Bill Belichick had a lot to say this Friday about his long-time assistant and coaching colleague Romeo Crennel, who'll be on the opposing sideline this weekend in Houston. But that wasn't the most newsworthy topic of discussion for the head coach today. Here's what stood out from his press briefing this morning:
Check out photos from access to players and coaches as the New England Patriots prepare to play the Houston Texans on Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
1) Gronk/Watt injuries
Texans DE J.J. Watt, perhaps the league's best defensive player, made a public spectacle of his broken left hand yesterday, conducting a press conference where he showed off his cast and vowed to play Sunday night against New England. One reporter asked Belichick how he approaches his own players about preparing for a key player on the other team who's injured.
"We have to get ready for everybody. I'm sure he'll compete hard," Belichick stated. "Look, I don't think anybody's 100 percent at this time of the year. They'll all be out there and they'll all be playing hard."
All of them? Does that include his star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, who missed last week's game against the Eagles due to a sprained and bone-bruised right knee? Gronkowski practiced yesterday (on a limited basis) for the first time since suffering his injury in Denver at the end of November. Belichick's response was predictable.
"You know," he said, "we'll list on the injury report whatever [Gronkowski's] situation is."
That report comes out late this afternoon and will include a game status prediction for every player listed on both teams.
2) Leonard Johnson signing
New England added some much-needed depth at its cornerback position this week with the signing of veteran Leonard Johnson. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer was on Tampa's injured reserve list as recently as last week, but was released from it after coming to a settlement with the Bucs. The Patriots then wasted little time in scooping him up, and Belichick explained why on Friday.
"Leonard's young, but he's played quite a bit of football. Started games. Playing inside, played outside. Has some versatility. We worked against him in our Tampa [2012 joint training camp] practices, played against him [in games against the Bucs]… It's not a position we have a ton of depth at. So, we'll see how it goes."
3) White's role
Last week, the Patriots claimed running back Trey Williams off waivers from Dallas, and Williams immediately declared that he was confident he'd "stick" here in New England after being dumped from both Dallas and before that Washington. Well, late Thursday, the Patriots cut him. Which means the role that Dion Lewis occupied for the first half of the season still belongs almost exclusively to James White. The so-called "third-down back" is much more than that, however.
"James has done a good job for us on all three downs," Belichick maintained. "He's a good pass protector, he's smart, good run skills, catches the ball well. He's played in and out of the backfield. Whatever we ask him to do, we'll expect him to do it well, like we always do."