PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
December 14, 2018
Q: What do you see from T.J. Watt with his ability to both rush the passer and set the edge?
BB: Yeah, and playing coverage. He plays a lot in coverage for them, too. He's an athletic guy, does a good job of really all those things. Plays the run well, is a good edge rusher and pretty good in coverage for a linebacker. He has good range, long. He's got good instincts. He's a versatile player for them. He does a lot of things.
Q: You had Mike Hilton in here very briefly a few years ago. What did you think of him when you had him and what have you seen from him in Pittsburgh?
BB: A good football player, instinctive, smart, really tough, runs well. He's got good quickness. There's not a lot of length but he's a tough football player, had a real good college career, very impressive at Mississippi playing corner, playing inside, a little bit of safety. He was around the ball a lot, made a lot of tackles. We were kind of getting going with him and then we had some roster movement and it's one of those things, but he's a good football player.
Q: Have they used Cameron Sutton as a nickel corner as well, or has it mostly been Mike Hilton in that role?
BB: Well, he's mostly played on the perimeter but he's also played some dime. He's played as the sixth DB [defensive back]. Hilton's pretty much played most of the nickel. Sutton's played in there a little bit, played a little bit last year, but he mainly played on the perimeter last year when [Joe] Haden was hurt and we saw them in our game. He played earlier in the year for [Coty] Sensabaugh and then it's kind of been Sensabaugh and Haden and Hilton.
Q: The Steelers are coming off of three losses and you're coming off of the last-second loss in Miami. How do you turn the page and get your team moving forward and forgetting about the last week?
BB: Yeah, it's every week. That's the way it is every week, turn the page and move on to the next team.
Q: Whether you win or lose?
BB: That's right. Yup, that's exactly right.
Q: As a football historian, is the stability of the Steeler organization something you really admire?
BB: Yeah, it's been incredible. Three coaches in 50 years, one ownership but kind of three guys in that spot. They've had tremendous continuity – the coordinators, the coaches, the front office. Yeah, really impressive.
Q: Do you sometimes wish it was more like that across the league?
BB: Those aren't my decisions. I don't have any control over that.
Q: Is it tough to make the inactive decisions when everyone is healthy on the 53-man roster?
BB: It's the same every week. Whatever the options are, they are. Sometimes it's clear cut, but usually there's some degree of decision making and we just try to do what we feel like is best for that particular game. It's better that way than the other way.
Q: With a player like James Conner being questionable to play this week, do you have to go into this game with two game plans ready or do you just prepare for everyone on the active roster?
BB: Yeah, we prepare for everybody on the active roster until they're ruled out. They can play whoever they want to play and they could play one person and then the next play something could happen and his replacement could be in there. Just like [Josh] Dobbs was last week for [Ben] Roethlisberger, so we have to prepare for everybody. We have to be ready for anybody that's on the active roster that they put into the game. We can eliminate the guys an hour-and-a-half before the game that are inactive and then we have to be ready for the rest of them. Yeah, we know everybody on the roster, what they can do and what their role has been. If it's different, we adjust to it. But yeah, we go through every guy.
Q: Some players had mentioned before the Chicago game that you went over a bit of the history of Soldier Field. Why is the history of these stadiums and franchises something that you feel is important to relay to the team in the week leading up to a game?
BB: Because it's an important part of the team that we're playing. It's part of knowing the team.
Q: Do you think that helps fuel the way that they play now, the way the history of a particular opponent could feed into the matchup?
BB: Well, the more recent history. Certainly the continuity of Kevin Colbert and Coach [Mike] Tomlin and the coaching staff, even to Randy [Fichtner] who has been the quarterback coach. Even though he wasn't a coordinator, he was a quarterback coach there for nine years or whatever it was. Yeah, I think it's important to know all of that; sure. There's a lot of other important things to know, too. I'm not saying that's it, but there's certainly a great history and tradition of the Steelers, which I've been very familiar with. That was my first playoff game in '75 when I was with the Colts. Then obviously the years in Cleveland, playing them twice a year and at the Giants we played them in preseason – I won't say every year – it seemed like it was every year. Yeah, the Rooney's and the Mara's had a strong family relationship so we always played them, so that's another 10 years of playing them every year. They're practically in our division now. We've played them practically every year at least once, if not twice, it seems like since I've been here. I don't know what it would be like, a year without playing the Steelers. There haven't been many of them.
Q: Are you proud of the history that the Patriots have built up over this time period?
BB: Yeah, right now we're really just focused on this game. That's really what's important, how we prepare and perform this week. We'll worry about some other year some other time.
Q: You've got a terrific record against the Steelers and against Mike Tomlin. Does that tell us about anything that's going to happen this week?
BB: Nope. Zero.
Q: What have you noticed about Rex Burkhead and his mindset since his return from injured reserve?
BB: Confidence. He has a lot of confidence which is great. Yeah, when we put Rex on IR, once he was on IR then he was out for an established period of time so there was no trying to get back week-to-week and sometimes players feel like they're letting the team down because they're not out there and they're trying so hard to get back. Once you put a player on injured reserve then he's out for a set period of time. There's nothing he can do but wait until that time period expires and I think in this particular case, with this particular injury, that was the right thing, and this particular player who's very competitive and very team-oriented. It was the best thing for him to do and so we weren't on a – we were on a normal pace. We weren't trying to accelerate it because there was nowhere to go, and so as he went through the various processes and was able to move forward in his return to play, when he was ready to come back it was really ready. There was no, "I've got a little further to go, I've got a little more to do, I'm not quite there yet." I think that all of that had passed. What he needed to do was get on the field and he did that. So there were two weeks there before he was eligible to come back that he would practice. I think he gained some confidence there with some contact and things like that and then when he started playing he has played well.
Q: How important was that confidence that he's gained so that he can be as mentally ready as he now is physically?
BB: Yeah, very important. I mean, he could speak to it better than I could, but I just wanted to make sure that we put him in the best situation to be successful and to be able to recover properly from his condition and that he was ready to go and he felt that he was. There were several steps that took place in the process and as he cleared those different steps then we moved to the next one. I think when he was ready to come back he felt like he was ready to come back, and he played like it and he's practiced and played like it since. I think that went well for him. It went well for the team. It was a good outcome for the situation that he was in that came up.
Q: Is it difficult to introduce guys like Duke Dawson Jr. or Obi Melifonwu into a Week 15 game when they haven't had much experience to this point?
BB: I mean, they've been fine. They've been good. Last year, it was [James] Harrison who came in later than this and we had a need at that position and he played relatively quickly because of the injuries and so forth that we had sustained there. Each year is different. Each situation is different, but I think Duke and Obi have both made a lot of progress. Obi's been active for several games. Duke hasn't but we'd certainly be confident in him when that happens. Again, some of it is, at this point, by game plan and experience and unfortunately those guys don't have a lot of experience and if we're healthy at the positions they're at then it's hard for them to move ahead of those people. But as we all know that could change in a hurry.
Q: What have you seen from Ramon Humber and Albert McClellan with their impact on special teams?
BB: Yeah, they've done a good job for us. They're a little different. Ramon was here and went through a whole training camp with us in '17, so he's really done everything from the ground floor up – off-season program, OTAs, training camp. He just wasn't with us during the season and now he is. There was a gap there but I'd say it filled in pretty quickly from his recall. He's an experienced player and a smart guy and it came back to him pretty quickly. I wouldn't say we're caught up but we're close. McClellan has a lot of experience in the league both as a defensive player and in the kicking game. He's another guy that caught up very quickly. Again, I wouldn't say he's there yet but he's pretty far along now. It's been several weeks and he's taken a lot of snaps in practice and obviously in the game on special teams. I think our depth there is certainly better than what it was.
Q: Is there anything special about Josh Gordon that has allowed him to catch on as quickly as he has this season?
BB: Well, again, we've talked about Josh. He's a smart kid, so he learns well. For better or worse, he's been in a lot of different systems. I know it was only one team, but it was a lot of different systems up there. Most everything we've asked him to do he's done somewhere along the line for somebody. There isn't a lot of, "Well, I've never done that before or what are we talking about here." It was just kind of transferring it into what we do relative to the way he did it in the past and what the differences are and maybe what the similarities are. He's spent a lot of time with Coach [Chad] O'Shea, Coach [Josh] McDaniels and others, and the offensive staff and team have worked with him and he's worked hard himself to try to not only learn the whole offense, but certainly stay up on the week-to-week game plans. As we go through each week, I would say we've gained a little more ground on the overall knowledge of the system. Not there but going in the right direction.
Q: When you have core special teams players like Matt Slater and Albert McClellan who have so much experience in the league, what can they bring to the team as a whole?
BB: Yeah, I'd say a lot of experience, a lot of communication and appreciation probably for what everybody else is doing. So how I can do my job but also how I can make it easier for you or how I can help you, how you can help me and so forth. A lot of younger players are just so focused on doing their job, which is important and they need to do that, but there's 10 other guys out there, too, plus there's another 11 on the other side of the ball. Players with experience have a way of they know what they have to do. They also understand what's going on around them and sometimes how that fits together, how they can help somebody else, if somebody else can help them or how they can work together. So, instead of me taking my guy and you can taking your guy, we have these two guys and it can unfold in a way where we end up switching or not switching, things like that. Yeah, we have quite a bit of experience in those units with Ramon and Albert and, of course, Brandon King and Nate [Ebner], Slater, Jon Jones. I mean, many of the other guys that have played a number of years for us in the kicking game, so getting Rex back is just another guy. Chris Hogan – it's another guy. They've played, they know what to do. I think all of those things have helped us over the past few weeks. Not necessarily one but when you combine them all together, Ramon and Albert have certainly done a good job. This will be a big week for us in the kicking game covering against [Ryan] Switzer and this is a good kickoff coverage unit. They have a lot of speed on the kickoff team. This will be a good test for us, like it always is up there.