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Professor Belichick leads history class

12/9/2011

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some might have viewed Bill Belichick's Friday news conference as a class in Football History 101. Days like this come around from time to time when covering a Belichick-coached team.

Few active coaches can speak from a position of authority on the history of the game like Belichick. He spent 20 years as an assistant coach in the NFL and this is his 17th season as a head coach; according to the Elias Sports Bureau he is the only man in NFL history to serve 20 or more seasons as an assistant coach and at least 15 seasons as a head coach.

So what was Belichick talking about today?

1. History of the nickel defense. Belichick noted how there are a lot more personnel groupings in today's game than when he first started coaching. "I remember being with the Giants in ’81 and we didn’t even have a nickel defense. That was a big step. I can’t remember what year it was, maybe it was ’82 or ’83, we were like ‘OK, we’re going to put in the nickel this year.’ It was like ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a big step, how are we going to do this?’ and terminology and all that." Consider that the 2011 Patriots have been in a nickel or dime defense for 65 percent of their snaps, which reflects how much the game has changed.

2. George Allen's role in expanding personnel packages and the nickel D. "George Allen was ahead of the curve on that. I think he also was one of the guys that started to take the middle linebacker out. They would take their outside linebacker, [Chris] Hanburger ,and slide him into the middle. You had a Sam, Mike and Will and your inside guy a lot of times was the least of those three coverage players. If you took your Will and bumped him into Mike and then put a DB in, which a lot of teams do now, similar thing, you’d just have a more athletic, better pass coverage on the field. Allen was, I would say, ahead of the curve on that."

3. Offensive players lining up on defense vs. defensive players lining up on offense. Belichick had some fun with this topic, reflecting on how the Patriots ultimately decided that Stephen Neal would be an offensive lineman after trying him on defense. He ran so well for a player his size that the coaches naturally wanted to try him on defense first. But when it was clear it wasn't a fit, they moved him to offense. "I tell the offensive linemen that too – ‘If you could run, you’d be on defense.’ Why are you on offense? Because you don’t run well enough to play on defense."

For those interested in reading more about Belichick's remarks, and gaining a greater context of the conversation, the Q&A is transcribed on Patriots.com (link here).