Around the NFL, teams are taking every possible measure to prepare for a season like no other in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Philadelphia Eagles braced for the possibility of taking a hit at quarterback by adding 41-year-old Josh McCown to their practice squad as an emergency option. The Eagles will have the 18-year veteran in a “break glass to open” situation, allowing him to stay at home in Texas unless he’s needed.
Asked Tuesday if the Patriots had any similar contingencies, coach Bill Belichick joked that he had a former New England quarterback in mind.
“I think we’ve got Scott Zolak right around the corner if we really need to do that,” Belichick said, hardly hiding his grin at the thought of the quarterback-turned-analyst being on call. “So hopefully he’ll be ready to go if we need him.”
The Patriots open an unprecedented regular season Sunday against the Dolphins after returning for training camp last month.
“Everybody’s on the same boat on this, and there are really just a lot of unknowns,” Belichick said. “You can take several different approaches. I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer. I think everybody’s going to do what they think’s best based on their situation.
"We’ve talked about various scenarios and how to best maintain the depth and quality of our team, but again there’s a lot of things we can’t predict. So we’ll just have to see how it plays out.
“I think we’re ready to do some things if we feel the need to do them. At this time, I feel like we’re OK for where we are, but that could change.”
Belichick applauded the organization — from players and coaches to support staff — for carrying itself in a professional manner as it navigated protocols put in place because of the pandemic.
“I think these guys really handled things very professionally,” Belichick said. "They understood the things that they needed to do both individually and what we needed to do as a team. There are a lot of new policies, protocols.
"Just the daily routine, things changed quite a bit from what guys around here had been used to. Guys that were new coming in maybe didn’t know what our routine was, but they had to adapt to the routine that was different from wherever it was they came from — that includes the coaches and all the other support people and so forth. We adjusted as we went.
“We made some changes from the first day and couple days and first week and so forth, so it was very much of an ongoing process and that may occur now too as we get into the regular season."
A hard-to-read QB
For as many times as the Patriots have faced Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick over his 15-year career, Belichick said he’s still never certain what he might see.
“He’s a little unpredictable,” Belichick said. “So that just makes him a little more difficult to defend because of his versatility and his ability to, with confidence, attack weaknesses that the defense presents.”
The only quarterback to face the Patriots more times in the Belichick Era than Fitzpatrick (13 games) was Peyton Manning (15). Fitzpatrick is 3-10 against New England, with 21 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions, and an 80.5 passer rating. But he capped last season with a 28-for 41, 320-yard performance that lifted Miami to a 27-24 win over the Patriots.
“Ryan’s a smart player, very experienced player, and a very instinctive player,” Belichick said. “He does things on the field that are done through instinct and experience and confidence. So every situation’s a little bit different.
“You’ve got to be kind of careful of overplaying him because he’ll take advantage of those situations where you overplay him in one way or another.”
After three years away from the game, Chan Gailey returns to a familiar role as the Dolphins offensive coordinator.
Gailey’s NFL experience goes back to his days as tights ends and special teams coach with the Dolphins in 1985. He retired in 2017 after a stint with the Jets.
Over the years, he and Belichick have had plenty of chess matches. Seeing each other again to start the season adds another wrinkle to an unusual year, Belichick said.
“There are always a lot of variables on opening day, and there are even more this year for a number of reasons, and that would be another one,” Belichick said. "Chan’s had a lot of success in this league of running his style of offense.
"He may modify that some and do something that would take advantage of Miami’s personnel or maybe philosophically he has some different ideas than when we saw him at the Jets most recently.
“How he decides to attack us versus how he might attack someone else, those are all unknowns, so it just adds to the intrigue of the opening day."
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.