Crunch time for Bill Belichick and his staff while players catch their breath
|08.30.13 at 12:43 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As it is every year, the hours between the end of the final preseason game and Saturday’s 6 p.m. 53-man roster cut deadline is a tense one – for players and coaches.
It’s no different this year for Bill Belichick and his staff. He made that much clear Friday morning in his conference call with reporters.
“Today is the first of several big days coming up for our coaching staff, personnel department and how that affects the team,” Belichick said. “We’re working through the film here this morning. As we can get to the bottom of some of the physical conditions of some our players after the game or guys that have been in or out of practice or coming back into practice or out of practice over the last few days, we’ll just try to put all that together, get as much information as we can on everything that we have: what guys have done, what their physical status is and so forth and combine that with obviously some communication with other teams in the league on various things and start making some decisions.
“At the same time, we have to turn the page from the Giants game and start moving on to our Buffalo preparations. All that needs to come together here in the next couple days. That’s what we’ll be doing. We’ll go through the process and as we get it done, make everybody aware of it.”
Belichick has several key decisions to make that don’t involve whether or not to keep Tim Tebow. The first is what to do with Rob Gronkowski. If he activates him off the PUP and makes him eligible in the first six games, that takes away one of 53 roster spots for another player on the bubble or someone who could provide more depth along the offensive line. Does he keep rookie punter Ryan Allen over Zoltan Mesko and save roughly $900,000? There’s Michael Buchanan – the defensive end who showed his motor Thursday with 2.5 sacks. Which practice squad-eligible players does he cut to try and clear them through waivers in hopes of bringing them back?
What he also made clear was that while this is a tense time for he, his staff and players trying to make the roster, those players with their position already guaranteed need to rest and be ready for their most hectic part of the season.
That’s what Thursday night was about, when Belichick dressed but rested 23 regular players, who didn’t see a single snap of New England’s 28-20 preseason win over the Giants. Why? Because the Patriots have three games in the space of 15 days to start the season.
“We’ve got our opener but then we’ve got two games back to back so we pushed the players pretty hard this week in practice and we felt like this is a chance for us to maybe catch our breath with a few of those guys and be ready to go into Buffalo but understanding there’s a real quick turnaround after that game too,” Belichick said. “Those are some of my thoughts.”
Like they did in 2011, they responded to a blowout loss in the third preseason game in Detroit with a solid effort against New York.
“I think that the team overall is in good condition, has worked hard,” Belichick said. “We’ve had a good, competitive camp on a lot of levels: working against ourselves, moving ahead with our installation. I thought we got off to a good start on that in the spring, which carried over into training camp, practices we’ve had against Philadelphia and Tampa.”
Here is the rest of Belichick’s conference call from Friday morning:
Q: Have you had a chance to go through the tape yet? What did you see from Michael Buchanan?
BB: Yes, I’ve been through all of it and I’m sure we’ll go back through some of the evaluations on a lot of guys again before it’s over today or tomorrow. We’ll have to have things done by six tomorrow. Again, I think it’s not just one game although every game is important, but the body of work, the camp, the rate of improvement, the improvement, the ability to do the things that players are going to be asked to do at their respective positions. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and how much they improved in some things and how well do they do the things that they are their strengths so to speak ‘ how dominant are they or aren’t they as the case would be.
Again, for really all the players, not any one specifically but all of them, they’re all kind of the same, it’s sort of the same discussion. Guys that haven’t been out there all the time, that have missed time ‘ practice and games ‘ we’re just dealing with a lot less information than we are with some other guys. We’ll have to do the best we can with what we have. As I said last night, I think a lot of our young players played competitively and they made some good plays and there were also some plays that weren’t so good. Some of them showed up and some of them didn’t. We’ll just try to take a look at everything ‘ not over-evaluate or under-evaluate any one single thing. We have a lot of snaps, as you go across the team. There’s extensive tape on a lot of snaps in these periods of time ‘ training camp, the preseason games ‘ so we can do a good job making the right decisions based on that information.
Q: Have you found that the joint practices have helped in the evaluation process?
BB: Again, I think that those opportunities can be good and I thought that our weeks with Philadelphia and Tampa were very productive for us. But I don’t think that is necessarily the case or it always has to be the case, it could be a lot different than that. I’ve seen them turn out differently. In these cases with Coach [Chip] Kelly and the Eagles and Coach [Greg] Schiano and the Bucs, I thought that we got a lot out of those weeks. I think it helped us in the preseason games as well because at least the players were prepared going into those games rather than, I mean, we wouldn’t have seen anything from the Eagles; we would have had no preparation at all for the game other than drawing up a few plays in practice, not really knowing how they were going to run them. So it gave our players a better opportunity to go out there and be prepared. It’s easier to evaluate than trying to evaluate guys when you feel like they really don’t know what to do because we haven’t done a good enough job of preparing them. I’d say that definitely part of that was also with the Tampa situation as well.
Q: When you think about putting the roster together and all the different parts, would seven offensive linemen be too light for your liking?
BB: Well, I think anytime that you go light at a position, whatever position that is, and there are usually one or two every year that fall into that category, you just have to know where your depth is going to be. You can’t go light somewhere and then ‘ well, you can, but I don’t think it’s good planning or good insurance for your team to go light at a position and then have no idea where your depth at that position is going to be. It may be on the roster; it may not be on the roster, but at least you want to have some idea where you’re headed if you need it. I think that’s the answer to that question. I think whenever you put a roster together you look at it and say ‘OK, we’re a little heavy here and we’re a little light here’ relative to where your team has been in the past or maybe relative to what the norm is around the league. But you do it because you feel you have a higher quality player at a certain position or you just lack the overall depth at another position. That’s going to happen somewhere on your roster every year, I can’t think of a year that it hasn’t. But, you’ve got to have an idea and some kind of plan for when you’re light, where that depth is going to come from, whether it’s carrying guys on the practice squad or other players that are out there as free agents that you think you’d be able to add if you needed them or however you’re going to do it ‘ guys on PUP list, whatever the circumstances are, something that would be able to address those areas where you’re a little light. I don’t think there’s really any way to not have that somewhere on your team.
It would be such a fortunate stroke for everybody to be healthy and your team to be totally balanced and for all those stars to fall into alignment. That’s what we’re all trying for, but realistically that’s very, very hard to do. Or you can strike the balance maybe that you’re looking for, but then you have the feeling that we’re releasing a player that’s a lot better than a player we’re keeping, but we need to balance out the numbers. That’s the flip side of this. If you have that balance numbers-wise, I would say there’s probably a pretty good chance that a player that’s not on your team is a better football player than a player who is, it’s just not the right position.
Q: What are your thoughts on the punter competition to this point?
BB: I think it’s been competitive all the way through from the spring to training camp into the games. I think both guys have performed well. Obviously any time at a position like that, there are going to be some plays that are less than perfect or that there is room for improvement on, but overall they’ve been competitive with each other and they’re competitive relative to the level of play at that position throughout the league. We have to talk about that one.