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Billick on D&C: Training camp is a ‘balance’

07.29.10 at 11:17 am ET
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Former Ravens coach and current Fox NFL analyst Brian Billick joined the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning to discuss the current workings of the NFL, how the general managers dominate the league, and what he sees the Patriots doing during this training camp.

“Right now I think it’s a [general managers] league. I think we’re slowly transitioning more and more to the defining of roles,” Billick explained. “More and more I think we’re almost following the baseball model where before, the head coach was that pitcher or head of the organization. Now, particularly with the transition of the new coaches, you have the GMs who say, “Look, we’ll take care of the [salary] cap, we’ll take care of the personnel, you just cover the Xs and Os.’ ”

Following are highlights of the interview. To hear the full interview visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

If you were coaching today, would you prefer to be the team with a lot of expectations, or the one overlooked by critics?

At the end of the day, it’s always about talent. It’s never bad to have a lot of talent, obviously. But you do have to manage it because with that comes great expectations. You watch a team like the [New York] Jets, and typical of [coach] Rex Ryan, “Bring it on, we’re going to be this team, we’re going to win the Super Bowl, we’re going to be good.” And that can energize you, but you do understand there are pitfalls there, and that your vulnerable to some things. If things don’t go real well early, how’s your team going to respond to it?

On the flip side, yeah, it’s kind of nice to lay in the weeds. You’re sitting there in New York on one end and you have the Jets, on the other side it’s the Giants, and your not quite sure. If I know [Giants coach] Tom Coughlin, I know he likes kind of being underneath the radar. But the flip side of that is if you’re underneath the radar, it’s probably because you deserve to be. It’s probably because you have some questions about your teams. At the end of the day I’d always lean toward, “Give me the talent, I’ll deal with the expectations.”

Is it easier for coaches like Rex Ryan to motivate his team compared to Sean Payton in New Orleans?

Well, the thing you have to do when your coming off a Super Bowl [victory] is everybody wants to do well. I remember after [the 2000 Ravens] Super Bowl, I just talked to Sean Payton a couple of weeks ago, from the minute you put your hands on the Lombardi trophy, I mean the minute, all you hear is, “Can you do it again?” You get beat up with it, as do the players, the entire offseason. That can wear you out as well. And our point was, and I think Sean will take the same approach, “OK, we are the reigning Super Bowl champions. But that means nothing for this year, and we’re not even going to talk about it anymore, because this is a whole new ball game.”

I know that up in New England, I was reading where they were taking down some of the pictures of the old guys and references [to the three championships]. There’s no denying that your a three-time winning Super Bowl organization. But that means nothing for this year. So, even though that may be a little bit of coach speak, the message is very clear of what it takes to be successful this year. That’s focus on one game at a time, and what your doing now, not what you were.

Do you like the changes the Jets made?

Oh, absolutely. You begin obviously with that secondary, God forbid Rex Ryan needs more of an excuse to bring pressure. Your talking about [Darrelle] Revis, [Antonio] Cromartie, the young man [Kyle] Wilson they got out of Boise State. That’s probably as gifted a trio of corners, and as you know in today’s game, your nickel corner, your third corner, is basically a starter. And there’s not too many teams that will be as gifted at man coverage than the New York Jets. That’s going to give them a lot of latitude up front. The pass rush, the one thing I think the Jets have to look hard at, can they bring pressure on the quarterback without building that proverbial box, by having to bring that sixth, seventh, eighth man that Rex Ryan is so willing to do.

There are vulnerabilities there. … When [the Ravens] won the Super Bowl, we were able to put on quite a pass rush with just a four- or five-man rush. The big thing obviously for New York is going to be what steps does Mark Sanchez take next year, the second year. Can you throw the team on his back on those two or three games that it’s going to take for them to win the division, and maybe go to a Super Bowl? There still going to play good defense and run the ball, make no mistake about that. But, Mark Sanchez has to be able to step up in a predictable way in that handful of games where you just don’t hold up that day defensively, or you just don’t have the running game going.

Does Bill Belichick expect a lot of out his new draft picks this year?

No, it’s always going to be a balance. That’s the tricky thing about training camp, when you have a number of young players, like New England has this year, that they’re counting on. Training camp is always a balance: “How hard can I push them, what can I get away with so that we can get to the opener healthy and fresh? Yeah, we have a lot of other things that we have to get done.” Within that regard, he’s got an uneasy balance working, obviously when you’re talking about the veteran guys, not the least of which is Tom Brady, obviously, Kevin Faulk and Matt Light and Logan Mankins and the like.

On the defensive side, you’ve got to get these guys up and running. Rob Gronkowski and these guys they dealt with, Jerod Mayo, even though he’s got that year under his belt, there’s still some development there that you’re counting on. So, that’s a tenuous balance and that’s the key going into camp: “How am I going to split this up?” The Patriots are a little like Philadelphia right now: “We know we’re younger, we’re making that transition.”

Could you imagine not having coordinators, similar to what Belichick does?

You know, there has to be a chain of command. Even if it’s not from the outside, the players, even if they don’t say it, they’ve got to know, “OK, what’s the chain of command here, who’s in charge? Who’s the guy we’re going to listen to in those critical times when decisions have to be made?” I’m not talking about the large decisions that the head coach makes, in terms of the flow of the game. But, the play calling and what we’re doing, who do we talk to.

I’m sure the players are aware of what that structure is. They don’t quite know what coach Belichick’s thoughts are in terms of why he’s approaching it the way he does. But that’s a closed environment up there. It’s like, “We’re going to do things the way we do things as long as we know, it doesn’t matter what anybody outside thinks.” That has its faults as well. The players have to know, when the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, who is that guy who says, “This is exactly what we’re doing.” And the guy they see on a regular basis in the meetings has to know they are invested in it.

Certainly the coaches can jump and say, “OK, we’re going to do this.” But if that comes from a guy maybe the players haven’t seen in the meetings or hasn’t interacted with them on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, if he makes the calls you run the risk of maybe losing your players.

Is it a coaches league or a quarterbacks league?

Right now I think it’s a [general managers] league. I think we’re slowly transitioning more and more to the defining of roles. Certainly it always comes back to the players. This is a quarterback-driven league, and with no disrespect to anybody, as long as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Drew Brees is your quarterback, you’re going to do pretty well.

But I think we’re seeing — with the likes of Bill Parcells in Miami, you’re looking at Mike Holmgren in Cleveland, Scott Pioli in Kansas City — more and more, I think we’re almost following the baseball model where before, the head coach was that pitcher or head of the organization. Now, particularly with the transition of the new coaches, you have the GMs who say, ” Look, we’ll take care of the [salary] cap, we’ll take care of the personnel, you just cover the Xs and Os. Obviously in New England with coach Belichick, it’s kind of all in one, and there are still some of those models. But I think we’re transitioning into a little bit more of a baseball model as wee see this transition of the newer coaches.

Read More: Brian Billick, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
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