Bill Belichick often reminds his team to “ignore the noise” from the outside and avoid distractions.
So it was no surprise that the coach downplayed the arrival of longtime Steelers linebacker and former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison this week.
On Wednesday Belichick used a single word to describe Harrison’s career – “good.”
Friday, in his final press conference prior to Sunday’s season finale against the Jets, Belichick continued to deflect the would-be big story when asked about seeing Harrison in a Patriots uniform.
“This is the National Football League,” Belichick said, continuing only after the questioner pushed for further explanation. “I don’t see it as some big historical event.”
Belichick took the avoidance of would-be distractions or outside stories even further, though, when asked about the potential cold weather that’s expected Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. The current forecast is calling for frigid temperatures in Foxborough that could include wind chill/feels-like conditions below zero.
Even with his team having practiced in temperatures nearing single digits this week, Belichick sounds like he’s taking a dubious, wait-and-see approach for the game against the Jets.
“We'll see what we get. I’m not going to base too much off of what it is two days before the game,” Belichick said. “We've all been down that road before. The weather changes pretty quickly around here. Even what we forecast for the day of the game on the day of the game isn’t always what we get, so we'll see what we get and we'll deal with it.”
He was also asked about possible “special precautions” that his players might take on Sunday in regards to the cold, this after fullback James Develin practiced without sleeves all week.
“There’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our team, so we always take that into consideration. You can’t play football without football players,” Belichick said.
Belichick was also less than forthcoming when asked if the cold weather this week had him thinking about the coldest games he’s ever been a part of.
“There’s a few. We'll see how it goes here,” Belichick said to close his press conference.
Beyond giving the cold shoulder to cold weather talk, other highlights from Belichick’s Friday press conference included his comments on Malcolm Mitchell’s return to the practice field, a quick update on Harrison’s practice work and praise for Cameron Fleming.
1. “It’s been a long road” to Mitchell’s return to practice: Second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell missed the first 15 games of the season on injured reserve with a knee injury. Mitchell dealt with knee issues in training camp and has a history of knee problems back to his time at Georgia.
He got back on the practice field this week as New England used its second slot that gives the team opportunity to designate a player to return from IR. The team now has a 21-day window to decide whether to bring Mitchell back to the active roster or leave him on IR to close out the season.
In his first meeting with the media since Mitchell returned to the practice field on Dec. 27, Belichick was asked about the young receiver’s return to the mix.
“It’s been a long road. We'll see how it goes,” Belichick said. “It’s been a long time since he’s played football, but it’s good to see him back out there. We'll see how it progresses.”
Belichick admitted it’s difficult to assess where a player is upon his return from such an extended absence.
“I think it’s a little more of a question mark; just the amount of time. It’s been months, so that’s a lot of time to make up in one or two practices,” Belichick said.
*2. Harrison has “worked hard”: *Though he’s yet to speak with the New England media – he did do an interview with a Pittsburgh paper this week and post a statement regarding his departure from the Steelers via social media – Harrison has been on the practice field for three days and working behind the scenes to get up to speed in his new home. The veteran linebacker has said he is expecting to play in the season finale against the Jets on Sunday.
“He’s worked hard. Got a lot of information to process but he’s working at it. We'll keep stringing them together here and see how it goes,” Belichick said before Harrison’s third day of practice.
Belichick was also asked about Harrison’s size – he’s listed at 6-0, 242 – being less than the typical height of an NFL edge player.
“He’s been playing it for a long time. He’s been pretty successful doing it. He’s found things that work for him,” Belichick said.
3. Fleming has “consistently done a good job for us”: New England has had to use three different players at right tackle this season. Regular starter Marcus Cannon missed six games to an ankle injury before landing on IR. LaAdrian Waddle started four games before missing time to his own ankle injury. Now Fleming has started four straight games at right tackle and is playing maybe the best football of his four seasons in Foxborough. Belichick had nothing but praise for Fleming and his group of tackles as a whole.
“He's done a good job for us, yeah, as he always has,” Belichick said of Fleming’s preparedness. “He’s done a good job for us. He’s played left tackle. He’s played right tackle. He’s played some other positions – guard, tight end – stuff like that. But when he’s played tackle he’s consistently done a good job for us. That’s been all four years. More at right than left, but he’s played left, too. He played left against Arizona last year for Nate [Solder] and I thought he played well again against Buffalo last week. He’s a good run blocker. He’s a big guy. He’s strong. He’s hard to get around, but he definitely is that player that you might not play for a while, and then you put him in there and he plays pretty good. Yeah, we're fortunate we have him. Depth at tackle this year has been important. All four of those guys really have played. I mean, Marcus [Cannon] is obviously out now, but LA [LaAdrian Waddle], Cam, Nate, Marcus; they’ve all played good for us when they’ve played and we've needed them all.”