Patriots coach Bill Belichick opened his Q&A with the media today with a reflection on Jim Nance and Billy Sullivan, the pair that will be enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame before Thursday's exhibition game vs. the Bengals. Here's Belichick's opening statement (the entire Q&A, as transcribed by the Patriots' media relations department, can be found after the jump):
First, I think I should recognize and say something about the enshrinees for Thursday’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction. Certainly, we’re all grateful to Billy [Sullivan] for what he did for this franchise. He made it possible for all of us to be here, in some way or another. Jim Nance is really, I think, when I look back on all the players that I remember both growing up and even as a coach, he’s kind of really the prototype fullback. What I really remember about Jim Nance is when he wrestled at Syracuse as a heavyweight. I remember being a kid at the Naval Academy and going to his wrestling matches and seeing Jim come in there and, boy, he looked like a fullback in his wrestling outfit. He was, of course, an NCAA championship wrestler with just incredible quickness and balance and power for a big man. Of course, you saw that on the field and off the field. I think the recognition there is certainly well-deserved. He was a very, very hard guy to tackle and deal with. [He was], like I said, more of a prototype fullback. I know Jim Brown – and the greatness that Jim [Brown] has brought to this game is on a different level – but it’s almost like Jim [Brown] was a halfback with his speed and his elusiveness in the open field. Nance was a pretty special player here and in that era as well.
Anyway, back to the current Patriots. We’re kind of pushing through here on training camp. The second preseason game kind of marks the unofficial transition from camp to more of a regular-season schedule. Next week, when we play Washington, we’ll kind of treat that like a normal – sort of – normal week during the regular season as we prepare for the game. This week is a little bit of a transition from the training camp that we had in the first two weeks of camp to what we’ll be doing next week as we head into our third preseason game. From a scheduling standpoint, preparation standpoint, things that we work on, situations and different drills and the way we prepare our team for games, we’re starting to get into some elements of that as well as specifically preparing for the Bengals. They’re a very explosive team. Last week, they had almost 300 yards against New Orleans in the first half. They’re a high turnover team; they always have been since Marvin [Lewis] has come there. They’re very aggressive defensively in terms of getting the ball, taking the ball away from the offense. We’re going to have to do a good job of protecting it and also blocking their movement and their different stunts and blitzes and games that they’ve run to try to be disruptive to the offense. They’re very good at that so those are some of the challenges we’ll face this week. We’ll talk a little bit about how we want to play the game this afternoon and tonight with the staff and the players. [We’ll] just try to kind of get through this afternoon’s practice in terms of finishing up our Friday-type preparations as they relate to situational football, like goal-line, short-yardage, red area, third down, punt team, things like that. That’s kind of where we are for today.
Q: Do you know yet if Wes Welker is going to play Thursday?
BB: You know [for] some of the guys that haven’t practiced at one time or another this week, we’ll probably do the final wrap up on that tonight. [We’ll] see how they do today and see where they’re at 48 hours before the game. That’s kind of our normal timeframe, anyway. So the answer to your question is, no.
Q: Looking at Wes Welker’s progression over the last few years, what is the focus for him and for you? What is he working on and what are his goals?
BB: I think everybody’s goals are pretty much the same: to come to training camp and the 2009 season, work on your fundamentals, make sure that you know your assignments and work on our overall team execution and understanding of situational football. That’s probably the same for all the players. It’s a new year, a new year and a new time to develop and reestablish our fundamentals and our individual level of play, as well as, working with whoever the new people are, or new plays, or changes, or modifications to situations and things we’ve done in the past and to understand those, and get them down, and be able to do them in a competitive situation. That’s true for everybody, even though guys have been on this team before or in the league before. There always are some changes – working with different players, or tweaking our plays, or our system, or sometimes our nomenclature and our terminology, or things like that. There are always new things involved there and that’s part of it for everybody, including the coaches. We all need to re-familiarize ourselves with it, me included. Some of this stuff, we’ve been coaching for a long time. But still, in order to really be on top of it in game conditions, when you only have a few seconds to make a decision and recognize a situation, you really need to stay on top of it and brush up on it and mentally put yourself through those situations and those exercises now before they happen; rather than thinking you’re going to be able to react to something you haven’t thought about in several months and think you’re going to be able to do the right thing or get your team in the right position without that type of preparation. We’re all doing that.
Q: How would you assess Wes Welker’s performance today?
BB: His performance today? Doing what? I mean, we haven’t practiced today. We just went out and walked through some stuff. I can’t really … I couldn’t evaluate anybody off of this morning.
Q: Now that it is nearing the end of camp, how would you evaluate Laurence Maroney’s progress?
BB: I think Laurence has had a real good offseason. Unfortunately, he got an early start to it and rehabbed during the latter part of the season last year and was an early participant in the offseason program. I think he got a lot done, both physically and from a technique standpoint. He’s worked very hard in the passing game, route-running, catching the ball, working at the top of his routes to lose defenders, and make two or three routes look the same so the defenders can’t key in on them or anticipate them. He’s done a real good job of that. I think his work in the passing game has shown up on the field, as well as pass protection. Of course, we know he can run the ball and also be involved in the return game. I think he’s had a productive camp. I think he’s ready to go.
Q: Are you happy with the way things have gone over the last few weeks of camp?
BB: I think we’ve gotten a lot of work done. I think we still have a long way to go. I feel like we’ve tried to take advantage of each opportunity we’ve had each day. We’ve worked on different things and we’ve had different emphasis points from day to day. I think we’re better than we were. I know all the other teams are doing the same thing so whether we’re further ahead than they are, that’s what really counts. We’re not going to know that until we play them. Are we making progress? Yeah, we should. We’ve practiced 27 times or whatever it is. Compared to the other teams that are doing the same thing? We’ll find out. I hope so.
Q: What are the challenges of defending the Wildcat offense?
BB: I don’t know about … I guess what I would say is that if you have a running quarterback, offensively, you essentially have one more gap to attack the defensive with, or the defense has one more gap to defend. When you have a quarterback handing off to a running back — however many blockers you have — let’s say you have seven blockers in front of him, a tight end, six linemen and a running back, then, defensively, you can pretty easily get into an eight-man front that accounts for every gap and still have defenders for the perimeter receivers. Once that quarterback becomes a runner, you really have another gap to defend now. Those seven blockers and eight gaps now really become nine gaps and now you really only have eight defenders. So that puts a stress somewhere on your defense, just like the Single-Wing offenses, just like the college Veer and Wishbone offenses, to some degree the Wing-T and to some degree, I guess, the Wildcat. The principles are all the same: that having another ball carrier, the defense has to defend another gap and you have to decide how you want to do that defensively. Instead of the quarterback handing off, now you have a guy that can actually attack the defense and run the ball, which most quarterbacks aren’t a threat to do that. That changes some of your run defense principles. To me, that’s the foundation of a running quarterback, whether you do it in the Single Wing, or do it in the option game, it all really comes down to defensively having enough people to defend all the areas they can create.
Q: Can you evaluate Tully Banta-Cain’s performance Thursday? Has he improved any specific areas since his last time on the team?
BB: I think Tully is basically the same player we had a couple years ago. I think he’s still physically has pretty much the same set of skills. He’s gained a couple more years of experience. He’s been in a different system; I’m sure there’s some benefit to that. I would say the big thing with Tully is this year he has been very focused. We have tried to narrow down his area of responsibility and focus so he can really concentrate on a few roles. Not saying he won’t have a lot of roles, but we’ve prioritized those for him and I think that’s probably enabled him to concentrate more on a few things and really get better at them as opposed to having a wide variety of responsibilities and maybe not being able to excel in any one of them. He’s definitely spent a lot of time on pass-rush drills and technique and protections and all those type of things. I think that that is a strength of his game, rushing the passer, and that will certainly be a big part of his responsibilities. I thought that he showed up there Thursday night against Philadelphia in the opportunities that he had. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I think he’s had a good camp and he’s made a lot of progress there, especially in the areas that we’ve identified and that he’s tried to prioritize.
Q: Would you ever consider doing the HBO “Hard Knocks” show?
BB: I don’t know. I haven’t really talked about it [or] thought about it. Right now, I’m just more concerned about trying to get our team ready to play Cincinnati Thursday night, and then the regular season opener against Buffalo, and then the 16-game regular season schedule. That’s really consumed a lot of my time and energy and it will probably consume a lot more. So that’s what I’m thinking about now.
Q: You don’t want to be a TV star?
BB: Well, I had my bit in “Rescue Me.” I’ll have to stand on that performance.
Q: In a best-case scenario, would you rather not have a guy like Wes Welker returning punts since he’s such a full-time guy, or do you want to just go with the best available player?
BB: We want to do whatever we need to do to win so whatever the best thing is, that’s what I’m for. Given whatever our options are, whatever our players’ skills are, however that works out – and it might change from game to game, week to week, year to year – whatever gives us the best chance to win, that’ s what I’m in favor of. You can mark that down, whatever it is.
Q: What about the physical toll of returning punts?
BB: It’s more than not doing them, but again everybody has jobs to do. Some people double up. Some players do more than others and again sometimes that’s based on the situation that you’re in – what a player needs to be called on to do. If you could divide things up differently and you had the personnel and the players to do that, maybe that would be an option. Sometimes that’s not really a great option so you do whatever you think gives you the best chance to win. That might be putting a little bit of responsibility on one player, one group or one area, or it might be taking some off of somebody else, but those are game by game, or season by season decisions based on your personnel, your roster and the situation you’re facing. But the only thing I could say is, whatever I think gives us the best chance to win, that’s what I’m in favor of. We’re not ruling anything out. We’re not ruling anything in. Whatever we need to do to win, that’s what we’re going to try to do.
Q: Can you talk about Julian Edelman’s diligence and what he’s like to work with and coach?
BB: Julian’s worked hard. He’s a smart kid. He understands football. Some of the situations we put him in are new to him or the specifics of what we want to do in those situations, as they are to all the rookie players. It’s an understanding of when to do what and how we want to treat different situations. Sometimes you make the same call, but you do it differently depending on something in that situation — time, timeouts, field position or whatever it happens to be. Understanding what we would want him to do, or the returner to do, or the ball-handler, or the play-caller, or whatever; yeah, there’s a growth there. There’s a development. There’s a gaining of understanding, but I think he’s done a good job of that. We’ve given him a lot of responsibility and I don’t think he’s ready to handle all of it right now by any means, but he’s certainly made a lot of progress in handling it and — as long as it continues to go that way — we’ll keep working with him.
Q: Logan Mankins came into camp a little lighter last year and then was heavier again coming in this year. Is that a team choice or his decision?
BB: Every player has certain requirements when they come into training camp that they need to meet and that’s something that’s collectively done between the player, the medical people, the conditioning and training staff and the position coaches. We usually talk about those things with each player and what we feel like is best for him, based on his particular situation. It’s the same for every player and all of our players have met those requirements — whatever they happen to be, individually — and the entire team’s done that. It’s the same for every player.