PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
Q: After working with Adrian Clayborn, what have you learned about him that you didn't know prior to signing him?
BB: It's, I think, all pretty much as advertised - really professional and hard-working kid, smart, a really good teammate, does a good job. Glad we have him. He's a really good addition to the team.
Q: With the Erb's Palsy with his arm, he's inspired a lot of people with his ability to play at the highest level with that. Have you noticed any impact of that watching him perform?
BB: Yeah, he doesn't talk about it. I mean, he just goes out there and works and work through it. I mean, we all have some things that are better than others. We try to work to our strengths, and I think he does the same things. All players do. It's what we all do.
Q: You've said that you're not surprised with how Ja'Whaun Bentley has performed because he's done this at every level. How does a guy like that fall into the fifth round if he has that proven track record of success?
BB: Yeah, I don't know. You'd have to ask some other people about that. I don't know.
Q: You were one of the people that didn't pick him until the fifth round.
BB: Well, I mean, first of all, I was surprised he wasn't at the combine. That was surprise No. 1. I mean, it wasn't to save airfare. The guy's 20 minutes away. But, it is what it is.
Q: Would you be comfortable putting Kenjon Barner back to return punts this week?
BB: He's on the roster. So, all the players that are on the roster, we'll have to make a decision as to how to use those players, whether they're active for the game or not active and what their role is in the game. So, if they're on the roster, then it's part of the discussion.
Q: How has it been working with Corey Colemen, Bennie Fowler and Kenjon Barner the last few days?
BB: Good. I mean, it's not a lot, but - I mean, Barner has a lot of experience. He's a smart kid. He picks things up pretty quickly. Fowler - same thing. Corey's been with three teams in a short amount of time, so with less experience, but Barner and Fowler have played a lot of football.
Q: Whenever you have a new face on the offensive line, what challenges come along with getting that line to work together as a cohesive unit and understand each other's nonverbal communication?
BB: Yeah, just reps, just keep doing it over and over again. Everybody needs to see it the same way. We can talk about it and put it on a piece of paper and even show it up on a screen, but it's different when we're all out there together and something happens. We all have to see it the same way to do it, however we decide to do it. There's more than one way to do it, but whatever it is, we have to see it and be able to react to it the same way. It takes time, takes high-quality reps. Getting it in a walk-through is one thing, but you need to do it at a tempo that's realistic and game tempo and fast reaction times, fast recognition times, that we all can see the same thing together and see it right. So, that's what we'd need to do - a lot of those.
Q: Corey Grant seems to sometimes get lost in the shuffle of the Jacksonville running back group. What have you seen from him that makes him a threat?
BB: Yeah, he's not lost in our shuffle. He's good. He's good. They use him a lot of different ways. He's a very productive player in the kicking game and they use him on a lot of their gadget-type plays, reverses and fake punts and so forth. He's been very productive on those. And then offensively, he's fast, he's gotten out in space against us several times and had the long run in preseason, had at least three catches against us in the championship game. So, I mean, he's tough, he runs hard, he's got good skills with the ball as a receiver, as a returner. So, he's a guy we need to make sure we do a good job on him.
Q: When a player is dealing with a concussion, obviously there is some uncertainly involved there. Do you have to prepare for any possible scenario?
BB: Well, the protocol is what it is. So, we'll follow it and take it as it comes.
Q: Do you have any good examples of players you've coached in the past who came to you without punt return experience and were good at picking up that skill, particularly how to judge the path of the ball as it's in the air?
BB: Julian Edelman. He never returned a punt before he got here.
Q: How long did it take to get him feeling comfortable, particularly with knowing where the ball is going to go?
BB: Yeah, again, it takes seeing a lot of punts, recognizing the different things that happen and then putting that together with whatever the conditions are - wind, sun, precipitation, so forth - because those are an added element into it. But, the spin of the ball, the height of the ball, the way it travels, it's tightness or fluttering, if you will - all those play into what's going to happen to it, how far it's going to go, how long it's going to be in the air, how much it's going to drift, how straight it's going to go, so forth. It takes a lot of - I mean, it comes easier to some people than others - but, I mean, in the end, you can learn how to catch punts. I mean, I feel like I can catch punts just because I can know where the ball's going to go. I mean, I might drop it, but I can pick up the direction, I can get under the ball, so I think it can be a learned skill. I don't think you have to have had a lot of experience doing it. I think once you understand where the ball's going to go, where you need to be to catch it, then it's a matter of concentration and being able to catch it. But, there are a lot of things - a lot harder to catch a punt than it is to catch a kickoff. Those balls travel in a much straighter path and you don't have the situations that you have in punt receiving where you have plus-10 or plus-5 rules, whatever your rules are, and you don't have guys coming down on you. You can catch a kickoff and the closest guy is probably going to be 25, 30 yards away, where punts could be 30 yards away, he could be three inches away. So, then there's that whole element of catching a punt - not just catching the ball but then making a decision as to how much time or room you have and how confident you are that the block's going to be made even though it's not made. You know, 'The guy's coming at me, but I've got a guy blocking him, but he's going to get him before I catch the ball. And I can't stand there and watch him. I've got to feel for that.' So, I mean, there's a lot of other things that go on besides just catching the ball. I don't want to say that's the easy part, but it's certainly something that you can learn and train. All the other things are a lot - they happen a lot faster and the degree of difficulty I think gets higher with that.
Q: Are you hinting that you're going to be returning punts on Sunday?
BB: We don't want that. No, we don't want that.
Q: Have you ever caught a punt when you were younger?
BB: In a game? No. But on the practice field? Yeah, hundreds of them. Yeah. That's what I'm saying - it's certainly a teachable skill and it's a learnable skill. But, it's not three or four. I mean, you've got to - it takes a lot of them.
Q: What have you seen out of Derek Rivers?
BB: Yeah, Derek's been out there all year. He's been out there all spring, all training camp. He works hard, he's getting better every day, really pushes himself, he's made a lot of improvement. He's a good player. Definitely going to help us.
Q: What went into the decision to make him inactive last week?
BB: It's the same decision we make every week. We take the players that we think give us the best chance to win based on the game plan and situation, circumstances of that game. That's never going to change.
Q: How realistic is it when you have a skill position player that has a small package of plays - what would the thought process be of deciding whether that's something you would do?
BB: Just that, really. If that's what you want to do, yeah, you can do it. I mean, look, offensively, you can do whatever you want. You have the ball. Defensively, it's a different ball game. They can do whatever they want. You don't know what that is. If you have the ball, you can call whatever play you want to call. You can hand it to a guy, you can run to him, run away from him, you can put him on whatever route you want to run him, run him on one route and not another one, so it's totally at your discretion. Offensively, you can do whatever you want. You have the ball. I mean, you have to deal with some things that could happen on the play, but I mean, you have control over that. Defensively, you don't have any control over anything. You don't have control over whether it's a run, pass, which way it's going. You know, you might have control over who's in the game if you're only substituting in a certain situation, but in the end, defensively, it's a whole different ball game. So, yeah, you can put a package together for anybody. I don't think that's a problem. The problem is, how big's the package and how many variables do you put with it and how many variables are there on the other side of the ball that come with it? Now the numbers get up there.
Q: In your experience, do you find that the decision-making skills are more innate for good punt returners?
BB: I think there's an element of that, sure. Look, some things come more naturally to some players than others, or all of us. Whatever it is, we all have skills. Some things are easier than others. I think that's the case in anything, whether it's sports or anything else we do. But, that being said, I think no matter who it is, you can improve and they can learn and they can get better at it. Now, whether that's better than somebody else, then that's a whole other discussion. Yeah, but there's certainly an instinctiveness to it. A lot of that comes when the ball is in the player's hands, the judgment and so forth. Some of that is learned the hard way.
Q: What helps Lawrence Guy be a disruptive force in the interior?
BB: Well, Lawrence is a very experienced player. He does a good job recognizing all the little things that good players do in those interior spots. So, he doesn't get fooled very often on the different types of plays that teams run to try to - you know, they run one play and then they run another play to complement it. Good defensive linemen are able to figure out the difference and react properly. He's got good playing strength, he moves well, plays on his feet, he's not on the ground too much, does a good job transitioning from the running game to pass rush on play-action passes, things like that. So, a lot of that's experience and just strength and athleticism.
Q: What type of progress have you seen from Sony Michel since he came back to practice a few weeks ago?
BB: Yeah, he gets better every day. Again, he missed a lot of plays in training camp and in training camp practices. He's gotten more of a chance to be involved with those more recently, and each time he runs them, he sees something a little different or reacts a little bit quicker or whatever it is and he gains more confidence by doing something, multiple, double-digit times instead of just a couple times. So, just reacting quicker and being more decisive.
Q: Is it difficult for running backs who miss the entire preseason because they miss out on the element of facing contact when that's not really something that happens in practice?
BB: Yeah, but I mean, I think that's pretty much the case for a lot of running backs. I mean, you see a lot of running backs don't carry the ball much in preseason. Now, those guys have carried the ball a lot at other points, maybe in previous years or - I don't think [Saquon] Barkley, I don't know, how many times did he carry it in preseason? So, yeah, I think that's not - look, it's something that those guys have to deal with, and they've dealt with it a lot. Sony's had a lot of carries. He's been hit a lot. Does he have to get used to it and have it happen to him again? Yeah, of course, but I'd say the bigger part of it for him is the offense, the assignments, the decision making, the timing of the blocking, timing of his running with the blocking patterns and so forth. And that's what we're going to do. We're not going to do a lot of live work in practice, so he'll have to get it during the game. It's no different with receivers. I mean, they don't get hit after they catch the ball in practice. They get hit after they catch the ball every time in the game unless they get out of bounds. So, you know, that's part of it, too, that you just build into it, and it's part of what this part of the season is for. Guys get more of that than they've had in the last six months.
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