Every now and then, however, the Patriots' head coach offers a glimpse into his football mind, giving the rest of us an idea of what goes on in his Hall of Fame head.
On Sunday, Belichick was asked about rookie Julian Edelman's punt return from Thursday's game against the Eagles, and the coach went into details about the complexities of catching a punt.
"Catching punts, there’s a lot to it," he said in what turned out to be the understatement of the year.
"Unlike kickoffs — where the ball usually tumbles end over end and the movement on the ball is much more limited — when a ball’s punted, left-footed or right-footed — which is another thing, we have a left-footed punter at camp although we’ve had both — [it’s] spinning the opposite direction. So depending on how the ball comes off the punter’s foot, a lot of different things can happen."
Like what, Bill?
"[With] the nose turning over, it lengthens the kick. It drives it away to the left if it’s a right-footed punter. If the nose doesn’t turn over, it’s shorter, it breaks — kind of a curveball — to the returner's right. Tumbling balls tend to be shorter. There are balls that tail. There are balls that are tight. Then you have directional punts that go with that, in addition to all the plus-50 situational punts, whether we’re rushing plus-50 or returning plus-50, whether it’s a real downing situation like it would be on a rugby punt type of thing, where the ball’s kicked end over end compared to maybe [when] they’re punting from their minus-40 and the ball carries down to the 10 yard-line."
OK, simple enough. Anything else?
"In addition to that, there are a lot of different types of balls that you have to field, just like a hitter [in baseball] has to hit a variety of pitches over the course of a three-game series from a couple of different pitchers. You’ve got a lot of different types of punts that can happen, and then through the wind with all that, or the sun, or the lights, or whatever."
So what does it take to be a good punt returner?
"Some of that is experience. Certainly, a lot of it is concentration. Some of it is natural ballhandling skills. Some guys just handle them better than others no matter how much coaching."
You seem to know a lot about the flight paths of punts, so could you suit up and play on special teams?
"I know where the ball’s going to break, I can read it, but you don’t want me back there catching it. So you have to have some skill to go along with it."
"Julian [has] worked hard. He’s been out there every day. He’s caught punts. He’s caught kickoffs. He’s caught a lot of plus-50 situational balls, directional punts [and] so forth. There are a lot of things for him to work on. He’s worked at them. He’s gotten better at them, and he’s got a long way to go and — as we all know — catching punts or punting in this stadium at the latter half of the season is very challenging."
Whether Edelman has what it takes to stand deep in his own territory late in the season remains to be seen, of course.
"[Catching a punt is] a tough enough skill when everything is perfect in a dome, but doing it out here in the conditions we see in November and December — that’s a whole new ballgame, too. … That’s why we try to practice outside a lot — even when the weather’s not perfect — to try to get used to those situations: rain, snow, wind, crosswind, kicking with the wind, kicking against the wind, fielding the ball and so forth. There’s a lot to it."
Again, there it was. The closing line — just like the opening line — turned out to be the understatement of understatements.
Needless to say, if that much thought is put into the simple act of catching a punt, it's interesting to imagine what his thought process is regarding blitzes, coverage schemes and, well, just about everything else.
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