Even with the Patriots issuing a rare injury-related statement Thursday night regarding the injuries of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowksi it was clear that Bill Belichick's Friday morning press conference was going to be heavily filled with questions about the situation.
As such, the New England head coach addressed Gronkowski's status in his opening comments before turning to what would be the normal business of any other Friday, finalizing preparations for Sunday's game against L.A. at Gillette Stadium.
"I know everybody has the information about Rob," Belichick said, alluding to the 225-word statement from the night before. "Obviously, we're all disappointed. Nobody's worked harder than Rob and has been a better teammate and all that, so hopefully things will work out as positively as possible with him. All the information we gave you is really all we have for now. I'm sure there will be more coming in as we go through the next few days, so we'll just take it as it comes. It's an unfortunate situation for him. That being said, we're turning our attention to the Rams."
Though Belichick tried to guide the questions to the Rams, the early part of the press conference included a back-and-forth about Gronkowski, the statement and how the team will move on without its most productive, dynamic pass-catching weapon.
Later, the focus turned to the talents of a numbers of Rams' players the team will face on Sunday as well as an interesting question on Logan Ryan's role and positioning recent weeks on the New England defense.
Here are a few of the highlights form Belichick's morning press conference as the coach, his team, the media and all involved continue to process the Gronkowksi back injury and subsequent surgery.
1. Why the statement?: Belichick and the Patriots are generally tight-lipped and a vacuum of information regarding injuries. For the second straight year, though, that's not the case with Gronkowski. The team and the player's family issued a similar joint statement regarding the tight end's knee injury last fall as well.
It's not surprising that Belichick was asked what goes into the decision to issue such a joint statement with the Gronkowski family.
"I would say this was a situation that the team and the player felt like was the best thing to do," Belichick said.
Asked about being happy to have Martellus Bennett as a sort of fallback plan, Belichick said he was "happy to have all the players we have" and that he appreciates "all our players."
And as to whether Gronkowski would be placed on injured reserve, Belichick said, "I don't know.
"I mean, there is obviously more information coming, so right now, we have what we have. When more information comes then there may be another decision to be made. I don't know."
2. "It's been a good progression" with Malcolm Mitchell: Though he's not a tight end, rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell is one of many Patriots players who might be asked to contribute more in the wake the Gronkowski injury. The fourth-round pick has notched three touchdowns in the last two weeks with Gronkowksi basically out of the lineup. He seems to be building a nice rapport with Tom Brady and, according to Belichick, his growth as a player has indeed made significant strides since he's gotten healthy during the regular season.
"Well, Malcolm's year has been not a straight line. I think the spring was good. The early part of training camp built off of the spring was very good. Then he got injured," Belichick said of an ugly preseason elbow injury. "Then he missed, whatever it was, three or four weeks in there and there was kind of a rebuilding process of him getting back timing, confidence. In the meantime, the offense had accelerated quite a bit from where we were in the spring and where we were in the first let's call it two weeks of training camp to where we were by the second, third, fourth regular season game. So there was some catching up to do, timing, confidence, strength, so forth. And then it's been a good progression I'd say from somewhere there, like around the third, fourth week of the season, somewhere in there. He came back earlier than that but I think again there was kind of a catch up period that took place to a degree."
3. Ryan role-ing along: Logan Ryan has been primarily a starter at right cornerback for the last two seasons. But his role has evolved a bit in recent weeks. He saw just reserve action for games against Cincy and Pittsburgh as newcomer Eric Rowe ascended to the starting lineup. Ryan has also seen increased reps inside on the slot even while once again serving as a starter the last few games. Belichick said the veteran, who's heading toward free agency this offseason, has handled the varied duties without incident.
"I think Logan's really helped us playing in there," Belichick said of the slot work. "We were kind of in a little bit of a transition earlier in the year with the secondary and Logan in particular, outside, inside. I think the last couple of weeks he's really given us a good level of communication, of run force. He's made several tackles in the running game, plays off of the edge, but again the overall communication and consistency in there has been good. We'll try to build on that.
"I think he's really done a good job in there of playing not only the slot position but again the communication, the decision making, some of the adjustments that come from that inside spot that have to relate to linebackers, sometimes the end, certainly the safeties that there are a lot of moving parts in there that a good experienced player at that position – it doesn't show up on the stat sheet. It doesn't show up necessarily on film but in terms of the overall operation, the overall communication and smoothness of the defensive play and help everybody else play better. It's definitely there and he's done a good job of that."
Ryan's altered role led to a question about the coach talking to players about such changes and potentially decreased playing time. The answer got to what Belichick believes is the heart of team sports.
"We always talk about that. It's not an easy conversation because everybody wants to play more but at the same time everybody wants to have a good team and everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to do their role," Belichick said. "We all want it to be bigger but sometimes we have to understand the bigger team picture, which I think our players do. Again, that's not always. But you give that up when you play football. You give up some of your individuality. You give up some of your individual preferences or individual control you have to play the great team sport of football. If you want to go out there and run track, or swim, or throw the shotput, or play tennis or whatever it is; great. There's nothing wrong with that and you control everything. You control how you practice. You control when you practice. You control how hard you hit the ball or how soft you hit it or whatever. Play golf. Then you're your own team but when you buy into a team sport, not just defensively but offensively and in the kicking game, practice for the show-team, practice for the other side of the ball, so forth and so on, then you make a commitment to the team. And that's different than playing individual sports. All players, that's something that all players have to deal with but that's part of playing football. But to your point of Logan, he does a great job of that. But yeah, do all players want to play more? Do all players want more opportunities? Of course they do. But we have to try to set up a system and a structure that we feel like gives our team the best chance to win and I think everybody respects that."