The Patriots are putting the final wraps on their preparation for Sunday's opener against Houston, and Bill Belichick conducted his last press conference ahead of the Texans arrival on Friday. Belichick touched on a variety of topics, specifically the team's two newest captains – Patrick Chung and James White.
Belichick had lofty praise for both in terms of leadership before venturing off into some of Chung's other attributes. The coach mentioned Chung often jumps in on the scout team during practice and cited the safety's excellent condition as being a factor in his strong play.
"Pat's kind of down the middle, he's not the most outspoken but he's certainly not quiet," Belichick said of Chung's leadership style. "He's a tough football player, very competitive. He's out there on everything – defense, special teams, runs a lot of scout team plays for us on offense. Kind of like Rodney [Harrison] used to do. He just loves to be out there competing. He's in great condition. He can go hard all day. He does a lot for our team.
"He jumps in there and guys that come to mind like that are Harrison, [Mike] Vrabel. They're just kind of out there on every play even when it's not their period. Guys that just loved to play."
Belichick was asked about White's development from a seldom-used rookie to captain in a span of five seasons and the coach offered some reasons for the transition.
"It was a big jump for him. Obviously he had a good player (Shane Vereen) playing ahead of him during his rookie season, I think he only played two games," Belichick said. "As we've seen from a lot of players there was great development between Year 1 and Year 2. He's done a great job for us both on and off the field. He's one of our most dependable players and everybody has a lot of confidence in him because he's earned it by doing it on a consistent basis."
The coach was then asked if it was rare to see the incremental jumps even later, as has been the case with White.
"It depends on what the player is asked to do," Belichick added. "James carried the ball a lot at Wisconsin. His development in the passing game has grown as he's had more experience and more opportunities. I think when you look at it in that context that's the explanation. Not that he couldn't do it; it's just that he's had more opportunities to do it."
Belichick also touched on a number of elements including the leadership of the safeties, the decision to place Duke Dawson on injured reserve (he called it a fair characterization when asked if the team simply ran out of time), Bill O'Brien and Deshaun Watson.
Here are some of the highlights from Friday's press conference.
'He's an outstanding coach' – Texans coach Bill O'Brien spent some time in Foxborough as the Patriots offensive coordinator before leaving to rebuild the disgraced program at Penn State in 2011. He then went to Houston where he has enjoyed some success with the Texans as well.
Belichick certainly understands the value a coach can bring and recognizes O'Brien's ability.
"I have plenty of respect for Bill. He's been a great coach and he did a great job for me," Belichick said. "He's done a great job at the other two programs that he's been with – Penn State and with the Texans – so he's been consistent with winning teams that are always well prepared. I think he's an outstanding coach."
Planet players – Bill Parcells used to have a phrase when describing players with unique size and skill sets – planet players. Based on the way Belichick talked about Deshaun Watson, it wouldn't be surprising if he felt that way about the Texans quarterback.
Belichick was asked about the challenges in preparing to face Watson, particularly for the scout team tasked with simulating his game.
"It's hard. There aren't many guys like that in the league," Belichick said. "Same thing with Can Newton. Guys that are big and fast and can throw the ball all over the field. There are only a couple of guys like that in the league. To have them on your team would be unusual.
"You just do the best you can on that and try to give the defense the best look you can at what they do. Sometimes that might be putting a receiver at quarterback or using an offensive lineman at running back if you're going against a big back to simulate that type of an athlete carrying the ball. You put guys with unique skills that you can't replicate and try to do the best you can. Maybe it's two or three guys."
Strong room – Belichick was asked about the leadership of his newest captains and while talking about the strong attributes of both White and Chung, he also indicated the safety position in general was quite impressive in that regard.
"We have a lot of good leaders on our team," he said. "I think it's a very deep group. I think the leadership extends far beyond the guys who were elected. We have a very strong group at safety with Duron [Harmon], who's been a captain, Nate Ebner, Chung, [Devin] McCourty … that's about as a strong a room as you could have."