By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Buried in the avalanche of words, grunts and shrugs emanating from Bill Belichickpress conferencesare gems. He's been an NFL coach since 1975. He's coached in seven Super Bowls. He knows how the 53-man sausage that is an NFL team gets made. And while Belichick readily admits his is not the only way of doing things that may work, from the outside looking in, it's apparent his way works pretty well. So it was interesting to hear him explain earlier this week how a play gets installed. It's the essence of teaching, the essence of coaching. How do you get your students to "get it.""Anytime we install a play, put in a kickoff return, running play, blitz or something, we usually show examples of that so that the new players sort of understand how that works and that they have the general concept of the play," Belichick began.
"I think the best way to learn is to understand what all 11 people are doing. If you just try to memorize your assignment on every play then ultimately - if you dont know whats going on around you - you end up making decisions that impact the players around you, and if you really had an understanding of what the whole concept was, its probably less likely that that would happen." That's why you don't see a lot of freelancing in a Bill Belichick defense or on a running play. The great idea one linebacker has when he wants to play "free and instinctive" may leave the linebacker next to him with two guys to cover in a 35-yard area. This seemed to be the problem the team had last year with Brandon Meriweather. The safety eventually got yanked from the starting lineup for a spell because, as he explained, he was doing his own thing on plays. Belichick continued, "We try to teach the concept of the play. We show the play usually in multiple examples because of different things that can happen on the play, and it refreshes the veteran players who have done the play or maybe were even in the play when it was run before.
"But it also serves as a visual illustration to new players as opposed to X's and O's in a diagram Heres actually the play against whatever its being shown against, and this is how it works or this is one of the problems well have to adjust to with it and this is how we will handle it or whatever. " This, Belichick said, is the video portion of the teaching. The videos are called training tapes. "Thats part of the teaching tools," he explained. "You show it on paper, you show examples of it on film, you go out on the field and spatially walk through the plays in the relationships and so forth. You go out there and practice it in individual drills: 1-on-1, 7-on-7,9-on-9 whatever the drills are, and then ultimately you bring it together in a team drill, and thats kind of the teaching progression."As we look at the 2011 season and the reduced amount of prep time each team has thanks to the lockout, it becomes easy to see the strain teams are under with new players. A coach in his first year with a team -- and there are eight of those -- has to go through the install process with 90 players. A team like the Patriots only has to do it with the new guys and each veteran is an extension of the coaching staff, able to explain the nuances of certain plays. Certainly, Belichick doesn't hold the one perfect approach to teaching. Other guys at other levels have great ideas too, that's why Belichick's door and ears are always open to guys in the non-NFL coaching fraternity. But his detail on how these things get taught is a glimpse at how one very successful professional coach does it.
By Tom E. Curran