FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It has been a year-and-a-half since the New England Patriots hired former Cleveland Browns general manager Michael Lombardi as an "assistant to the coaching staff," a role that might also be best described as "Bill Belichick's right-hand man."
Lombardi attends most every practice, and his opinion is tapped by Belichick in multiple areas. One such example is with running back Dion Lewis, who was in Cleveland with Lombardi and has made an impression on Belichick this year.
Belichick made a 20-year-apart connection between his own situation in 1996 -- when he was a defensive assistant in New England after serving five years as Browns head coach -- to Lombardi's role and some of the players the Patriots have brought in with ties to him.
"Guys like [Pio] Sagapolutele, Tom Tupa, [Chad] Eaton ... if you have a knowledge of those players, then sometimes it kind of helps you identify somebody that might fit if you have a need there," Belichick said of three former Patriots from 1996.
Belichick also touched on when he left the Giants in 1990 to go to the Browns and ended up signing kicker Matt Stover in Cleveland. Stover had been in camp with the Giants, who had reliable Matt Bahr as their kicker, but Belichick's background with him gave him comfort in signing him with the Browns.
"If you're with a guy, you know a lot more about him than the other teams that don't have that opportunity," Belichick said, noting that Lombardi's background with Lewis and receiver Brian Tyms was a factor that led the Patriots to sign them.
"I've asked Mike to do some things on an individual [basis] -- projects or things that I've asked him to do -- and he's done a great job of that for me," Belichick said. "Mike has been a big help to me personally."