New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, August 5, 2008.
BB: We are kind of working our way into real game preparations. This is a transitional day for us where we go from true training camp days, where we have one practice, followed by a meeting, then another practice and just grinding through, to now where we really have a focus and our sights are set on Thursday night against the [Baltimore] Ravens. Everything we do from this morning till game time builds up to that point. We are in a little bit of a different mode than we have been in. I am sure the players will make that transition and we will be more into that mode going forward, both in preseason games and trying to get the process ready for all of us for September. That is the program we are on today.
Q: Have you decided on how much the starters will play Thursday night or do you have a feel for how much they will play?
BB: Not really, we have told everybody to be ready to play and I think they are. We will make those playing time decisions either tonight or tomorrow morning. We want everybody to be ready to go. Not sure what exact situations or time frame that puts them in but we all have to be flexible on that anyway. Things can change and usually do. Each player has been told to be ready to go. When the decision comes for him to play then that is a decision we make not them. They need to be able to make the most out of it. That is how we will handle it.
Q: Can you talk about offensive lineman John Welbourn and what he brings?
BB: John is an experienced player in this league. We played against him a number of times when he was with Philadelphia [Eagles]. He was in Kansas City last year. He is a tough guy and has played both guard spots. He mainly played the left spot in Philly and played more right last year. He also has some experience at the tackle position. He is a very athletic player and a strong kid. We will put him into the mix with everybody else. I am not sure how much he will be ready for on Thursday. We will just have to see. Certainly by next week we will have him ready to go. I am just not sure about this week yet.
Q: It seems like there has been an evolution with how teams treat preseason games. It seems like you start by evaluating guys but then get into preparation for the regular season. Then you go back to evaluating in the final preseason game. Is that how it normally is or is there no set way to it?
BB: It is hard for me to speak on what anybody else is doing. I think what we try to do, and what my philosophy is on preseason and training camp, is that we have two goals - one is to get our team ready for opening day and the other is to get our team ready for a 16-game regular season schedule. Whatever we feel like is best to do then that is what we try to do. That takes into account a lot of things. It takes into account every single player; it takes into account the different units and sometimes the units within the unit. Whether it is the offensive line with the offense or the secondary with the defense or maybe it is the specialists in the kicking game. Whatever it happens to be. I don't know if there is necessarily a right formula. We don't have some type of blue print where 'OK, this is what we are going to do.' We always talk about it before each season and each game. Sometimes the needs of the team vary or the needs of a particular player vary form one year to the next, one game to the next or one week to the next. That is how we try to do it. I do agree there is kind of a build up but I think it has always been that way. You gradually, generally speaking, play less and then play more. Even if you go back to when there were six preseason games that was kind of the way it was. Guys play a quarter, a half, three quarters then a full game in the fourth and fifth game. Then they play a little less in the sixth game. I don' know that it has changed. I think it has always had an element of that.
Q: It seems like now the final preseason game is a bonus game for the guys on the bubble. There is going to be much less time that you put the starters in that one. It seems that this is just a great opportunity for those guys to have that last chance to show that they are worthy of being on the team?
BB: I think one thing that has changed in the last couple of years is the roster rules. With the roster rules changing that changes the way the games are played. In the past, we went with whatever number we started with to 60 to 55 and then to 45. This year, the last cut is 75. You go from 80 to75 to 53. If you only had 55 players, then your pull of players is a lot smaller then when you had 75. We had about 75 last year. I forget what the cuts were set at. With the exemptions, it seems like we were about at this same number for all the preseason games. The league really dictates how the playing goes in those preseason games based on the roster limit rules. They have fluctuated quite a bit since I have been here for the last eight years.
Q: Tom Brady said at the beginning of training camp that he would have a lighter workload than he normally does for training camp. Has that helped him up to this point?
BB: I don't think it has been that much different than from what it was last year. We could go back and look at the exact details of it but I would say overall he has done about the same he has done in the past. At least for it was like the last couple of years.
Q: Does that go back to what you were saying earlier about having two goals - getting ready for the opener and getting ready for the regular season? Does that affect the workload he puts in?
BB: I don't think you can structure camp just around one person. You have to structure for the entire team. At the quarterback position, we have four people here. So we have four players we are evaluating, not just one. We are obviously trying to get Tom Brady ready for the season but we are trying to get the other players ready for the regular season to a lesser degree. We also are trying to evaluate them. There are a lot of things that go into consideration. It is not just about what one guy wants to do or what is best for one guy. It is about what is best for that position, unit and team. We try to take all of those things in consideration. I am not sure that everybody is 100 percent happy but that is football. It is a team sport. We have to do what is best for the team so that is what we try to do.
Q: How has quarterback Matt Cassel been doing in camp?
BB: Matt has had a good camp. He has had a good year from the off-season program into the spring camps and now in training camp. I think he is operating a little more efficiently and quickly than he has. You would expect that going from year to year. He is in good condition and is throwing the ball well. I think he has had a good camp. This is true for all positions but particular with the quarterbacks - game situations and conditions are different then practice. We will see how everybody does on Thursday. That will be when they are getting hit and the situations change from play to play. There really isn't any contact for the quarterbacks in training camp and when the game starts it is a little bit of a different story.
Q: Outside of Tom Brady, you have three quarterbacks that are close to the same level of play. There is not one clear guy who will take the backup spot. Is it harder to evaluate a group like that then opposed to having two guys you are sure about and one who still needs to get his 'feet wet'?
BB: Well sure, it is always easier to evaluate fewer people. Especially at a position like quarterback. You can't look at a quarterback for any other position. Maybe a right tackle could play left tackle or a right tackle playing right guard or something where he could still get some work applicable to his position. Well, there is only one quarterback. That makes that position a little bit unique in terms of reps. It is no different from specialists, kickers, punters or snappers. There are only so many punts in practice. There are only so many snaps in practice. If you are trying to evaluate two or three people, you have to figure out how to break it up, how to do it fairly and how to do it to get the best evaluation? Will you need to triple the number of plays or cut the reps into the thirds? Those are the decisions you make at a position like that. I don't think there is a right or wrong formula you just do what you think is best.
Q: Quarterback Kevin O'Connell seemed to spend a lot of time on his technique yesterday at practice. Is he working on anything specific or changing anything?
BB: I think this is the time of year where everybody works on their specialty. Quarterbacks work on their throwing. Kickers work on their kicking. It is like with baseball when pitchers and catchers go early to spring training to work on their different pitches. Even though these guys threw in the off-season and spring camps, it is not like the throwing we are doing in training camp. Of course they take that time to work on specific throws, specific routes and the volume of throwing. They all do that.
Q: Kevin said he hasn't dealt with this level of coaching before. Is there anything different you are working on with him?
BB: I think Kevin has certainly worked on his throwing mechanics since we drafted him. There are things that we have talked to him about since then but that is how it is with any young player. I don't think it is any different then what it was like with Brady, Cassel, [Matt] Gutierrez or anybody else. When we get them here, we work on their fundamentals and mechanics. There are some specific things with our offense, whether with throws, routes or play action plays, that might be unfamiliar to what they have done in the past. With Kevin, that is defiantly the case because he spent so much time in shotgun formation in college [San Diego State]. The whole process of the center snap and foot work. There are a lot of things he hasn't done in a while or done much of in a while. He has worked on those though.
Q: With the number of injuries on the offensive line, does it make it more difficult to establish a rhythm at that position?
BB: That is training camp. You go through training camp working a lot of people with different combinations and that builds the depth on your team. As you get closer to the season, you work people together in different combinations maybe more frequently. That is how it is at every position. I don't think it is much different, as a team, then where we have been in the past. You are always managing something. Whether it is somebody who is out or somebody who doesn't practice at certain times. That is part of training camp.
Q: With less game preparation during preseason, does it make it harder to evaluate individual performances?
BB: I don't know if it is harder but I think you have to take it in consideration. Sometimes you might see a play or see something happen in the game and realize that is a situation that that player had never been in before or something you haven't covered before. I think we all have a lot more tolerance for those situations when evaluating them. You look at the play and say 'OK, this is something we haven't gone over or spent a lot of time with. As a matter of fact, this is a play that that player hasn't probably experienced. As opposed to 'OK, this is something we have been over 500 times and we still don't have it right.' There is just a little different attitude when dealing with that.
Q: With so little game preparation during preseason, how big of a role do preseason games play in the final evaluation of a player?
BB: I couldn't put a percentage on it but they are important. It is a composite of all the practices and the games. Certainly the games carry a lot of weight. We take a lot of snaps out there in practice and some of those snaps are against a scout team where we have them give us a certain look that we want to prepare for. There are other times where we go against the other unit. Our offense goes against our defense or our punt team goes against our punt return team. It is not a game situation but it is part the evaluation. You put that all together. Some players practice better than they play and some players play better than they practice. Some guys have a physical part of their game whether it is how physical they are or a guy that is particularly elusive when you aren't doing full-speed tackling out there. You are not sure whether that guy would get tackled in practice, but in the games some guys get away and some guys don't. On the defensive side, some guys get them down more than others. Those are important parts of the evaluation. I don't want to minimize the 18 practices we have had out here and say well they don't mean anything. They mean a lot but the games mean a lot as well.
Q: When scripting for a practice or game, do you show them best situation type plays or worst-case scenario type plays? What is all entailed with scripting it?
BB: It is a combination of all of them. It is about trying to get your team ready for what is the most likely scenario. You might want to show them some of the more difficult things they have to deal with. You might want a certain player to see a certain look. That has to do with a little bit of a substitution thing of who is in there. That is where a good player will learn something. Even though he is not in there, he will learn and understand what happened on that play. There are other players who don't do as well in that situation, they do a lot better when they can see it and experience it themselves. Pretty much every situation is used. It is just a question of the coaches' decisions and preparation as to what type they want to emphasize. Maybe it is something we are having trouble with or something we had trouble with in the past that the new team hasn't shown. There is no set formula on it.
Q: I know you hate this subject but with the defensive player communication system, have you started preparing for it or will you even use it in the game?
BB: No, we won't use it during the game. Is that what you are looking for? You can put that in the headlines. No, we won't use it.
Q: Do you plan on going over the defensive player communication system at some point?
BB: We will do what is best for the football team. That is all I can say. I wouldn't make any promises on what we will or won't do. We will just do what we think is best.