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Transcripts: Bill Belichick, Bret Bielema, Josh McDaniels 10/29

Read the full transcripts from conference calls from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, defensive line coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Tuesday, October 29, 2019.


Conference Call
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Q: When you think of the common traits of facing a John Harbaugh team, what stands out to you?

BB: Well-balanced, very good in the kicking game, physical on defense, physical running the ball, stopping the run, covering kicks, very good specialists. It's a tough, hard-nosed football team.

Q: He has talked in the past about how he appreciated you putting in a good word for him as a coach over a decade ago. What led to that? Was that a Scott O'Brien connection through you?

BB: Yeah, I had met John. Knew him for a few years. No real big story to it.

Q: How do you assess the overall team speed of your defense and the secondary in particular?

BB: I think all of the players run well. Devin [McCourty], Duron [Harmon], Pat [Chung], Jon [Jones], J.C. [Jackson], Steph [Gilmore], Jason [McCourty] – I mean, they all run well. They hustle, they play with good effort and they're tough. A lot of that's just competitive speed, too. There's stopwatch speed and then there is if you're chasing a guy, can you catch him? Or if a guy is chasing you, can you outrun him? There's an element to game speed and, as I said, competitive speed that maybe the measurement is a little bit more in the heart than it is on the stopwatch, and they all have that.

Q: Do you have to scout for that? How do you find that in a player when you're looking at bringing him on to your team?

BB: Yeah, it's just part of the overall evaluation. You don't always see a lot of plays like that on film, but over a players career, whether it be in college or as a free agent, you probably can find some to have an evaluation of what type of competitor he is, what kind of effort he gives and how often he gives it. Is it every play? Is it selective? Is it when things are going well or is it all the time? And so forth.

Q: What have you seen from Cyrus Jones since he's joined Baltimore? Is he starting to fulfill some of the potential you originally saw when you drafted him originally?

BB: Well, Cyrus is a very talented player. He runs well, he's got very good quickness, he's got good strength for his size and he's got very good hands, good hand-eye coordination, really handles the ball well and that definitely shows up in his return skills, his run skills in the open field. I don't think there's ever been any question about his talent. At the point in time when we re-signed him back from the Ravens, he certainly helped us and then unfortunately we had to make a roster decision there and the Ravens got him back. He hasn't played a lot on defense for the Ravens, but he's been a good contributor in the kicking game, primarily on punt returns but he plays in other phases as well. He's really become – his niche so far has been the return game and special teams.

Q: With the trade deadline approaching today, how much will the salary cap impact your ability to make a move? You guys seem to be pretty tight against the cap but is the flexibility of that cap something that would not impede you from making a move today?

BB: No, Phil [Perry], that's a very good question and, yeah, the answer is it would definitely affect us. We wouldn't have enough cap space right now to just go out and acquire any player that was available regardless of what the price was in terms of compensation. We would have to fit him under our cap, and there are some players we just wouldn't be able to do that with. You really can't change the contract. I mean, that wouldn't happen until tomorrow so it would have had to of already been done previously so the team knew they were going to trade a player and wanted to change his contract to make him more attractive in the trade, that would have really already had to of been done. As it stands today, you'd have to have enough salary cap space. Any team would have to have enough salary cap space to acquire the new player. If you didn't, then you would have to release a player to pick that up and there's certainly a lot of limitations to releasing players, especially vested players and so forth where you really don't gain much cap space from those kinds of transactions. It's a factor. Again, it would depend on the player and the salary and what your other options were on the team and how big of a gap you're talking about in order to be able to make all of that work. Certainly we have to account for the rest of the season. It's unrealistic to think we're not going to have any additional salary cap charges in the next eight weeks. We have to have some type of a cushion or budget to handle those, some of those anticipated expenses. We don't know exactly what that number is going to be, but there are a number of things that could come into play there. Yeah, it's definitely part of the conversation. No question.

Q: When you mention other options on the team, are you talking about your own team and how often are you trying to figure out things with your own players and seeing what you can do with them to give some of that cap flexibility?

BB: Yeah, well, it would be a combination of the things that I just spoke about. If you had an expense that you had to be able to pay for, then you'd have to find a way to pay for it. At the same time, there are going to be some expenses going forward for every team for the remainder of the season, so you have to anticipate those and figure out how you're going to handle those or what you're going to do about them. So, that's just part of the overall planning. I don't think you can get it right down to the penny by any sense, but you'd have a budget and a range and that's where you'd work in. There's a possibility of restructuring players on your own team or releasing them for salary cap space and things like that. Again, there's multiple options there. How good those options are, I mean, that's a whole other conversation. But just from strictly a financial point of view, that's really what you'd be looking at.

Q: How has N'Keal Harry looked since he's been back on the practice field these past couple of weeks?

BB: Well, I think N'Keal's been working hard. Even though he hasn't been able to participate in practice until recently, he's been able to do other things – train, study, watch film, keep up with the terminology and game plan adjustments that we make. And then more recently, he has been able to get on the field and primarily take scout team reps but also do other things, individual drills and some of the other competitive drills and so forth that we've done. It's definitely improving. It's good to have him back out there and see him working. I'd say each day, as you would expect, a little more improvement and confidence and taking things a little bit further than the day before. But he's missed a lot of time. He still has a long way to go. He's definitely trending in the right direction. We just have to evaluate where it is and what helps the team the most here. 

Q: How helpful has it been for him to go up against a secondary as talented as yours is in practice?

BB: Well, I mean look, I think good competition helps everybody and we have some of that, but I would say the majority of our reps in practice are simulated against the opponent that we play. So this week our defensive players will be taking reps against the scout team players and vice versa, so in N'Keal's case, running the scout team plays against our defense gives him a chance to do that. Again, the tempo is a little less than what it was, let's call it, in training camp but it's still a good tempo so there's a lot of benefit there. But I would say going forward, the majority of actually running our offensive plays or our defensive plays, the majority of those practice opportunities would be against what the other team is doing. Again, which is a lot different than training camp where both the offense and defense are running their calls, their techniques in the most competitive setting you can get. It's good but it's a little bit different than that.

Q: What are your thoughts on what makes John Harbaugh an effective head coach?

BB: Yeah, well John, he's built a solid program down there. He's lost coordinators at every level or in every unit – offense, defense, special teams. There's been some coaching turnover and there's been player turnover at some key positions and they continue to do well, continue to be competitive and win with different quarterbacks, different styles of offense. Losing some, over the years, defensive players that were among the best in the league at their positions that either retired or have gone on to other teams or whatever the case might be. So, they continue to play well so I think that's the mark of a good program, good players, good personnel department, good coaching, good management of the staff as it transitions and a tough division. Obviously, Pittsburgh's been one of the better teams in the league over the last however many years. Really, 20 at least for the most part. Cincinnati was a playoff team for five straight years or whatever it was – Cleveland. So, they've been in a very competitive division and they've remained very competitive to very good throughout that time. John and Ozzie [Newsome], Steve Bisciotti and the people that run the organization deserve a lot of credit for that.


Conference Call
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Q: With the run defense, what are you seeing from the guys on defensive line that needs to get tightened up?

BB: I think the biggest thing that we start with as a foundation here is we always want to make sure that we defend the run and stop the run. The part that we were able to do at times this past weekend were good, but we didn't play with the consistency that we expect or what we want. So, we pride ourselves on being able to have smart, tough, dependable players, and I think that they'll work on that this week and try to improve on their deficiencies that we may have shown in the past and improve on our strengths and see where we can end up on Sunday.

Q: What does Baltimore's offensive line look like in terms of the challenges they present up front?

BB: They're big, they're physical, they consume people, they're very, very – I think as a group, play very well together. They understand what they're doing on every play. They have special playmakers around them. I can't say enough good things about, obviously, [Lamar] Jackson and what he's been able to accomplish, but behind him to have a running back, on the perimeter to have the speed that they have, and then the big guys up front. It's a very formidable task and one that's got our full attention, obviously, and our preparation as we go into the week.

Q: On Lawrence Guy's interception on Sunday, how much of that is something that can be drilled on in practice and how much of it is Lawrence reading the play and reacting?

BB: I think the part that's jumped out working with Lawrence over the last year-and-a-half is just he obviously is a defensive lineman, but his instincts and his intelligence are very, very unique to that skillset. That play in particular I think was just him reading, understanding and comprehending in a very short amount of time what he needed to do, and then just the wherewithal to make the play. We do some bad ball drills on Friday and they like to give me a hard time because I can't throw a good ball – well, that was perfect. That was a great ball right to him. It wasn't supposed to go to him, but he made the play. He definitely took advantage of the moment. Again, I think he's a guy that has been more consistent for us in every game, depending on his roles that change week-to-week, whether he's playing inside over the guard, in that situation he was playing over the tackle, there's time where he plays the nose position – he's just a very versatile player, very intelligent and epitomizes what we try to ask him to do here in New England.

Q: How unique are Baltimore's running schemes, and how much of a challenge is it to prepare for a team like this when you can't replicate a guy like Lamar Jackson in practice?

BB: Yes, he's a very talented player. You've seen it throughout the course of the year, even going back to last year when he took the reins there. They bring unique skillsets, they bring unique plays, they bring unique personnel groupings and kind of take an old-school mentality to the game. But, it all starts with him. Jackson is a very, very talented player. You can tell he's very engaged in the plan, and the plan rotates a little bit from where they were last year to where they are this year, but a very challenging task in front of us. But, it's something that I think is exciting for our guys and the environment that we'll see up there on Sunday. Obviously, all the success they've had this year is very easy to see.

Q: Where do you see the biggest differences from last year to this year with them?

BB: Just the growth of Jackson. I think you obviously knew about him in college because of the skillset that he brought. He's been able to demonstrate this year an ability to throw the ball, run the ball, make decisions after the ball's been snapped. He's just a very, very intelligent football player, competes at a high level, very gifted, a guy that I think would draw the attention of anybody that once you see him on film, just how much he brings to the game and a very exciting player in the league.

Q: Was it disappointing that things didn't work out with Michael Bennett? What would you say is the biggest factor why it didn't?

BB: I guess that everybody's view is different. I actually think that our time with Michael was, from the time I met him last spring – obviously I knew a lot about him just from his career and what he's able to accomplish – our first meeting to where we are now, he's a very intelligent player, very talented player, someone who understands the league and has obviously been able to build a great career out of it. His time here was great. He was able to obviously help us win. The ending is what I'm sure everybody focuses on, but I think the parts that were fun working with Mike was just to hear his knowledge, to see his skillset and understand that now he's in a situation that he feels good about or whatever the circumstances that surround it, it's just a matter of what played out in front of us. It was a great benefit to be around him and an enjoyable time for me as a coach.

Q: He portrayed philosophical differences with you. Is that accurate?

BB: I think the part that I love about being a defensive line coach here in New England is working with smart, tough, dependable players, and Mike was that guy. He was a guy that was in a role that it kind of changed every week, from that first game to last week. The part that he really continued to demonstrate was Mike is a guy that believes in himself and his abilities, and there is definitely no doubt in my mind that those will be successful for him in the future again.


Conference Call
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Q: Where are you seeing challenges for your offense when facing the Ravens defense?

JM: We've played them a number of times in the last six, seven years. They've always been a physical group, which that stands out again, and they do a good job of limiting run game production. I think they're top-five in the league in rushing defense; that's always a good place to start on defense. They'll challenge you with a variety of different pressure looks and disguises. Coach [Don] Martindale does a great job of putting the players in position to create negative plays, which they do a good job of, and creating long-yardage situations by doing that, whether that's tackles-for-loss in the running game, or creating issues for the quarterback in the passing game. They defend the red area very well, good in the red zone. So, they've got a lot of good players at all three levels. Some of which we know a little bit about, some of which we don't, which is going to be an element of getting to know their personnel this week. That's a little different for us, but they've got some guys that can rush the passer, got big guys in the inside part of the defensive line to stop the run. It's hard to move out of there. They've got active linebackers that blitz quite a bit, and then they've got good cover guys. I want to say they've added seven, eight, nine guys since the season started, so there's an element of getting acclimated to who's in there and where they're all going to be at. As you watch tape – now [Michael] Pierce is there, and [Jimmy] Smith may [be] coming back and where is Earl Thomas going to be? So, they've got a lot talented guys. They play a scheme that's got a lot of variety to it. They challenge you in terms of handling pressure, and then they're physical. Like I said, they do a good job of holding teams to field goals when they get in the red area. So, they do a lot of things well. They're well-coached. Big challenge for us on the road. We've played down there before. It'll be a loud environment down there, no question about it. So, there's going to be an element of the silent cadence, and those types of things, that we're going to have to do a good job of executing also to hopefully avoid long-yardage situations on the road.

Q: Last year, it took a while for the offense to find their sweet spot. Are you still looking for that this year after all of the turnover?

JM: I think every year is different, in many regards, and then every year is similar in that you're never really where you want to be at the beginning of the season for a number of reasons. Whether that's players coming back off of injury, or different combinations working together, whatever it may be. I think you're always trying to kind of figure out exactly the right way that your team plays best. I think we've certainly had stretches where we've played good; we've had stretches where we've kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. But, our goal is always to try to continue to try to improve. As long as you keep your focus on the process and continue to try to do the right things one day, after another, after another, and everybody's working hard and has a good attitude about it, then I think you have a chance to continue to make progress, improve, and then play your best as the season goes along. We don't want to be good in one thing or in one area, or good at this and not at that; we're trying to be good at everything. And again, there's a big challenge in doing that. So, we're going to try to continue to improve in all areas of the offense: run game, pass game, protection, throwing, catching, blocking, running with the ball in our hands, third down, red zone, goal line, short yardage. It's hard to be your best and be good in only a few areas. So, we're going to continue to try to coach them. We've got a great group of guys that are working really hard to improve each week, and that's what our goal is going to be moving forward. 

Q: Are you excited to see the possibilities of having Mohamed Sanu in the mix?

JM: Certainly. I mean, there's a process that's going to play out here with Mo, and I'd say N'Keal [Harry] and potentially when Isaiah [Wynn] – so, there's a lot of guys that we're excited about, but again, that takes a little time. But, there's no question we have an energy about our staff that's excited to – any new player that comes in here, that's the fun part of our jobs. It's one of the best aspects for us is you get to teach and go back through the foundation of our system and try to really get guys caught up. So, I know Joe [Judge] and Troy [Brown] are really working hard at that, and we'll continue to integrate him in there, and like I said, as well as N'Keal and those guys that are coming off of those other designations. 

Q: Dante Scarnecchia was really hard on himself yesterday in regards to the struggles of the run game. How much of a concern is the run game to establish enough of a balance in the offense to take you where you want to go?

JM: Well, first of all, that's everybody's responsibility, and it starts with me. I think I have to do a better job of the things that I can control and putting guys in good positions. I know I always get the best from Dante and our players, and they do a great job of working hard at every aspect of the game. Look, that's another area of the game where if you just look at any one point in time and say, "Well, that's where we're at and we're never going to get better." You could say we're going to struggle for a long time, but we had stretches last year where we certainly didn't run the ball very effectively. There's plenty of credit that can go to the defense, and then the other part of it is just working together and continuing to get better at the fundamentals and techniques that you need to be good at in order to run the football well, pass protect, throw, catch the ball. I mean, everything really comes back to our ability to do the fundamental aspects of those areas well, and well enough to continually have success the way that we want to. So, the thing that I'm most encouraged about is the attitude and the approach that our players have. I know our coaches are determined to do the same thing, and I am as well. So, we want to improve in all areas of the offense, and that's just one of many, but I'm certainly excited about what we can do moving forward. Every game you watch, every practice you go through, you see areas of improvement and you also see areas where you can improve. I think when you continue to keep your head down and work and focus on the things that you can control, you get a hard days' work from everybody. I think that only gives you a great chance to improve, and that's what we're focused on now.

Q: What advantages are there in having Mohamed Sanu and Julian Edelman on the roster, with both of their abilities to go in the slot in particular?

JM: Yeah, we've always valued guys that can do more than one thing well, and I think we have a lot of guys that are able to do some different things in our offense. Julian plays inside, he plays outside. I think Mo [Sanu] has already done both as well – played inside, played outside. Jakobi [Meyers], he's another guy that's done that, too. We try to utilize our players the best way we can on every snap. So, whether that's motioning them, putting them in the slot, playing them on the perimeter, blocking in the running game, throwing them short passes, deeper throws. Whatever it is, we try to just accentuate their strengths and let them play to the things that they do well. Mo obviously has experience doing both, and he's been a really good addition to our group so far. [I'm] looking forward to continue working with him.

Q: Do their different body types change the routes you may ask them to run in the slot?

JM: It depends on, like I said, what they do well. I think that's just a natural thing at any position. It would be like saying, "The same routes you run for Brandon Bolden, do you run the same ones with James White?" Similar to the receiver position. So, you try to take their strengths and the skillset that they have, the things that they do well, and let them do those things as many times as you can. So, as we get to know Mo more, like I said, it's similar with the rest of our group. The best thing you can do is know what their strengths are and really understand how they can impact the team in a positive way, and then try to play to those things.

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