FOXBORO, Mass. — Vincent Valentine garnered a positive review from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Friday after turning in perhaps his best performance of his young NFL career in last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers.
“I thought he did a good job,” Belichick said of the rookie defensive tackle. “I’d say he has good plays every week and there are plays that he could have played better on in the games that he’s played. He’s definitely, I’d say, an improving player.
“I don’t know, but it’s headed in the right direction, and he’s certainly had some positive plays I’d say pretty much in every game. There might have been a couple more last week, but I’d say it’s trending the right way.”
Valentine played 18 snaps in New England’s 30-17 victory over San Francisco — tallying two tackles and two hurries — and could see his role increase if Alan Branch’s reported four-game suspension is not overturned. The Patriots’ defensive tackle depth chart is thin behind Branch and fellow starter Malcom Brown, as Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton are the only other defenders on the roster weighing in at more than 300 pounds.
Conditioning was a question mark for Valentine entering the draft, but Belichick said he wouldn’t hesitate to up the third-round pick’s snap total.
“From a conditioning standpoint?” the coach said. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s an issue.”
In fact, Belichick said he has been pleased with the conditioning of all of his linemen on both sides of the ball. For this, he credited Moses Cabrera, who is in his first season as the Patriots’ head strength and conditioning coach.
“I think all of our players are in good condition this year,” Belichick said. “I think Moses has done a good job. Guys like Branch have played more snaps than he’s ever played. Malcom has played a lot of snaps, Vincent. Our offensive line, those guys have played a lot of snaps. I’m talking about the bigger guys, now.
“I think our conditioning has been good, and we’ve had a lot of guys play, again in those positions, a lot of those guys have played a lot of football, a lot of snaps, and I haven’t gotten the sense — last week (against the 49ers’ up-tempo offense) was a good test defensively because of the tempo of the game and so forth, (and) it didn’t feel like that was an issue.”
Though they do employ a few veterans, such as Branch and offense tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, the Patriots are very young up front on both offense and defense. Valentine, Hamilton and guards Joe Thuney and Ted Karras are rookies, and Brown, center David Andrews and guard Shaq Mason all entered the league in 2015.
“It’s always a little bit more of a challenge for the rookies, but overall, this group, we really haven’t had any issues with any of them, especially on the weight end of it,” Belichick said. “I mean, Thuney, Karras, Valentine, Hamilton — none of those guys have been weight issues at all.”
Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images