As a hybrid running back/wide receiver at Arizona State, D.J. Foster didn’t have a ton of blitz pickup responsibilities to tend to.
With the Patriots – with any team in the NFL – blitz pickup is absolutely essential for any running back who wants to get on the field.
Aside from being relatively inexperienced doing it, Foster is going to have to prepare himself to take a reasonable pounding and hold on for dear life when tasked with picking up speeding linebackers. He’s just not a big guy. But, if he makes the team (and indications are he will), he’ll have to get proficient at it quickly. Bill Belichick was asked on a conference call Friday about Foster’s blitz pickup performance.
“It was alright,” he said. “It’s something that he hasn’t done a lot of and certainly it’s something that he can get better at. It came up a couple of times last night. I’d say no different than a lot of other things that we need work on. All of our backs can always use that, our receivers, our quarterbacks, our [offensive] line in terms of everybody seeing it together. There are a lot of little things that come up. You can have the right guy, [but] there is some technique and kind of knowing where the other players are around you and how to do it properly. There are a lot of little things like that that come up, too. It’s progressing.”
Going a little further in-depth (and why not since we’re just waiting for the cuts to come down), Phil Perry asked about the Patriots’ failed two-point conversion and whether Foster did what he was supposed to on that play which fell incomplete.
“That’s really a long conversation, but to try and give it a short answer, if the [running] back has blitz pickup responsibility and either as he’s going to block his responsibility or if his responsibility leaves and he really doesn’t have any responsibility, you know, you’d never want to tell the back to run by a free player,” Belichick began. “Say the back is supposed to run a route and his linebacker doesn’t come so he starts to run his route and in doing that he sees a free rusher coming that’s not his guy, well just instinctively – backs – they just know to block those guys. There is no sense in going out for a route if the guy is going to run in there and hit the quarterback. “
One back who was really good at sensing those blitzers from unexpected spots was Kevin Faulk. You’d see him dive from the gap he was protecting across to another area to hit rushers in the thighs and redirect them on a fairly regular basis. It takes a lot of awareness which requires time and feel. It also requires the back to not get all excited about getting out into his route and possibly getting a touch without making sure the house is secure first.
“Those are kind of plays that backs have to make a reaction to and good backs will make the right decision as to whether he needs to block the player or doesn’t and can get out in a pattern,” said Belichick. “He doesn’t want to run into a guy that’s being blocked and take himself out of the route, but at the same time he doesn’t want to go out into the route and let a player who’s running at the quarterback, run at the quarterback. Again, those are kind of things that come with experience and those are quick decisions that backs have to make because it’s not really their man. Technically, they’d be right to just ignore him and go on but in terms of having a successful play that’s not always the best thing to do. It’s a long answer but again, it’s an experience thing.”
As for Foster on the play in question?
“Could it maybe have been a little bit better? I don’t know. He certainly wasn’t the primary guy in that play,” concluded Belichick.