INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine you’re an NFL draft prospect, preparing for a college all-star game, and suddenly the greatest coach in history grabs you by the shoulder pads for an impromptu pass-rush lesson.
Brenton Cox doesn’t need to. The Florida edge rusher received that type of hands-on, 1-on-1 instruction from Bill Belichick at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl, a video of which went viral back in January.
Asked Wednesday about that moment, Cox said he was struck by how “direct” Belichick and his Patriots coaching staff were. New England coached the West Team during Shrine Bowl week and took that job seriously.
“It’s much different than working with college coaches,” said Cox, who played in the SEC at Florida and Georgia. “They’re pretty straightforward. What they want you to do, you’ve got to do it right away. They want to see if you can take coaching on the spot. It was great working with them.”
The Patriots shook up their coaching assignments for the pre-draft prospect showcase. In an effort to give their younger or less experienced coaches different opportunities, they had wide receivers coach Troy Brown serve as head coach, assistant wideouts coach Ross Douglas step in as offensive coordinator and safeties and cornerbacks coaches Brian Belichick and Mike Pellegrino jointly run the defense.
Bill Belichick and upper-level assistants like newly hired OC Bill O’Brien officially were there as “supervisors,” but as Cox’s experience illustrated, they still were heavily involved.
“What they want is what they want, and they’re going to tell you,” Cox said. “They’re going to shoot it to you straight. There’s no beating around the bush. If they tell you they want outside contain, then that’s what they want. … I’ve never been coached by someone like (Belichick), of his caliber, so just learning from him.”
The Patriots were a popular topic of conversation Wednesday as a dozen or so Shrine Bowl alums addressed reporters ahead of their combine workouts.
North Carolina State linebacker Isaiah Moore explained why New England’s coaches reportedly “couldn’t stop raving” about him. The close attention Belichick paid to every position group resonated with Mississippi State’s Tyrus Wheat. Georgia Tech’s Charlie Thomas recalled Belichick chewing out the punt team and making it repeat a practice rep.
“Some people might say it’s all business, but I feel like it’s serious,” Louisiana linebacker Andre Jones said. “They just want the best. That’s how I look at it. … People might think they’re too serious, but I like it. That’s how I was coached.”
With the Patriots drafting four players from the 2022 Shrine Bowl even when they didn’t coach in that game, odds are this year’s edition will produce at least one or two New England selections.