What we learned from Professor Belichick


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tuesday's news conference with Bill Belichick had a "Football 101" type of feel to it. Belichick was the professor at the front of the room, going in depth on special-teams contributions, kick-returning technique and what defines a good training camp.

These are the types of news conferences that Belichick seems to enjoy (or at least tolerate), as it went a bit overtime and threatened his on-time arrival for afternoon practice.

Here were a few notes:

Bonus plays with receivers on special-teams coverage units. When it comes to receivers playing on special-teams coverage units, which Brandon LaFell has done, Belichick called those "bonus plays" because it's more the exception than the rule with pass-catchers. Not including special-teams captain Matthew Slater, who technically is a receiver but plays sparingly at the position, LaFell is the only New England Patriots receiver who showed up on the top kickoff coverage unit in Friday's game against the Eagles. In practice, LaFell has also taken reps as a backup on the punt coverage unit, and his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame is part of what makes him competitive in the coverage role. "Size and strength are big attributes that you have to have to block or take on blockers," Belichick said. "Those are things that kind of work in his favor and he did in Carolina. He’s tough and he’s competitive and he does a good job there. Just another way that he can contribute to the team."

Most important things for kickoff returners. When watching Patriots kickoff returners Friday night against Carolina, consider these remarks from Belichick on what makes an effective returner: "Vision is important. Speed is important because the faster you can get the ball from the goal line or wherever it comes down up into that 15-, 20-yard line area, then the more you can avoid [the unblocked coverage player]. So, speed and then either some combination of quickness and power to break tackles. Somehow or another returners to be good have to be able to make some yards on their own. They have to be able to avoid them or be strong to run through them, as well as have good vision and find the holes." Belichick then added this: "The three things that affect [kickoff returners] the most are the depth of the kick, the hang time of the kick and the posture that he’s in when he catches it." The Patriots have used rookie Roy Finch (3 returns, 25.0 avg.), Josh Boyce (1 return, 25 yards), Travis Hawkins (1 return, 20 yards) and James White (1 return, 19 yards) on kickoffs this preseason, with Boyce entering training camp as the favorite to seize the job.

What defines a good training camp. How does Belichick know a team has had a good training camp? He explained that part of it is seeing how the club responds to adversity. "It’s a challenge for the team -- not just the players but the entire organization -- to handle all the things you have to handle in training camp. You have to be able to show some mental toughness, some ability to block out distractions and focus on your job," he said. "If you can do those over a training camp period of, call it six weeks, then it’s probably a pretty good indication that you have a chance to do it during the year. If you don't, then it’s probably an indication that when the pressure really comes on during the season, which the pressure is going to mount for the team as the season goes, I’d say the likelihood of it all just magically coming together without a legitimate foundation, I haven’t had a lot of great experience with that."