The Patriots put the finishing touches on their preparations for Sunday’s matchup with the Minnesota Vikings in Foxborough and Bill Belichick met with the media for the final time of the week Friday morning.
The Vikings are led by head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Belichick expressed a tremendous amount of respect for each during his lengthy press conference.
The Patriots coach was asked about his respect for Zimmer and when he felt the Vikings boss established himself as one of the game’s better coaches.
“I heard a lot of great things about him when he went to Dallas. He went to Cincinnati and he did a great job there,” Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for Mike. I think he does a tremendous job. His teams are always fundamentally sound. He has great schemes, they always play good situational defense, they tackle well, defeat blocks, run force, red area, third down … you name it they’re always good at it.”
Belichick was then asked if he was surprised it took so long for Zimmer to earn his first head coaching job.
“I don’t hire coaches,” he said flatly. “I don’t know what they’re looking for.”
Belichick’s appreciation for the Vikings operation did not end there, and his words on Kirk Cousins were among the highlights of his Friday briefing.
Hard knock life – Cousins entered the league as a fourth-round pick in Washington, the same year the Redskins traded up in the first round to grab Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin. Cousins watched Griffin enjoy a terrific rookie season as he waited for his opportunity.
Eventually that came when Griffin suffered through injuries and before long Cousins took over as the starter in D.C. After three seasons in control, he joined Minnesota as a free agent during the offseason and Belichick mentioned the manner in which Cousins has persevered.
“He’s had a really productive year in all areas,” Belichick began. “High completion percentage, efficient, he gets the ball to all his receivers, his backs, tight ends. He’s been productive. He’s gotten the ball out and made quick decisions. The timing of the passing game helps there.
“This is going to be four highly productive years in a row – three in Washington and one in Minnesota – where he’s going to be near the top of the league in a lot of important categories so he’s been pretty consistent. He’s a smart guy and a tough kid. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s another guy who’s come up the hard way, earned his stripes. Nobody’s given him anything; he’s had to go out there and earn it and he has.”
Result-oriented business – Belichick has been a part of the NFL for 44 years and he has a tremendous amount of respect for the difficult nature of achieving any type of success. He was asked if he had a greater appreciation for the opportunities to compete in the biggest games given his lengthy tenure, and after joking about constantly being reminded how long he’s been around, Belichick offered some interesting insight.
“I’ve tried to appreciate every game I’ve coached in this league,” Belichick said. “Whether that was an assistant coach, head coach, first game of the year, last game of the year. It’s an honor to be in this league. It’s hard to be in this league, it’s hard to stay in this league.
“It’s a production league and if you’re not productive then somebody else will be doing your job. We all know that. I’m thankful for the opportunity we have this week, I’ll try to do the best I can and worry about next week, next week.”
Special role – The Patriots have made a habit out of finding players with various skill sets and figuring out ways to develop them for specific roles. There have been countless undrafted rookies who fall into that category, and one is Brandon King.
King came out of Auburn as a defensive back with some experience in the kicking game, but Belichick said it was the experience and work of special teams coaches Scott O’Brien and Joe Judge that allowed King to thrive. That tandem found King in 2015 and he’s been one of the Patriots special teams staples ever since.
“He played in the kicking game at Auburn,” Belichick began. “What guy has or hasn’t done somewhere else is not really as important as what he does here. As we evaluate them when they’re here they create more value for themselves and they work hard at it to get better. There’s no set formula.
“He’s a versatile player. He’s a tough matchup. He can handle speed, he can handle size. He can play inside, he play outside. Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punt and punt returns … he’s done all those things at times. He does what we need. He has a great attitude and works hard, he understands what he’s doing. Sometimes when he moves to a different spot he’s able to help the person who took his spot with what they’re doing because that’s where he played.