When speaking with reporters, Bill Belichick is usually the funniest (at least to the Twitterverse) when he refers to social networks with mismatched names.
He'll deadpan "Snap Face" and "My Book" with a smirk. Belichick can be terse when he doesn't respect the question or is not in the mood.
But Belichick usually gives his most expansive answers when asked philosophical and strategic questions about the game of football. More than in past seasons, Belichick has given a window into his football mind this year, giving some almost filibuster-like answers that are interesting in their own right.
Here are five of his better answers, in full.
How do you rate your special teams progression after one preseason game?
Date: Aug. 16 on a conference call
Answer word count: 550
Belichick: "First of all, I don't think you can really rate anything in preseason. You spend a lot of time in practice and in meetings trying to prepare your team to particularly do the fundamental things in the preseason games that will serve as a base for you throughout the game, no matter what the actual scheme is. Whatever running play you run, it's about the fundamentals of blocking, and whatever defense you play is about the fundamentals of taking on blocks and tackling. Whatever pass play you run is going to center around getting open and catching the ball.
"It doesn't really matter what the ratings are. It's more of what are we doing, how can we improve it, are we doing something that doesn't look like it's going to be productive for us, are we not doing enough of something where we think we can find more production? It's really just trying to get better on a daily basis, and if you're better day to day today and then in your games during the week, and again I don't think that's necessarily reflected in the final score. You could score well, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're doing things well. Or you could not score well and you could be doing things OK. I just think that's really more what it's about.
"In the kicking game, yeah, we had three penalties — 12 men on the field, we hit their gunner out of bounds, and our gunner didn't get back in bounds fast enough when he went out of bounds. So, those are all penalties that we can't afford, that cost us field position, that we can learn from, and hopefully if they don't happen again then these were lessons well learned. They shouldn't have happened in the first place, but they did and we've corrected them. We've made sure everybody understands exactly what we need to do so that we're not in violation of those rules and I think all three calls were good calls — I have no issue with the calls — but what we did allowed them to make the call against us, so we have to not do that or do a better job of it. Maybe we didn't coach it well enough.
"So, in any case, we've got to get that corrected along with a lot of other things. We definitely have some things to work with in the kicking game. We looked at a lot of young players. Very many of the players that have played a lot in the kicking game for us or even with some other teams that are on our roster didn't play very much — some didn't play at all in the kicking game against Green Bay. So this week against New Orleans and going forward, those guys will get more opportunities and we'll start to evaluate them. We wanted to look at a lot of the younger players against Green Bay [and] we did. Some of those guys really helped themselves and showed that they could possibly compete for a role in those units. Some of them didn't show up quite as well and they're going to have to turn that around pretty quickly or we'll run out of time. So, that's where we're at in the kicking game."
What traits does a cornerback need to have good ball skills?
Date: Sept. 7 at a news conference
Answer word count: 499
Belichick: "I think it's a combination of physical skills, speed, quickness, instincts, just awareness or instincts — however you want to call it — and then there are ball skills. They're all important.
"Being able to run fast or move quickly in a short area is certainly paramount to getting to the ball. Sometimes instinctively you can kind of get a jump on the play just because of the combination of the route or the way the quarterback is looking or the way the receiver maybe is giving away the route, the way he runs it you're able to anticipate it. But then there is the final part of it, which is of course the ball skills and playing the ball. There are a lot of times when defenders are close to the receiver, they're close to the ball, and the receiver ends up with it, and they either misjudge it or aren't able to get to the reception area with their hand in order to break it up. They reach for it and miss it or whatever. That's a key component, too. Being close to the receiver is good, but being able to have the ball skills, the timing to reach and touch the ball at the right time in order to break it up is important.
And obviously the final thing, the fifth thing would be hands in terms of intercepting the ball. It's almost another skill. Breaking up passes is one thing; actually intercepting them is another. Some players might have good ball skills but they don't have good hands. Some players might have good hands but not necessarily have great ball skills. Of course the great ones have speed, quickness, anticipation and awareness, ball skills and hands. At each level, the more of those the better. Some guys get by on one or two or maybe three of them; some guys don't. The good ones have more, and the ones that are not as good have less.
"And then, I think depending on what kind of coverage you're playing, some of those things are more important than others. That's just in term of pass defense. I'm not talking about tackling now, which that is another issue. Man coverage, zone coverage, press man, off man, so there is a variety of skills involved depending on the techniques and the coverages that you're playing, which is why you have a lot of different players that have different skills that can still be productive. It depends on what scheme they're in and how their skills fit that scheme. That's a component of it, too.
"Sometimes it's challenging when a player doesn't have all the skills, which there are not a whole lot of them that have that at an elite level, and you watch a player do one thing and you're trying to project his skills to a different scheme, to a different way of playing. Until you actually see him do it, sometimes it's hard to be accurate on that.
How consistent is what athletes learn at performance centers in the offseason?
Date: Oct. 21 at a news conference
Answer word count: 463
Belichick: "Yeah, well it does make sense, and it's a good question and an interesting point. I mean look, first of all, we're not allowed to work with the players, so let's start with that. So from the end of the season to the middle, end of April, we can't work with the players. We can't do anything with them. We can't tell them anything. We can't instruct them, so that's the way we wanted this CBA created. That's what was agreed on. So, that's what it is. There's no coaching, there's no guiding or getting players to do whatever it is you want them to do in the offseason, whether it's their personal conduct, whether it's football related, whether it's anything. There's zero of that from the team, and then all of the sudden they show up here in April, and all of the sudden it's like, well there's some problems. I mean, that shouldn't really come as a big surprise.
"But I take it as a positive that the players take that time from the end of the season whenever that is until the start of the offseason program — let's call it late April, mid to late April — that they take it upon themselves to work on something that will help their game, help them be a better player. They can't get it from us or any other team. So where are they going to get it from? They've got to go get it from somebody else, so I think that's a positive that they do that and they proactively try to seek instruction, training, physical conditioning, whatever you want to call it, some component of all of those, to become a better player.
"I think that's a big trend in the league. I mean there are a lot of players who do that — certainly not all of them, but it's a high percentage. I don't even know what the percentage is, but I'd say it's a significant percentage certainly on our team and other players that I'm familiar with. But that's their only choice because the teams aren't allowed to do anything, so that's the way we set this up. Is that the best way to develop professional football players? I don't know. That's what was decided on, so that's what we do.
"But is that really the best way to develop a guy in the NFL — go train somewhere else, come back, and then figure out what the team wants you to do? I don't know. It wasn't my job to do that. My job is to coach the team, but the amount of time we have to coach the team is restricted. So, what happens in that other time is totally out of our control."
What’s the process of deciding how to replace an injured offensive tackle?
Date: Oct. 23 at a news conference
Answer word count: 889
Belichick: "I'd say it starts during the week. It starts on Tuesday when we look at potentially what are the players that are going to be available, who's going to be active for the game. Sometimes we have a pretty good idea who that's going to be and sometimes we don't. Whatever the case is, we take that information and work it from there, so if we know who's going to be active, then we practice those backup moves, whatever they are. So, whoever the backup right tackle is practices that. Whoever the backup right guard is, center and so forth, whether that's another player who's already on the line, which when you only have seven players, that could definitely be part of it, sometimes you go into the game with your five guys and the other two, they are the plug-in guys and nobody else moves. But sometimes that's not the case.
"If you go into a game where you're not sure who the active players are going to be because you have game time decisions looming, then you practice those contingencies. If this player is at the game, here's how we're going to do it. If this player is not at the game then that's how we're going to do it. It's the same thing at every positon.
"Honestly, I think it would be pretty irresponsible if we got a player hurt and then we had a meeting on the sideline like, 'What are we going to do?' Now is the time to talk about that, not in the middle of a game. Now, when you start losing multiple players at a position, if you lose two players at any position, on any team — that's an issue. I mean, two of anything with anybody, pick any team in the league, I doubt that wouldn't be an issue.
"Once you start getting into that area, then you've got to think about kind of what's our emergency move? How do we get through this? Maybe it's not so much who would play there, but what you could actually do with that person there, how you would manage the game, what you would call if you got to that point. Third quarterback, third tight end, third right tackle, third defensive end, third safety — third anything — if you're going that far down the line, it would be an issue. It would be an issue. I'm not saying you couldn't handle it, but it would be an issue. Some more than others, but I would say everything … You don't go into the game thinking about losing two guys at the same position.
"When that happens, that's a difficult situation. And particularly in the kicking game because now you're talking about that's 66 players on special teams — kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, field goal, field goal rush — that's 66 players. That means you have to have 66 backups. I mean, you've got to have it. So, this guy is out on this team, who is going in for him? You've got to have somebody. It might be the same guy for five positons, but you've got to have somebody. OK, now you lose two guys at the same spot, again two anything — two safeties, two corners, two linebackers, two whatever they are — and they're going to be playing the same players in the kicking game. You're not going to have your middle linebacker as your gunner, so if you lose two gunners, you lose two gunners. If you lose two interior punt protectors, you're losing two interior guys on the punt return, you're losing two frontline blockers on the kickoff return, you're losing two interior, so the multiples in the kicking game, I can tell you from experience having been a special teams coach, you're really talking about making some adjustments.
"Like I said, it's hard enough to lose one because you're looking at 66 plus 66. You start dropping down below that, then the opportunity to even give that guy reps at that position when you get 11 guys on the field, whoever that guy is, just getting him out there is one thing, him having reps at what he's doing is probably that would be a dream I would think that most likely didn't happen during the week. So, those are tough. Lose two long snappers, lose two punters, lose two anything — that's pretty challenging.
"But special teams, people don't realize how difficult it is to just manage the roster in the kicking game because there are a lot of guys you can just eliminate from special teams. You don't seen any offensive linemen on the kickoff team, you don't see any defensive linemen on the kickoff team, you don't see any quarterbacks, other than the kicker and the punter, so you can take probably 15 to 20 players and just eliminate them from a lot of those teams. So now you're working with a much shorter list. And what that total number is, is one thing, but realistically what that number is, is it's another ball game. So you start talk about how many players you actually have and then you're looking at 66 spots minus the field goal team, you start looking at 66 spots and then who backs those 66 spots up and then who's behind them."
How would you benefit from the 46-man, the 53-man or the 90-man rosters?
Date: Nov. 10 on a conference call
Answer word count: 926
Belichick: "Those questions, and look, they're good questions, they come up every year, and I know that the league meetings, those get talked about in one version or another. We'll start with the game day roster. The issue with the game day roster is if you allow all the players to play, let's say you allow all 53 players to play, then you get into some competitive situations due to injuries where I have 53 players but you only have 48 because you have guys that are hurt and that type of thing. So there is a competitive aspect to that versus the argument of, 'Well they're all on the team, they're all being paid, so why can't we use them?' It kind of goes back and forth on that one.
"I think one of the issues with the extra players if you will, like going from 46 to some higher number on game day, it gets into the over-specialization. Do you have a long field goal kicker, a short field goal kicker, a kickoff guy, a field goal kicker, extra specialty-type players that therefore just require other extra specialty-type players? So if you carry four tight ends or you carry a lot of receivers or a lot of backs and use formations and personnel groups ... So you have a Wildcat quarterback, you've got a regular quarterback, you've got a backup quarterback, you've got some other type of quarterback, that just forces a similar specialization on defense to match up with that. I don't know if that's really where we want the game to go.
"There was a time in the National Football League, not that long ago, when the same 11 players played on offense on every play and the same 11 defensive players played on defense on every play. The fans knew all the players. Now it's hard for me, and I'm full time at this, to keep up with all the players, even on the teams that we play, like the Giants, or I'm sure the Giants are looking at us. There is a lot of roster movement and guys on and off and injuries and practice squad guys and all that, so when you add the practice squad players on the roster potentially because they could be added all the way up to the day before the game, that's other depth that you have on your roster that you can get up to your 46 if you need to.
"So, you're talking about training camp numbers — I'm not sure in the overall big picture of the league how many of the players of those extra 320 players, the guys from 80-90, from 81-90, that let's say five years ago wouldn't have been on a roster in training camp, although you had the Europe exemption guys and all that. I'd say the 85-90 number, somewhere in there, was what the training camp numbers have been for a while. You get into that whole how much higher, do you need to go than 90 for training camp and what impact do those players really have on the overall quality of the league? Although I think without doing a total study on it, certainly my impression is that the injuries in the early part of the season — training camp to the early part of the season — is definitely on the incline, so maybe that's something that would warrant further study.
"And again, I'm sure that the league will take a look at that every year. But in the end, it comes down to the players that are playing, and I think as you get into the second half of the season, what you usually see at this point is players going on injured reserve that are going to be out for the season because the season is shorter, they have less time to recover, players going on injured reserve, teams bringing in emergency players, whether they bring them in from outside the organization or they bring them up from the practice squad, and in a lot of cases those players that get added to the team or even to the 46-man roster don't play a tremendous amount I'd say overall as a group, although there are some notable exceptions. But overall you don't see those guys getting a lot of playing time. So when you lose a player and replace him with an emergency player or a practice squad player on your roster, I'd say probably the general tendency of most teams and most coaches would be to take their other better players who are already on the team and use them more rather than take another body that hasn't been with the team and give those snaps to the player that is now out of the lineup.
"I think usually you try to find a way to take what you have and just do more with it rather than take somebody that is a lot further away and isn't as familiar with what you're doing and what your system is and think you're going to get them up to the same speed that the guy that you just got hurt was at. Another long answer to a short question, but there are a lot of different aspects to it and obviously there are a lot of other factors involved, like the CBA and the Player's Association and salary cap implications and benefits and a thousand other things, most of which I'm not even familiar with. But it does impact the competitiveness of the game.
"Yeah, sorry to take so long on that."
Note: questions were edited for length and clarity. Belichick's answers were not.