The third week of training camp is in the books for the Patriots, after Friday night's 25-21 exhibition win over Tampa Bay. The game came at the end of three days of practices with the Buccaneers, and just as he did after New England's practices and game in Philadelphia a week before, Bill Belichick called the days time well spent for his club.
"Last night was really good end to a good, productive week for our football team," Belichick said during a Saturday afternoon conference call. "Coaches and players got a lot of out of the practices with Tampa; it certainly helped our coaching staff in terms of thinking and reacting in game-type situations, more of those than matching up against somebody that is on our own team.
"The players did that too: a lot of situations came up in the game that were good for us to learn from, so I think that's the most important part of the process and the game, is us moving ahead as a football team, guys making improvements individually, guys that are working together being able to communicate and operate as a team in those groups or units, and ultimately our overall organization as a team - substitutions, different situations that we have to be able to handle or manage as a team we learn from.
"Some we handled better than others. But 10 penalties last night is definitely a lot more than last week against Philadelphia, so we're going to have to tighten that up. In the end, it ended up being a very competitive game, probably the major difference in the game being the interception that Logan (Ryan) returned for a touchdown. But Tampa's got a good football team; a lot of good players, they're well-coached, it's a great situation for us and we learned a lot from it last night."
Ryan, the rookie cornerback from Rutgers selected in the third round, has steadily been making strides.
"I think he's improved in a lot of areas. Obviously he had a good career, was a good player coming out of college," Belichick said, "but working against players at this level is an adjustment. His techniques, his recognition, and of course in the secondary communication is such a big part of the game, no matter who you play for or what you're playing, just being able to communicate with your other teammates back there in the secondary, there's not much margin for error.
"That's important for every player, especially young ones: to understand where their help is, know how to handle different formations, tight receivers, bunch receivers, slot, no slot, whatever it happens to be. But he's worked hard, he's been durable, he's been out there, he's gotten a lot of snaps, and he continues to improve with those repetitions. He's definitely making progress. Showed some position versatility by playing both inside and outside for us over the course of camp, so he's helped himself."
There are several players in the mix at the safety position, and nearly all of them have gotten time together, particularly in the first two preseason games, as Devin McCourty has not played due to his still-recovering shoulder (he has not missed a practice).
Veteran free agent Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson and rookie Duron Harmon have all worked together in the backfield at different times, which offers some advantages but also disadvantages, Belichick said.
"I think there have been a lot of positives and I still think there's a lot of room for improvement; there's a number of things we need to work on to get better," he said. "We had several good plays back there and made some good adjustments and there was a few that we didn't get that we need to get, so one of the good things about working a lot of people is you get to see a lot of different people and at some point, whenever those combinations come back up again there's a familiarity but at the same time, it's harder for a couple of people to get really good and comfortable with each other as much because of the rotation that's going on.
"So trying to balance that out, we're going to have to make a decision on that here fairly soon down the line, on how those rotations are going to go, but I think it's been a very competitive position and want to make sure we give everybody an opportunity to make the best decision we lock it in."
One of the major factors in settling on who gets the most playing time will likely be communication.
"I think all those positions down the middle: safety, middle linebacker, center, quarterback - a big part of each of those jobs is communication, working with other people beside you, or in some cases in front of you, being able to control things from the middle of the field, by calls or adjustments or whatever decisions that those respective decisions have to make, that's a part of all of those spots," Belichick said. "And absolutely, that comes into play: you really can't play those positions if you aren't able to effectively do those things."
A big part of communication, he added, is confidence and experience, and having the conviction to convince others that the decision or call you're making is the right one.