The Patriots have one preseason game in the books but still plenty of work left to do. Bill Belichick was not overly pleased with his team’s performance, particularly in the first half when he claimed the Patriots put forth “about 38 seconds of good football” during his brief halftime interview.
A strong second half showing that featured some solid work in the running game did catch his attention, however. Much of that production, which included 101 rushing yards after the break, was made possible by a group of backup offensive linemen that dominated.
One thing that made the effort noteworthy was the uncommon amount of experience the guys opening the holes possessed coming into the game. Rather than a bunch of undrafted rookies and first-year players, the Patriots used a combination of Luke Bowanko (fifth year), Ulrick John (sixth year) and Matt Tobin (fifth year) to go with James Ferentz (third year) and Cole Croston (second year). Only Croston is without an NFL start on his resume.
That allowed the Patriots offense to dominate the final 30 minutes playing against a host of inexperienced players.
I would agree with that,” Belichick said on his Friday conference call when asked about the experienced nature of the backups.
“We have some – not necessarily experienced on our team but experienced in the league -- players that have been very competitive for positions on our team. We only carried eight offensive linemen last year so there’s definitely some opportunities at that position. There’s plenty of competition both inside and outside and we tried to give everybody a good look last night as we have through camp. We’ll just continue to let that play out and see how it goes.”
That added experienced led a 140 rushing yards for the game including 51 from Jeremy Hill, who took advantage of his first chance to separate himself from the pack of running backs in an effort to earn a roster spot. Belichick explained how it’s important for everyone to just that moving forward.
“Every day and every play is an opportunity,” he said. “We encourage every player to take advantage of the opportunities they get. If they’re able to improve and work on their techniques it all matters. We watch everything. We see all practices, all games, offense, defense. We try to instruct the plyers on how to improve.”
The coach did not view everything in such a positive light, however. He touched on some things that will need to improve during his conference call, most notably the passing game.
No fly zone – Brian Hoyer got the start and played well into the fourth quarter. But the veteran backup never really got things going through the air, finishing with just 144 passing yards despite completing 16 of 23 passes.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have much production in our passing game last night so hopefully we can improve on that going forward,” Belichick said when asked about the competition at receiver. “Those guys are working hard and are improving but we need to be better in the passing game overall. Not just them but the entire group. The overall execution of the passing game wasn’t very good.”
High class problems – The Patriots have played more than a season’s worth of postseason games over the years, including appearance in the Super Bowl in three of the last four years. That extra work can take its toll on a team, and given the low-key nature of training camp to this point it’s only natural to wonder if the long seasons have affected the approach the following summer.
Belichick did not dismiss the idea.
“Playing late into the season is definitely what we want to do but it does affect the following season,” he admitted. “We try to take everything into consideration. What our opportunities are, where we are as a football team collectively and individually with certain players who might need a modification of their workload and try to do the best we can with that time. We have a general plan but we discuss it each day and sometime modify it. We usually try to stick pretty close to what we planned but there are times when we can’t quite stay on schedule for one reason or another. There are a lot of factors involved but that’s definitely one that comes into play.”
Dealing with Brady – The question of workload during training camp clearly had Tom Brady in mind. The 41-year-old quarterback hasn’t done much throwing over the past week and the Boston Globe reported that he is dealing with a minor back ailment that was the reason he didn’t play against Washington.
Belichick said he didn’t have an update on Brady’s condition, and when asked if the camp schedule had been modified for him individually he spoke only in generalities.
“Each player, and there could be a number of factors involved in the decisions, but we have a number of players that are in various … their workloads are affected by other factors. We take that into consideration with every player we put on the field. Some guys need modification for one reason or another. Depending on what we’re working on that particular day could impact that. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s how you have to manage your team, you have to manage your players and you have to manage your positions. You have to find some way to balance that out. That’s all part of training camp. It’s like that for everybody.”