BB: This is a big week for us here with Tennessee. The preparation for these guys is going to be really challenging for us, starting with their defense. Of course Dick LeBeau, I don't think I can just say enough about him, what he's done over his career, not only the length of it, but the quality of it is really, really remarkable. The man has given so much to this game and one of the guys I have as much respect for as really anybody in professional football. Dick has made great contributions to the game and once again they're playing great defense. It's the Steelers defense in principle with a few variations, but he and Ray Horton do a great job with their front. They're very disruptive, hard to block, experienced guys in the secondary – they really know what they're doing and cause a lot of problems. Offensively it's an explosive group – [Delanie] Walker, [Harry] Douglas, [Dorial] Green-Beckham, [Marcus] Mariota. They do a good job and really anybody can pretty much get you on any play so everybody's got to be disciplined. The quarterback is a great athlete, very hard to defend out of the pocket, we saw that in the Jacksonville game, but their misdirection plays and things like that are challenging as well as stopping the point-of-attack and the point-of-entry plays. Good specialists in the kicking game – big, physical special teams group in terms of coverage. Standing up to their size and strength is going to be a big challenge for us, too. We've got a lot of preparation in terms of dealing with a mobile quarterback and a Steeler, Coach LeBeau scheme that he's run for decades now with great success in several different organizations, but you can really see it coming together for him in Tennessee. They've got a really disruptive front, a lot of speed at the inside linebacker position and a lot of disruptive players on the line of scrimmage. A lot for us to get ready for here and a lot of guys we haven't played against, certainly not in this system, and coming off a long trip, we're going to have to get things turned around here in a hurry.
Q: How do replicate Mariota's speed on the scout team? Do you put a skill position player back there?
BB:Jimmy [Garoppolo] moves around pretty good. We can get him, but we've done that before – put a receiver back there or a running back. We've played against quarterbacks who can run before – [Ryan] Tannehill, he's fast, [Cam] Newton, [Tyrod] Taylor, those guys. Not saying one is not faster than the other, but it's all a similar problem for the defense to deal with that. And our open field tackling drills and things like that replicate tackling in the open field whether it's a fast back or a fast quarterback or a fast receiver, whatever it is. But he's definitely a problem. He's very athletic but then he can throw the ball well, makes good decisions on the run and he's got a lot of options at receiver and tight end when that happens. It's not only him but dealing with the other guys that we have to cover as well.
Q: How would you characterize LeGarrette Blount's contributions to the team this year?
BB:Good, yeah, good.
Q: What did he bring with his style of play?
BB:I think all the things we know about him. He's a really dependable guy, big back that's very athletic.
Q: If you guys are without him here going forward, how will you proceed in terms of adding another player?
BB:We'll do what we think is best, whatever the situation is, we'll try to figure out what the best thing to do is and then see if we can get that done. I don't know.
Q: Same general question but with Dominique Easley – it seemed as if he was on an upward arc.
BB:Yeah, it's a tough break for Dom. Just kind of coming off the ball and had an injury there. It's unfortunate. We'll just have to find somebody else, find other guys to step in and take that spot.
Q: Is there really a one-for-one-type replacement for him?
BB:We'll see. Every player is different, so we'll see how it goes.
Q: How did you think Akiem Hicks responded to his pass rushing opportunities late in the Houston game?
BB:I think Akiem has been pretty consistent for us. I'm sure everybody wants to focus on one or two plays in this game like it was dramatically different from every other game, but I didn't really see that as the case. He had production in this game, but he's had production in other games. Some have been sacks, some haven't, but he's done a good job for us in there. He's big, he's long. I think he complements [Alan] Branch well. They have some similarities but they have some differences, and they've been productive for us in there along with Malcom [Brown] and Easley.
Q: How have you seen Geneo Grissom develop defensively?
BB:He played four technique in college his junior year – four/three – and then last year he played outside linebacker with some end, but they also moved him inside because they have pretty good depth at defensive end and he has good length so he moved inside – same thing he did for us in preseason. Geneo is obviously a young player, works hard, has a good skillset to do a lot of different things and he's done that. He's been outside to inside, been involved in the kicking game, which for a defensive lineman you don't always see a lot of that. He's continuing to make progress. Nobody works harder than he does. He puts in a lot of time and is a very dedicated athlete and just keeps getting better.
Q: How difficult is it for any player to come on to the roster this late in the season? In your career, has any player come on late and had a big, important impact?
BB:Yeah, look any player who is on the team and active is important. Every guy who is out there is important. How hard is it? Each player is different. Each situation is different. Some players have more background in what we're doing than others. Some don't have any. Some have a lot for one reason or another. Some players have more experience than others and depending on what position the guy plays, what we're asking him to do, what his role is, that varies, too. In the end whatever we ask the player to do, we try to be realistic, keep it within what he's capable of doing and not overstretch it, but if he's able to handle whatever it is then depending on how much we need it we'll try to get him ready to do that thing or those things, whatever it happens to be, and then progressively after a period of weeks or period of time, sometimes that grows. We had several guys do that last year. We've already had several guys do it this year. Every team in the league is dealing with that one way or the other whether it's a practice squad player or a free agent coming in from outside the organization. I don't think any of this is unprecedented. You'd rather not have to do it but the reality of it is sooner or later you're going to have to do it.
Q: What traits do you like in Montee Ball and what led to the decision to bring him on to the practice squad?
BB:One part of it is the overall depth at the positon, but he has some experience, has some ability in the running game and the passing game, good sized back. We'll see how it goes. Haven't had him before, so we'll see how it goes.
Q: Was there any celebrating in your house when the Patriots clinched the AFC East around 11:30 p.m. Monday?
BB:No, just a lot of sleeping.
Q: What type of development have you seen from Duron Harmon this year?
BB:Duron has been pretty steady as far as his I'd say development as a player. He was a pretty smart guy coming in, played in a good program obviously, was able to contribute for us as a rookie, but works really hard in the offseason, works hard in-season, is always doing things to get better in the training room in terms of his physical training, his preparation, his on the field communication, practice habits. Obviously working with Devin [McCourty] is a great benefit for him because I don't think anybody plays the position better than Devin does. A lot of times they're playing it together or in a complementary position so that's all been good for him, but Duron has gotten better, gets better every week, gets better every year, works really hard, very dedicated and has helped us in the kicking game this year as well, which that role has increased for him over the last three years. He's improved in every area and he's a great teammate, great guy to have on the team in whatever role it is, works to help the offense get better in terms of being on the scout team and things like that. He does everything you ask him to do and does the best he can.
Q: What have you learned about Jabaal Sheard in his time here?
BB:I'd say the big thing about Jabaal that has kind of been a little bit of a revelation is just his versatility. In Cleveland he basically just played left defensive end on every play – first down, second down, third down, and he played it well. Here as you've seen we've used him in different spot. He's played inside, he's had a lot of production inside, he's played outside, has had a lot of production outside, he's played on the right as well as on the left, although it's been more on the left, but he's played on both. He's had coverage responsibilities, which I'd say he's had either zero to very little of in Cleveland. But he's long, he's athletic, he's got very good paying strength, has got good in-line quickness. He's a hard guy to block in the run game, he's a hard guy to block in the pass game, and he can match up against a lot of different players both inside and outside so that's really been … Didn't know that he couldn't do it, didn't know that he could do it, just didn't know, but he's done a good job with all that, has given us a lot of versatility as well as production obviously. I mean he could just line up in one spot and play that well, too, but his ability to move around helps us do some other things.
Q: How do you discover that? Is it born out of necessity?
BB:He's in a different system. It's not his fault that he was in one system. It's not his fault that he's in another system. It is what it is. I'm sure he did what he was asked to do in Cleveland. That's what they wanted him to do and he did a great job with it. He came here, we asked him to do some different things, it went well, we continued to do it, we built in it, he worked hard to learn some different coverage techniques, inside pass rush techniques. It's a little different angle of going to the quarterback, different in the games, working off the outside lineman instead of always working off the inside guy, things like that. He's worked hard to adapt to those changes or those things we've asked him to do. We didn't know exactly how it would turn out. Sometimes some guys can do it, sometimes they can't.
Q: Delanie Walker is having another great year. What skills does he have?
BB:He's good at everything. He's a really hard guy to match up on. You put the little guys on him and he's too big. You put the big guys on him and his quickness, his route running ability, his length, they're a problem. So it seems like whoever is covering him when you look at the tape you're looking like that's a mismatch. He's not quick enough or he's not big enough. There is nobody that really matches up very well against him. He's an excellent technique player, sets up his routes well, has got good patience. I'd put him with [Antonio] Gates, it's not Gates, but there are elements to that – his length, his ability to get down the field is impressive but he's good on intermediate routes, run after catch and again he sets up things well. He knows when to sit down in the hole, when to go across, when to go behind, when to go in front. It just seems like he always makes the right decision and seems like he's always open. I can see why they throw it to him so much. It's because he's always open. Even when he's covered he's open because of his length and his ability to go up and timing on jump balls and his hands, catching the ball away from his body. He does a really good job. He's a tough guy to match up on.
Q: Why do teams have such good fortune on health one year and then have a rash of injuries the next year? Do you chalk it up to bad fortune, or do you try to find a common link that is causing them?
BB:We always try to do the best we can in every area, so try to be on the front end and prevent them. Sometimes you see something reoccur, maybe you try to figure out what's causing it or if there's a reason for it, whatever that happens to be. We're always looking at everything that we do and try to look at some other trends and see where we are relative to those – the same, better or worse, whatever it happens to be. We can talk about that for six weeks honestly. That's the kind of subject you can go on and on about. We definitely look at, no question about it.
Q: Marcus Mariota ran a different system in college. What do you see when you watch him and is it harder to evaluate quarterbacks now because of the spread offense?
BB:It's definitely harder to evaluate, there's no question about that. Look when I came into the league, you go to the combine or you interview quarterbacks and you talk about reading the coverages, reading the safety, reading the middle linebacker, understanding where the rotation is or if there is a rotation or if it's split safety coverage or all those kind of things. Now you go to the combine they tell you about reading the end, reading numbers, we have three guys out there and they have three we throw it, if they have four … So it's an addition game. Reading the end, reading the tackle, that was a different concept. When I came into the league there was no quarterback reading the defensive tackle, like you've got to be kidding me. Different type of offense, but that's what they've been brought up on. The thing I've learned about all that is guys learn what you teach them. If you teach them to do something different, then they learn something different. Some learn it better than others, quicker than others, it comes easier. All of us are individually different on that, but just because a player has been taught one thing definitely doesn't mean when you teach him something else that that's going to be a problem or that he can't do it. You don't know that that's how it's going to turn out, but I wouldn't just rule that out out of hand. Just because a guy hasn't been asked to do something doesn't mean he can't do it. Then you have to make the determination if it's like that, a player coming out of college, you have to make the determination of how you think he'll be able to do the things you ask him to do, whether it's learn them, execute them, physically change a little bit so he can fit more into that type of style that you're looking for, whatever it is. You just have to make that calculation. It's an inexact science. Some guys do, some guys don't, some guys you judge right, some guys you misjudge right. It's a lot easier to scout them in the NFL because you see them against the same people we play against. You see them in a similar environment in terms of the routine, the schedule, the length of the year and so forth and so on. There's a lot more in common even though each team is different. When you look at guys coming out of college there are a lot more variables and the level of competition is a lot different, too, so it's a little bit harder.
Q: Do you think Mariota is making that adjustment?
BB:The offense he's running is definitely not the offense he ran in college, so there's no question about that. But yeah, I think he's done a good job. He's hitting a lot of passes, hasn't turned the ball over a lot, has had his share of touchdown passes, makes his share of big plays, reads coverages. I think you see him throwing the ball to the right spot. I don't know exactly what he's being told to do but generally speaking it looks like he's throwing the ball to the right spot, throwing it where he should be throwing it. I think he's coming along well. I'm sure they have a lot of confidence in him and he's shown toughness coming back from an injury and taking some hits and all like every quarterback does. He's done a good job for them.
Q: I got a two-parter here for you on the running backs. Brandon Bolden's career high for carries is 16 in this past game and against Buffalo. Do you view him as a guy that can carry the ball 20-plus times in a game?
BB:He definitely did that in college. I'd say he's done that. Look, he's been a four-down player for us, so he's played the role of a big back, he's played the role of a sub back and he's played well for us in the kicking game on fourth down. I mean I think it would be hard to increase each role. It's possible, but I think it would be hard realistically to do that, but maybe that needs to be done. I don't know, we'll see. Or maybe you just increase one or decrease another. I think we're going to have to figure that out. It might vary from game to game, not sure if it will be the same every week, which it's hard to find anybody's role on our team that's the same every week. Is there another part to that or was that both parts?
Q: I have another one, but I didn't think you'd like it so I didn't want to end with it.
BB:You want to end on a high note? No problem, I'll go out on a high note then.
Q: There is a report out that Steven Jackson…
BB:Let's just end on a high note.
BILL BELICHICK CONFERENCE CALL WITH TENNESSEE MEDIA
Q: What are your impressions of Jurrell Casey thus far?
BB:He's chased down a lot of people, screen passes, really plays with good leverage, active player. I'm really impressed with him. I mean the whole front is good, the linebackers, the outside linebackers, the front three. They roll those guys through there. He's really impressive. I think his quickness, his power, his effort, he's a good technique player, does a good job in the running game, hard guy to move, plays with good pad level and leverage, really does a good job. I like him, really like him.
Q: What have been your impressions of Marcus Mariota's accuracy thus far?
BB:Yeah, I think he's done a good job. He brings definitely a dimension to the offense in terms of his athleticism. His ability to run and move the pocket and that opens up some other things. Just in terms of the passing game – he's got excellent delivery, quick release, throws a good tight ball on the money. He's done a good job for them.
Q: How tough is it for a team to rely on so many rookies to start and what is the most amount of rookies you've ever had to rely on to start a game on one side of the ball?
BB:I'm not sure about [that], I couldn't give you that. I know we've played three, the center and both guards a lot this year on the first probably 10 games of the season. Those three guys saw a lot of playing time in there together right next to each other. Look, at this time of year after 13 games, plus preseason games, plus training camp, I don't think rookies are really rookies anymore. They've had enough experience to where it's over a full college season for them, well over it. We tell our rookies, "You've got to start playing like veterans. You're not rookies anymore." When does a rookie stop being a rookie, 13 games? Obviously, experience is a great thing but so is youth and once you get past that certain point of knowing how to play, knowing how to prepare, having enough experience in your system with your teammates then you start to turn the corner. I'd say that the young guys on the Titans have done a good job of that. They've gotten a lot of good play out of a number of their young players. Start with [Marcus] Mariota, but [Jalston] Fowler, you can go right down the line.
Q: How much did Rob Gronkowski's return mean to you guys last week?
BB:We've pretty much had him all year. He missed one game in Philadelphia. Look, it's always good to have your players out there. That's never a bad thing.
Q: If he were to receive another opportunity as a head coach, do you envision Josh McDaniel's following a path similar to yours?
BB:I have no idea. Really, I have no idea. We're just focused on getting ready for Tennessee right now. It's a team we don't know very well. They have a great coaching staff. Coach [Mike] Mularkey, we know him well and he does a good job. Dick LeBeau – there's no coach in the league I have more respect for than Dick LeBeau and what he's done in his career and what he's done with the Titans, and how well they play, and how well coached they are. There's a lot of players down there, a lot of good players in Tennessee, explosive players in the passing game, in the running game, defensively, good specialists, so really our focus is getting ready to play and prepare for the Titans and like I said it's a team the last time we played them there's been a lot of changes since then. We don't really know this team very well. We've got a lot of work to do so that's really what it's about for us.
Q: How has Delanie Walker looked on tape this season?
BB:Great, he looks great. He does everything well. He makes plays on early downs, play-action, in the drop-back game, makes a lot of big plays on third down and in the read area. He's a really tough matchup. His size, he's a really good technique route runner, does a good job of setting up his routes, making the defender hesitate as to which way he's going to go. He does a great job, tough matchup. We're going to really have to do a good job with him but again, in their system and the way they use him it's hard because he's all over the place. It's hard to find him. It's really hard for any one guy to cover him. The small guys are too small and the big guys, the linebackers, it's hard for them to match up with his quickness and athleticism. No matter who you put on him it's a tough match plus you've got to find him because like I said he could be in the backfield although he usually isn't but he has been back there, on or off the line of scrimmage, split out in the slot, split out all the way on the perimeter on the outside. Like the first play of the Carolina game, that first third down where he caught that slant for about 20 yards. Finding him and matching up with him, those are all issues. He's a really good player.
Q: Do you see any progress being made on your request to make all plays reviewable and has the league's response to that question been satisfactory to you?
BB:Again, we're trying to get ready for Tennessee and all that other stuff can be dealt with at some other point. It is what it is. We're all playing under the same rules at this point. We've just got to try to find a way to compete against Tennessee and like I said they are a great coaching staff and their players, how explosive they are, we just can't give them a lot of opening or they'll kill you offensively or strip sack or negative plays on defense, the kicking game. All the rest of that, honestly I don't really care about right now.
Q: What kind of challenge will it be to replace LeGarrette Blount?
BB:LeGarrette's done a good job for us. It was good to get him back last year and he did a really solid job for us this year. He's not able to play, then somebody else will have to step in there. It won't be him but we'll have to take some of the things that he does and spread them around, find other guys to do them. We'll just have to see how it goes, I don't know.
Q: What did you think of your team's strong defensive performance last week?
BB:Well I think the key is last week our third-down defense and red-area defense, again that doesn't really mean anything now. We're playing against a different team with a different style of play and different level of skill players, starting with the quarterback and tight end. Tennessee's got a lot of weapons. They've got a lot of big play players on both sides of the ball, a lot of experienced guys, too. It's not all rookies. They've got a lot of guys, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that have played a lot of football that really know what they're doing. Last week's last week. We're on to Tennessee.