The Patriots have picked up a few players this month who've been released from injured reserve lists from other clubs. Today, Bill Belichick gave some interesting insight into the process of letting a player go in that manner.
That's truly for hardcore fans of the minutiae of NFL transactions. This morning at his weekly press briefing, Belichick had some other thoughts to share about his newest players and one position that is really thin at this point:
1) Running back needs
According to media reports, the Patriots brought veteran ball carrier Steven Jackson to town this week for a workout, just days after LeGarrette Blount was lost for the rest of the season with a left hip injury. This was the final question of Belichick's Q&A Friday, and he didn't appear pleased that it came up.
"I'm not going to talk about players who aren't on our team," he insisted. "There are a thousand players that aren't on this team. Just a lot of guys in here working hard, getting ready for this game. Those are the guys I care about and are focused on. I'm not going to talk about guys that are somewhere else. That'd be pretty disrespectful to the guys on our team."
As of Friday morning, just two running backs – James White and Brandon Bolden – are on the active roster, with newcomer Montee Ball on the practice squad and potentially available to be promoted on Sunday. Belichick was earlier asked if he's ever gone into a game with just two backs.
"I think we've done it a couple of times, but it's certainly not ideal," he responded. "Could we do it? Given our offense, we have versatility. We played the majority of the game last week with two."
In addition to Ball, New England is breaking in three other new players, all of whom are currently on the 53-man roster. Defensive tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen had been out of football being released by Detroit in October, while wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle are coming off injuries. All three practiced this week and could contribute to the playoff-bound Patriots sooner or later. Belichick was just thrilled that he was able to acquire such talent so late in the season.
"[Hankerson]'s been a good player [with Washington and Atlanta]. And he was available. It's not that frequent that you see players like that available this time of year.
"[Kitchen]'s a young player, but still pretty experienced player… Strong run player. Big, stout guy. Moves fairly well… [We're] kind of a little bit light at defensive tackle, depth-wise, and, again, he has some experience, which I think at this time of year it's hard to find players who fit in that category – which Hankerson does, which Waddle does. We're kind of fortunate there.
"Waddle's another young player, third year, started at tackle for the Lions… feel like he's a very talented guy, solid guy. We'll see how it goes. This is an experienced tackle who's still young. I think he has a lot of good football in front of him."
3) Leonard Johnson's dividends
Last week, Leonard Johnson was in a similar situation as Hankerson et al, and he played immediately against the Texans, coming up with a few nice pass breakups at crucial times in that contest. Belichick said he came away impressed with the cornerback's ability to step in and step up so quickly.
"Solid guy. Works hard. Pretty smart, understands concepts. Communicates well. He's in the middle of the defense, so, he's kind of like a linebacker when he plays that nickel spot. He's got a corner outside him, a safety behind him, and a linebacker or somebody inside him. So, there's communication and fitting in the right place depending on what the run force is or what the coverage is. He does a good job of working with those guys, so they all have it defended properly.
"He has some experience playing in there. He just has to understand what we're doing and what our verbiage is and get on the same page with it, but he's got good playing strength, good quickness, instinctively has good awareness in the passing game."