No secret to their success
Finding the right role players is what sets New England apart.
By DAVE GOLDBERG, The Associated Press
A few years ago, Bill Belichick was asked how an undrafted free- agent cornerback named Randall Gay had performed so well in the NFL when he wasn't even a starter at LSU.
"We thought he was pretty good in college," Belichick replied. "He was just behind a guy who will be a first-round draft pick.
The guy Gay was behind turned out to be a second-rounder: Corey Webster, who's currently struggling in the New York Giants' overwhelmed secondary. Mean-while, Gay starts for a team that two weeks into the season has folks uttering the "U" word, as in unbeaten.
Belichick's secret to success is not spying. Almost every team in the NFL does that in some form. He just happened to get caught using a method banned by the league.
The Patriots have stayed at the top of the NFL for most of this century because they understand how to put together a team of players to fill specific roles and keep finding unheralded role players such as Gay. Yes, they got Randy Moss this season because he came cheap and still has most of his awesome ability, but Belichick also loves Moss' new running mate, Wes Welker. The one-time San Diego Chargers castoff and former Miami Dolphins receiver already has 14 catches in the team's two 38-14 wins.
Welker, Gay and starting guard Stephen Neal, a one-time college wrestler whom Belichick kept around for a couple of years to teach the fundamentals of offensive line play, are important not only because they can play. They're also good players who are relatively cheap, allowing the Patriots to splurge every so often on stars who fit their schemes, as they did last spring on Moss and linebacker Adalius Thomas.
Beyond that, almost all of the Patriots are players who can do a lot of things. In Baltimore, Thomas lined up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, safety and defensive end.
"A lot of times, a player has a lot of versatility. That's really what their strength is and what their role is," Belichick said during an unusually candid session in training camp two years ago in which he explained his personnel philosophy.
"If you put them in one particular spot, you might have a guy that's better at that one thing than they are. But when you look at the player's versatility, his intelligence, his physical skills, his ability to adapt to different situations, he just has so much value on a broad base, that's really more valuable to your team than a guy who's better at one individual position."
Think of it another way.
A lot of people believe the obvious improvement in New England's offense is a result of the trade that brought Moss to the Patriots for almost nothing -- a fourth-round pick.
Yes, Moss has made a huge difference with 17 catches for a 16.9-yard average and three touchdowns in two games. But Belichick refuses to talk about him as a special player.
Hence this answer to questions about Moss this week:
"Randy and I have talked quite a bit. We've talked football. I have a lot of conversations with the players. Those are player-coach conversations and we keep those between the player and the coach. ... We talk about things that are important. That's the way it is with all of the players."
What Belichick is saying is that all Patriots are created equal.
The spying controversy and New England's two big wins have overshadowed the fact that the Patriots are without two of their best defensive players: lineman Richard Seymour, out for at least the first six games with what is purported to be a knee injury (Belichick doesn't talk about those things), and strong safety Rodney Harrison, suspended for the first four games for a substance abuse violation, reported to be human growth hormone.
Both are being replaced by typical Belichick-era Patriots.
Seymour's spot has been filled by Jarvis Green, a fourth-round draft choice in 2002 whom the Pats have used as a pass-rushing specialist (18 sacks in five seasons). Harrison has been replaced by James Sanders, taken in the fourth round in 2005. He was worked in as the dime back and is considered Harrison's eventual replacement.
Green, Sanders, Gay, Neal and other Patriots are the products of a personnel policy that ranks prospects less on raw talent and more on how they fit New England's scheme. The team also gets rid of disappointments as soon as they demonstrate they can't play. Most other teams keep draft picks, especially high ones, because they don't want to acknowledge publicly that they made a mistake.
All of this has been obscured by a video camera used to tape signals during the Jets game.
That set off rumbling from teams the Patriots beat in Super Bowls and championship games that somehow New England got its rings from cheating -- a bunch of players suggesting that somehow the Patriots knew their offensive plays and defensive schemes.
Hey, every coach looks for any advantage he can get. Jimmy Johnson recounted during the Fox pregame show last week how he used to have interns go through the garbage in the press box booths used by opposing coaches. His assumption: tossed-out game plans and scouting notes could prove useful at some point.
Belichick's mistake, an uncharacteristic one, was to do what he did so openly against a team coached by a former assistant, who then broke an unwritten NFL coaching rule: "Thou shall not rat out the opposition."
The truth: Belichick's team is good enough that he doesn't need to spy.
At the current pace, that could mean 16 wins. All 38-14.
Re: Great article
Thanks for sharing. Next time, though, please post only a blurb from the article and then the link.
Re: Great article
Good read, thanks
Re: Great article
Re: Great article
I think what we've all grown to appreciate about BB is the same thing that drives other teams' fans nuts: he doesn't care about anything but football.
The NFL tells him that he has to wear league apparel on the sideline. Fine. He cuts off the sleeves and rips his sweatshirt collars.
The NFL tells him he has to file injury reports. Fine. The week after the 2005 game vs. Atlanta where Vick was listed as "questionable" and didn't play, every player on the Pats' list was "questionable."
The NFL tells him he has to talk to the media a certain amount of time every week. Fine. "It is what it is. I'm just trying to get my team ready to play a football game. That's between me and my players. I'm really not going to comment on that, that's a league issue."
It's not about being congenial or getting one's face into commercials. Talent-wise, next year looks to be the biggest challenge to BB/Pioli since 2000 due to age and possible retirements. I'm just glad we have who we have making the decisions.
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