|In case you forgot, Bill Belichick thinks the world of Mark Bavaro||09.12.12 at 5:13 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Next week, we will again – no doubt – hear from Bill Belichick on how safety Ed Reed is winding up in Canton someday. And with good reason. The safety had a pick-6 on Monday night, igniting the Ravens to a 44-13 thrashing of the Bengals before a national TV audience.
But on Wednesday, we were reminded just how much he thinks of a player he used to coach in New York. Mark Bavaro is in the upper stratosphere of players he’s ever coached. Belichick – of course – was the defensive coordinator with the Giants and on the team’s defensive coaching staff for years and saw close up what kind of battles Bavaro would have with his two stars on defense – Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks.
“All the obvious things: tough, strong, physical, good catch radius, tall, good in the red zone,” Belichick said when asked to compare Bavaro to Rob Gronkowski. “Mark was a tremendous player, I mean tremendous player. In my opinion, there aren’t many…I don’t know if there’s a more complete tight end than Mark Bavaro. There are guys that have stats that are in the Hall of Fame and whatever, but talk about a guy that could line up across from Reggie White and actually block him – that alone would meet my criteria. Great in the red zone, tough, played great in big games, didn’t make any mental mistakes. He was always at the point of attack and you could always count on him: played hurt, played tough, played against the best players in the league at his time and really he handled himself well. Played against the two best outside linebackers in football every day in practice and that was a war.
“I mean, that was a war. [Carl] Banks and [Lawrence] Taylor will tell you that. When they got to the game, there wasn’t anybody that was tougher than they were. I’m sure Bavaro would tell you the same thing about those two guys after going against Banks and Taylor in practice. Whoever they were blocking, it probably wasn’t as bad as going against those two. It was a great competitive situation in practice. Training camp was awesome. Those are three good football players, every day, very competitive, trying to get the best of the other guy, but they all got better. Mark was great. He was a tremendous player.
Belichick realizes those days are long gone with the new CBA.
“Yeah, two-a-day practices are definitely gone,” Belichick said remorsefully. “We kissed those goodbye last year.
Why are tight ends so valued by Belichick?
“I just think a tight end is involved in a lot of plays,” he said. “He’s involved in the running game. He’s involved in the passing game because he’s in the middle of the field. He’s involved in pass protection. There’s really no way, there really aren’t hardly any plays where that guy is out of the play. He’s a central guy in pretty much whatever you want to do. And the more versatile he is, the more things he can do, then defensively the harder he is to defend. If you have to defend a guy in the passing game, then that’s an issue.
“You have to worry about them running behind him, that’s an issue. You have to worry about his speed, that’s an issue. You have to worry about him breaking tackles and catching short passes and turning them into long plays. The more versatile any player is, the more valuable they are. At that position in the middle of the field – with skill players are involved in every play, they give you more options.”
Here’s the rest of Wednesday’s transcript from Belichick’s session with reporters at Gillette Stadium, in which he also heaped praise on Troy Brown as he enters the Patriots Hall of Fame this weekend and the athleticism of the Cardinals, this week’s opponent. (Courtesy: Patriots media relations):
BB: We’ve moved on to the Cardinals here. This has been a real impressive football team to watch; where they were last year, how they finished up the season and off to the same kind of start this year against Seattle: winning in the fourth quarter, winning close games. They’ve been in a lot of real tight, competitive games that come down to the wire that they find a way to win. They have a lot of good football players. They have some really outstanding players, amongst the best at their position in the league, I would say. A lot of weapons on offense: real good receivers, tight ends, running backs, both quarterbacks have won. Defensively they have a very disruptive front, very strong down the middle with [Darnell] Dockett, [Calais] Campbell, [Daryl] Washington, [Adrian] Wilson, that group. Outstanding in the kicking game: great kick blocking team, great kicking returning team. Every play is a potential game-changing play on special teams. This will be a huge challenge for us in the kicking game – protecting the kickers and covering the kicks. We have a lot of work to do this week. Real good football team coming in here, that’s played under a lot of pressure, played with poise, they’re well coached, they’re tough physically and mentally, they play great situation football; that’s why they’ve won eight of the last 10 games.
Q: Troy Brown is getting inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame this weekend. What are your thoughts on him and his career here?
BB: Great career. I can’t think of anybody more deserving to go in than him. Special player – came in very unheralded, worked his way up on the roster offensively. Returned kicks, ended up playing for us defensively, championships, played at a very high level and played his best football in big games. Troy was a great leader. Worked as hard as anybody, unselfishly, always did what we asked him to do from a team standpoint whether it was block, catch passes, return kicks, cover kicks, cover receivers. He truly was a good player in all three phases of the game, an outstanding player offensively and in the kicking game. Always did it for the good of the team and he was a big reason why we won a lot of games while I was coaching while he was here. You can never really replace a guy like that; he’s just special. Very deserving.
Q: In 2000, it seemed like he was 60 percent of the offense at times.
BB: At least. It was like 80 percent of the passing game, yeah. Yeah, just find another way to get him the ball. He carried a lot of the load and was productive for us in the kicking game, especially in ’01 – the punt return against Cleveland, obviously, the punt return against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game. He made plays on special teams that put us in position to win some games with the returns, as well as what he did offensively, converting third downs and keeping the chains moving, giving our defense a little bit of a break.
Q: What do their two safeties and their experience and playmaking ability bring to that side of the ball?
BB: A lot. That’s why they’re so good defensively. Of course they’re the best red area defense in the league over the last two years. We saw that again last week against Seattle. It’s hard to score on them. Wilson is an outstanding player: one of the best in the league. Makes a lot of tackles in the running game; makes a lot of them for little or no gain. He’s not a ‘make the tackle 10 yards down the field’ type of guy. He’s a guy that will get up there and hit you at the line of scrimmage and create second-and-10, second-and-11, second-and-12s. Good coverage player, very instinctive, has good awareness of the quarterback, recognizes route combinations, is a big hitter back there. He’s a thumper over the middle. He controls the middle of the field. Kerry Rhodes, we played against him many times with the Jets: athletic, long, covers a lot of ground, athletic, fast, good in man coverage, good in zone coverage. Reads the quarterback well, too. Doesn’t play down as much as Wilson; Wilson plays down more and Rhodes plays back more. They complement each other well, but they can both do the other things too, so you can’t totally key on them. They’re very strong down the middle – Rhodes, Wilson, Washington, Dockett, Campbell, [Ryan] Williams on the nose. Right down the middle of that defense, they’re pretty good.
Q: How much does their speed factor into their red zone success?
BB: They have good team speed. They have good team speed: good team speed in the front seven, good team speed in the secondary. Their pursuit is good, they play hard. They’re not only fast, but they hustle and they play hard. They chase down a lot of plays from behind: screen passes, outside runs or even plays that break the line of scrimmage, they always have guys coming after them that cause fumbles. Dockett and Campbell and defensive end [O’Brien] Schofield, [Sam] Acho, Quentin Groves, those guys can really run and when they get there they can do some damage. They’re hard hitters, knock balls loose. It’s a good, fast defense, explosive, cause a lot of negative plays. They pressure a lot so the blitzes get a lot of people moving fast anyway. They do a good job.
Q: Do you spend more time this week on special teams given what Arizona can do?
BB: There’re only so many hours in the day, but we still, in addition to our normal preparation for it, we’ll continue to emphasize it. We can all see it, it’s no big secret. But we’ve just got to really do things – there’s no margin for error; that’s what it comes down to. You can’t let [Larod Stephens-] Howling loose, you can’t let [Patrick] Peterson loose, you can’t miss a field goal or punt protection or be a little late on it because those guys will be on you and have it blocked. They’ve got another one in [Justin] Bethel, he was a great kick blocker in college and now they’ve added him to the roster; he got one in preseason. It’s not one guy. They’ve got a lot of guys that can block them and they have returners that don’t need much. They’re fast and they can outrun the coverage and they’re strong and they can break those arm tackles and guys that don’t really get a good, clean shot at them, they run through those and it’s all over. They’re hard to deal with; well coached, they have good schemes. They present problems with just the ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’, where they place guys, how they do it, their blocking patterns and so forth. That’s a problem and the players are a problem. They have good gunners, they have good kickoff coverage guys – [Rashad] Johnson and Bethel and Mike Adams – those guys get down there and they make a lot of plays too in coverage. It’s a very good special teams group.
Q: We’ve seen you guys run the no-huddle for years now. From your time in the game, when did that all start and have you ever seen this much no-huddle in the league?
BB: I don’t know. I really just saw two games last weekend – Seattle and Arizona. I’m probably not the expert witness on that one.
Q: How about just the no-huddle in general, how that can be effective for a team that does it well?
BB: It still comes down to running the plays. There’s no magic to running the no-huddle. Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr and those guys, they ran the two-minute drill in no-huddle as well as anybody. But it still comes down to execution; you have to block them, you have to throw it, you have to catch it, you have to run it. If you can do it a little bit quicker, sometimes you can gain a little bit of an advantage on the defense, but you still have to go out there and execute the plays. I don’t think that’s as important as good execution. That’s just the way I feel about it. I’m sure nobody else would agree with that, but that’s my opinion.
Q: What makes Calais Campbell so good for them?
BB: Everything. He’s long, he’s explosive, he’s powerful, he’s quick, plays hard, he’s got a really good motor, doesn’t stop. He has good awareness, very instinctive. He bats down a lot of passes, he hits the quarterback a lot but he also gets in the throwing lane. He knows when the quarterback is looking his way and he gets his long arms up there. He bats balls down. He intercepted one against [Michael] Vick last year; he batted it right to himself. He just reached up and caught it. He does everything well. I don’t think there’s any weakness to his game. He’s hard to run at, he’s hard to run away from. He’s pretty good at everything.
Q: Other than the physical skills he brings, what make Patrick Peterson such a good returner?
BB: He’s fast enough to outrun people and he’s strong enough to run through them if they don’t get a good shot at him – even if they do get a good shot at him, the guy is 220 pounds. You have to tackle this guy and he’s moving and he’s fast. Catching him is a problem and then getting him down is a problem even if you catch him. He’s instinctive, he’s got good vision, he knows where the holes are and he sets things up. But guys that are big and fast, it’s pretty obvious what the problems are. Just getting to the guy is a problem, but getting him down is a problem, too. There are plenty of his long returns where they get shots at him. It’s not like it just opens up and there he goes. He runs through arm tackles, shoulder tackles, guys that can’t quite get there, he’s through all that. And it doesn’t slow him down either; you have to hit this guy.
Q: With John Skelton’s ankle injury last weekend, how will you game plan change, if at all, with Kevin Kolb?
BB: Well they’re both good players and they’ve won with both players and we’ll have to be ready for whoever they put in there; we can’t control that. I think their skill sets are a little bit different, but the offense is the same and certainly when Kolb came in last week, they didn’t change their offense. They continued to do what they do. We have to defend the other 10 guys as well as the quarterback. It’s just an awareness of knowing which guy is in there and knowing his skills. It’s like when they have different running backs, whether it’s Williams or Wells or whoever it is, it’s still the same plays; we still have to deal with the other 10 guys, but the guys carrying the ball, their skills are a little bit different, but they’re both good. I’d say the same thing about the quarterback position.
Q: You talk about the rookies being a mature group. Does that mean you don’t have to remind them that what happened on Sunday is just one game?
BB: These guys, are you kidding me? They played one game. I don’t think any rookie has all the answers after one game. I don’t think any experienced coach has the answers after one game either. I mean, it’s one game. Everybody needs to be coached, everybody needs to improve, there are a lot of things that everybody needs to do better and I would put the rookies at the absolute top of that list, like not behind anybody – they would be number one. It’s going to get a lot harder for them before it gets easier, I’ll tell you that.
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