The Patriots dropped their game of the preseason Friday night in a 25-14 loss to the Panthers in Carolina. Bill Belichick conducted a conference call on Saturday afternoon and discussed some of the developments that took place, specifically Jason McCourty's use at safety, Phillip Dorsett's improvement and Cordarrelle Patterson's willingness to try new things.
Here are some the highlights from Saturday's conference call.
Twin safeties? – Devin McCourty made the transition from cornerback to safety very early in his career, earning Pro Bowl distinctions at both positions. Now it looks like Belichick may have a change in mind for twin brother Jason.
At this stage in his career, Jason McCourty's switch is more about creating levels of depth for the team and adding some versatility to the player's resume. Belichick discussed the importance to trying such moves during the preseason.
"Jason is a very experienced player and he understands football concepts and a lot of spacing in pass defense, run force concepts and the responsibilities that go with that," Belichick said. "He's taken more reps at safety and those were good steps for him. He had some positive plays, couple good tackles, one on the goal lune. There are some things he'll learn from and he'll see on film and he'll correct and he can build on those. We'll see how that process unfolds going forward.
"A lot of playing players in different positions in preseason relates to building depth on our roster. Sometime players have to be ready to back up at that position or play at that position. I think it was a good experience and hopefully whether he does or doesn't play safety down the road it might have given him have a better understanding going forward."
Belichick explained how the team can't wait until a replacement is needed to try to see if a player is capable making such a switch. That's why preseason games are filled with experiments like Jason McCourty playing safety.
It's all in the timing – Phillip Dorsett was one of the few bright spots on offense against the Panthers, catching all four passes thrown his way for 36 yards. Three of those catches resulted in first downs, one of which converted a fourth-and-three in the second quarter.
Belichick was asked about Dorsett's improvement and if perhaps his timing with Tom Brady had improved.
"The timing in passing game between the quarterback and all the receivers is critical," he said. "A split second can make the difference between a completion and a big play and a bad one. Phil has had a strong offseason program, spring, OTAs, training camo and there's been a big difference from last season when he wasn't even on our team at this time last year. He works hard, he's a smart guy, plays multiple positions and he's been out there every day working."
Patterson returning punts – Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most prolific kickoff returners in NFL history but he's only returned one punt in his career. That didn't stop Belichick from sending him deep to return the Panthers only punt of the first half Friday night. Unfortunately the punt was short and field by Riley McCarron, depriving Patterson of an opportunity.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Belichick said of Patterson's punt return attempt. "We've had him in a lot of different roles and he's been great. He tries to understand what we want him to do and does his best to do it the way we want him to do them. Most things he's had some exposure to but if it's something new to him he's very eager to learn it and do his best at it. It's great to work with players like that."
Tackling the depth problem – With rookie Isaiah Wynn headed to IR and right tackle Marcus Cannon on the shelf for almost a month at this point, Belichick has been forced to find layers of depth at tackle. That led to some reps for veteran Ulrick John against the Panthers when LaAdrian Waddle was sent to the bench for a couple of players by Belichick after he committed a personal foul in the second quarter.
"Ulrick has some experience at tackle in the league with other teams," Belichick said. "He's come in here and done a real good job of adapting to our system. We've played him at both tackle spots and a little inside. He's had experience in the league but hasn't had a lot of playing time experience.
"We've been a little challenged depth-wise at tackle and that's been a benefit for Ulrick and Matt Tobin and they've taken advantage of those opportunities. Last night was another pretty good night for us in pass protection. Overall pass protection has been pretty good through three preseason games. They've all held up pretty well."