FOXBOROUGH - "Another championship banner in Boston. Congratulations to the Red Sox. That’s great, that’s awesome."
That's how Bill Belichick opened his Friday morning press conference, before heading out to the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse for his team's final full practice of the week in advance of their Week 9 game against the Steelers.
The Patriots' coach offered encouraging words on the progress of second-round pick Aaron Dobson, who has 13 receptions over his last three games, doubling his total from the first four games of the season (he was inactive for the opener against Buffalo).
"I think you’re really seeing a good day-by-day consistency, on and off the field," Belichick said. "On the field, in the weight room, his conditioning, in the classroom, walkthroughs, all that. He’s focused and he just keeps improving. I think it’s a very steady incline. I don’t think it’s been one – obviously you can point to a couple plays – but I think his overall improvement has been very steady and consistent.
"And he’s tough. He’s taken some hits. He’s fought through some bumps and bruises and he stays out there and keeps going and gets through it. That helps because you learn but you can’t really improve [by] watching. You have to go out there and do it and get the timing and execution with your teammates and he fights through and does it."
Veteran DT Isaac Sopoaga became the third defensive lineman from the 2004 rookie class to join the Patriots when the team acquired him via trade earlier in the week, joining injured Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
Belichick said the Patriots had a great deal of interest in Sopoaga, but he was scooped up by the 49ers before New England could draft him.
"We talked about taking him and we were going to take him, and we were just a round late. But we’d already taken Vince [Wilfork] obviously," Belichick said. "But you can never have too many defensive linemen. That was kind of the conversation. He was right there; we were ready to take him. We said, ‘Well, you know, we can get him one round earlier.’ We’d already taken a couple guys and we probably waited a little bit too long on that one."
He went on to say that given how Sopoaga's career has played out, he was quite the fourth-round pick and could have gone in the first or second round in retrospect.
Conversely, Kelly is a player Belichick admitted he knew little about.
"I think Tommy Kelly was off a lot of people’s radar. I’ve talked to Mike Lombardi about him because of course he had him out in Oakland [Kelly signed with the Raiders as an undrafted rookie]," he said. "He was kind of a guy that really slipped through the cracks. I know when Mike took him out there, he was thinking it was a, ‘We’ll take a shot at him’ kind of thing. I’d say it was a great find by Mike. What a career Tommy has had from being an undrafted guy. He’s had an excellent career.
"I think Mike really found him and then once he started playing, then everyone in the league could see he was a pretty good player. I wish we had seen him or been able to see what Mike saw because really there wasn’t any action on him. Then once everybody saw him play, it was like, ‘Oh my God, how did we miss this guy?’"
Belichick was asked about Rob Gronkowski's health - in addition to his back and forearm, the team is also listing the tight end with a hamstring injury this week - but only said the Patriots will list things on their injury report "the way we see it."