When it comes to evaluating a football team, nothing says dominance like excellence in punting. At least that's was the case on a Wednesday morning when Bill Belichick is discussing the virtues of the Los Angeles Rams.
It's no secret that Belichick searches to find ways to accentuate the positives of every opponent, whether it was the talented Seattle Seahawks a few weeks back or this Sunday's foe – the 4-7 Rams.
Since the Rams are in the midst of another difficult season, it's not easy to point to elements of the team that deserve praise. One such area is punting, where Johnny Hekker is as good as they come. Belichick went so far as to call him as good of a weapons as he has ever seen at that position in his coaching career.
"They have a lot of very good players, a lot of explosive players in all three phases of the game," Belichick began. "Let's start with the kicking game. I mean Hekker is a tremendous weapon. This guy looks like as good a player as I've ever seen at that position. He's a tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directional kick it, involved in fakes, can throw, can run, very athletic. They have great coverage players on both punts and kickoffs."
Of course the same probably cannot be said of the majority of the rest of the roster, but that never stopped the Patriots coach from making sure his players had things to be concerned with.
Other items of note in the Wednesday press conference included:
Lighter in frame heavier in wallet – Marcus Cannon, fresh off a new five-year contract extension, was the topic of a few questions. Belichick was asked about the right tackle's development this year, which included the shedding of some weight for the sixth-year pro.
"Marcus is having a good season. He's been a good player for us. He's had to fill in when Sebastian [Vollmer] and Nate [Solder] [missed time] in previous years. We've felt like we have three good tackles and usually two of the three of them ended up playing, however it went. Marcus has always done a solid job for us whenever he's played. I'm glad we have him going forward. He works hard. A quiet kid but he's very dependable, team oriented. He's done a good job for us in the running game and the passing game. He's been a good player.
Asked if the lighter frame has helped him at all, the coach agreed.
"It's definitely helped. Yeah, no question. He's been a good player for us. I mean, everybody improves. Hopefully with experience and more time and so forth, but there really hasn't been a point where he's played tackle where he hasn't played pretty well."
Moving to corner – Eric Rowe played the majority of his college career at Utah as a safety, then was moved to corner after being selected in the second round by the Eagles in 2015. Now he's trying to solidify a role as one of the Patriots top three corners, working in his third defensive system in just two NFL seasons.
Belichick was asked about the move and Rowe's overall development.
"You're talking about a guy that's in his second year and now he's already in his second system, too. Actually third system, so what they did in Philadelphia last year with Chip [Kelly], what they did in Philadelphia this year with Jim Schwartz, and what he's doing now with us. I'd say all three of those are different schemes. I'm not sure exactly how the techniques were coached but I'm sure there were differences in the way the techniques were coached and adjustments and things like that.
"So I think there's still a lot of growth in him at the corner position just getting confident playing in a scheme, getting confident playing with your teammates, where your help is. When you're playing out there at corner it's important to understand where your help is, whether it's in man coverage or in zone coverage and what you have to take away, what somebody else can take away, what they can't take away. You can't cover everything out there so you have to take away something and you're a little light on something else, and if the quarterback makes a good throw and the receiver runs a great route then you're going to be a little light on that.
Understanding how all of that works, different situational things from second down, to third down, to two-minute, to red area to all of that. Even though it might be the same call, the technique and the finer points of playing the position in those different situations changes a little bit. I think all of that is a process that any player would go through but certainly when you're as reliant as you are at corner on other people on the field and the relationship and how close the help is and where you have it and where you don't and different receiver splits and so forth and so on."
What can Brown do –Finally, Belichick was asked about Malcom Brown and how he's fared in his second season. The coach often talks about players making their biggest improvements in their second season, and Belichick feels Brown is doing so.
"Yeah, definitely. I think he's made progress. He probably started at a little higher point than some guys do, therefore the growth is – I don't want to say limited – but there's just a little less space there than guys that start at a much lower point where there's a lot more space. But I think he's closing that space up. He's definitely improved this year in terms of his recognition, playing blockers, consistency."