FOXBOROUGH -- When Nate Ebner leaped to pick off Ryan Mallett in Tuesday's practice, it was the second time the rookie safety hawked one of the second-year quarterback's passes in as many days, and it would have been easy to look at the play and wonder how much Mallett has progressed.
But to Patriots coach Bill Belichick a pick, taken by itself, isn't necessarily a sign of slow (or no) progress.
“As some people like to do, every touchdown pass is a great play, every interception was the quarterback's fault and unfortunately that's just not really the way it works. Sometimes we score in spite of ourselves and sometimes the quarterbacks do the right thing and there are breakdowns somewhere else. Sometimes the quarterbacks throw interceptions like all of our quarterbacks have, like all of our receivers drop balls, like all of our coaches have made mistakes in some play calling or substitution. The fewer the better, the less costly the better, and that's part of it.”
In truth, making if a pick in practice comes as a byproduct of pushing the limits, then Belichick not only understands it, he encourages it.
“As I tell our players, that's part of what practice is for – to take risks, and to push it to see how far it can go, to see how much you can do,” Belichick said. “Sometimes it's going to come up a little bit short, but if it's done in the right context then you learn from that and you realize this is how far I can go and I can't gamble beyond this, but I can push it to this point. But if you never push it to this point, then I don't think you ever really know how far it can go.
“Again that's what practice is for. Every interception in practice or every play that doesn't get made in practice isn't necessarily a bad play. I think we can all learn from those plays provided that we do learn from it and apply it in a similar situation next time, particularly at the quarterback position. There's some balls that you try to stick in there and you learn that you just can't do that. Then there's other times you learn that, 'Yeah, I can.'”
Tom Brady threw a pair of picks himself Tuesday, one into triple-coverage. He and Mallett talked things over after practice. Belichick said he's had the same conversation about testing limits with Brady and all his quarterbacks.
“Sometimes that's a part of it, and that's true of all quarterbacks, I'm not singling anybody out. I'd say every one that I've coached, particularly one that I've coached here for a long time,” Belichick said. “We talk about that all the time. If you always take the same throw, make the easy throw, that's Ok, but at some point, you're going to have to do more than that and you better know what you can do and what you can't do. Better to find out in practice than the middle of the fourth quarter that, 'I don't want to be doing that.' That's not the time for it.”