Q: What have you seen from two former Patriots – Darius Butler and Sergio Brown – this season?
BB: Well, I’d say Darius has been in pretty much the same role that he was in last year as a nickel back [with Greg] Toler and [Vontae] Davis usually outside and Butler usually in the slot. Sergio’s had a big role in the kicking game and then when Landry was out the last four or five weeks then he had a lot of playing time at safety on defense and has been a little bit less involved in the kicking game. He’s been in those two roles. It looks like they’re kind of independent of each other, so the more involved he is on defense, the less in the kicking game; the less on defense, the more in the kicking game. He’s done both.
Q: Reggie Wayne has been a bit banged up, but what continues to make him an effective player at this point in his career?
BB: Yeah, he’s still really good at everything. [He’s] obviously a real smart and experienced guy; knows how to set up routes, make all of his routes look the same, does a great job of releasing and then at the top of his routes being able to create separation at just the right time when the quarterback is ready to throw. He’s been a key guy for them in critical situations and third down-type situations. I’m sure that there’s a lot of confidence that he’s going to be open and he usually is. Excellent hands; made a lot of tough catches. They move him around. He plays a decent amount in the slot, but also out on the perimeter where we saw him for so many years in their former offensive system. But he’s probably a little more in the slot now with [Hakeem] Nicks and [T.Y.] Hilton outside. But they move all those guys around so finding him is a problem. He’s still a very dangerous receiver, clutch player and a guy who really, when they need a play, they’re not afraid to go to him and he’ll deliver for them.
Q: Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starting against each other this week. Based on your time with them in the past, what has enabled them to get to this point as NFL starters?
BB: Both those guys worked really hard here. They both did a good job for us. I have a lot of respect for both of them and a personal liking for both guys. We wish them well. Right now, we’re really focused on the Colts though. You should probably go to those other teams and talk about those guys because they’re not here anymore.
Q: Every team in the league seems to have a big, strong tight end. I know that’s been a trend for a while but does it seem like they’re getting more attention because they’re catching more passes than they did 10 or 15 years ago? Are they bigger passing options in terms of receiving and not just blocking?
BB: Those guys have always been a problem. They’re hard to match up on because [of] their size and athleticism. It’s just hard to get a guy on defense that has their kind of height and weight and ball skills and athleticism to be able to match up and cover them. I think it’s always been a tough matchup and it’s still a tough matchup.
Q: Did you see that starting 10 years ago when guys like Jason Witten and Antonio Gates came into the league or does it go back longer, like 20 years ago?
BB: Go back to 40 years ago. When I came in the league, we always had coverages to double the tight end, guys like Raymond Chester and [Mike] Ditka and Rich Caster with the Jets. I mean there were a lot of them and there were always, in every game plan, we had Charlie Sanders when I was at Detroit. [Billy Joe] DuPree in Dallas, [Riley] Odoms in Denver. You can go right down the line. They’ve been there. It was the same issue then. You had to have, if you were playing man coverage, then you had to have some kind of coverage where you could double those guys. Those were all, what we called back then, the combination coverages – some way to be able to get two guys on them. That’s been part of the offense and defense since I’ve come into the league.
Q: With Indianapolis, what have you seen from Dwayne Allen? How have he and Coby Fleener complemented one another in their offense this year?
BB: They’ve done a good job with those guys and they use [Jack] Doyle some too. So, a lot of times they have three tight ends on the field. They have a good mixture of one tight end, two tight ends and three tight ends in their offense. Sometimes [it’s] different combinations, so you can’t always count on the same group of guys being out there. Both Fleener and Allen have been tough matchups in the passing game. Some of the same things we talked about. Again, there are times when they’re out there together and then there are times when it’s one or the other of them. But they both have done a good job of creating separation, making plays in the red area. I’ve been really impressed with Allen’s blocking. I think he’s one of the best blocking tight ends that we’ll see. They definitely give you a lot of problems to go with their receivers and the quarterback and the running game with [Ahmad] Bradshaw and [Trent] Richardson so it will be a lot for us to deal with, a lot for us to handle. That’s part of what makes them so good, is their players at that position, how they complement the other positions and the fact that they use all three of them. It’s just more things for the defense to have to stop.
Q: You’ve talked about Mark Bavaro and Russ Francis in the past. Are there any similarities between Rob Gronkowski and those two guys?
BB: I mean, I’m sure there is. I’m sure there is. Those guys all had great size. Bavaro’s probably as tough of a, physically and mentally a tough a football player as I’ve ever coached. So, I would put him in the rare category there. But I never coached Francis, but he was a problem to defend. You know, again, anybody with that kind of size and speed and athleticism, you just don’t have those players defensively, very few teams have players like that that can match up with them. They’re all a problem to varying degrees. We were probably fortunate, the time we had Rodney Harrison, he was a guy that could match up pretty well with those types of players. That was a big advantage of us defensively to have somebody like that that we could have a chance to put on them. I think they’re all in the real good category. I think each guy has probably got his own individual maybe strengths above another one, but there weren’t many guys better than Bavaro, I’ll tell you that. What that guy could do in the running game and the passing game, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody that I would put above him in terms of the total package. He didn’t have some of the receiving stats of the Kellen Winslows and guys like that, but those guys couldn’t block like he could either. When you could put him on Reggie White and not give him any help and not really worry about it in the running game, there weren’t many offensive linemen you could say that about