Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Friday, November 20, 2009.
BB: It's hard to believe we played in snow a month ago, isn't it? It's nice out there today.
Q: Have you ever watched the cartoon Voltron?
Q: The reason why is Laurence Maroney said today that the Patriots running backs are like Voltron because they are reconnecting at this point. Do you feel like the running game is going to be in better shape now as these guys start to come back and it gives you a little more depth?
BB: I have confidence in all of our running backs and when they play I feel good about them. Not only one guy can carry the ball. Whether that's one guy carrying, two guys carrying, three guys carrying it or four guys carrying it I think they can all be successful, they can all work well. So whatever we have to work with we have to work with, but I have confidence in all five of those guys. Whichever one of those has it I feel good about that player having it and running with it.
Q: Obviously one of the aspects of success up here is to have confidence in your running game as the weather turns bad - to have a few more options like Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor when he comes back - is it their styles that come into play at a time like that, the different things they bring to the running game when you are facing a game out here in the snow?
BB: I think running back is a tough position to play. You have 11 guys on the other side all trying to kill the guy with the ball. It's a tough position and I think having depth at that position is a good thing. You don't always have it, but we are fortunate — that on our roster — we have it. Not all those players have been there for every game, but I think it's hard, not impossible, but hard to get into the season without depth at that position because it can go in a hurry. I would rather have it and have the options than not have it. Like what Denver went through last year, it's tough.
Q: Without Leon Washington, what are the differences you see in the Jets' offense?
BB: Leon brought a dimension to the offense that was pretty unique. It was a loose-play type of player, screens and throwing the ball in open spaces, whether those were designed plays or whether they were options for the quarterback — on deeper patterns with him as a shorter receiver, that kind of thing. I would say there's a little bit less of that now. He's a pretty special player. I think if anybody had him they would use him in some fashion like the Jets have, so without him you probably do more of the other things that they do in their offense. They're pretty varied on offense, too. They have a lot of different formations, a lot of different concepts. Their running game, I mean, they lead the league in rushing. It's not like you can really say, well they have one play or they have two plays; they have 20 plays, so they run the ones that fit the best for that particular team or scheme that they are going against. So that's been pretty impressive, that they've been able to do a lot of different things in the running game and still be productive with it.
Q: [On the difficulty of defending a running back]
BB: It depends on where you're playing. If you are playing man-to-man coverage, then you have somebody on him and at least you have a guy assigned to him. Then, the question of course is whether you actually cover him or how much help you want to give him. If you're in zone coverage it is how far the pattern stretches you to — the deeper or intermediate pattern stretches you to the shorter part and that's usually a function to some degree of the pass rush. To some degree it's a function of the pass offense and what plays they have called, but it's a function of the pass rush, so the longer the quarterback has the ball the more your defense separates and the more space there is and the harder it is to defend. The quicker the ball comes out than the less space you have to defend, so that's the give and take on it.
Q: As you manage the practice squad throughout the year, is it always about guys who are in line to be on the roster or is it about having to fill roles throughout practice?
BB: Yeah, I would say both. I would say both. And looking back, forget about this year, but let's just talk about ... In previous years we've had players on our practice squad that when we look at our practice squad we would say, 'OK these players could be activated, they're our next guy. If something were to happen here, if something were to happen [there] that would be our next guy.' There are other situations where if something were to happen at that position that practice squad player probably wouldn't be the next player, it would be somebody else that's not on your roster. And it could be for a couple different reasons. One is the player's development, like we think he's going to develop into a player, but he's just not ready now. Other players have more versatility [and] can do different things for you and they can practice in two or three positions and help the other players get ready, but maybe they are not quite, we just don't feel they are quite at the developmental level to be regular roster players and again sometimes that changes over the course ... as the player improves, sometimes that changes. Maybe you don't think he's going to be, and then he is and we know we've certainly had players like that. I've had players like that in my career in the past, like the Keenan McCardell's in the world that, when we had Keenan in Cleveland I don't know if we thought this guy [was] going to be one of the top receivers in the league. We thought he was a good receiver, and as he kept getting better, then pretty soon you start to say, 'maybe this guy can help us' and then look at the career he had. It was magnificent. Troy Brown — back when he came into the league — not the Troy Brown we all remember. Players improve. Hard work, technique, physical development and all those kinds of things, there's a lot of room to develop. And we certainly can recite a lot of offensive linemen that fall into that category. We can also recite a lot of them that are on the practice squad that never played in the NFL. If you really feel like the player is a player and you don't want anyone else to have a shot at him, you try to find a way to keep him on your roster. And if you're kind of not sure, then that's probably why they're on the practice squad.
Q: Can you characterize your practice squad this year?
BB: I would say probably the best practice squad group we've had since I've been here, as a total group. I think our personnel department this year has done an outstanding job of finding guys and bringing guys in that are good football players that were available. Brian Hoyer's made our team, been our No. 2 quarterback, wasn't drafted. [Rob] Ninkovich wasn't even with a team at the start of training camp, and has made our team and fulfills a lot of different roles on our team. Guys like that, you have that player on your team and you say I can't believe this guy wasn't on somebody's team. And he comes in and he makes your team and he's contributed. It's not like players didn't have competition at that position where it was kind of a default thing. They did a good job and they earned their spots. That's when a personnel department really is ... Nick [Caserio], Jason Licht, Jon Robinson, all those guys have done a great job of finding those guys and even some of our later draft choices — [Julian] Edelman, guys like that who have come in and legitimately made our football team, not out of circumstances. They have legitimately come in and beat other people out for those spots. It's a good job of finding them.
Q: You mentioned the idea of, 'I can't believe this guy isn't on another team.' How much of that is in the eye of the beholder and how much of that, too, is maybe this player fits your system that wouldn't fit somebody else's?
BB: I think there's definitely some of that, too. When you have a player and say, 'This guy's really good in our system I can see why other people wouldn't want this type of player.' Or, 'This player's really good in their system and this is guy that really doesn't fit for us.' Absolutely, but I think examples like those, I think those guys would be able to play on any team.
Q: Any time you get back in the division, do you focus on the division race and what each game means?
BB: I think we all know what those games mean. If it's a scale from 1-100, if it's a 92 or a 93 - I don't know what difference that makes. But they are all big games. Every division game's a big game. We know in the end other than head to head competition that the next tie breaker is division. There's really nothing more important than that. And if you can't win in your division, then it's going to be hard. It's going to be hard to win your division, so that's ... I don't know how you can understate the importance of a division game. I mean every game's important and we only have 16 of them, so each game carries a lot of weight but those division games, it's almost like it's a game and a half.
Q: Derrick Burgess has been a starter in a couple of different places and is a veteran guy, is it an adjustment for a guy like that to go into a situation where he is more of a spot player? When you see an older player, is that something that takes some time for a player to get used to?
BB: I think it could, depending on the player. But in Derrick's case, he's been great. I talked to Derrick at length when he came and we've talked about his role and the things we wanted him to do. Nobody has been more, and we've had a lot of guys and we've had a lot of guys that have been great, but nobody's done a better job of adapting to what we've asked Derrick to do. We've asked him to play some coverage responsibilities, which I don't think he's ever done in his career other than a couple blitz zones in Philadelphia. But actually play man to man coverage, play zone coverage, do things like that that he's never done before and he works hard at it and wants to get it right, really pays attention to it. We've asked him to change some of the techniques a little bit from what he's done in the past and he's been very willing and eager to try to understand and learn how we want [him] to play and he's a smart football player. Even though he hasn't done the variety of things that maybe some of the other players have done, when you tell him what you want him to do, he gets it conceptually. 'Alright, I understand. This is what I'm doing, that's what he's doing, that's what he's doing.' He picks it up pretty quickly.
Q: In other places, he was doing a lot of one thing and now maybe it is having to do so many different things, is it an adjustment for a player like that?
BB: Again, it's not like we're asking him to play corner, play tight end and all that. He still plays, for the most part, at the end of the line of scrimmage and at the end of the line of scrimmage — regardless of whether you are playing up or down. There are only so many combinations over there and he's seen all of those. It's just now he's seeing them sometimes with a little bit different responsibility. I don't want to make it sound like we're going to a new language here, like we're trying to learn Mandarin or something. We're just trying to take what he does and some of it's a little bit different and he's done a good job of it. He really has. We've had other players, in all honesty, that we've asked to do less and they've had more trouble with it. Again, some players ... Everybody's different and until you've worked with a player it's hard to know. Some guys you move them from the right side to the left side and they could care less. Other guys you move them and it's monumental. Until you've actually gone through it with a player, it's hard to really know how adaptable and how adjustable they are unless you've seen him do it. You scout a guy in college and you've seen him play two or three positions, maybe he plays for a couple different coaches and they've changed coordinators and it doesn't matter to [him]. There're other guys that can only play one spot.
Q: Junior Seau has been active but hasn't played much?
BB: Every game's different, and Junior knows that and we all do. Every situation changes from week to week. How that will go? We'll take it week to week. Certainly, against a team like the Colts that's a no huddle team where you pretty much play the same guys all the time or maybe you make one or two substitutions, but you don't have an opportunity to substitute a lot in a game like that. That was a little bit different. The Miami game — that had its own dynamics, too. Junior came in and started playing right off the bat the first week, we have a lot of confidence in Junior, he can do a lot of things [and] I'm sure we'll see him in there.
Q: With so many rookies getting their opportunities, do find that you can progress a little bit faster? The fact that you have so many, do they feed off of each other's success?
BB: I think the rookies do have a little bit ... I think each rookie class has a little bit of its own camaraderie and attachment to each other just because they go through the whole process, the whole indoctrination, learning process and everything together. A lot of things we do we do as an entire rookie class. All the extra meetings, whether it be football, off field things or personal things; they all do those together. I think there's a natural kind of support for each other and there's a little bit of a learning thing too where they're sometimes more comfortable talking to each other than they are talking to a veteran and ask them a question that might be looked at as a dumb question. Whereas if you ask another rookie, he's probably in the same boat you are on something like that. It is interesting how that works, but I think we have a good class that does work well together and they work well not just on the same side of the ball, but a lot of times on the opposite sides of the ball, too. Like our young receivers with our young defensive backs, that kind of thing. Even last year, a good example of that was BenJarvus [Green-Ellis] working against Jerod [Mayo] and Gary [Guyton]. That helped all three players. Each one made the other one better and they competed against each other and Gary would compete against Jerod and both of them would compete against BenJarvus and it was a great situation for all of them to get better. It's interesting how that works with just that rookie group of guys. You think of everybody all collectively together, but there is a little bit of a separation there.
Q: With Matt Light practicing the last week or so and Stephen Neal's injury situation, do you know what the offensive line's going to look like on Sunday?
BB: No, I don't. I don't. We'll see how that all comes out here today, tomorrow. Again, a lot of times when you get to the end of the week even though the guys have practiced, it's always a good thing. But sometimes that's a good thing, in that they're getting closer, and they're progressing and they're ready to go. And sometimes in those days of practice then there's a little bit of a — I wouldn't say — setback, but they're just not ready to go to the next competitive level to game speed. And if that's the case then, look, if a guy's feeling sore and after a Wednesday practice. Now, if a guy practices Wednesday, and feels good, and goes out there on Friday and great, but sometimes you get to Friday and it's a little bit of a, 'I think I need a little bit more time here' and that's kind what Friday and Saturday is. I know everybody thinks it's just a straight line, but it really isn't. That's what practice is for, is to evaluate the player's progress and depending on what his situation is, whether it's running, cutting, power, depending on what you're trying to evaluate, sometimes it varies on how to look at that.
Q: I know you cross-trained a lot of your tackles in the past, Sebastian Vollmer's played both sides and Nick Kaczur. Is Matt Light capable of playing right tackle?
BB: Well, that's where I brilliantly put him when we drafted him and he's played left tackle ever since. Had I not put him at right tackle in the first place, he probably would have been a lot better off. He came in, we put him at right tackle. He hurt his ankle in preseason, and then we ended up moving him back to left tackle and he basically started most of his rookie year there at left tackle. I mean, he got hurt in the Super Bowl and all that. But had I put him at left tackle in the first place instead of right tackle, he probably would have had a better rookie year. Did we think he could play right tackle? Yeah, but I think he's a better left tackle than he is right tackle. And that's the case of a player flipping sides, I'm not saying he can't do it but I think he's better on the left side. Nick, on the other hand, was a left tackle in college all the way through. The first thing we would do was put him over there at right tackle and he's done well there. Last year, we got into a bind, and a couple of previous years we got into a bind and we moved Nick back to left tackle. He truly has played both, but again until sometimes that happens you don't really know. Could Matt play right tackle? I'm sure that he could, but he's done a lot better at left tackle.