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Bill Belichick on Patriots roster: ‘Where is that sweet spot?’

09.05.12 at 5:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — By his own admission Wednesday, Bill Belichick knows there are a lot of “moving parts” on the Patriots 53-man roster and the practice squad.

Forget the rookies drafted back in the April. Guys like Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jake Bequette have had a full session of OTAs, rookie camp, mini camp and training camp and a preseason to learn the “Patriot Way.”

The players Belichick is careful not to overwhelm are the newest members of the roster. Players like tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and fullback Lex Hillard joined the Patriots at practice on Wednesday, just four days before practice.

What is the fine line between giving a new player the information he needs to perform and running the risk of overwhelming them just four days before the season opener?

“That’€™s definitely a concern,” Belichick said. “I think you want to err on the side of not overloading him because then that could not work out well. You probably would limit his role to what you feel confident that he can do and then build into something else the following week or whenever you think the player is ready. I think that’€™s definitely and concern and it’€™s something that you have to manage. At the same time, I think it’€™s more important to get your roster set now in the best possible way you can get it, whatever that is, going forward over a 16-game regular season schedule then to be short-sighted about one game and then cost yourself or your team the opportunity to have a stronger roster through the remaining 15 games.

“Everybody wants to win the first game but it’€™s a long season and there are a lot of games after this one. There are considerations this week, there are considerations for next week, there are considerations for the entire 16-game season. There’€™s some balance that you’€™re always trying to find there. Where is that sweet spot? I don’€™t know. Sometimes you’€™re not as good now as you are later; sometimes you’€™re better now than you are later. I think you want to try to give yourself an opportunity to develop and improve and grow as a team and don’€™t put a roadblock in front of it that this is the high water mark and everything is downhill after that. I don’€™t think you want to position your team like that, at least I don’€™t, I don’€™t like that.”

Here are some other highlights from Belichick’s Q and A with reporters at Gillette Stadium.

BB: We’€™re working on a couple roster moves, some moving parts involved so we’€™ll give those all to you at once, once they’€™re complete or once we have something definite to report. In the meantime we’€™re back out on the field after yesterday; gave us a day to go back and look at what we’€™ve done ‘€“ Friday, Sunday, Monday ‘€“ clean up a few things, get some things in place and we’€™ll move on through here in the last stage of our preparations for Tennessee. [We’€™re] getting a real good football team that does things well in all three phases of the game- well coached, very disruptive on defense, fast defensive team. Offensively they have a lot of firepower at quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver, veteran offensive line, good specialists, good return game. They’€™re a real solid football team. We know it will be a hostile environment down there Sunday. We’€™ll try to get ready for the noise and acclimate ourselves to conditions like that. At the same time we’€™re looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity. I’€™m sure they’€™ll be ready to go; that’€™s a big challenge for us to meet.

Q: Are you practicing inside or outside today?

BB: Outside.

Q: It looked like rain earlier.

BB: We can’€™t worry about that. Yeah, we’€™ll be out there.

Q: Do you have to get them inside if there is lightning?

BB: We won’€™t be out in the lightning, nope.

Q: Is there anything you tell the younger players and the rookies going into this game?

BB: We talk to those guys all the way through. We talk to them before the first preseason game, second preseason game. We try to make them aware of some of the things that are ahead for them. I’€™ll do that in terms of opening day, we have veteran players, people on our staff like Pepper [Johnson] who played in those games, gone through those situations that maybe can give a little bit of insight. We’€™ve all been through those first time things, sometimes you get a little advice that can help you but the bottom line is there is no substitute for the experience of doing it and going through it. No matter how somebody describes it to you, you really learn it when you experience it. I’€™m sure it will be an exciting day for all those guys ‘€“ first NFL game. We’€™ve all had them, at least the coaches haven’€™t played in them, but it’€™s an exciting experience and it’€™s a learning experience. You do the best you can to prepare for it but there are always things that are a little bit different when you actually get into than you think they’€™re going to be. Our players face that all year though, it’€™s always ramped up for them. I think they’€™ll be able to handle the adjustments in time.

Q: Even though you may have done some great things in practices and preseason games leading up to opening day, it all counts for real on Sunday. Do you find yourself thinking, ‘€˜I wonder if we’€™re going to be able to do this’€™ or ‘€˜I wonder if that will work?’€™

BB: Sure, I don’€™t think you know anything right now. It just hasn’€™t been tested under fire. Things you think are going to be good may not be that great. Things that you’€™re worried about might be okay. I think that’€™s what opening day, that’€™s really what that’€™s about. Preseason, teams aren’€™t game planning for you, you don’€™t see the matchups, it’€™s just not the same. It’€™s competitive, you can learn a lot from it, but it’€™s just not the same as a regular season game. We’€™ll find out starting Sunday. We’€™ll get the answers to some of those questions and we’€™ll see it in the coming weeks because not every week that we’€™ll face this season will we see on opening day, nor will they. Over the course of a few games, we’€™ll see different schemes, different types of players, you’€™ll start to know better what your team can do, maybe what it can’€™t do, what it’€™s good at, what you need to support in some other areas. There’€™s definitely a big element of that. I don’€™t feel like I know the answer to any of those questions until we really start playing some regular season games and it will probably take a little while to figure it all out. We’€™ll get some indications this week but after you get three or four weeks under your belt, that’€™s kind of when you know where things are at.

Q: Ryan Wendell isn’€™t the most physically impressive guy but it seems like he is able to do certain things well like play with leverage. How has he been able to improve and get better in his time with the Patriots?

BB: He’€™s been very well coached. Obviously Pat [Hill] and his staff at Fresno State did an excellent job with him and Logan [Mankins] and all the other linemen that have come out of there. When we first had Wendy, we actually released him off the practice squad and then brought him back to the practice squad so that’€™s a guy whose level has risen dramatically from when he first started here. Hard work, he’€™s gotten stronger, he’€™s improved his athletic skills, his numbers, his quickness, explosion, power, strength, all those things. He’€™s gotten better with technique, he’€™s just become a better football player as well as improved a little bit athletically as he’€™s grown and matured into his body. A lot of hard work, a lot of just stringing a lot of good days together, day after day, week after week, year after year. He’€™s had an opportunity to play. Unfortunately last year, he might have maybe been in the same position but he had a couple injuries, a couple setbacks, wasn’€™t able to get on the field and never really got out there to compete the way he has this year. He’€™s done a good job for us all the way through. He’€™s always been a solid, dependable player. He’€™s earned it; he’€™s definitely earned it.

Q: How important is it to start off well early and put pressure on the rest of the division?

BB: I don’€™t know. You always want to get off to a good start but this league is usually determined by games in December and January. Unless you get so far behind at the beginning of the year that those games don’€™t matter but every game is important ‘€“ we only play 16 of them. You always want to get off to a good start but I can’€™t say that this game is more important than the next 15.

Q: You have three undrafted rookies on the 53-man roster right now. Do you notice that undrafted rookies have a different edge?

BB: I don’€™t know. I don’€™t think I would generalize that or say that, no. Some guys do; some guys don’€™t. Some guys that are drafted late do; some guys that are drafted late don’€™t. I don’€™t know.

Q: Are there any common traits that undrafted guys that have made your roster tend to share?

BB: I’€™d say they performed. They’€™ve come in and they’€™ve performed to a good, competitive level and shown us that they can possibly get higher. They’€™ve been competitive and there’€™s upside for them to continue to develop as a player and get better. How far does that take them? How high do they go? I don’€™t know. I’€™d say that would be the common thing with those players going all the way back to Patrick Pass and guys like that, even from the beginning that come in, were late round draft choices or undrafted free agents. They played well in training camp and you evaluate the player and say, ‘€˜This guy, with a little more experience, with a little more time, he might be even better’€™ ‘€“ the Matt Cassels and the Steve Neals of the world and all that. I think that’€™s what they need to show to get to that next opportunity. Then they have to keep getting better or if they just fizzle out, somebody else will come along with kind of the same resume and nudge them out, get ahead of them.

Q: Jared Cook, Titans tight end, he is not really mentioned by people at-large with some of the young, prolific tight ends, but he is talented’€¦

BB: Yeah, he’€™s good, this guy is good. He’€™s big, he’€™s fast, he’€™s athletic, great hands, can stretch the field, can take short ones a long way. There’€™s hardly anywhere that you can put the ball that he can’€™t catch it ‘€“ over his head, behind him, down on the ground, one hand ‘€“ he’€™s got a great catch radius. He’€™s got really long arms, big body but athletic, can twist, turn, jump, he makes a lot of good catches. He’€™s a hard guy to cover. He’€™s big, he’€™s powerful, it’€™s hard to match up on him with a linebacker, it’€™s hard to match up on him with a DB. He’€™s a big target, he’€™s fast, gets downfield. He’€™s pretty good to me.

Read More: Lex HIllard, Michael Hoomanawanui, minnesota vikings, New England Patriots
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