FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick gave a rare transparent look into the Patriots’ organization on Wednesday during his afternoon press conference.
The head coach was asked if reliability and dependability are as important as potential after talking at length about safety Steve Gregory‘s grasp of the New England defense. Belichick apparently has a quote on that very subject.
“We like to say that dependability is more important than ability,” Belichick said.
That may explain many of the team’s personnel decisions during Belichick’s reign as head coach and general manager. More specifically, it explains Belichick’s decision to draft so many Rutgers players this season, especially as the team is obviously trying to get younger and win at the same time.
Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, for example, might not have had the highest upside in the third round at safety and cornerback, respectively, but the Patriots knew what they were getting out of the Scarlet Knight defenders because if they could be trusted by Greg Schiano at Rutgers, they could perform in New England.
The “Patriot Way” was something that was talked about ad nauseam after the Aaron Hernandez situation came to light. To me, the Patriot Way has always had much more to do with Belichick’s saying about dependability and ability than it does about high moral standards.
Obviously a player’s ability to not get in trouble has to do with dependability, but it’s just one facet of that term when it comes to being a part of a football team. But dependaability also has to do with a player’s dedication, passion and effort. If a player doesn’t have those three qualities, he won’t stick around long in Foxboro.
Dependability is also about being in the right place on the field and, you know, just being on the field at all. A player like Ras-I Dowling had all the ability and upside in the world, but he couldn’t stay healthy. And maybe the team’s decision to draft Dowling didn’t fit the mold of dependability over ability, but cutting him after two injury-prone seasons certainly did.
Many of the team’s decisions leading into 2013 hold dependability to a higher standard than ability. A player like Kenbrell Thompkins has ascended up the depth chart because he’s proven to be dependable both on the field and in the classroom. Thompkins was present for every Patriots practice from rookie minicamp all the way through the last day of training camp. Thompkins’ health sets him apart from receivers like Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman and players who were released like Michael Jenkins, who missed time with injuries.
Thompkins also appeared to be where Tom Brady expected him to be in the three preseason games they played together. While Danny Amendola was out with an injury in the team’s third game, Thompkins was out there catching eight passes for 116 yards.
Obviously, like any team in the NFL, the Patriots will take their risks. Alfonzo Dennard and Michael Buchanan were risks in back-to-back drafts. But the team balances those risks with players like Justin Francis, who was an immediate contributor in 2012, and Steve Beauharnais, who should be an immediate contributor this season. And Belichick’s quote answers the questions many have about why the team will take a player like Tavon Wilson or Harmon over a safety they have heard of in the second or third round, respectively. Belichick trusts those players more than he may trust a more well-known player who was still available when the Patriots took those players.
After the Hernandez situation, the Patriots will likely rely on dependability over ability like never before. The team can’t risk tarnishing its reputation on another player with a patchy history. But no team can build a roster with a group of boy scouts — unless those boy scouts run 4.4-second 40-yard dashes and bench press reps of 225 pounds, of course.