Bill Belichick stepped to the podium Friday morning, asked those in attendance if they had enough to eat on their Thanksgiving holiday and then discussed a variety of topics – including the field surface inside Gillette Stadium of all things.
After opening with a question about PUP members Tre' Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer, the coach confirmed that neither would play for the Patriots in 2016 with their windows to do so having closed.
That wasn't the last injury-related question he fielded, however. Tom Brady missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but that didn't mean the coach was any more eager to discuss his situation than anyone else's.
"We'll list Tom on the injury report like we always do, like everybody else," Belichick said with a smile.
And with that, the press conference was off and running.
In a rush – Much has been made about the Patriots lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season and Belichick was asked to discuss the defensive line's role in the low sack total.
"I think you've got to look at the individual plays. If the quarterback just catches the ball and throws it, I mean, I don't care what you have you're not going to really get any pressure but you have to defend the play. The quarterback – the longer he holds the ball then the more pressure you would expect to get on the quarterback or you'd want to get on the quarterback. The more guys you rush, the more pressure you would expect to get on the quarterback.
"If you stop them on third down, if you stop them in the red area, if you stop them on first down and put them in second-and-long, those are good plays. I don't care if you have pressure or have coverage. Whatever it is, you're happy with those plays. If you don't, then find a way to do them better."
One follow-up on that topic dealt with Chris Long and his performance this season.
"Chris has given us a lot of snaps this year. He's given us a lot of good snaps. He plays hard, plays with good technique, is a smart, aware player. He's given us plays in the passing game. He's given us plays in the running game. Like every player, there are things he can work on. We can say that about all of us."
Double trouble – The return of Dion Lewis last week in San Francisco offered up some interesting possibilities of the Patriots offense. One came in the form of Lewis and James White sharing the backfield together with Tom Brady. As split backs flanking Brady in the shotgun on a few plays, the versatile backs presented an interesting challenge to the 49ers defense.
Belichick was asked about those challenges.
"It presents a couple of different options to a defense. If you have a tight end and a back in there then I think they're pretty sure the tight end isn't going to handle the ball in the running game. When you have two backs in there then that's a little bit of a different story. The tight end routes and the back routes are a little bit different, so tight ends have certain advantages, certainly in our case size, length.
"There's a little bit of diversity with a back relative to a tight end so certainly a tight end is a better on-the-line blocker. Both [are] skill players, both can do things. They're different. It's not a tight end and a back. It's now two backs and how do you treat them and so forth. It's another way to use those guys and put another log on the fire for the defense that they've got to make some kind of adjustment to."
Scratching the surface – Finally, Belichick was asked about the playing surface at Gillette Stadium and was informed that this marks the 10-year anniversary of the change from natural grass to FieldTurf, which came in the middle of the season. Belichick's answers seemed to point toward a possible return to grass at some point in the future.
"The technology's changed in the last 10 years relative to grass growing. Not that I'm a big expert on that but that's what's been represented to me and I think that's true. We've played on some great grass fields. Cleveland's field was great, outstanding. Green Bay a couple of years ago was good. Pittsburgh was good this year. I know the Ravens went to grass this year. We played in Philadelphia. That field is pretty good. I think there are more of those in this northern area and they all seem to be doing pretty well from our experience in the past two to three years on them.
"Going back to that time, it was tough. We had to re-sod the field a couple of times at the end of the year and in the playoffs, and then in the 2006 season during the season it just got bad. You can't grow it, so you either play on it or come in and re-sod it. I don't think either one was a great option then. But I think overall it was a great job to get the field in as quickly as we did and turn it around. But I think at that point we were looking at the prospect of playing however many more games on not really the surface that I would say playable, but played better."