FOXBORO — While the Patriots are returning the majority of their starting defense in 2019, they have big shoes to fill on the sideline with the departure of 2018 de facto defense coordinator Brian Flores. Belichick has been tight lipped about who will take over the defensive headset this season, and that continued on Wednesday. With the opener just four days away, Belichick was asked yet again who will take on the responsibility. His response?
“We’re going to do what’s best for the team, just like we always do. That won’t be any different.”
Bill may not be willing to tell us, but common sense narrows it down to three candidates; Inside Linebackers Coach Jerod Mayo, Safeties Coach Steve Belichick, or the hoodie himself.
Mayo is in his first year with the staff, coming over from covering the team for the last few years following his retirement. Even though it’s his first year with the team, he provides a unique viewpoint as a play caller. Mayo related the play calls when he wore the green dot during his Pats career.
The Patriots have appeared to be grooming Steve Belichick for the position for some time, the question is whether or not he is ready now or needs more time? Steve got a chance to relay plays in during the preseason, but would Bill view a regular season appointment as too much responsibility too quickly.
Then, of course, there’s Bill Belichick himself. Bill is no stranger to calling a defense, but with so many new pieces on offense, would he want to take himself away from that side of the ball when he doesn’t need to? Of course, he’ll still have a major role in planning what they do on game day, but once the ball kicks off, does he want to be tied to the defense an extra amount, or have the ability to float where he’s most needed.
Bill Belichick’s full press conference transcript:
BB: We’re into a little bit of a regular season routine here. It’s not quite normal, but we’re getting there. Obviously, all of our attention is focused on Pittsburgh. Good football team. I have a lot of respect for the organization. Coach [Mike] Tomlin, the coaching staff, the players, team, they compete hard, they’re tough. They’re a good football team, they’re strong in all three phases of the game. They challenge you pretty much on every play, so we’ll have to be ready to go 60 minutes, go all the way, go toe-to-toe with them. It’ll be good to get started, but these guys do a good job. They’re a tough team to prepare for, a tough team to play against, but it’s the National Football League. Everybody falls into that category. So we’ll start grinding through it here. Kind of from here on it’s a regular week for us, so we’ll just get as close as we can into our regular season routine and try to be ready to go Sunday night.
Q: After all of these years, do you still get excited for opening night?
BB: Yeah. I like football. I like football season and all of the things that go with it.
Q: Is this game more of a reactionary game because it’s hard to prepare for?
BB: Yeah, there are more unknowns on opening day. Sure.
Q: Compared to Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett, how far along is Jarrett Stidham in his development?
BB: All players are different. Jarrett’s worked hard, he’s made progress. He’s got a long way to go. We’ll see how it goes.
Q: What’s challenging about the Steelers’ rushing attack in particular?
BB: They’ve got a good line, they’ve got good backs, a good tight end. They do a good job schematically, they tie it in with their passing game well so it’s hard to just zero in on one thing. They do a lot to keep you off-balance with some misdirection plays and RPO’s, things like that. So they’re well-balanced.
Q: No more Antonio Brown for Pittsburgh but how dangerous is their receiving corps still with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and others?
BB: They’re mainly a three receiver team. They play four guys, probably play five if [Diontae] Johnson’s healthy. But they have good depth at receiver, good depth at tight end, good depth at running back. So I’m sure we’ll see a lot of those guys, however they decide to play them. But they have good depth offensively and a very good offensive line that has a lot of experience to go on.
Q: What are the aspects of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s game that makes him a tough player to cover?
BB: He’s a good player. He’s instinctive, catches the ball well. He’s got good size, smart. They move him around.
Q: Is his movement similar to when Antonio Brown was there?
BB: He’s different than Brown. They move all of the receivers around. So they did it before Brown, they did it with Brown, and now they’re doing it after Brown. They just move them around.
Q: Mike Tomlin has said that Week 1 is more about what you do well because of the unfamiliarity with your opponent. Would you say this is true?
BB: Yeah, I wouldn’t argue with that. Nope. A big part of it is what you can do. Sure.
Q: Do you guys feel that you have a good grasp on what you do well from what you’ve seen this summer?
BB: I think everybody will start seeing that in every phase of their game. No, I don’t think the summer means anything in terms of evaluating that. No.
Q: With the addition of Devin Bush in the draft and Mark Barron in free agency, what kind of challenges may their speed at the second level present?
BB: That’s pretty much the way they’ve always done it. [Ryan] Shazier, I don’t think you can get much faster than him. [Lawrence] Timmons. [Vince] Williams, [Mark] Barron, [Devin] Bush. It’s all in the same family, if you go back to [James] Farrior and those guys. They’ve always had a lot of speed at the inside linebacker positions.
Q: Do you know who is going to call plays at the inside linebacker position?
BB: We’re going to do what’s best for the team, just like we always do. That won’t be any different.
Q: J.C. Jackson primarily played outside last season. Do you have confidence that he could have success moving inside?
BB: Sure, yeah. J.C.’s got a good skill set. He can play at a lot of different spots.
Q: Jakobi Meyers played a lot in the slot in college. Is he a guy that’s also versatile enough to move around in the offense?
BB: He is.
Q: Did the Steelers play you differently both offensively and defensively than you were used to last year?
BB: Yes, differently. I wouldn’t watch them play and look at and say, “Oh, there’s a whole lot of new things, we’ve never seen those before.” They have a lot of breadth to their system. They’ve been in their system for a long time so there’s a lot of breadth just built into it. They don’t do everything every week. They pick the things that they feel are best for that week and matchup against you. So then from that standpoint, they do game plan for the matchups. I don’t think you can come out of it and say, “Well they ran like 200 new plays, we never saw those plays before.” I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s dress them up, put their players in favorable positions, try to create matchups against the defense and exploit them. It can be anywhere from any personnel group you want and they can line guys up in different spots. They do a good job of that, and it creates hard matchups for the defense. They can still continue to keep the quarterback reads the same and keep the plays, the concepts the same, but dress them up a little bit differently. It makes it hard for the defense to defend.
Q: Were you encouraged by what you saw from Isaiah Wynn towards the end of the preseason?
BB: I think all of our players are improving. That’s what training camp is for, is to get out there and get back to the fundamentals, and start to work together as units as we put them together. Yeah, all of the guys who are a part of that, I think they’re all getting better.
Q: You have a history of going up against Ben Roethlisberger. What does he do that makes him so difficult to defend?
BB: He’s a smart player, he does a good job of using all of his receivers, he’s a hard guy to tackle and can make all of the throws.
Q: When it comes to their defensive front they have a lot of similar faces, one of those being Cameron Hayward. What challenges do his long arms present for your interior offensive linemen?
BB: They’re all good. [Stephon] Tuitt’s good too. They have a very good front, they’re very disruptive. They’ve led the league in sacks the last two years – that’s pretty impressive. They’re very disruptive, they’re very good up there. They cause a lot of penalties – holding penalties and things like that – which can set the offense back, in addition to plays they make. Tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback pressures and things like that. That’s a good group. They play hard, they’re aggressive, they’re well-coached. Really, it’s the front-five, their outside linebackers are defensive ends. Whatever you want to call them, you include them in it too. The inside three are good.
Q: It seemed like the outside guys stayed on the same side pretty consistently without swapping around. Is that true with the inside guys as well, or do they shift?
BB: Yeah, there’s more movement inside.
Q: What challenge do the two backs, James Conner and Jalen Samuels, present with their versatility?
BB: Yeah, I’d say they look at both guys probably as three-down players. As you said, they can go out in empty or be in the backfield to run the ball or pass-protect. I’ll say it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot which guy is in there. I don’t think they’re the same player, but they use them both to run, to pass protect, and to run extended routes. It looks like they can comfortably run their offense with either guy in the game. And then they’ve also used some five wide receivers where they’ve used [Ryan] Switzer back there. He’s obviously a different type of player in that position, but he’s played it some too. Those are the kind of game plan or personnel maneuvers that they use to make it harder on the defense and change their matchups, as I said, and make you decide how you want to defend different personnel groups and guys that are in different spots.
Q: Would you say that they’ve played more man coverage defensively the past couple times you’ve played them?
BB: Well, they do what they do. So if they call man, they play man. If they call zone, they play zone. If they call blitz-zone, they match it. So that’s what they do.
Q: James Conner didn’t play last year when you played the Steelers. What do you expect to have to prepare for with him in the lineup?
BB: Yeah, he’s a good back. He’s hard to tackle, he’s a good runner. Tough. He can handle the ball out of the backfield. He’s a good, solid player. So yeah, without him we saw some different personnel groupings. They had some success with some of that so we might see it again, or we might not and they’ll go back to Conner. I don’t know. We’ll have to see.
Q: You said both backs are three-down backs. Is he a really different back than Samuels?
BB: Yeah, I’d say they’re different.
Q: How so?
BB: Well, Samuels has played a lot in the passing game, not that he can’t run the ball. Conner’s played a lot more in the running game, not that he can’t catch the ball. But I’d say that [Samuels] is more of a passing-game back that runs, Conner is more of a running back that catches.
Q: You said that Samuels was more of a passing-game back. Is that because he’s not as big as James Conner is?
BB: I don’t know. Le’Veon Bell was big. Whatever it is, it is. We can’t control that.