PHOENIX -- Ten things we learned from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s appearance at the NFL’s annual owners meetings:
1. Don’t get much out of these meetings. When asked if he gets much out of the NFL’s annual meetings, Belichick simply said, “No.” That was reflected in the general mood and tone of his 45-minute meeting with reporters, as Belichick showed limited interest in engaging on most topics in the forum.
2. With Revis and others, "that’s NFL free agency." When the topic of cornerback Darrelle Revis’ departure was broached, Belichick repeated “that’s NFL free agency” multiple times. “Players leave teams and go to teams in free agency every year. That’s not a big story,” he said. That was the theme whenever Belichick was asked about a free agent.
3. Disappointed on boundary cameras. One of the three proposals put forth by the Patriots is to have fixed cameras on all boundary lines, but it doesn’t seem to be garnering much support, with some in the NFL citing cost. “It’s disappointing to hear we can’t afford it as a league,” said Belichick, who would like the fixed cameras to ensure reliable camera angles for replay.
4. Butler’s upside at cornerback. Asked if it’s a realistic thought that Malcolm Butler could become a greater part of the defense, Belichick didn’t dismiss the possibility. “Year one to year two is always a potentially big step for a player, but that has to be accomplished. It’s not a given,” he said, before using the example of former offensive lineman Stephen Neal as a player who emerged from “below undrafted to starting.”
5. Excited to work with Gaffney. The Patriots claimed running back Tyler Gaffney (sixth-round draft pick) on waivers from the Panthers last year and had him on injured reserve. While pointing out Gaffney's one season of standout production at Stanford, Belichick said Gaffney was at the facility every day last season and is a good athlete who catches the ball well. While he doesn’t specifically translate to a Shane Vereen type role at 220 pounds, Belichick said “we’re excited to work with Tyler” and then mentioned two other rookies from last year -- linebackers James Morris and Cameron Gordon -- who fell into a similar injury-based category.
6. Great respect for McCarthy. When Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com asked Belichick about Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his plans to alter some of his scheduling, Belichick took the opportunity to share the respect he has for McCarthy by saying, “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against.”
7. Thoughts on potential change to eligible players reporting as ineligible being restricted to tackle box. Belichick pointed out that if the NFL passes a competition committee proposal to restrict eligible receivers who report as ineligible receivers to the tackle box, it could “affect a lot of other plays -- spread punt formations and stuff like that.” We’ll see if that has any impact on the rule passing.
8. Not locking in on defensive scheme. One common thought has been that the Patriots won’t play as much press-man without cornerbacks Revis and Brandon Browner, but Belichick essentially cautioned anyone from jumping to conclusions. “I think we have a fairly wide foundation and scheme, over 15 years, in all three phases of the game. We don’t have our complete roster at this point, so I don’t even know who’s on the team,” he said. “We’ll teach everyone the basics of the system. At some point we’ll modify that, and whether it will go one way or the other, I don’t know. Game-plan weeks we’ll specifically tailor it to the team we’re playing; that’s pretty much the way we’ve always done it, and I don’t see that fundamentally changing.”
9. Not talking about NFL’s investigation. Asked if he’s looking forward to some closure on the NFL’s investigation into underinflated footballs, Belichick said, “You can talk to the league about that.”
10. Confidence in special-teams transition. In the most significant transition on his coaching staff in 2015, with Joe Judge taking over as head special-teams coach from Scott O’Brien, Belichick expressed confidence that things are in a good place. Then he talked about O’Brien’s “great career” and his contributions to football as a creative, aggressive teacher who was never afraid to make a decision with conviction and go with it.