an offensive lineman and why he thought a college wrestler would be good at that position)
BB: Steve's a real interesting story. Over the summer of 2001, we worked Steve out, just as an athlete, really, just as you said, as a former wrestler with no football background since the eighth grade. We worked him out and were impressed with his athletic ability and his size, and his overall body balance. I felt that even though he didn't have much experience playing football that athletically he would certainly be able to compete with players on the line of scrimmage, because of his leverage and his ability to run. In my brilliance, I decided to put him on defense and he was over there for about two or three weeks, and really was totally lost. It was really hard for him to react to all of the different things that the offense was doing – their different blocking schemes, reading run and pass, getting in the proper gaps and so forth and so on. After a period of time we moved him over to offense, but he was so far behind at that point that he really didn't have much of a chance to compete there. He just ran plays off the scout team. Then when we signed him at the end of the season off of Philadelphia's practice squad, he was much further along as an offensive football player, and he made great strides in the '02 season. Then even in the '03 season when he was injured [he improved]. Then by '04, he really had taken all of the classroom work and the individual instruction drills and things like that and was really able to transfer them to the field and play very well – remarkably, really, considering his lack of overall football experience. When Steve started, he really didn't even know where to go in the huddle. I mean, it was really starting from square one, but Steve's a smart kid, he works hard, he's very diligent, he's tough, very athletic for his possession and has been able to absorb a lot of information and process it and play to a high level. He's come a long way, but he's worked hard. He certainly deserves everything that he's gotten, but I've never coached a player that's traveled the distance from where he started to what he's become as a football player, and he's great for our football team. Nobody works harder or is tougher or gives more of himself to our team than Steve Neal.
(On this year's draft class and why most of their contributions have come from Brandon Meriweather)
BB: Our second round pick was Wes Welker and our fourth round pick was Randy Moss, so even though they weren't draft choices, they've been significant players on our team. We've had a couple other players that are on injured reserve, so their seasons were cut a little bit short. Brandon is the only true rookie we drafted, and then of course Matt [Guiterize], our third quarterback, had a good preseason and made our roster. That's where we're at. We made our decisions based on what we [felt] was best for our football team back in September, when we cut out roster to 53. As I said, a couple of those players on [the] injured reserve list, so we'll see how their careers develop as we go forward.
(On who the best quarterback he ever saw was)
BB: Oh, boy. That's a tough one. That's a tough one. I was pretty young – Johnny Uniits was very impressive, and I loved watching him. Of course, I grew up in Annapolis and watched Baltimore play for years. They were kind of my team, so watching Unitis and Berry and Lenny Moore and all of the great players that the Colts had there, that was pretty special. He was pretty good. He was pretty good, and he was a great leader. So, I think there are probably a lot of other people that are more qualified to answer that than I am, but I've had the fortunate experience to work with some outstanding quarterbacks, certainly Phil Simms in New York was a tremendous quarterback for our football team. Tom Brady has been the same here. Vinny's done a great job for us in Cleveland and at the Jets, and even in his role here at the Patriots. Burt Jones. As a pure passer, I don't think I could put anybody ahead of Burt Jones. I know he had a short career and had a shoulder injury and all of that, but when I was there and when he was just starting his career, the success that he had, his ability to throw the ball, just as a pure passer and an athlete, it would be hard to put anybody ahead of Burt Jones at that point in time.
(On what he thinks of when he hears the name Tedy Bruschi)
BB: [A] football player.
(On Bruschi's comeback following suffering a stroke)
BB: I think it's tremendous. Tedy's meant so much to this organization, to this team, and really to the entire community. I know his impact is felt nationwide, as you said, just on what he's gone through. But, again, if I were to open the dictionary to "football player" and see Tedy Bruschi's picture there, that would be fitting. He's all about football. He knows how to play. He knows how to play from a team standpoint. He's very instinctive. It doesn't really matter what you ask Tedy to do, whether it's the running game, passing game, special teams. He just always seems to do the right thing. [He] shows up on the ball at the right time. Sometimes you'd think he would go over a block and he ends up going under it, and he makes the right the choice. The next time it's just the opposite. Sometimes it seems like he's a little deep, but that's really where he should be. The next time it seems like he's a little short, but that's really where it should be. He just has a great knack for finding the ball, knowing where to be in the right place at the right time, and how to feed off his teammates without it slowing down his aggressive style of play. He's a great leader, he's a great worker, he's very unselfish. There isn't a player on our time, I don't think, that doesn't look up to Tedy Bruschi's attitude, toughness and consistency as a football player. We're really lucky to have Tedy on our team, and the comeback he's made since the beginning of the calendar '05 year after the '04 season has truly been remarkable. He's a special guy.
(On accusations that Richard Seymour and Matt Light are dirty players and if he finds that offensive or uses it as motivation)
BB: Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I've looked at our team play and we've moved on from all of those situations. I think our players work hard, they play hard and I support the way they play the game. Not that we don't make mistakes along the way. Sometimes we do, and we've been penalized for them. That's part of football. I think all of those – I think our players play hard, they play clean and I support the way they play the game.
(On Eli Manning's performance in the regular season finale and how he's improved since then)
BB: I think Eli's had a good year, and I think that's reflected by the team's record. Eli, mechanically, I think is a very good quarterback. His fundamentals are good, his footwork, his ball-handling, release, accuracy and so forth. I think he has good pocket presence. I think he's athletic enough to have [a] good presence in the pocket and hit receivers accurately, down the field and in the short and intermediate range. I think he manages his team well and he's a good football player. He has good players around him and he's able to get the ball to them and let them be productive and make plays. I think that's really what the quarterback's job is, is to get the ball to players on your offensive team that can get the ball in situations where they can be productive and they can utilize their skills, and Eli's done a great job of that. I think he's done it all year and he's certainly done it the last few weeks. He did it against us – no question about that. He killed us.
- (On how Pepper Johnson has come along as a coach and if there was something he saw in him as a player that made him think he would make a good coach)*
BB: I think Pepper had great leadership skills, and that was evidenced in part by his election as a two-time captain at Ohio State, which I believe at that time was the first player that had ever received that recognition. That gives you some sense of the type of leadership that Pepper has, and we saw that at the Giants, even early in his career, his rookie year. I remember there were certainly times when I was the defensive coordinator at the Giants and we would be sitting there on the sidelines, and of course we liked to play a lot of Cover 2 back in those days, with the safeties back there deep. There was one game in particular where they were running the ball against us and I called the team over and I said, "OK, look, we're going to play a little more Cover 3 and bring the safety down into the front to help us in the running game." Pepper said, "No, no. You don't do that. You keep those safeties back there. We're going to take care of the run. We don't need any help. You guys stay back there and play the pass – We're going to handle the running game. We don't need any help." That's a great attitude to play the game. Pepper plays with a lot of confidence, and that confidence carries over to his teammates and the rest of the team. And as a coach, he's done that, whether it be coaching the linebackers, the defensive line or – One of Pepper's – The thing that he probably does that everybody on our team will talk to you about, is the way he runs the defensive scout team, what we call the Show Team. Those players take a lot of pride in it and Pepper does. They do an awesome job of getting our defense ready to play on a weekly basis. I'm sure that [Tom] Brady and all of the other offensive players would tell you how good of a job our defensive show team players do of getting us ready to play the game, and Pepper has great enthusiasm. He does a tremendous job on that. I can't say enough about Pepper. He's been a great player for me, a great coach for me and a great friend through the years. [I] have great respect for everything that he's done in the National Football League and in football.
(On how much trepidation he had replacing Adam Vinatieri and what made him think Stephen Gostkowski could handle that role)
BB: We all know in free agency players change teams, and that happens every year. Stephen had an outstanding career. We scouted him and thought that he would be able to kick in this league. He's come in and done a good job for us. [He] did an excellent job last year and this year, both in his kickoffs and his field goals. We have a lot of confidence in him. He's kicked in all different kinds of conditions this year. I think that's something that has been a little more challenging for him this year than it was last year, but he's made some big kicks for us in the last couple seasons. He's given us a good degree of consistency throughout his game, both on kickoffs and field goals. He's a young player, he works hard, there's still room for improvement and nobody works harder at his job than Stephen does. He has a good temperament for the game. He has a good degree of confidence, but certainly not overbearing. Athletically, he works out with the other players. He doesn't really isolate himself as a kicker. He fits into the team chemistry very well.
(On how much he still enjoys the teaching aspect of coaching)
BB: I love coaching, and coaching comes in a lot of different forms for me. In the spring, when we draft the rookie players out of college and bring in the rookie free agents and all of that, we usually have about 20 guys or so, somewhere in that vicinity, and we start with them on the most basic fundamentals – our basic formations, our basic running plays, our base defense, our base coverage – and just really start from square one. You're talking about stance and footwork and the simplest reads that we can have in our system. I really enjoy the fundamental aspect of that, going back and talking about the – just the real little specific plays to run a play right. And then as you build and build through the course of the season, you get to working with some of the real special players in this league – guys like Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau and Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Wes Welker. You can just go right down the line – that have exceptional skill and that are very intelligent, that can handle multiple, multiple variations of a play of a situation or a route or a coverage. Sometimes I don't even know if they could articulate exactly what they see or how they're seeing it. They just know it and they just can do it. When you can say to a player, "Look, in this situation, can you see this? Can you do that?" and he says, "Oh, yeah, sure. That's not a problem," it's awesome as a coach to be able to work with those types of talented players. So the whole spectrum, from the stance to recognizing a play that you're maybe only going to see once in the game – maybe you're going to see the play two or three times a year – that a player can recognize and you can say, "OK, let's play it this way when you see it," and he can do it. It's a tremendous experience as a coach. Or to take a situation and say, "OK, when there's this much time on the clock, here's the situation. We have to gain 20 yards. We don't have a time out. We have to go up and clock the ball. Here's the play. Here's how we're going to run it," to have the team be able to go out and execute and do it is a very high level of coaching. It's thrilling to be a part of that and to be able to coach that way, just as much as it is to teach a linebacker how to deal with a cut-block. I enjoy all of that and it's fun to coach all of the different players at all of those different levels.