Belichick: KO return still matters

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One line of thinking since the NFL moved the kickoff up to the 35-yard line is that the value of the returner has been decreased. Some followers have wondered if the Patriots had altogether de-valued the position, given that they struggled in that area in 2011 and didn't make any decisive moves in the offseason to address it.

Bill Belichick shed some light on the topic when asked Thursday.

In essence, Belichick still sees the kickoff return as an important play, even though there are fewer opportunities than there were in the past. And he wants to see better results from his team.

"The number of returns was down [in 2011] and there was a higher percentage of those [touchbacks] earlier in the year. Then later in the year, when the weather wasn't as warm and conditions weren't as favorable, percentage-wise there were more balls returned but still less than in the past," Belichick explained.

"We didn't return them very well in any conditions, at any time. And still haven't, based on the New Orleans [preseason] game. That's obviously an area we can improve in and we have worked hard in, but based on the results, still need to do a lot more work on.

"It's an important area in the game, a big momentum play. It's a way to answer the opponents' score or the start of the half, whatever the situation is there. It's a big play in the game. We put a lot of stock in that, just like we do every other play."

EXTRA POINT: Along these lines, we'll be monitoring the situation of rookie free agent Jeff Demps, the Olympic sprinter and former Florida running back/returner who could be signing with a team by tonight. Given the Patriots' available roster space, and focus on improvement, Demps would make a lot of sense (link here).