New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick addresses the media at Gillette Stadium on Friday, July 27, 2012.
BB: Second day of camp – just trying to grind through it, take it one day at a time here. Hopefully we have a good day today.
Q: Can you talk about Dont’a Hightower and what kind of impact you expect him to have as a rookie?
BB: Dont’a obviously comes from a real good program. [He] was a very productive player early in his career and of course had an outstanding year last year. He’s done a lot of different things, did a lot of different things at Alabama. He played primarily inside, a little bit outside and played some defensive end in some of their nickel four-man line things. What’s he doing to do here? I don’t know. We’ll see how he does. But he’s had flexibility in college in a good program at a high level of competition. He’s a smart guy, works hard, he’s got some different skills. We’ll see how they all play out.
Q: When you have a player like that, how difficult is it to balance when they’re young taking advantage of versatility and making sure you go step by step so they get established in a role?
BB: That’s a good question because if you wait too long to move him or to try something else then you’re too far behind and it’s harder to work out. If you throw it all in there at once, sometimes that can be overwhelming and then you don’t get one thing right. It’s a good question. You try to find that balance. You take it at a pace that you think the player can handle and sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong and you have to adjust it one way or the other. Until you work with a guy and you’re trying to do something like that with him, you have to try to figure it out on the run sometimes and that can be challenging. But he’s a smart kid and he definitely understands football and football concepts – that comes pretty quickly to him so that’s good. He might not know exactly what every part of his assignment is, he just spatially knows where he’s playing, who is next to him, can figure out kind of how he’s supposed to fit things. It just instinctually comes to him so that can cover up for maybe not knowing exactly precisely what the exact assignment is but just being able to figure it out.
Q: Any roster moves today?
BB: We added an offensive tackle, Darrion Weems from Oregon.
Q: From looking at the film from yesterday, how would you evaluate Rob Gronkowski compared to how he used to practice before his ankle surgery?
I think when you get to training camp, you try to keep from making minute-to-minute evaluations on anybody. You look at a body of work and I would expect everybody after the first day to get a little bit more refined, get a little bit better timing, get a little bit better football playing – anticipation, execution and all that. We’ll see how that goes after a few days. I would say that about all of our players. Get out there, we got going yesterday, hopefully things will be better today for everybody. Hopefully they’ll be better tomorrow than they were today. At some period of time after we’ve had an opportunity to get everybody acclimated and get everybody enough reps and opportunity to do something then we’ll sit down and we’ll really take a closer look at the evaluation. We try not to evaluate play-to-play at this point in the season.
Q: Some pictures surfaced of Tom Brady cliff diving in Costa Rica. What are your guidelines for players during the offseason on what they are and aren’t allowed to do?
We have rules – there are NFL rules and then there are club rules. Those are handled between the club, the league and the players.
Q: Would something like that be inside or outside the organization?
BB: I wouldn’t comment on any of our club rules and any discipline that we have is all handled internally, not publicly.
Q: Would it fall under the category of skiing or something like that?
BB: Like I said, wherever anything falls is between a club and the player or players that are involved – whatever the situation is.
Q: Have you seen the pictures?
BB: What difference does it make? Do we have any football questions here?
Q: Can you talk about having Ras-I Dowling back? If healthy, what can he mean to the defense?
Yeah, it’s good to see him out there. I thought Ras-I made progress last year when he was on the field. He missed some time in camp and then he came back and then he wasn’t able to finish the season. Look, that’s really the key for any player – is to be out there on a consistent basis, to be out there, get the instruction, practice, watching all the film, correct it, do it again, gain reps, not only gain confidence but gain the technique and confidence of doing it against high level competition. That’s the key for him. That’s key for any young player. He was able to do some of that last year and make some progress. Hopefully he’ll be able to do a lot more of that this year. Of course it’s great to see him out there and he had a good spring and was able to perform throughout the spring in our practice sessions so that was good. Certainly it’s something that he nor any of the rookies were able to do last year because that wasn’t available. I think that helps everybody. That’s all relative – so is everybody else in the league but as an individual, it certainly helped those guys to be able to have the time on the field this spring leading into training camp that they didn’t have last year.
Q: Does that also apply to Shane Vereen?
It applies to everybody – our players, everybody else’s players, I’m sure. Not only our rookies this year but our second-year guys who didn’t have that buildup last year heading into training camp, even though they had the season, there’s some experience. Certainly the spring that leads up to it is an important part of the preparation process. It’s good they had and I’m sure they all benefitted from it.
Q: Are you monitoring Rob Gronkowski more closely because of the ankle injury?
BB: We monitor every player on our roster, absolutely.
Q: Do you look at him more closely?
BB: We monitor every player. Depending on what those players need then we give them whatever attention it is that they need. We do that with everybody. You think we walk in here and say, ‘We don’t care about you guys today – we’re just going to care about you guys’? We care about everybody. I don’t know any other way to do it.
Q: Throughout your time here, we’ve seen you invest a lot of draft picks on tight ends, with Daniel Graham, Ben Watson, David Thomas and obviously Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. What is it about the tight end position that gives you what appears to be an affinity for the position and have you always had that affinity?
I think all the positions on the field are important. You can acquire players in different ways but the most important thing I think is to try to put together a competitive team. That’s what we try to do every year. How the draft turns out, you never know. None of those players were really – what was [Daniel] Graham – 21 [overall draft pick]. There were a lot of players picked before him and certainly some of the other people that you mentioned. You don’t know how a draft is going to go, you don’t know what guys are going to be there when you pick at 30, 40, 50, whatever it is. We try to take advantage of those picks and do the best we can with whoever we’ve taken and we’ve, obviously I’ve been here quite a few years, sometimes you take one position, sometimes you take another position but there’s no set, ‘OK, well we’re going to take ‘X’ number of tight ends’ or that type of thing, no.
Q: You’ve joked about it in the past about it – after one draft you joked that it was surprising that you didn’t take a tight end. Is it the versatility you like?
BB: It was in jest. Really, it isn’t a goal of mine to every year draft a tight end, honestly it isn’t. I don’t mind taking them, but I’ll take any position, I’ll draft anybody if they can help our team.
Q: Aaron Hernandez spent part of the practice working with the wide receivers. Is that an expansion for him or is he different than the other tight ends?
BB: The nature of that position is you’re working in the passing game and in the running game and in pass protection. All of those players will do those things at various points in time – maybe not every day but over the course of a number of practices they all do them.
Q: Does Aaron Hernandez’s skill set allow you to do more than most tight ends?
BB: Aaron is a good receiver, there’s no question about that. There are certainly some things we work with him on that are specific routes to him or his position, are the one that he would run or run more frequently that others, sure.
Q: Do you have any impressions of how Alfonzo Dennard is adjusting?
I think Alfonzo has done a good job of trying to pick things up here. Our system is a little different than what they ran at Nebraska. He’s worked hard. He certainly got a lot of attention there the first couple of days before everybody else got here. That was good for him to get a little bit extra coaching, extra work there but he seems to be doing alright.
Q: So you’re not going to put him in the Patriots Hall of Fame quite yet?
BB: Again, I don’t think we want to get into a ‘How did he do on this play? How did he do on that play?’ We’ll go a little while here, we’ll have a lot of plays, a lot of days strung together – we’ll be looking at a couple hundred plays instead of a handful on the first day. I think it’s a little too early to get too high or too low on somebody on the first day of practice.
Q: Some of the things that he’s done in OTAs, mini-camp and now, do they match up with what you saw on film?
BB: Yeah, oh yeah. He’s got good playing strength, he’s quick. He’s definitely a guy that’s going to be real competitive in that group. It looks like a pretty good group, there’s a lot of competition in there but I think he’ll be very competitive with them.
Q: When you put together a roster and you have a third tight end on the depth chart, how much of a blocking assignment is that. How much does it play into a guy winning that job?
BB: It depends on who else you have and what his other skills are.
Q: So your extra tackles and all that combine?
BB: Yeah. Ultimately, each player has to establish his own value to the team in whatever form that is. Ultimately when you put together the team all the jobs have to be accounted for somehow. It doesn’t have to be by this person or that person but somebody has to do it. Somebody has to cover kickoffs, you have to put a kickoff team out there so who is that going to be? What group of people, what combination of people is that going to be? You figure that out and maybe that plays into the final decision. Or maybe you have that pretty well covered and it’s the kickoff return team or it’s short yardage and goal-line or whatever it is. In the end, you have to take a look at all those things – they’re all factors. That’s how we try to put together the team – look at all the jobs that have to be done, try to figure out where our depth is and if there’s one void there then you have to figure out how you’re going to fill that. Is it change your scheme or find somebody to do it on your roster or find somebody that isn’t on your roster to try to do it? Those are the issues.
Q: When you bring in Visanthe Shiancoe and Daniel Fells, is it important that their skills match up with the starters’ skills, so that if the starter gets injured they can come in and do similar things?
I think you could look at it that way. It would depend on what you’re trying to do – what that person’s role is. If their role is strictly to be a backup player and you’re never going to play the guy until the person in front of him gets hurt, then that would probably be good. But if that wasn’t the case and you were going to use that player in other ways and other combinations with other assignments or utilize his skills, I would say maybe not necessarily, you wouldn’t necessarily want that. It would just depend on what that player’s skills were and how it meshed with the other ones and what your scheme was.
Q: With a player like Aaron Hernandez who is a bit of a tweener between a receiver and a tight end, is it important to have another player like that on your roster so you’re not relying on that first player?
BB: Again, if you have that then you could put that player in there for him. If you don’t have that, then you would have other players on your roster who would do things maybe not quite the same but fill a similar role. If he’s an inside receiver and [Wes] Welker is an inside receiver then they’re not the same but they’re both inside receivers, as an example.
Q: Donte’ Stallworth talked about his maturation as a wide receiver. Do you see the changes since he was last here in 2007? Do you see a better route runner?
BB: Yeah, definitely. I would say Donte’ has really matured a lot since he was here in ’07. He’s been a very positive example and influence with what he does on a daily basis but also some of things that he’s done with other players on the team. He’s shown a lot more leadership and he’s a very professional athlete, he really takes his job seriously and acts in a very professional way. He’s a great example for all of us on a daily basis. I would say that’s definitely grown since he was here in ’07. He’s been through a lot but he handles himself very well and like I said, very professionally. He’s a great example for all of us on a daily basis