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.

Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC championship ring in Instagram post

Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC championship ring in Instagram post

While Brandin Cooks' tenure with the Patriots was a short one, he's still "forever grateful" for his opportunity to play in New England.

The wide receiver thanked the Patriots while showing off his AFC championship ring in an Instagram post.

Cooks was huge in the AFC Championship Game, racking up six receptions for 100 yards in the Patriots' 24-20 victory over the Jaguars.

The Pats traded Cooks to the Rams in April in a package that sent a first-round draft pick to New England, which turned into offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.

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Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

The money quote from the first episode of Tom vs. Time caused massive swooning in the right-hand corner of the country.

“If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life,” warned Tom Brady. “Because I’m willing to give up mine.”

New England had to collectively lean against the headboard and smoke a cigarette after that.

“The guy’s got everything anyone could want and he’ll put it all on the back burner for football? And, by extension, for me, since I prefer to consume the football his team plays? Hold me . . . ”

Nobody knew then the unspoken sentences after that sentiment would have sounded like this . . . 

"But I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be willing to give up my life.

"Hell, I have three kids. They aren’t just little balls of flesh with eyes and mouths anymore, they are needy miniature humans. My wife is pretty much all set with me getting dropped out a two-story window every week and coming home in a crap mood when some 23-year-old who thinks he’s arrived runs the wrong route at practice for the 233rd time since August.

"I get paid half the dough of players half as good as me.  My boss has been wearing my ass out for almost two decades and when I try to get everyone to understand that, ‘Hey, there might be a different approach to training that’s worked great for me . . . ’ I’m Benedict Arnold. And sorry for being 40 and thinking about the rest of my life after football, advancing the ‘brand’ and not playing Fortnite. So giving up my life . . . I don’t know. Maybe next year I just try to give up a big portion of my life instead of the whole thing and see how that works out."

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That version of Tom Brady was right there. Right under the surface. The guy attached to another adult male by giant rubber bands so he could drag him around the backyard of a $5 million (or whatever) mansion while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads may actually have realized, “This seems odd.”

Judging from Brady’s 45-minute interview with Orpah Winfrey that aired Sunday, and a slew of other occasions this offseason, Tom Brady’s just not that into it the way he was.

I think you’d call the “give up my life” quote a case of whistling past the graveyard. Brady knew when he chest-puffed about sacrifice that there was an expiration date on that, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Why? Horrible for the brand. Better to appear as if every cell in the organism was swimming  toward the same goal of domination without a single one of them saying, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

You could also call that quote a bait-and-switch. Brady’s entitled to be a complete human -- encouraged, even. But the 180 from the first episode of TvT to this offseason is nothing anyone could have anticipated based on the propaganda served. We’ve gotten a steady diet of mixed messages from Brady and those around him and responses that -- in their delivery -- invite more speculation than they douse.

With Oprah, Brady again tentatively pointed out that real life has increasingly encroached on football.

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Asked about retirement, he answered, “I think about it more now than I used to. I think I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming sooner, rather than later. As long as I’m still loving it. As long as I’m loving the training and the preparation and willing to make the commitment.

“But it’s also, I think what I alluded to a lot in the docuseries, there’s other things happening in my life, too,” Brady added. “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, was the first to declare Brady as being year-to-year. Then, soon after, Brady’s agent Don Yee told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."

Oprah, who despite the Harry Caray glasses just doesn’t seem that much fun anymore, did ask Brady if there is “something going on” with Bill Belichick.

Brady answered, “Umm . . . no. I mean, I love him. I love that he is an incredible coach, mentor for me. He’s pushed me in a lot of ways. Like everything, we don’t agree on absolutely everything, but that’s relationships.”

The “ummmm . . . ” and averted eyes spoke a lot louder than the “no.”

MORE BRADY/OPRAH

If you asked your kid, “Son, didn’t you see this pile of dog crap on the rug?” and he answered, “Ummmm . . . no . . . ” while looking away, you’d tell him to clean up the dog crap he tried to pretend he hadn’t seen.

There’s no sense turning this into another “Ah HA!” moment about there being friction. You all get it by now. I'm instead pointing it out because it’s another example of the dissembling Brady’s done this offseason, where he indicates one thing and then walks it back in the next breath.

If there is one spin-it-forward takeaway from this it might be this: Given his devotion to understatement, saying the end is coming "sooner rather than later" makes me wonder if my long-held belief Brady would retire after 2019 has to be reconsidered as being a year too aggressive. 

How was the interview overall? Fine, I guess. The two standout parts for me were actually from Oprah. The first came when she admitted being amazed that there was more depth to Brady than the person she’s seen playing football.

“Gee,” she noted, outing herself as one of a dwindling number of “gee” users. “Watching you play football, I wouldn’t have thought of you as a spiritual person or that spirituality was a kind of thing you were seeking or conscious about.”

Holy crap. It would be fun to be a speck in the Oprah universe, say a plumber fixing a drain and then mentioning aloud how much you like jazz.  

“You’re my plumber,” Oprah would say, “But you also think about things other than faucets and drains. Gee.”

The second came when Brady gave some fortune-cookie wisdom passed on to him by Gisele, saying, “We’re spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Oprah shot forward like she was hit with a cattle prod, clutched her chest and blurted, “YES! That’s one of my favorite phrases!”

Gee, she was real excited.

This post has gone on too long so I’ll chew on the other items a little later. I would have done it yesterday when the interview came out but as someone once said, “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

So I golfed. 

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