Q: What challenges do the new rule changes present?
SO: I think it's going to adjust both sides. Obviously in coverage, the biggest adjustment for us is to get our timing to the kicker, to try to get the press zone --the zone that we get on top of the return team -- to get there as fast as we can and close on him. That's going to be a big adjustment, because normally when you get that running head start that we've had for years, that momentum that they've built up for 5 yards before they hit that 5-yard zone where we're standing now is completely different. These guys are in stride, they're almost full speed, so that's going to be our first adjustment. But along with that, the adjustment we are all going to have as coaches coaching this is the operation of when we have to be on the line and the way we understand it is that when the field judge gives our kicker the ball and he runs off the field, as soon as he gets to the sidelines, he's going to signal the referee and at that time the referee is going to blow the whistle. We have to be set and every one of the players except for our kicker has to be touching that line. As a matter of fact, we started that yesterday with the officials being here to just get a feel for it. I don't think anybody really wants to show anybody what they're doing right away, so it has to start that way. So that was a big adjustment. On the other side of it, in the return game, obviously it has changed our alignment rules and our positioning, but I think it opens it up for a lot of different situations that you maybe normally wouldn't get with the ball on the 30 [yard line] as opposed to the 35 [yard line]. The kind of alerts you would have with a 5-yard penalty, things like that, being off-sides on a [point after touchdown], now they are kicking off at the 35 [yard line] and now we're adjusting. It has always been like that but it opens up the strategies for different situations that you have to be able to defend because they are closer to you know. Kickers are pretty good at mortaring the ball, putting it up, hanging it up. You can still feel them, but this year they are going to be five yards closer. [The rule changes] are affecting both sides of the ball.
Q: What's the plan with Stephen Gostkowski? Is it to have him ready by the season opener and how are you monitoring him?
SO: We're just taking Stephen day- to- day. He's like everybody else. He's going out there; he's working on his technique. He's getting a feel for it, he's evaluating himself and we're evaluating him when he's out there. Like everybody else we're going day-to-day.
Q: Has he attempted a kickoff yet?
SO: Not with team. He has not. He has done it on his own. We'll progress into that when his schedule allows him to do it and we should be fine.
Q: What is the difference between him doing field goals and kickoffs? Is it more strenuous doing kickoffs?
SO: It's not so much that. [We're] starting him off with the field goals because we want to get him back in the timing, the operation of everything. When he goes to kickoff it's just him and the ball, and he's got his rhythm. He can do that on his own. The priority was to get him back and evaluate where he is at, but [also] to give him with the timing, [to] get him back with the [long] snapper, get him back with the holder and start with that.
Q: Rob Ninkovich has long snapped in the past so he can obviously do it. Is he at the point where he could take on with that role on a permanent basis?
SO: I think it's [too] early to tell. I think Rob does a great job for us. To me, he is worth his weight it gold. When you're putting a team together you are looking for positional players that can do other things for you. When it becomes a skill like snapping the ball, it's great. It has kind of worked out for him to snap this early this much, coming off of an injury.- So he's still working on his mechanics and techniques. [Long snapping] has really helped him but that evaluation would have to come down the road. Having him just on the team as a starter or as a backup is great.
Q: How are the new rules and having no rookie camp going to impact the use of rookies and even second year players early in the season on special teams?
SO: I think it will impact it just because of the learning curve for them. They are getting it all at one time, it's like [organized team activities] with pads on. We're going, it's like Full Metal Jacket, and they're trying to catch up like everybody else. When it's all said and done, the guys that can prove they can handle it through the preseason, if they are there for the regular season then you go with them. I think probably compared to last year, I would have a better fell for everybody; I think Bill [Belichick] and our whole staff would have a better feel for our players [if we had rookie camp], but we are catching up with them. Based on when the season opens, I am sure guys will have roles relative to how they performed in the preseason.
Q: Does Stephen Gostkowski have limitations on him because of his injury last year?
SO: No, he has no limitations. He's going through his schedule. He's going out -- every day and there are a certain number of kicks that he would normally do as a specialist. Every specialist tries to get a number of quality kicks after they warm up, which requires a lot of other kicks just to get ready to perform. He's at his numbers and he's increasing his numbers like he would anytime.
Q: What did you think about the draft pick of Malcolm Williams and what do you like about him?
SO: First of all, the kid is explosive and physical -- everything you look for in a player. He likes to do what he does; he's got a passion for it. When you find guys like that you bring them in, work with them and see how far you can get them.
Q: What have you seen out of Julian Edelman as a punt returner?
SO: Julian has come a long way, he really has, in both areas - offensively and as a return specialist. The thing I love about Julian is because he has never done it before --he didn't have a lot of experience and background in [punt returning] -- he learns it the way he needs to learn it as position player and as a specialist on the field. It's just not the play. There are a lot of situations within the play and we try to create that for him, and even in practice when they do it incorrectly he can learn from it, because it will come up again. He's just growing into it. Every year he has more confidence because he feels better about playing situations that he gets on the field and then he feels like he is in better control like all of the good ones. We're looking for big things from Julian and giving him the opportunities to do it and again, he has come a long way. We've got a lot of work to do, obviously, but I think he's starting to see the confidence that comes from the maturity and experience of doing it.
Q: Taylor Price doesn't have much of a special teams background but have you seen anything from him in that past year that would make him fit in special teams wise?
SO: Taylor [Price] is like all of our other positional guys. We brought him in last year as a rookie and [he] ended up actually returning kicks for us in the second half without having done it since high school. [He was] trying to not only know his responsibility as a returner and playing situations on the field but [also] understanding the concept of the return; having an idea of how to set blockers up and getting the big picture of it. We're bringing him along just like all of the other players on our team. We're expecting him to step up there and get a good evaluation from him in the preseason. As far as covering kicks, you love wide receivers that are big that can run and physically make plays for you.
Q: Has [Taylor Price] been doing more in the kickoff coverage?
SO: Most of our guys have. If you ever watch the practice part of it, because we have so many guys in camp and you have that limited time, it is really hard to run say four kickoff teams, so to do that we do kickoff verses kickoff return. So they are playing on either or. Just because we put beanies on them, there are responsibilities. It may not be the emphasis, but everybody is getting work. There are 44 guys out there working and doing our responsibilities, our techniques and playing the play. In Taylor's case, yes, he has been on kickoffs, but he has also been on the kickoff return. We split them up so everybody gets the experience so we can get a good evaluation of them.
Q: Has Jeff Tarpinian caught your eye early as one of the undrafted guys?
SO: Yeah, he came in like all of the young players. He's trying to survive just to learn his assignments. [We're] trying to bring them up to speed to see how they understand the concept of what you're trying to do and he has done some good things. He is working hard every day in practice and you see him when we are not meeting, he's trying to get his defense and special teams down and he's taking it upon himself to give it the best shot he can.
Q: What is your scouting report on the new long snapper out at Rutgers [Stephen Belichick]?
SO: Not bad, not bad. I guess that evaluation will come when their season starts, but not bad.
Q: Did you enjoy working with him last camp?
SO: I think anytime you can work with anybody who has any interest in doing any type of a skill, I think it's good. [When you] bring young players up and try to develop them and see if they create an interest in it, for us that is gratifying.
Q: Brandon Tate's last year's numbers in the kickoff return game seemed to dramatically decrease in the second half of the season, do you guys attribute that to him?
SO: I think there are a lot of combinations to it. You can attribute it to me as a coach and [having] to do a better job of coaching everybody and coaching him on the field and to him as a player getting caught into a different situation and [learning to] react to that situation better and [the other] players on the field working with him. When you have success early it becomes harder; it doesn't become easier because now everybody is looking for you. In Brandon's case last year, he was really like a rookie. He really never had that chance. That first year with us, he started [with us] but then ended up getting injured, but he was learning all over again. He came a long way, but you never know enough about being a returner and a specialist relative to the experience that you can gain right away. You have to do it enough times to get put in the situations -- mortar kicks, what do you do versus mortar kicks or any type of situation where you need to handle it differently -- because they're scheming you now relative to just giving you the ball deep and letting you run like you normally do. Do we need to do a better job there? Yes, overall, collectively we sure do. I think he will be better for experiencing it and learning from it, which is part of the evaluation, because I expect the same thing to happen.
Q: Is the returner job [Brandon] Tate's?
SO: I don't think [we have] any starter right now. We are just starting training camp. We are working our groups together and it's just like every year -- nobody is entitled to anything. They may start for practice, and then we will see who will start from game-to-game. Bill will make that decision. [The players] are going out there working at the position -- it doesn't matter if it's the first group, fourth or whatever.
Q: Why has Matthew Slater been so valuable for you?
SO: Matt Slater, again you've got to love him. He has got a passion for it. He is fast, he's big, he's physical. And he's learning as he goes. He's learning to be able to recognize quicker so his reaction becomes quicker, which gets him in the best spot he possibly can. Again, that comes with experience too. There's soundness to the madness in coverage. We don't just line up and try to… I mean, we go get the ball, don't get me wrong, but there are certain things that they experience and all of a sudden they start to recognize it a little bit quicker. Now their reactions are a little bit quicker and now they are playing that play a little better than they did the time before. They are putting themselves in a better position to make a play or to disrupt the play.
Q: Assuming you studied all the teams in the off season, which NFL team did you feel had the best special teams last year?
SO: I don't know if we really rank them as a coach. When we break down teams in the off season, obviously you have to know the coaches schematically and what they're trying to do [and] the players that they do have, especially when we have to play them. From one team to another, whether it's [Brendon] Ayanbadejo leaving Chicago to go to Baltimore, we have to know those players and then the coach's schemes. I think all of the coaches relative to coaching in the National Football League all do a good job, but it comes down statistically… there are a lot of statistics within statistics. You could have a bad year on punt returns and not have a great average in that year, but you might have had 65 or 70 percent punt returns punting from the plus 50 [yard line]. You just don't know. You've really got to break it down that way. When you've got an opportunity to field it and when you have the opportunity to run your returns, then really how productive are you? I think most of them do a good job. They work hard and it comes down to how well their specialists are performing and what opportunities they get.
Q: Did you break down [Tom]Brady and [Ross] Ventrone on that special teams drill yesterday?
SO: Yeah I did. As far as you bring up Ventrone, he's done a really good job. He plays a lot for us. He knows more than one position for us. Again, being here for the second time with us, having the flexibility to play more than just one position, so far he has done a good job.