By Tom E. Curran
TAMPA - The easy description of Bill Belichick from a national perspective is that he thinks he's smarter than everyone else.
That may be true, whether he personally believes it or not. But one of the interesting things about Belichick is his ability to acknowledge the limits of his expertise.
That was on display Thursday morning in Tampa when he was asked about the role of linebackers coach Pepper Johnson.
Johnson's worked with and for Belichick as a player with the Giants, Browns and Jets. He's been a part of the Patriots' coaching staff since 2000. He's got a doctorate not just in NFL defense but in the way Belichick wants HIS defense executed.
And Johnson, as Belichick points out, can tell players things that Belichick simply can't.
"The big thing with Pepper is, unlike really anyone else on the staff, hes actually played in our system," Belichick explained. "Ive coached the way Ive coached at the Giants and at Cleveland and New York and so forth, but hes actually played it and I think theres something to be said for that.
"Theres certainly a perspective as a player whos played in the system relative to a coach, even though Ive coached it a long time, he has the perspective of playing in it that I just don't have or our other coaches don't have Matt Patricia or Pat Graham or Brian Flores or any of those guys. Nothing against them, it's just different. Theres something to be said for a player who's played the game particularly played the system you're coaching and can coach it. He has a perspective on it that as a coach having never played it, I just cant give."
When the action is real and the Xs and Os on a greaseboard are transformed into living, breathing NFL players, there are things players will encounter that coaches cannot articulate unless they've played on the same canvas. A coach's teaching points may be rendered moot when the ball is snapped, Belichick acknowledges.
"(Players who coach) can talk about, Hey, when you're out there in this situation, heres what you're thinking about, or Look, the coach is telling you to do A, B and C, but really what you have to worry about is C; A and B, yeah, but forget about those and lets make sure we get this one right. Things like that, things that happen in a game," explained Belichick.
There's also relating to players on a professional level and understanding their perspective on being in the NFL.
"Pepper talks to our team, not just the defensive players or the linebackers, but our whole team about that from time to time about just what its like especially the rookies what it's like to play in a preseason game, what it's like to play in an NFL game, the difference between NFL and college football, what the adjustment was for him, what hes seen from other players that hes coached in that experience, what things to expect, what's different from a pro game and a college game, things like that that I think helps them make their transition. He brings a lot of that to us."