Initial three games lead to discovery

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his Wednesday morning news conference, Bill Belichick talked about the discovery process for the coaching staff through the first three games of the season.

"You're trying to maximize your talent, your players, your scheme, and we're going through that process. There are some things we found out over the first three weeks that we would do a little bit differently knowing what we know now," Belichick said. "That's part of our job -- to figure out what's best for this team to win."

Belichick said that process is ever-evolving, but it makes sense to think the first few weeks of the season are the most volatile. This is when teams begin the process of attempting to form an identity and learn most about exactly what they have on the roster.

Along those lines, here are three things from a media-based perspective that have been part of the discovery process through three games:

1. Sudfeld's dip. Undrafted rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld looked like he was going to be a big contributor based on preseason performance. But he's averaging just 18 snaps over his two regular-season games played and doesn't have a catch. Initially, the thought was that Sudfeld might be the "move" tight end a la Aaron Hernandez, but Michael Hoomanawanui (more valuable than anticipated) has been tapped for some of those duties as well. Wouldn't be surprised to see even less of Sudfeld going forward.

2. Hightower over Spikes in sub defense. When middle linebacker Brandon Spikes stayed away from voluntary offseason workouts to train in Florida, reports indicated that it was to show his ability to be a three-down linebacker. But through three games, Spikes hasn't played much in the team's pure sub packages, with fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower getting the nod over him. We've charted Hightower on the field for 181 of 209 snaps (including penalties), while Spikes -- whose playing time was lessened by missing most of the first half of the season-opener due to dehydration -- has been charted on the field for 84 of 209 snaps.

3. Kickoff returner still a question mark. When the Patriots signed free-agent running back Leon Washington to a one-year, $1.2 million contract on March 14, it seemed like a cure-all for the team's in-need-of-a-spark kickoff return unit. Washington was a 2012 Pro Bowler as a kickoff returner. But Washington was seldom used as a returner in the preseason and was released for six days (and visited the Jets and Giants during that time) before being re-signed. Running back LeGarrette Blount is currently the top kickoff returner -- he seemed to be the choice over Washington to begin with --and he's had four returns for 84 yards (21.0 avg.). When Washington (thigh) returns to full health, it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff gives him another crack at the top job. Could be an upgrade.