What they're saying: Belichick credits years in Cleveland for shaping team-building philosophy

What they're saying: Belichick credits years in Cleveland for shaping team-building philosophy

BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota -- Bill Belichick has spent his entire adult life around professional football, but he pointed to a handful of years spent in Cleveland as having a significant impact on his team-building philosophy. 

While Belichick has the opportunity to join George Halas and Curly Lambeau as the only two coaches to win six championships, his job description involves more than coaching the Patriots. Since his arrival in 2000, he's also been the final decision-maker on personnel moves. His time with the Browns, from 1991-1995, he says, allowed him to develop the system that's now served him well in New England. 

"I'd say a lot of that was really developed in Cleveland with Mike Lombardi," Belichick said Thursday. "We put the scouting department together there when Ernie [Adams] left, [along with] Dom Anile, who was our director of college scouting. 

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"But Mike and I, with the help of a great scouting staff like Jim Schwartz, were there and coaches like coach [Nick] Saban, coach [Scott] O'Brien because our coaches had a lot of influence in the scouting system. We put that together over the course of that time in Cleveland. 

"Not speaking for Nick, but I know in talking to Nick, I know that a lot of the principles that we developed there he's used and certainly modified, and we've done that as well. Scouting systems, scouting grades, grading players and certain characteristics and how to put those characteristics . . . how to grade, how to note them, how to put some kind of a value on them and organize it, that was developed, all of it was developed for me in Cleveland, Mike and the people on his staff. 

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"With the Giants, we had a system that was set up that there was some relevance to, but what we did in Cleveland was different than that. Certainly what we do now is a lot different from what the Giants . . . I learned a lot from being with the Giants for 12 years and the way they approached evaluation of players, but in Cleveland we kind of took things from a lot of different angles. 

"Mike's personnel angle. Nick had a lot of input defensively. I had a lot of input in the whole process. Scott on special teams, Ernie on offense. Ernie was pretty involved with the draft when he was with the Patriots [from 1975-1978]. So we took a lot of those grading principles and put them all together and rewrote the scouting book the grading book in Cleveland, and then we did it again when we came to New England."

Here are some other tidbits from Patriots media availability on Thursday . . . 

Belichick on his scouting report of Bill Belichick the Wesleyan University football player: "Got a long way to go, buddy. Maybe you outta try coaching. Quite a few people told me that, actually. That's probably good advice. I got that from a couple of coaches. Football and lacrosse. 'Got a better career in coaching than you'll have in playing.' "

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Devin McCourty on cracking the code to get Belichick to sing your praises: "The key is to make sure you don't get fired each day you come to work. I think that mentality has served me well. Just trying to do my job, and help the younger guys as I've grown older on the team."

Tom Brady on encouraging his teammates on the sidelines, particularly when they're behind: "Lotta times I try to tell our team, 'Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes. Don't ever let up. Don't ever let your mind drift to a place where you lose a certain level of belief.' I believe, until the clock runs out, it's never over. I've been in a lot of those situations in my career, and anything can happen. We've been down 11 with two minutes left. We've been down obviously last year in this game by a big margin. You don't want to be in those positions, but if you are, you play until the end."


Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

SUDBURY – It’s the last Saturday before training camp and on this blue sky/no cloud/light breeze afternoon, Stephen Gostkowski is working a stopwatch at a youth football camp at Lincoln-Sudbury High School.

Paid, not paid, I have no idea (probably paid, though). Still, the second-longest tenured Patriot is giving the organizers their money’s worth in terms of involvement and enthusiasm. I snap a shot of Gostowski timing a pack of tweens leaning for the tape in a 40-yard dash and tweet it out. 

A total of two replies come back. The second one asks, “When are they gonna cut his bum ass? Lost them the AFCCG in '15, almost lost them the SB in '16, missed a FG in SB 52.” 

It’s Twitter so the “ACKNOWLEDGE MY BLOODTHIRSTY CANDOR!!!” factor enters into our friend’s ruthless panning of the third most accurate kicker in NFL history 

But @DrJones37 isn’t on an island either.

Gostkowski is a two-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler who’s made 340 of 388 field goals and 593 of 599 PATs in the 11 regular seasons since 2006. He’s missed just 10 of 140 postseason kicks (field goals and PATs) . And plenty of New Englanders sneer at the mention of his name and can’t wait to see his allegedly bum-ass shrinking over the horizon.


Gostkowski’s perceived sin against Patriots football isn’t really the misses DrJones correctly catalogued. It’s the absence of season-saving or Super Bowl clinching kicks that his predecessor Adam Vinatieri made. Even now, a dozen years after he fled for more money and kinder kicking conditions with the Colts, Hall of Fame-bound Automatic Adam throws a shadow Gostkowski can’t escape.

And there’s no way to change that. Vinatieri made the most memorable field goal in NFL history in the Snow Bowl and validated that kick with the OT game-winner a half-hour later. Two weeks after that, he creased a 48-yarder in New Orleans to win Super Bowl 36. Two seasons later, he clinched Super Bowl 39 with another relative bomb against the Panthers.

It doesn’t matter that he was an 82 percent regular-season kicker with the Patriots or that he was 1 for 3 on field goals in SB39 and 26 of 37 overall in the playoffs while here. Vinatieri’s makes were so massive that misses were forgiven and forgotten. With the “money on the table,” as the late Gil Santos would say, you could start packing up your stuff when Vinatieri was kicking.

It’s not supposed to feel like that. But since it once did, clutch-kicking nirvana is seen as a standard. Gostkowski’s never measured up to it.

In contrast to Vinatieri, Gostkowski’s PAT miss at Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship is probably his most memorable kick . Even though he hadn’t missed one all season in spite of the NFL’s pushing the kick back 15 yards in 2015 (with the Patriots hearty support), even though he held the NFL record for consecutive PATs made, that miss cost the Patriots dearly against noodle-armed Peyton Manning and – in large part – kept the team from getting a shot at the very vulnerable Panthers in the Super Bowl.

That miss begot a 2016 slump that was capped by an “Oh, shit!” PAT miss in the Super Bowl that was immediately followed by a botched onsides kick.

Those are the “Yeah, but…” trump cards slammed down in front of anyone who wants to argue the merits of Gostkowski.

And with the 34-year-old entering the final year of his current contract, the chance looms that the Good Riddance Gostkowski crew may realize its wish.

And then realize what it really feels like when every kick is closer to a coin flip than a layup.

For the past three seasons, 17 teams made more than 85 percent of their regular-season field goals. My math tells me that those 15 teams – nearly half the league – live in Puckertown.

Nine teams were under 80 percent last year. There were eight in 2016 and just three in 2015. By contrast, Gostkowski’s been south of 90 percent once since 2013 (84.4 percent in 2016).


Even if Gostkowski hasn’t been as steady as a metronome, he’s a damn sight better at kicking field goals and PATs than 90 percent of the league. Not to mention the fact he’s accustomed to the kickoff nuances the Patriots demand as they consistently try to win field position.

On Saturday, Gostkowski acknowledged the passage of time since he was a rookie in 2006.

“It’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “I have some white hairs in my beard now. Getting a little thin up top. It’s a blessing to think that I would have played professional sports for over a decade and going into my 13th year. I’ve got nothing but gratitude and thankfulness.”

Asked by ESPN’s Mike Reiss if he’s in a year-to-year mode at this point, Gostkowski answered, “I really don’t think like that. You reassess things every year. It’s easy to say after a year, ‘I might do this or I might do that…’ but as long as I’m happy, healthy and good I’m gonna do it.”

The Patriots report on Wednesday and camp opens for real on Thursday. This is his 12th camp – two more than Vinatieri was here for.

“It’s like the first day of school. Even though we’ll see how I feel three weeks from now. But I really do look forward to it,” Gostkowski said. “Sometimes having a little too much free time can be dangerous. When you play football you’re used to someone telling you what to do and where to be and you kind of miss that.”

It takes some perspective to appreciate that you’ve got it good even when it’s not always perfect. 


Patriots sign Sony Michel to rookie contract

Patriots sign Sony Michel to rookie contract

First round running back Sony Michel officially signed his rookie contract with the New England Patriots Sunday. 

The 31st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will receive the standard rookie deal for first round picks, which is four years with a team option for a fifth season. 

Michel will join James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and newcomer Jeremy Hill in the New England backfield. 

The Patriots begin training camp on Thursday, July 26th, but rookies report today, so Michel signed his deal just in time to attend his first camp as an NFL running back.