FOXBOROUGH — Coach Bill Belichick had no problem talking about Ed Reed when the longtime safety was playing for Baltimore, since the teams met eight times during Reed’s 11 seasons there, including each of the last two AFC Championship games.
But Belichick was notoriously tight-lipped on Wednesday, one day after Reed was released by the Texans, a move that sparked speculation about whether the nine-time Pro Bowl selection would be a candidate to join the Patriots. Belichick, after all, has gone out of his way in seasons past to rave about Reed’s skills and leadership.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on players who aren’t on our team,” Belichick said during a media teleconference on Wednesday.
One potential stumbling block has been removed, because Reed cleared waivers on Wednesday and is now a free agent. No team put in a claim for Reed; the claim order is based on team record, and at 7-2 the Patriots would be near the bottom. Now they have just as much of a chance as anybody, assuming the interest is there.
Belichick chose not to specifically comment on Reed, but did discuss how the Patriots typically react to a player from another team who has been released. Their work often starts long before the player is cut loose.
“There’s usually an indication that things like that could happen. Not saying they’re going to happen, but that they could happen. That’s one of the things that our pro personnel department does a real good job of, they stay on top of that,” Belichick said. “When you have players that, whatever their situation is, we think could potentially become available, then we start working on them ahead of time, so that when it happens — or if it happens — we’re not sitting there trying to scramble around. Most of the time, you have a little bit of a lead-in on that.
“Of course, that depends on what our situation is. There’s a lot of players that could be available, but if it’s a situation where you have a need at a certain position or it’s a fit, then you’re more interested and more apt to do something than if the player is out there and you have something going on at another position, but not that position. It’s more sometimes about timing than it is about the player that’s available or the situation that you’re dealing with on your team at that point in time.”
The Patriots might be interested in Reed because of their short-term uncertainty at safety. Steve Gregory, who has started seven games this season, broke his thumb against Pittsburgh, and was not spotted at Tuesday’s practice. His availability for Monday night’s game at Carolina is unclear. If Gregory can’t play, rookie Duron Harmon could get the starting nod.
He’s ready, if needed.
“Just do what I’ve been doing, preparing like I was a starter,” Harmon said. “This organization does a great job, the coaching staff, of preparing everybody like they’re the starter. [Safeties] coach [Brian] Flores has done a great job with me, telling me you’re always one play away, so he’s always quizzing me, asking me questions. I think it really paid off last week, and I’m just going to continue to do what I was doing and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Harmon has intercepted a pass in each of his last two games.
Two more reasons bringing in Reed might appeal to the Patriots? New England plays at Houston Dec. 1 and at Baltimore Dec. 22.
Belichick also was asked how the organization condones the words and actions of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who every so often does or says something that probably leaves team officials wincing. Gronkowski was captured on a cellphone video over the weekend making statements that might be construed as racially insensitive. That’s always a touchy subject, but heightened recently because of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation with the Dolphins.
“I’d say that right now my focus is on Carolina, and anything that happens that we need to address as a team, internally or individually with a player, would be handled on that basis,” Belichick said.
Gronkowski did not make himself available to the media after Tuesday’s practice, and players were given Wednesday off. A Patriots media relations staffer said on Tuesday that Gronkowski would speak with reporters after Thursday’s practice.
The Patriots will be going for a clean sweep of the NFC South when they visit the Panthers. They already own home wins over the Buccaneers (23-3) and Saints (30-27), and beat the Falcons in Atlanta, 30-23. Since 2001, the Patriots are 42-9 against NFC teams . . . Devin McCourty took advantage of the bye week to watch his twin brother, Jason, who plays cornerback for the Titans. “I was in the stands,” said McCourty, who was then asked how Titans fans treated him. “They love me there. I had on a nice Patriots hat and an Oilers jersey.” McCourty’s support didn’t help. Tennessee lost to previously winless Jacksonville, 29-27 . . . The Patriots are 22-22 on “Monday Night Football,” 15-5 under Belichick. The Patriots have won 13 of the 17 Monday night games started by quarterback Tom Brady . . . Tackle Chris Jones leads NFL rookies with five sacks.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.