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Transcripts: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and DeMarcus Covington Conference Calls 12/23

HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK

Conference Call
Monday, December 23, 2019

Q: What have you seen in terms of growth from Brian Flores and the Dolphins since you faced them so early in the season?

BB: Well, it's definitely been an impressive team to watch. They've been very competitive. They've won four of their last eight games and have been in a lot of close games in addition to that. So, I think you can see a lot of confidence there, a lot of improvement in the overall understanding and execution of what they're trying to do in all three phases of the game. They've got a lot of tough, hard-nosed, competitive players that compete hard for 60 minutes. I think you definitely see that on film and see that that's the type of performance they're looking for and that's what they're getting. It's served them well. They've improved every week. Played very well against Cincinnati – that's a team we were obviously very familiar with from last week – and rolled up 500 yards and moved the ball up-and-down the field. Really, defensively, shut Cincinnati down for three-and-a-half quarters. So, I think you can definitely see the high-quality of a number of their players, and overall, collectively, a much more efficient team than what we saw earlier in the year.

Q: Does the film of the end of that game, where Cincinnati converted on an onside kick, serve as a timely reminder of the importance of playing all 60 minutes?

BB: Sure. I think we talk about that every week. It's the National Football League. You can look around the league and see those kind of games every week. However they can be – a team coming from behind, or not – but, I think every week you see so many games that come down to a couple plays or a couple decisions in critical situations, and that's definitely the league that we're in. So, every play is important, every little thing is important, and you just can't take anything for granted in the National Football League.

Q: What kind of challenge do jet-motion plays present to your defense, and how have you seen Josh McDaniels and the offense be able to use those to their advantage?

BB: Yeah, well – I think I mentioned after the game – Josh and the offensive staff do an excellent job of game planning every week and certainly did a great job against Buffalo. There are a lot of different plays that you can run to try to create an advantage offensively against a defense, and we're always looking for ways to do that. Buffalo has an outstanding defense, we all know that, and there's nothing easy when you play Buffalo. So, you've got to make sure that you execute any things that you do that are a little bit different well, and they give you a lot of different looks. So, again, there's no real limit to what we will or won't do. If it's something that we think will help us, then we'll definitely consider it. Defending those plays are a challenge because they happen quickly. You don't really have time to make much of an adjustment to it – you have to recognize it and react to it. And of course, teams run a lot of complementary plays that start off as that, but then it ends up being something else, or some type of misdirection, or a play-action play off of it, or a running play that causes you to adjust to the motion – but it's not the speed-sweep, it's something else – and then you can be a little out of position for the complementary play. So, it's something that's probably in the last five years, there were a few teams doing it, and now pretty much everybody has those plays or some element of them, and some teams have a significant number of those plays and have a little series off of it. So, they can do three or four different things with it. You see a lot more of those now than you see just reverses, which I would say there was a time where a team would run one or two reverses in every game just to keep the defense honest. It's probably less of those and more of the jet-sweeps.

Q: Tom Brady mentioned this morning how great of a time he had sitting with you on the NFL Top 100 set. What was it like for you when Tom was there?

BB: Yeah, I would second Tom's comments. I think I mentioned it was a great experience to be a part of that whole process – the selection process, the revealing shows that they put together, and the opportunity to see those players and go back and watch them and study them a little bit. And then to see how the game was at different points along the way, how it evolved – not just the players, but the game itself. So, that was all interesting, and certainly it made me – I think I learned a lot in terms of a coach, and getting to know some of those players and looking at their history of how they became great, or what made them great, or a particular aspect to their life and career that was particularly inspiring or enlightening. So, yeah, all of that was a great experience for me. I really appreciate the opportunity and was honored to do it, and spending time with Tom on the set was awesome. We've been through so many great moments together, both on and off the field, in terms of the actual football game itself, but all the preparation that leads up to it and the competition that's involved there with other coaches, players, teams, and so forth. Yeah, it was great to talk about those and think back and reflect on some of the great moments that we've shared together and how much hard work and the other part of the experiences that went into those moments – not just the result of the play, or a game, or even a season, but all of the things that you think about. I mean, those things don't just happen. There's miles and miles and miles that are covered before you actually get that final yard, or few yards, or whatever it is that determines games, and ultimately seasons. So, yeah, it was tremendous. It was great. It was great to be with Tom. It was great to be with the other studio guests, as well, because it's a very, very special group and they all have something in their own personal great history to share that we can all – and I can – learn from.

Q: Elandon Roberts playing fullback has been mentioned before, and especially after how many snaps he had on offense Saturday night. After going back and watching the game again, it looks like he often sets up in a two-point stance like a linebacker would, as opposed to how James Develin would line up. How much of that is about making Elandon feel comfortable in his new role, and how much has he taken to some of the other technique aspects of that position?

BB: Yeah, well, I think the main thing is for Elandon to be comfortable. A big part of that position is the flip-side of being a linebacker – it's seeing the defense, recognizing where people are, and then as you approach the line of scrimmage, adjusting your course to do your assignment. There's a lot of guys in front of you there and there's a lot of movement, and you have to be able to recognize and react to what happens after the ball is snapped. Elandon's done a good job. I think that he's had to split his time to be with the offense when there are things that he's involved with, but also be with the defense, which has been his primary focus, and also in the kicking game. So, he's a guy that's shown tremendous versatility this year and has helped our football team in all three areas. Certainly, the team's been able to benefit from his versatility, his toughness, his work ethic and his desire to contribute to help our team perform better. So, I think we all recognize that, we all appreciate it. So, we're fortunate that he's been able to do that for us.

Q: When Julian Edelman went out with an injury in the second half, the young receivers and especially Jakobi Meyers stepped up. What have you seen from the younger receivers and Josh as a play caller to integrate different receivers into the offense at multiple points of the season?

BB: That's I think something that goes all the way back to OTA's and training camp, and all through the season. Players have to learn different positions, and they have to learn not just one little thing, but understand the overall concept and big picture. As a receiver, they really should know what to do from every position on the play because when we get into different personnel groups and change formations, or a situation that you just described that came up in the Buffalo game occurs, guys have to be ready to do different things. And that's true of a lot of different positions on the team. When you only carry seven offensive linemen, you have to cover a total of 10 spots with seven people. So, there's a similar type of potentially adjusting there. Skill players, you can do it with your personnel substitutions, and formations and so forth. That's on your terms, but if you incur an injury, then you get back into the same thing. And it's the same thing on defense and the kicking game. So, I think that's one of the things that we've always asked for from our players, and they've always been very willing and they understand the situation. They prepare hard. A lot of things don't come up and players have to understand – and it's being professional and it's been mentally tough – that you have to keep doing that every week. You never know when it's going to happen. You can prepare for something for 10 weeks and it never comes up, and then it comes up at a critical time that 11th time, and whether you're ready and able to take advantage and help the team in that situation can sometimes be the critical difference in the outcome of a game. So, I think they all understand that and they all work hard at it. I'm not saying it's easy, but they know it's important and I think they all try to do it, and we'll have to continue to do it. But, the receivers did a great job against Buffalo in all the areas: our depth, filling in for each other, being aggressive blockers, making some big catches and just having in general good spacing in the passing game so that somebody was open. It might not have been them, but their spacing and their displacement of the defense helped somebody else get open, so that's important for all of us, too.

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS

Conference Call
Monday, December 23, 2019

Q: What is your perspective on the young receivers' ability to be prepared to step into a different role should someone like Julian Edelman go down in a game? What does that mean in terms of their ability to stay with the game plan?

JM: We tell them all you always have to be ready to go. You never know during the course of a week how the game is going to turn. There's injuries in every game, there's different circumstances that could unfold than maybe we would have expected. So our players, they all have the responsibility as professionals to prepare really hard and be ready to go even if it's not necessarily designed for them to do it during the course of the week. Everybody's always about one snap away. There's very few positions we have where guys – there's three or four layers before it gets to them. Marshall [Newhouse] stepped in the other day at tackle on the right side, he's played on the left side. Jakobi [Meyers] certainly went in and made an impact when Julian was out for a brief period there. Credit goes to those guys because they're ready to go, they prepare mentally every week for all of the situations that they could be asked to perform in, and that's not always easy. You have to give the reps in practice to somebody – can't give them to everybody, can't do everything multiple times like maybe you could in OTAs or training camp or something like that. Got to take a lot of mental reps, lot of mental toughness to be ready to go even if you didn't necessarily do that or perform it in practice, and knowing what to do is obviously the key there. Credit to those guys. We've had a lot of guys step in during the course of the year in different situations, were ready to go and maybe hadn't done that, but that's football. Defense, offense, special teams – everybody's got to be ready to go in a lot of different roles. We only have so many guys at the game. You want to try to avoid having to totally abandon your game plan. If you have enough depth at positions to be able to survive an injury, then that certainly helps everybody out.  

Q: What is the line between having the right personnel to execute a game plan and having the right look if you want to still call the play, no matter the personnel on the field?

JM: I think you always want to take both into consideration. If you feel good about – if the player is in the game, you feel confident that one, you know what he does well and you know what he's prepared to do, and so I hope you would never ask a player to do something that you didn't feel comfortable with him performing. That's number one. And two is we're always trying to do whatever's best to try to give ourselves the best advantage during the course of the game. That's what we want to do, and sometimes that changes. When a player goes out, maybe he has a specific skill set that you utilize in a certain way and maybe there's not somebody that comes in and does exactly same things, and that's OK. If that's the case, the responsibility on us is to change gears and not try to put a square peg in a round hole. I don't think you want to do that ever. That's not the smartest way to play a football game. Most important is putting those guys in there in position to do something that they feel comfortable doing well and that they can have success doing and give them a chance to be aggressive and play fast and go out there and compete and try to make plays.

Q: How much does Elandon Roberts' usage at fullback allow you to return to some of the things that worked so well for you at the end of last year with James Develin?

JM: Elandon, he's been ready to go each week since we started utilizing him in that role. He's a very unselfish guy who's done a great job of performing his responsibilities and he was certainly ready to go the other night. Each game is different, so what we did the other night felt like it was maybe right to do the other night. That doesn't necessarily mean we're – we're not trying to get back to anything, we're just trying to do what we think is right for this team this year at this point in time. Whatever those things are, hopefully we're trying to improve on that bucket of things as we go. The other night, that certainly helped us both in the running game and with some production in the passing game, as well. I know he'll be ready to go in whatever role we ask him to play this week. He'll do a good job of studying and preparing, and hopefully we can, again, put him in a position to do something he does well, as well.

Q: How do plays like jet motions and series that you run off of those kinds of actions allow you to create misdirection or confusion on the defense?

JM: Defenses are so good in their responsibilities. Last week was one challenge; this week with Miami is certainly a different challenge. As an offense and as a game planner and those types of things, when you can do something that maybe – get them to adjust or communicate late in the down, you may or may not get some advantages out of it. We've run plenty of things this year – not necessarily motion based, but other things that we try to get an advantage out of – and if the defense plays it well, then it comes back to our execution anyway. It's very rare in the National Football League where you're going to just completely fool somebody on the other side of the ball. Sometimes you try to complement things you do off of other things that you want to do, and hopefully the defense has to play a lot of the looks that you're giving them and there's multiple things you can do out of them. The more we can do that and complement the things we've done the most, the better off we can be going forward, hopefully. It all comes down to our execution in the end anyway. I thought our players did a good job of executing some of the things we tried to do the other night.

Q: What was the first conversation with Elandon Roberts like about him filling in at fullback? What was his reaction like?

JM: He's a super teammate, very unselfish. I've known Elandon since he got here, just as a guy on our team that plays on the other side that we compete against during the course of training camp and the offseason. He's always been a good person and a guy who loves football, he loves contact and he's added a lot to our team. Certainly, was voted as a captain – I think that says a lot about who he is and how he's thought of in our locker room. He's been great, really enjoy working with him. His reaction to anything that we ask him to do has always been exactly what you'd hope it would be, which is he'll do whatever he can to help the team win. A good guy to have on your football team, a good example for others to follow and whatever role we give him, he does the best he can in that role each week to try to help us win and have success.

Q: How much does the personnel that you had available to you on Saturday open things up for you in terms of your ability to be creative with what you're calling? Is there a challenge associated with having all those things available to you in pairing down to the things you want when you haven't been able to use all of those throughout the course of the year?

JM: I think the key for us each week is knowing what we have available at the game, who's going to be active, and then taking our personnel into consideration when looking at the opposing defense and trying to figure out what the best way is going to be for us to utilize our players and their strengths to try to move the ball and score points. Some weeks, it may not be as many – you may not like as many groupings based on how they're defended and what they do against them, it may not give you as many advantages. Other weeks, it might be a fair fight in every grouping. We have confidence in all our guys that are active, or else they wouldn't be there. We just try to utilize their strengths as much as we can, and if it's a skill player, getting them the ball in space or getting them to do some things that they have confidence in, I think that's important. Whether it's the line or the tight ends or the backs in the protection game, what do we do well, what suits the team we're playing the best, how we need to protect? Same thing with the running game. Those groupings are great to have available. Hopefully, we make the right decisions on a weekly basis about which ones to utilize more or how much to utilize them during the course of the game. The most important thing is that we get a chance to practice those things during the course of the week and really gain confidence as we head towards game time that we've repped them, we know what we're doing in them, the players feel good about them and have confidence so they can go out there and be aggressive. I thought the guys did a really good job the other night too, whenever you're utilized in multiple groupings like that, of communicating when they're going on and off the field, because we had a lot of different guys subbing for each other, et cetera. Sometimes the concern could be making sure that we got the right 11 out there and they know what their identity is in the huddle and what role they're playing, what position they're in, because we had a lot of guys switching spots and so forth. I thought they did a great job of that. They deserve a lot of credit for that, and then being able to go out there and make the plays when they had opportunities to do so. 

Q: The other week, Bill Belichick said that Jarrett Stidham has stepped in for Tom Brady in practice to help with the first team. How has Jarrett done in those situations? What type of development have you seen from him in his first year?

JM: Jarrett, he's ready to go each day. He prepares as much the same as what I was talking about earlier with Jakobi [Meyers] and Marshall [Newhouse]. He doesn't get an opportunity to play a whole lot, and that's by design at the quarterback position during the course of the games. Each week you have to prepare like you're going to go in there on the second play of the game if something were to happen. I think he's ready to go each day of practice. He stays late, he's here early, he really does a good job of digesting the scouting report, the game plan. He does extra work at night on his own. He and Cody [Kessler] both really work hard at the preparation aspect of playing the position of quarterback here, which is a challenge in the NFL, and those guys, they work really hard at being ready to go. They take a lot of pride in the things that they do to get our defense ready. Being able to compete and throw against those guys, that's not always easy. That's a great learning opportunity for all those young guys to be able to go in there and really try to compete against the starting defense. When they get their chances to go in there and run some of our stuff, which they do periodically anyway, there's some pressure on them to go in there and execute and communicate in the huddle and do things right at the line of scrimmage and have a productive period. I really think he's got a great attitude, he's improved during the course of the year and he's ready to go each week.

Q: How would you describe what Mohamed Sanu has brought to the offense? What thoughts do you have on the Dolphins defense?

JM: Mo's worked really hard since he got here. Our system is different than the ones he's played in before, so he's done a great job of trying to acclimate to what that terminology is and what his role is each week. [He] does extra work, he's a veteran, he's a pro, really prepares hard and is still continuing to grow in our foundation. Happy with what he's doing and the direction we're headed and the progress hopefully we can continue to make with him. That's a big thing for us moving forward. And then the Dolphins, this is really, it's a big challenge for us. They've got a lot of different faces that have – we don't know this team maybe the same way we would know a normal division team because they've had so many bodies play on defense. We were just talking about that as a staff. We're in the process of really trying to hone in on who's where, how they utilize their personnel, the different strengths and weaknesses. Our personnel department has done a good job of giving us updates on the people that are now in there that maybe we didn't see earlier in the season. They play extremely hard, challenge you with a lot of man coverage, a lot of different pressure packages. Third down is really, it's a difficult challenge. They do a lot of different sub-odd blitz packages, picks and stunts and games up front. They have a lot of different coverage combinations where they try to take people away and drop people into areas where they think you might be throwing the ball, double team players, et cetera. You've got to really do a good job of executing your assignment and eventually, you're going to have to either throw the ball to the place that they want you to throw it based on who they're taking away, or run it to the side that you feel like you have the best advantage. There's a lot of different things here schematically and personnel wise that we're sinking our teeth into. Playing extremely hard, as you saw yesterday – the back and forth there in the Bengals game. This is going to be a big challenge for us heading into this last division game.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH DEMARCUS COVINGTON

Conference Call
Monday, December 23, 2019

Q: How difficult is it to get the timing right on plays where you have linebackers and defensive linemen working together to get pressure into the backfield? Does it change from week-to-week based on the defense you're running, or do you rep that from the summer until now to get those right?

DC: I think you're right. It all starts back in training camp, back in OTA's – working together, first learning how to run those games. And then it all boils down to who you're playing, who you're facing, offensive line, quarterback. And then the next step is really executing it in practice, putting together a good game plan for it, and then taking the game plan and practicing it, and practice so we can execute it well in the game. So, it's a combination of things, just like you talked about, or at least the beginning of OTA's, training camp, then the preparation throughout the week. Game planning, then offensive line, to who's the quarterback, to carrying it out there to the practice field and then from the practice field, executing it well in the game.

Q: What is the biggest challenge of facing a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick who has seen it all? Do you have to be cautious that he can use some of that pressure against you if he knows all the tricks in the book?

DC: Yeah, he's a veteran quarterback. He's been in the league for like 15 years, and so he's seen a lot of defense. We've faced him multiple times, and one thing about him, he does a good job of reading coverages. He does a good job of finding open guys, and he also does a good job of extending plays, whether it's extending the play to throw it down the field, or extending the play by using his legs. So, he's definitely a guy that you've got to prepare well for throughout the week or he can hurt you, whether it's throwing or running, using his feet.

Q: With such a long stretch between games against the Dolphins, how have they changed, and how have those changes made their offense maybe a little bit easier for you guys to face because of your familiarity with the coaching staff there?

DC: Well, first of all, this is a different team than when we played them earlier in the season, just like we're a different team than when we played earlier in the season. When you look around the National Football League from Week 2 to Week 16, every team has changed, whether it's the roster change, philosophy change, or your team has just evolved and gotten better. And I'll say the Miami Dolphins have gotten a lot better from Week 1 to now. And so their coaching staff has done a good job of preparing the players: they play hard, they do a lot of good things up front, they do a lot of good things with their receiver corps, and then of course we just talked about their quarterback just being a savvy vet that has played a lot of football and who can lead that group in the right direction. And so I would never say the word easy. These guys are definitely a group that we've got to prepare well for. They've played in a lot of close football games, and they compete very, very hard and that really starts from their head coach [Brian Flores]. You know, he was in our building, so I know what type of guy he is, so I know the type of football team that they have.

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