Speaking in a post-draft video conference last April, Bill Belichick remarked on how smoothly the New England Patriots’ virtual offseason program was running.
“So far, I would say after a week of meeting with the players last week that these Webex meetings have gone very well — in a way surprising,? the Patriots coach said at the time. “Better than I would have expected. Haven?t really been any problems.”
Well, problems eventually arose, as Belichick detailed Monday in his season-ending presser.
Asked about the challenges involved in teaching and integrating New England’s boatload of young players this season, Belichick pointed to virtual meetings — required at times under the NFL’s COVID-19 restrictions — as a significant impediment to progress.
“I?d say the short answer to that would be the limited value of the virtual meetings and the maximum value of in-person meetings and walkthroughs,” Belichick said one day after his team defeated the New York Jets 28-14 in Week 17. “What you think you?re getting done in a virtual meeting and, I would say, what?s actually accomplished are two very different things because it?s so hard to measure and gauge the feedback, which you can do in person in a walkthrough or in a meeting scenario.
“We found over the course of the year that those were — I can?t even put a percentage on it, but they were infinitely more productive than virtual meetings.”
Belichick said meeting virtually made it difficult for younger position groups to develop consistency. He didn’t name specific positions, but tight end could have been one such unit, as rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene combined for just five catches all season.
“Virtual meetings were fine for dissemination of some basic information, general information,” Belichick said. “But in terms of a team working together — especially a team that doesn?t have a lot of experience together, and that was true in certain positions — I don?t think there?s a great benefit to it. There?s some, but it?s not anything close to what doing it another way would be.”
It remains to be seen whether teams will be able to enjoy a traditional offseason ahead of the 2021 campaign. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, Belichick said there are “really a lot of unknowns” about how the next few months of the NFL calendar (scouting combine, pre-draft workouts, OTAs, etc.) will be structured.