HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK CONFERENCE CALL
Q: How did you think Leonard Hankerson performed the other day?
BB: It was a little bit of a scramble, probably hard to evaluate a player off of that game with hardly any practice time at all. Most of it was on the scout team and stuff like that, so hopefully with a few extra days here over the weekend and then kind of being able to build off of last week instead of starting at the very bottom, we can get a little more done this week and move it forward, so we’ll see how it goes. I thought he went in there and did the best he could, but like I said it’s a tough situation. It’s hard to really get a good evaluation of that.
Q: You guys have fumbled three punts in the last four games. Is that ultimately an individual responsibility or is there more to it than just the guy who fumbled the ball?
BB: Well, two of the plays were muffs where the ball wasn’t caught cleanly. The one last week we had possession of the ball. That could happen on any play. It wasn’t the catching of the punt. It was running with the ball, so I’d say that would go in a little different category. In the end we’ve got to handle the ball cleanly on the exchange and get possession of the ball. That’s the first job of the punt return or kickoff return team when you put them on the field is to gain possession of the ball. That’s number one; we’ve got to do that. Read
Q: When you look at muffed punt, do you look into factors like blocking that could have given the returner more space to make the catch? Read
BB: In the end, each punt is different, each play is different, so there are no two things that are the same, but at some point the coverage is going to be down on the returner. I mean it could be a great hang-time punt, it could be good coverage, it could be not great blocking, but if the punter hangs the ball up in the air long enough the coverage is going to be down there, so there are going to be situations where you can never just say, ‘OK we’re going to eliminate everybody in coverage.’ It’s just impossible. At some point that’s going to happen. At some point there are going to be situations where the coverage isn’t down there, there will be some grey area, there will be some [punts] where the coverage definitely is, and that’s part of the returner or returners if you happen to be in a two-deep situation like on kickoff returns bringing the ball out of the end zone or on punt returns where you have two deep, then you have a communication element involved between the two players. If you only have a single player back there then that’s part of his responsibility is to make that decision. I mean I don’t know how you could ever take the decision making part out of it. If the ball is short or if the ball is up in the air long enough, there is no way to prevent the coverage from getting down there. It’s just impossible.
Q: What are your thoughts on how this year’s rookie class has progressed? How have those players benefitted the team as a whole?
BB: I think overall it’s been a real good group. Those guys have really come in and done everything we’ve asked them to do. We’ve had a lot of groups, had a lot of players fall into this category, but I would say as a total group, these guys have been as good if not better than any group we’ve had off the field in terms of their preparation, doing what they’re asked to do, doing what they’ve been told to do, improving, paying attention to the little things, trying to do the right thing for the team, all those things. I mean each individual player’s characteristics and performance, those are all kind of separate discussions, although I think overall we’ve gotten contributions from that group, but each one individually has a little different dynamic. But as a total group and the chemistry that they have with each other and with the team has been very good. It’s been great; it’s been great.
Q: How has Shaq Mason’s athleticism helped the team this year?
BB: It’s very good. He’s probably one of the most athletic players, one of the most athletic offensive linemen I’ve coached. He would certainly be in that upper category and upper part of that conversation. He runs well. He’s got very good balance and short-space quickness and is light on his feet. Fundamentally and technique-wise there are a lot of things that he still needs to work on and Shaq has improved a lot, but there are still things for him to work on, things he can do better and do more consistently, but just in terms of athleticism, balance, speed, quickness, he’s very good, very, very talented, and he’s got good power and playing strength and explosion, too. Those are all positives with him.