Edelman showing toughness as a returner

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Edelman showing toughness as a returner

FOXBORO -- On Sunday, special teams coach Scott O'Brien was asked what qualities make up a good punt returner. The first he named was toughness.

"It's like having to run through a door and you don't know what's at the other end," he said.

The metaphor could be applied to Julian Edelman's NFL career.

A college quarterback, he became a receiver in the pros. Last year, his third, he had just four catches, playing most snaps as a defensive back instead. He should at least have 'D' off his plate to start 2012, as a source says the plan for Edelman is "all offense."

Still, his most consistent progression might be in the return game.

"He's like a lot of examples through the history of the National Football League," said O'Brien. "Had no experience doing it, had some natural instincts, pretty good ball skills.

"But there is a learning process with all returners, no matter what experience they've had in the past because of the schemes and the coverage principles that we have to deal with here. It becomes a learning process of how they do things besides just the physical skills they do have."

Not just any talented player can step in on returns. Aaron Hernandez botched a fair catch on Friday. Pat Chung misjudged one -- fielding a punt near his own 2-yard line -- during minicamp.

Edelman said special teams work takes patience. Even in the offseason, even on his own time.

"I do find punters though, wherever I'm at. When I was in Los Angeles I found this kid and he would punt the ball to me Tuesdays and Thursdays. There's little drills that you can do where you're throwing towels, tennis balls, whiffle balls, just to get your vision where it needs to be. I'd have a buddy out there who'll try to run and put pressure on me."

O'Brien sees Edelman's biggest progression in field awareness. It's a big step forward for the 26-year old, just not the last step.

"This will be my fourth year -- not that Ive played in a lot of games and not that Im where I want to be, and I have a long way to go -- but anytime you get a lot of reps at something, youre naturally going to feel a little more comfortable with it," he said. "Were going in the direction we want to."

Overall team improvement is needed.

New England's 21.4-yard kick return average in 2011 ranked 29th in the league. Edelman returned 12 of the 46 team attempts. As the Patriots have rotated various guys in for reps since minicamp -- Donte' Stallworth, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Devin McCourty, Chung -- competition could heat up in search for the right fit.

Edelman? He'll keep hanging tough.

"I'm confident, but never comfortable."

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

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Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.