With the regular season underway, Tuesdays brings the return of weekly conference calls with Bill Belichick and his coordinators.
But there is also a bit of a wrinkle for 2018 in the form of Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge joining offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the conference call line, at least in terms of this week.
In recent years McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia handled the weekly conference calls, but New England does not have a defensive coordinator in a titular sense this season.
So, after Belichick and McDaniels handled questions from the media, Judge took his shot. And, the fourth-year special teams coach and seventh-year Patriots assistant may have delivered some of the best quotes of the afternoon.
As the discussion turned to punt returns – an area of note given that Riley McCarron was released after muffing an attempt late in the opener, leaving few obvious options to turn to – Judge offered up some unique perspective.
He revealed that when he’s getting to know young players and draft prospects he asks them if they grew up playing baseball, because of some of the skill carryover from tracking a fly ball to tracking a punt. He went on to describe in some detail the dramatic difference between catching a punt and a kickoff.
Judge also had strong words when discussing punter Ryan Allen’s development on situational kicks in New England, including Sunday’s impressive fourth-quarter punt downed inside the 1-yard line.
“You are never going to lead the league in New England in any statistical category as a punter,” Judge said. “A lot of reasons, because of the weather, the wind, but mostly because a lot of the situations. When you play with a good offense a lot of times you’re punting on shorter fields. And it’s your job to operate within those situations as best you can. If are on a team that doesn’t have a good offense you are banging away from the minus-20-yard line a lot and you can create big numbers.”
Beyond Judge’s interesting discussion of the punt and punt return game, here are three other notable takeaways from Tuesday’s conference calls.
Hill’s injury “disappointing: Jeremy Hill’s potential for a career rebirth in New England was derailed this weekend when he suffered a reported torn ACL in the win over the Texans. Hill was placed on injured reserve on Monday afternoon, leaving Belichick to express nothing but disappointment given the potential the newcomer he brought to the backfield.
“It's disappointing for him and for our team,” Belichick said. “Jeremy worked hard. He embraced his roles offensively and in the kicking game. He really showed a lot of improvement over the course of the spring and into training camp and opening day. He gave us a couple of big runs there before the half last week to get us started on a two-minute drive, so we're obviously disappointed for him. But he's a tough kid, I know he'll work hard and I'm sure he'll be back. In the meantime, we won't have him.”
No word on reported WR signings: According to NFL Network and ESPN, the Patriots have signed veteran wide receivers Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler. The duo would seemingly replace McCarron and Chad Hansen on the tenuous Patriots receive depth chart after the duo was released on Monday. With the team not yet announcing the signings via press release, Belichick would not discuss the possibility on his conference call.
“We don't have any announcements at this time,” Belichick said midafternoon. “If we have any announcements to make, the only time we'll do that is when everything is finalized and everything's signed and so forth. Physicals are passed and whatever needs to be done is actually completed. That's when we would make any type of announcement, so anything prior to that is preliminary or conditional. Again, once that happens, we'll do it, but until it happens we won’t have any comment on it.”
No surprise Develin came through: Patriots Pro Bowl fullback James Develin’s job usually entails lead blocks and plays in the kicking game. In Sunday’s win over the Texans the veteran chipped in with four receptions for 22 yards. That included a 10-yard grab on second-and-8 with two minutes to play that essentially closed the door on visitors to secure the victory.
Though it was a bit of a new role for Develin, one maybe as a result of some limitations for the New England offense right now in at the receiver and running back positions, McDaniels was not surprised to see his fullback do his job.
“James is very dependable in his role. He’s an incredible teammate. He’s one of the hardest workers we have every single year,” McDaniels raved. “Extremely unselfish. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he came through for us in those situations. Whatever we ask James to do he’s more than ready and willing to do it. He works really hard to know his role in the game plan each week whether that’s on offense or in the kicking game. He’s a guy that you really enjoy seeing when you walk into the meeting room every day because you know he’s prepared, you know he’s ready for the challenge ahead and I’m sure he’s excited to compete against Jacksonville on Sunday.”
Speaking of the Jags, a team the Patriots faced in last January’s AFC title game, McDaniels called this Sunday’s foe “one of if not the best defense” in the league.