Belichick is seeing secondary gains

944021.jpg

Belichick is seeing secondary gains

Two games ago, the Patriots picked off three Andrew Luck passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.

Last game, safety Steve Gregory snuffed some building Jets momentum by stepping in front of a red-zone throw by Mark Sanchez in the first quarter of the Patriots blowout win.

Opposing wide receivers left desperately and totally alone along the sidelines for 20-something gains are becoming less frequent. Late-arriving defensive backs arriving without brakes and plowing into receivers have become scarce.

The Patriots secondary is making incremental improvement. Just like it did last year. Bill Belichick sees it too.

"I think over the last couple of weeks we've made improvement there," Belichick said on a morning conference call Monday. "Steve (Gregory) coming back, Devin (McCourty) at safety and with (Aqib) Talib and Alfonzo (Dennard) switching sides; with Talib coming (to the team) in the past couple games . . . there's some moving parts there but I think those guys have worked hard to try to improve it and I think there are some positive signs and they need to continue to do that."

Belichick said that, although the Patriots' track record has been to build momentum and efficiency as a season progresses, improvement is not automatic.

"It can increase as the season goes along," Belichick said, speaking of the secondary's intuitiveness and anticipation specifically. "I don't think that's a given or something you can take for granted. The people that are involved in the rotation and the amount of opportunity that they get to practice, prepare, play and communicate together (leads to improvement)."

Belichick cited practice reps as being indispensable to being able to effectively carry out a game-day plan.

"If your scout team gives you a really good look at a play in practice and you get that play in the game it can really build your timing and help your anticipation," Belichick noted. "That can make a difference too. All those little things add up. Where one stops and the other starts, they're all interrelated and all a part of the end-result product. We just try to incrementally (improve) and hope that in the end the product (is effective)."

The Patriots have cycled through a slew of defensive backs this season. Injuries, ineffectiveness and skipping on from ineffective combinations have forced their hand into moving guys around. But it now seems the intangible and invaluable attributes of confidence, aggressiveness and trust are starting to emerge.

"You know how quickly it moves and how fast the game is, especially at that position," said Belichick. "Just a split-second of anticipation or of saved reaction time can make the difference between making a play and giving up a play and those split-seconds are very hard to measure but the difference can be the difference in a game. So if you think that it's improving, I think it should continue to improve, it needs to continue to improve. We've gotta really work hard at it. That's everybody."

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."