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Presser Points - Belichick: 'I feel like I can catch punts'

Bill Belichick talked about the complexities of returning punts during his Friday press conference.


Fridays can often be more lighthearted at Gillette Stadium, especially when it comes to Bill Belichick's press conference. While the mood remained very much business-like as the Patriots prepare to travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, there was a moment where some levity was on display.

Belichick was asked about the skill set require to return punts and how much experience plays a role in a player's development. As the coach explained a variety of factors that come into play, there was a moment when it appeared like he may have been nominating himself for the job on Sunday.

"It takes seeing a lot of punts, recognizing a lot of different things that happen and putting that together with whatever the conditions are - wind, sun, precipitation and so forth," Belichick said. "But the spin of the ball, the height of the ball, the tightness of how it travels, all those play into what is going to happen to it. How much it's going to drift, how straight it's going to go takes a lot of [experience]. 

"In the end you can learn how to catch punts - I feel like I can catch punts - because I can know where the ball is going to go. I might drop it but I can pick up the direction. I don't think you have to have had a lot of experience doing it. Once you understand where the ball is going to go it's a matter of concentration and being able to catch it. There are a lot of other things that go into it beyond just catching the ball. That's the easy part."

The natural follow-up question ensued: Are you telling us that you're returning punts this week?

"I don't know about that," Belichick said with a smile.

Have you ever caught a punt?

"In game? No. But on the practice field, hundreds of them. It's certainly a teachable skill" and with that the coach ended his potential stint as player-coach.

In all seriousness, Belichick does have three additional players at his disposal and one, Kenjon Barner, has plenty of experience handling the job. Roles for the three newcomers were among the highlights in Belichick Friday press conference.

New recruits - In addition to Barner, wide receivers Bennie Fowler and Corey Coleman were also signed earlier in the week. Barner and Fowler have combined for nine years of NFL experience while Coleman is in just his third season. Belichick was asked about how the process has gone for the three newcomers and he hinted that the experience could factor into any decisions to activate them on Sunday.

"Barner has a lot of experience," he said. "He's a smart kid and picks things up pretty quickly. Same with Fowler. Corey's been on three teams in a short amount of time with less experience. But Barner and Fowler have played a lot of football."

Barner could very well fill the role of punt returner that was discussed earlier, but it's also possible that he or the others could be involved offensively as well. Belichick was asked how realistic it would be for a team to include a small package of plays that could be learned in a small amount of time for newcomers to absorb. 

"Offensively you can do whatever you want, you have the ball," the coach said. "If you have the ball you can call whatever play you want to call. You want to hand it to a guy you give it to him. You run whatever route you want; it's totally your discretion offensively. You have to deal with some things defensively that can happen on that play but you have some control over that. 

"You can put a package together for anybody. The problem is how big is the package and how many variables do you put with it and how many variables are there on the other side of the ball that come with it."

Corey Grant Shuffle - The Jaguars are a run-dominant team and usually when their backs are discussed it's Leonard Fournette at the forefront. If Fournette isn't available, which could be the case this week as the second0-year bruiser is dealing with a sore hamstring, then T.J. Yeldon generally gets the attention.

But it's been Corey Grant doing most of the damage against the Patriots in the past, and Belichick was asked of he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. 

"He's not lost in our shuffle. He's good," Belichick began. "They use him in a lot of different ways. He's a very productive player in the kicking game and they use him in a lot of their gadget-type plays - reverses and fake punts and so forth. He's been very productive on those. 

"Offensively, he's fast, he's gotten out in space against us several times. He had a long run in [2017] preseason, he had at least three catches [for 59 yards] against us in the [AFC] Championship Game. So, he's tough, he runs hard, has good skills as a receiver and returner. He's a guy we need to make sure we do a good job on."

Rivers not through - Derek Rivers was a healthy scratch in the opener and that came as a minor surprise to folks who've watched him performed well during the summer. But don't think it means Belichick has lost any faith in the second-year defensive end. According to the coach, Rivers' time will come.

"Derek's been out there all year, all spring, all training camp," Belichick said. "He works hard, he's getting better every day and really pushed himself. He's made a lot of improvement. He's a good player, he's definitely going to help us."

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