By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Sometimes when you ask Bill Belichick a question, you get a five-second non-answer. Other times, you get almost four and a half minutes of uninterrupted football talk, wherein the legendary head coach taps into his 46 years as an NFL coach while providing rare insight into the decisions that he and his staff have to make.
The latter was the case on Friday morning — twice. First, Belichick gave a five-minute answer when asked for the intricacies of deciding how to build his practice squad, both in regular times and during his unique 2020 COVID-19-impacted season.
The next question was a bit more pressing, as far as Patriots fans may be concerned, as it was a straightforward question about this year’s roster: “Bill, what is your view of the competition at kicker as we get close to crunch time in setting the initial roster?”
Belichick could have easily said that both rookie Justin Rohrwasser and veteran Nick Folk have looked good and worked hard and that the coaching staff will do “whatever’s best for the football team.” Instead, Belichick opened up about everything that goes into such decisions.
The long and short of it seemed to be this: Folk is better right now, but Rohrwasser may be better in the long run. Belichick didn’t say that specifically, but the comparisons and language he used seemed to indicate as much.
Belichick called upon Tom Brady in 2000, James White in 2014, and Shane Vereen in 2011 as players who really didn’t contribute much as rookie but nevertheless were kept on the roster and later blossomed into big-time players. Belichick noted that not every promising rookie develops into a star like that, but the long-term projection on a player can often lead the team to keep a player on the 53-man roster.
That’s the short of it. Here’s the long of it. Bill’s uninterrupted, unedited answer on a quick question about the kicker competition:
“You know, I think that is, you know, a pretty close gap. It’s a similar decision I think that every team that I’ve ever been on has come up, where you have a veteran player with experience and a very accomplished career, with a younger player with potentially a long career ahead of him that has less experience. And they at this particular point in time you just have to see where you feel like the competition is, but then also look at it and say, OK, where are things going to be halfway through the season, where are things going to be a year from now, or maybe two years from now?”
“And so, then that changes sometimes the evaluation. Now those are projections and there’s no certainty there. But when you look at players that we’ve had on our team — James White would be a good example of a player that didn’t play his rookie year, I think he was only active for a game or two. Obviously Brady never played***.”
(***The utter disrespect for Brady’s scintillating 6-yard pass to Rod Rutledge on Thanksgiving Day in 2000! Is this Belichick taking a SHOT at his former QB? We’ll take your calls, coming up after this quick break.)
“If you evaluate some players where they are at one point in time and then evaluate them a year later, sometimes you can have a drastic change. And in those two cases [White and Brady] I’m glad we didn’t make the decision based on where they were at the end of their rookie training camp to not have them on our team on a longer-term view.”
“Now not everybody falls into that category. But I’m saying, like, there’s two good examples. Shane Vereen would be another one. But guys that didn’t have production at one point in time but then in a relatively short period of time that changed — maybe expectedly, maybe unexpectedly. So we’ll just have to — those are the kind of decisions that you make when you have a very experienced player versus a rookie.”
“I think obviously when the rookie at a particular position — I’m not saying this is the case with the kicker, I’m saying generically — if you have a rookie who’s already moved ahead of a player with a lot of experience and you have every reason to think that the rookie will continue to improve, then that’s a pretty straightforward decision. That’s pretty easy. But it’s the other way around, when those two lines are going to cross at some point between the experienced guy coming closer to the end of his career and the inexperienced guy ascending to a higher level — like when and how does that happen?”
“Position’s a factor, again. This is not like you can carry seven defensive linemen. This is a kicker. So that decision’s a little bit different than it is at other spots, where you can play more than one guy.”
“But it’s fundamentally it’s still … I can remember those conversations going back to 1975, when I was with the Colts and Coach [Ted] Marchibroda. It was the same thing then. It was, ‘This guy with experience versus this guy with inexperience.’ And I did not really understand it at that point. But you know, at that point in time, the experienced guy in those conversations was always better, but then in the long run, that wasn’t always the case, as I cited with a couple of our examples.”
“But it’s a really tough question, Mike [Reiss], and it’s really challenging for I think every coach, every team. It’s not like college, where you’re going to have all the players all the time. Here you have to make choices. You can’t keep them all. And you’ve got to make a decision based on, you know … and either way, you could be right. When you make that decision either way, you could be right or you could be wrong depending on how fast or slow those tangents pass.”
“It’s a great question, though. That’s the hardest part of this time of year is those types of decisions.”
Bill Belichick Live Press Conference 9/4: https://t.co/h3tn0j4U2V
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 4, 2020
Belichick’s practice squad thoughts take place from about 9:20 until 15:15 in that video above, while the rookie vs. veteran thoughts follow immediately after.
It may not be earth-shattering, necessarily. Some of it is common sense. Yet with the world always wondering how and why the Patriots have been able to maintain the most consistent run of NFL success in the 21st century, answers like these are always illuminating with regard to how the organization matter-of-factly goes about its business.