Patriots

Wes Welker pushes back on merits of Bill Belichick's Patriots system

Wes Welker pushes back on merits of Bill Belichick's Patriots system

Just because Wes Welker played his best football in New England doesn't mean he enjoyed his Patriots experience more than any other.

The former Patriots wide receiver, now the San Francisco 49ers' wide receivers coach, admitted Wednesday he felt a weight was lifted off his shoulders when he left New England in 2012.

"Maybe a little bit," Welker told WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show." "I was still upset about it. I did want to be there, but there was part of me — I just like enjoying the game. I like having fun, all those things."

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Head coach Bill Belichick has established an unparalleled system of success in New England, but the "Patriot Way" can be demanding on players and isn't for everyone.

Now that Welker is in the coaching world -- he began as an offensive assistant for the Houston Texans in 2017 and joined the 49ers in 2019 -- he believes there's room for players to enjoy themselves while staying committed to winning.

"Coaching now, you learn a lot from the tactics and different things like that, but at the same time putting your own twist on it and understanding — I tell my guys all the time: ‘As long as we’re giving great effort and we’re on top of our assignments we’re going to be good. Once it’s not where we need to be, that is when we have problems,' " Welker said.

"I feel like you’re playing your best ball when you’re having fun and enjoying (yourself)."

Welker put up historic numbers with the Patriots, racking up 672 receptions over six seasons. He didn't always see eye-to-eye with Belichick, though -- remember the fallout from that "foot" press conference? -- and said Wednesday his New England tenure had some bumps along the way.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

“I think there were some times where I didn’t really feel that at times for different reasons — the guys that we had in the locker room, the camaraderie that we had was better some years than others," Welker said. 

" ... When you’re one of the highest-paid players on the team, you’re expected to deliver like a highly-paid player. There’s definitely pressure on that and all these different things is tough and it’s hard. Coach Belichick is hard on guys and tries to get the most out of him that he can."

Welker said in the same interview he wasn't surprised Tom Brady left the Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Welker believes Brady was motivated by a desire to prove he can succeed outside New England, but it's not a stretch to think Welker sympathized with Brady for wanting a fresh start after 20 years with Belichick.

"The way he goes about it is there are no superstars," Welker added of Belichick. "Everybody has their role on that team. Everybody is going to get called out. There’s no preferential treatment, and a lot of times he calls out the star players just to set the tone with the whole team."

Belichick's system obviously has reaped enormous benefits, but Welker apparently leans more Lane Johnson than Matthew Slater in his opinion of it.

2020 NFL season: Patriots, Bills have almost even odds to win AFC East

2020 NFL season: Patriots, Bills have almost even odds to win AFC East

The 2020 NFL season is still three and a half months away, but for the first time in awhile, there's some real intrigue in the AFC East.

With apologies to the Dolphins and Jets, it's looking like a two-team race. Will the Patriots win an unprecedented 12th straight division title? Or will the Bills finally dethrone New England to win their first AFC East crown in 25 years? 

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

The odds have see-sawed in recent weeks. When the schedule was released earlier this months, DraftKings Sportsbook had the Patriots as +125 favorites, with Buffalo close behind at +145, though the Bills are now the betting favorites at +130, with the Patriots at +140.

And now another metric projects the two teams in a near dead heat.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), Buffalo is favored to win the division... just barely. FPI gives the Bills have a 41.0 percent to claim the AFC East title, with the Patriots trailing at 40.9 percent.

Listen and subscribe to the Next Pats Podcast:

How razor-thin is FPI's margin? Both the Patriots and Bills have a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs (in the new expanded playoff field), and both teams are projected with 8.6 wins. 

Despite the projections, the Bills are very confident, with everyone from Jim Kelly to Josh Norman proclaiming the division is Buffalo's for the taking.

Meanwhile, the Bills aren't the only team that's right next to the Patriots in FPI's forecast. There's also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose quarterback should be slightly familiar to Patriots fans.

FPI gives Tom Brady's new team a slight nod over his old one, as the Bucs have a 63 percent chance to make the postseason. Tampa also has a 3.6 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl — the seventh-best odds in the league — while the Patriots are right behind at 3.0 percent.

According to FPI, the Chiefs have the best odds to win Super Bowl LV at 21 percent, with the Ravens (17 percent), Saints (13 percent), 49ers (12 percent) and Cowboys (5 percent) rounding out the top five.

NFL Rumors: Patriots may ask CB Joejuan Williams to play safety in 2020

NFL Rumors: Patriots may ask CB Joejuan Williams to play safety in 2020

If Joejuan Williams sees significant playing time in 2020, it may not be at his primary position.

The New England Patriots have asked the second-year cornerback to become more versatile on defense this season, posing Williams this challenge, per ESPN's Mike Reiss

"Can you be the jack-of-all-trades in the secondary?"

As Reiss wrote, that could mean Williams staying at cornerback, moving to safety or some combination of both.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Why move Williams around? The simple reason: New England is stacked at cornerback, with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore leading a four-man rotation with Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones.

The Patriots also are deep at safety -- Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are the experienced starters with veteran Adrian Phillips and rookie Kyle Dugger joining as newcomers -- but Williams may be able to carve out a hybrid role as a slot cornerback or roving safety.

New England's second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2019, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound cornerback could take a cue from McCourty, who spent three NFL seasons as a cornerback before successfully transitioning to safety during the 2012 season.

Williams contributed just one pass defensed in nine games played last season, though, so he if wants to see more action in 2020, he'll need to add more skills to his tool box.