Patriots

Belichick describes UDFA strategy: Be honest with the plan, give them a shot

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Belichick describes UDFA strategy: Be honest with the plan, give them a shot

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had a number of undrafted rookies arrive to New England and have success. Malcolm Butler is an obvious example. Same goes for newly-named captain of the offensive line David Andrews. Last year it was Jonathan Jones who made an impact as an undrafted player out of Auburn. This year defensive lineman Adam Butler is leading the charge among a trio of undrafted rookies who've made the club.

Why is Bill Belichick's club able to land players who weren't drafted but still may be coveted around the league? How do successfully find players who fit?

That they're willing to pay doesn't hurt. They shelled out a significant amount of cash for linebacker Harvey Langi and tight end Jacob Hollister after this year's draft, both of whom made the 53-man roster out of training camp. 

But the other parts of the formula are reasonably straight-forward, and Belichick explained them on Wednesday: Have a consistent message, be honest with players before they arrive, then give them a chance. 

"I know I've talked to other players, we all have, that have been at other teams, other organizations," Belichick said, "and a lot of times the player will make comments along the lines of, 'My coach wanted me to do this, but my coordinator wanted me to do that, or my coordinator wanted me to do this, but my coach wanted me to do that. Or a personnel guy drafted me to do this, but the coach wanted me to play this way, or somewhere else. Sometimes within an organization or within a team between the head coach, the coordinator, the position coach, personnel, scout director, GM, whatever -- sometimes, whether that's in college or in the NFL -- sometimes it's not a totally consistent message.

"One of the things I tell the players is that whatever message I'm giving you, that's the way it's going to be. That collectively as a staff and as the head coach, we're gonna all be on the same page. Whatever it is I'm telling you, whatever it is the position coach is telling you, we've already talked about that and it's gonna be consistent. I think if you have any questions about it, there's always somebody who can verify it, be it another player or another coach or another somebody that that person knows that that player knows or his representatives or somebody that can verify that, yeah, that's the way it was in these other examples that we can usually cite based on our longevity.

"I just believe in being honest with a player. If it's not what he wants to hear, then that's OK. Then we're both probably better off with a different decision. I'd want to hear from the player, how he really feels, not him trying to sell me something because that doesn't really help us either. Guy tells you something and that's not really what it is, and it doesn't work out, then that's sometimes probably why it doesn't work out. I try to be as honest as I can with a player.

"Sometimes things change. If that happens, I'll tell the player that. 'This is what we brought you here for, this is what we want you to do, but look here's the situation we're in now so we need for you to move and do something differently than what we talked about. I'll tell the player that. That comes up from time to time because that's -- we're not really being dishonest about that. That was my intent with the player. But because of circumstances, that may change, and I want to do what's best for the team.

"Most of the time I'm able to tell the guy pretty clearly what we envision him coming in as and what the opportunity will be and that it'll be up to him to compete in that situation and make the most out of the opportunity. If that's him doing it or somebody else doing it, I can't control that. I can't control performance. I can just control opportunity and situation to a degree. Then from there it's up to the player. But that's how I've always tried to do it."

Take Adam Butler as an example. Belichick met with Butler at Vanderbilt and liked what he saw. He couldn't guarantee a spot for Butler if he ended up with the Patriots, but he told him what he liked about Butler's game -- namely, his versatility -- and how it might work out. 

It has worked out, as Butler has played 45 snaps against the Saints, which was second among Patriots defensive linemen behind only Trey Flowers. 

"When Adam and I were at Vanderbilt and we met down there, that's one of the things we talked about. That's one of the reason we were interested in him was his versatility," Belichick explained. "When he wasn't drafted, we had a conversation on the phone about signing here after the draft, we talked about that again, about how his versatility would be a big attribute for him coming here if he could make that work, which I'd say he has to a degree. That's one of his strengths.

"He did it at Vanderbilt. I saw that when we watched film. We went through his different roles in the defense, in regular and in sub. I thought he explained them very well to me, he had a very good understanding of how he was playing when he was on the nose, on the guard, as a 5-technique in their 3-4 defense and so forth. How it changed and what he needed to do differently and how he would adapt his technique or his read based on the different positions.

"It was clear to me he had a very good understanding of that. He's been able to do that here as well. Not perfectly by any means, but good and getting better. That's been a big asset for him is being able to do different things for us: play inside and outside, and run situations and pass situations, and run games and so forth. We've given him a lot. He's been able to handle it."

It sounds like the opportunities will continue to come for Butler so long as he continues to earn them. As was the case with Malcolm Butler, David Andrews and Jonathan Jones before him.

Hard to argue with the formula.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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