Fridays are for football in Foxborough, and oftentimes that means old school football. With that in mind, what could better represent old school football than the fullback?
There was plenty of fullback talk during Bill Belichick's Friday press conference, and the Patriots have one of the better ones in the league in pro Bowler James Develin. He carved out plenty of space for Cordarrelle Patterson last Sunday night against Green Bay, allowing the return specialist to finish with 61 yards on 11 carries.
Only about half of the league's 32 teams even carry a fullback on their roster in this day and age of high-powered passing attacks, and Belichick was asked what having one provides the Patriots.
"I think it's just a fundamental, schematic thing," Belichick said. "If you want that aspect of it, of putting a guy really that can go either way in a formation then that's good. If you don't then that's fine, too. There's other ways to do it. It creates different blocking angles. It creates a different balance in your offense. There's a lot of other ways to do it, too. It's hard to have everything."
Belichick then shifted into his Friday mode when he often veers toward history as he looked back at the position's shift from a ball carrier to closer to what we see in today's game.
"I'd say in the '70s with college football really, I-formation. [John] McKay and people like that and then certainly by the '80s you had one runner, so the one-back teams with Coach [Joe] Gibbs and [Don] Coryell and people like that, Mike Martz and so forth," Belichick began. "Those guys all went to one-runner and the blocker was the blocker, so that became instead of the fullback, sometimes the tight end. It was really in the '60s with the Jim Browns and Jim Taylor and really all of them.
"I'd say it kind of transitioned from there, and then when guys like [O.J.] Simpson came into the league, the guys they put in front of them – with Simpson they put two guards in front of him. [Paul] Seymour was the tight end, [Jim] Braxton was the fullback and they were both offensive lineman, basically, and so you knew who was getting the ball rather than having another ball carrier back there.
"They just had another, I would say, basically, an offensive lineman. But whether he carries the ball or doesn't carry the ball, the blocking angles from the backfield are different than they are from the line of scrimmage, and the ability to build a four-man surface or a three-man surface after the snap is different than being in a four-man surface and then trying to get to a three-man surface or being in a three-man surface and trying to get to a four-man surface by running the guy all the way across the ball. There's different blocking angles. It's just a fundamental difference."
Belichick also took some time to discuss the task at hand, specifically the challenges of going to Nashville to take on the league's top scoring defense.
Seeing red – The coach was asked what he's seen from the Titans defense that has allowed the unit to be so successful in the red zone. As is typically the case, Belichick wouldn't limit his praise to any one thing.
"They're good everywhere," he said. "They're good in the red area, they're good on third down, they don't give up big plays, they don't give up points. They're very good fundamentally, as Mike [Vrabel] was as a player and Dean [Pees] I know is a strong fundamental coach.
"Mike's a strong fundamental coach, so they have good run force, they have good tackling. Their corners tackle well. Malcolm [Butler], Logan [Ryan], [Adoree'] Jackson – those guys all tackle as good if not better than most corners in the league as a group. They limit the yards after catch. They're just sound and disciplined and consistent. They mix it up. They don't have a crazy spin-the-wheel defense but they do enough things to keep you off-balance between single-high safety, split safeties, man, zone, pressure.
"You've just got to string good plays together consistently, block the front, which is a problem, and it's hard to do it over any kind of extended period of time and it's hard to get them for big plays where you only have to do it once because there's not many of those. That's why they don't give up many points. But yeah, they're good in the run area. It's hard to run the ball in when they mix their coverages down there. Again, they make you earn every yard. They don't get many penalties so you don't get a lot of second chances on cheap 5-yard illegal contact penalties and stuff like that to give you cheap first downs. You've got to go out there and earn it against them. They're pretty stingy."
New-look safety – Switching to his own team, Belichick also was asked about one of his newest players – safety Obi Melifinwu. With uncommon size (6-4, 207), Melifonwu might have the ability to play some different spots within the Patriots scheme, but Belichick wasn't ready to make any such declarations.
"Yeah, we'll see. That's a good question. We'll see," he said. "We've really only had him for a couple of days so we'll see how it goes. He has good size. He's smart. He learns quickly. He's athletic. We'll see what he can do. I don't know; possibly."