By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - Better, worse; harder, easier - Bill Belichick hates getting into those questions, especially when they refer to things beyond his control.
So when I asked him if it's advantageous to have a 90-player pool to begin training camp or if he'd prefer the previous roster limit of 80, Belichick acted like he smelled something bad.
"I dont know," he huffed. "Look, whatever it is, it is. If its 80, its 80. If its 90, its 90. If its 100, its 100. Well do the best with whatever it is, try to make the most out of it. I dont see it as an advantage-disadvantage. I think you take whatever your opportunities are and you figure out how to make the most of them. If they change, then you take the new set of circumstances and make the best of them."
On one hand, the Patriots have the smallest coaching staff in the league so the "student-teacher" ratio with 90 guys in camp is probably pretty high. But on the other hand, Belichick knows end of the roster guys can, eventually, turn into top of the roster guys. Whether that's Steve Neal, Keenan McCardell, BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Mike Wright, it's not abnormal to see a scrub become valuable. So the more the merrier.
But while Belichick holds his opinion, he did share his experience with the way camp's changed.
"When I started coaching in the NFL, first of all, there really wasnt any offseason program or it was very limited," he explained. "You didnt have the organized OTAs that we have now. When you put in at the beginning of training camp, when you installed your plays, you installed them very thoroughly because it was, Id say, pretty much the first time they were hearing it. Veterans obviously had heard them before but for the benefit of the whole team, you did it in a very thorough way because it was really the first time.
"When we go out here the first day of practice (in 2012), weve already had 13 practices or however many practices we had, granted it was six weeks ago. Theres definitely a level of, from a month of practice, theres some learning and carryover. We might have a couple new guys on the team and all that but Im saying overall theres a lot more lead-in."
Belichick pointed out that the greater camp numbers back in the 70s and 80s was attributable to the fact the draft went on and on. Teams would bring upwards of 60 rookies to camp, Belichick explained. The rookies would have a separate camp for about two weeks, then a few would be retained to go to camp with the rest of the team.
Camp started earlier and ran longer, said Belichick.
"The preparation for the season really was at the beginning of the season, not in the spring and then kind of jumping to the different points. It was a lot different. Is it better or worse? I dont know," he added.