Following the Patriots’ first preseason game, third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett told reporters that he needed to “go back to [his] mechanics” after a couple of his incompletions sailed high. When asked the next day how he tinkers with a player’s individual idiosyncrasies while still enforcing the fundamentals, head coach Bill Belichick had an in-depth response:
Well, I think that’s a good question, Phil [Perry]. I think anytime that you look at an individual skill such as passing, kicking, punting, a golf swing, something like that, that each person—their physically ability is a little bit different.
Their mechanics may have some variation and so there are a lot of different, I would say, styles. You look at the golf tour—not every swing is exactly the same, but all of those guys are pretty good. I think what you try to teach in that situation—and I’ve talked to people who coach those specific skills like that and when I was the special teams coach and coached punters and kickers—is that there are certain fundamentals that are inherent and good in good passes, good kicks, good punts. The way that the ball is released, and the angle and the spin on the ball, and the delivery, and so forth.
The same thing is true, as I said, in golf or punting or place kicking. I think you try to teach the players the basic fundamentals and if they can adjust their mechanics in a way to improve and still feel comfortable with it, then we try to do that. And if it’s an adjustment that they’re really not comfortable making for whatever the reasons, then I think you just have to decide if you can live with what the deficiencies are in the mechanics and look at if the punts are good.
But if they’re done in a little bit of an unorthodox way and they’ve satisfied what you want the punter to do, then you’re probably going to be happy with it. If they don’t and you can’t change it because that’s just not the makeup of the player, then you’re probably not going to be happy with it. I’m sure that extends to other players, too.
There are players that use techniques and do certain things that you wouldn’t coach a player to do if you were starting him off or if you were talking to a group of players and you’d say, “OK, this is fundamentally the way we want to do something,” it’s the exact opposite of the way that another player is doing it. But the player is very successful doing it that way and so you don’t change the guy who has his own way of doing it if he is successful and he’s productive.
But at the same time, you wouldn’t necessarily start from scratch and teach a player who has kind of a blank slate to do it that way because fundamentally you see some flaws in it. I’d say the biggest lesson or experience I learned on that was with Everson Walls when I had him with the Giants. He came from Dallas, and he had a very unorthodox way of covering in man-to-man coverage and his footwork was unorthodox, his eye control was, again, not something that you would teach. That’s probably because not a lot of guys could do it.
But he had his way of doing it, and he could do it pretty well and one of the first things I told Everson was “I’m not going to try to change your style but you have to understand what your responsibilities are on the defense and you have to perform those responsibilities, but I’ll give you some latitude in the technique and the style as long as you can get the job done.”
He said, “OK, I fully understand that. I want to meet the requirements of the position on the defense on a particular call, but let me do it my way and I’ll get it done. I don’t know if I can do it your way because I’ve been doing it this other way for so long.”
I said “That’s fine,” and the guy had—whatever he had, 60 interceptions—or however many it was. It was a lot. He played very well for us and, as I said, I learned a lot from Everson because he just did things differently than any other defensive back on the team, or in all honesty, really any other defensive back I’ve coached.
But he knew what he was doing. He knew where he had to compensate, and generally speaking, he got the job done on a very high percentage basis. I learned to accept that, but at the same time I had to coach the other players.
“Look, this player has a lot of experience doing it a different way. I’m going to let him do that. I’m not going to coach you to do it. I’m not going to really allow you to do it. I want you to follow a fundamental sequence that I think is more of the right way to progress it.”
All of the players in the room understand that—Mark Collins and Perry Williams and [Myron] Guyton and [Greg] Jackson. They all understood that, that it was different, but they knew they couldn’t do it that way, and again, Everson had a lot of experience doing it. It’s a long answer to a short question, but that’s kind of how I look at that.
Those individual skills—there is certainly a guideline and a way that I think and I believe in that they should be coached, but if it screws the player up more than it helps them, then that’s not really good coaching. Then I think you’re better off letting them do it how he’s most comfortable doing it. There’s definitely a give and take on an individual skill like that.