HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
September 15, 2017
Q: We saw Chris Hogan return some punts in pregame last week before Kansas City, which I don't believe he has experience doing before, either in college or in the NFL. How do you identify which players might have the skill set to perform those duties when you haven't seen them do it on film before?
BB: Put them back there and watch them catch them.
Q: Is it a tryout basis essentially?
BB: Well, yeah, eventually that's what it comes to. You put them back there, see how the handle the ball, coach them a little bit, the flight of the ball, teach them how to read the kick and so forth, how it's going to break and whether it's long, short, breaking left or right, whatever it happens to be. If they show promise, then keep working with them.
Q: Do you have any memories of Mark Ingram's father, Mark Ingram Sr., from his playing days while you were coaching with the Giants?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. [He was a] tough, tough player. [He] made some big plays, had some big plays for us, some tough catch-and-runs. Unfortunately, he's had some problems after football, but as a player, he was a tough, hardworking kid, a lot like his son is. Team-oriented - a really tough, dependable player. I mean, I was on the other side. I was on defense, of course, but worked against him every day and had a lot of respect for him.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with Sean Payton?
BB: Good. Great.
Q: What do you think of him as a coach?
BB: He does a great job. They're well prepared, creative. I think he knows what's important, does a good job preparing his team. He's hard to compete against.
Q: How much of the vertical element of their passing game still exists after trading Brandin Cooks?
BB: Yeah, plenty. I mean, [Ted Ginn Jr.]. Yeah.
Q: Does Tommylee Lewis give them a little bit of that vertical element?
BB: Yeah, they hit him outside, but yeah, they move him around. Yeah, he's another fast, explosive player. [Coby] Fleener gets a lot of seam balls. [Michael] Thomas is really good at everything. They hit Ginn on that seam or inside fade early in the fourth quarter last week. Yeah, they move them around. They have different ways of getting the balls down the field - backs. They do a good job with the backs, too - [Alvin] Kamara - wheel routes and plays coming out of the backfield. I mean they mix it up. They just don't run the same thing all the time. They scheme it up and usually get a good matchup. Yeah, the vertical element is definitely there. Sean does a good job with that. He creates some tough mismatch situations or coverage beaters. [Drew] Brees is good to recognize it.
Q: Last week it appeared that Alvin Kamara was running mostly short routes like flare routes. In college, did he run a pretty extensive route-tree for a running back?
BB: At Tennessee?
BB: No. I mean, there are a handful of plays, but for the most part - I mean, look, most of the back's routes are short to intermediate catch-and-run type plays. You know, I think we saw Kamara was really in the return game where he really had some space and you could see his long speed. He does run some deep [routes]. I'm not saying he doesn't run any, but like most backs the majority of them are in the short to intermediate range and then there's a sprinkling of deeper routes. It's hard to get the guy deep coming from five yards deep in the backfield. Sean does that really with all of those. I mean Ingram does that too, occasionally.
Q: Sean Payton said he saw Brandin Cooks play more as the 'X' receiver last week, whereas in New Orleans he was mostly in the 'Z' position. How much experience does he have playing in the slot?
BB: Some. Yeah, he played some for them down there and he's played some for us.
Q: What have you seen from him working as a slot receiver?
BB: I think he's more of an outside receiver than an inside receiver, which is where we've played him, which is where they played him. But he can play in there. It's kind of like [Deion] Branch, [Randy] Moss, guys like that, that were primarily outside players that played inside in certain situations or certain type plays. I mean Ginn's kind of the same thing. He's mainly an outside guy but sometimes inside, or if you go to empty formation where the backs outside, then that kind of brings him into the slot. He's not a true slot receiver but he's playing on the inside, number two kind of route position, so it's essentially the same.
Q: Who is the fastest player you've ever coached?
BB: It would depend on - how far are you talking about?
Q: However far.
BB: I mean, there's 60, 80 yards. That's not the most common thing in football. But yeah, [Matthew] Slater at that distance, Moss, Perry Williams. I mean, there's guys that run 30 to 40 yards and guys zero to ten. Guys that really don't have that long, top-end speed, but they have the first 20 speed. In some ways they're tougher to defend. That speed is more effective in football than 40 to 60 or 60 to 80 speed. If you're covering kicks, then you need 60-yard speed. Twenty is not really enough. They catch up to you after 20. Being able to get to top speed and I'd say being able to hold top speed, that's what a strong runner could do. He could hold it, not just get there, but actually hold it and sustain it for another 20, 30, 40 yards.
Q: Is Brandin Cooks one of those guys in the zero to twenty range?
BB: I mean, you look at a guy like Deion Branch. He didn't have that kind of top-end speed that some receivers had, but initially off the line of scrimmage, getting into the route fast. Yeah, I mean a lot of guys. [Devin] McCourty is another guy that has probably good speed at all three levels - 20, 40, 60 kind of speed, can run well at all of those spots.
Q: What have you seen from Jacob Hollister these past few weeks since he has made the team?
BB: Yeah, Jakes working hard. He was inactive against Kansas City, so we didn't really see much there. He's a young player with hopefully the best football ahead of him. If he continues to work hard, and improve, and get stronger, do a better job with his individual techniques and fundamentals, train well, I think he has a future. But he has a long way to go. He has a lot of work to do. He has some skill.
Q: What have you seen from Demarcus Ayers in his short time here?
BB: Demarcus has played inside and outside. He's returned punts. We've looked at him doing all of those things as a practice squad player. [He's] definitely making progress. They're never really ready to go in the game when they come in this league, but a lot of times they do and will based on circumstances or need or whatever. We're just trying to get him ready. He's certainly a lot more ready this week than he was last week, so if he keeps progressing then maybe he can push for an opportunity to play. He works hard. He's done everything we've asked him to do and he's gotten better at it. Our offense is a little different than the Pittsburgh offense, so there's definitely some different things that he's having to adapt to from the system that he was in. That's nobody's fault. That's just the way it is.
Q: Is punt returning one of the toughest things to simulate in practice since you can't account for some game factors?
BB: Like tackling?
Q: Yeah and crowd noise and other game day circumstances.
BB: Well, I mean it's the same with everything. We can turn the music up just like we can turn it up for the offense. I mean, look, practice is practice. It's the closest we can get to simulating a game. It's not game conditions but it's as close as we can get. Players that can perform in practice I think have a chance to perform in the game. It's still another level. It's another step, but if you can't do it consistently in practice then it's pretty unlikely it's going to happen consistently in a game. That's really true of every positon on the field. I can't think of one that wouldn't fall into that category. You do what you can do. You make it as realistic as you can make it, or in some cases maybe you make it a little bit harder where you can in some areas and then the game is the game. It's a different speed. It's a different level.
Q: Was it the punt return experience in college from Demarcus Ayers had that attracted you guys to him?
BB: Well, yeah, but he did it at Pittsburgh, too. Yeah, he had three or four in preseason. He played at the end of the year last year, the last game before the playoffs. They kind of played some of their players with less experience. I think he had like a handful of catches in that game. But I mean he got a chance to play in that game.
Q: Would he fall into the category of someone who probably plays faster than what the testing numbers would indicate?
BB: We might need a little more time to see that. I'm not even sure exactly what his test numbers were. But in the end, that's all that really matters, is the game playing speed, not the test numbers. But I'd say his speed is good.
Q: Is there a longer list of guys on this team that may be able to return punts than we think or have seen ourselves?
BB: There probably is; yeah. I mean look, [Julian] Edelman never returned punts. He was at the top of the league for pretty much every year that he's done it. It's like a lot of other skills. It can be developed. It can be improved. It doesn't mean it happens with everybody, but it could if a player has good skills for it, if he has good judgment, can handle the ball. I mean that's the biggest thing, is the ball handling. Kickoff returns, there's nobody on you for the most part, so you have plenty of time to catch the ball. You're not under pressure to make a decision as to whether to fair catch it or catch it. You might make a decision if you want to bring it out of the end zone or not, but that's different than actually handling the ball with guys around you and having to deal with them almost as soon as you touch the ball. Catching the ball and judging the ball, especially here - we're not playing in a dome - so every kick is a little bit different based on the wind and the way the ball comes off the punters foot and so forth. They're all a little bit different. That's a big skill for a punt returner, is just ball judgment, and ball handling, and decision making, whether to catch it, fair catch it, let it go, so forth, plus-ten, plus-five, depending on the hang time and conditions and so forth. There's a lot. A lot more decision making involved there. So that really is experience. The ball handling is, I'd say, not a natural thing because it can be improved, but to some degree it's a natural thing.