By Mary Paoletti
The return of Logan Mankins was the highlight of Bill Belichicks Tuesday conference call. Unsurprisingly, the Patriots coach was happy to have his Pro-Bowl guard back.
"It's good to have him back on the team," Belichick said. "He's part of the team now; he's reported. He's been a tough, smart, dependable player. He's done all those things since he's been here and you can't have too many guys like that on your football team. So we're glad he's back."
When asked if the Patriots had a roster exemption following Mankins' return he replied that the transaction wouldnt be turned in until later in the day. "But I would expect it though, yes," the coach concluded.
As for how the team plans to proceed with playing time, Belichick said he was dealing with the situation "day to day." He made it clear that the team sees no point in dwelling on Mankinss holdout and just wants to move forward.
"I don't want to get into any of that. It doesn't matter; he's here. We're getting ready for Cleveland . . . got a big game on Sunday, so we're getting ready for that. I don't want to rehash anything that's happened in the past."
The coach was quite complimentary of the Browns. He was less focused on Cleveland's overall 2-5 record than its 30-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Saints on Week 7.
"Cleveland is a real physical team; tough, hard-nosed running football team," Belichick said. "They're tough on defense, good in the kicking game. Got some good young players who have stepped up. They don't give up a lot of points. Peyton Hillis has done a good job for them, running the ball, breaking tackles, keeping them in short-yard situations."
It sounds like Hillis is a running back the Patriots will have to key on in particular.
"He's a big physical runner . . . a tough kid who breaks a lot of tackles," Belichick said. "They use him on all three downs. He's in there in sub situations as well. He knows where the goal line is . . . doesn't lose a lot of yardage. He's been impressive."
Who Hillis will be getting the ball from, of course, is not certain. Browns coach Eric Mangini still hasn't picked a starter now going into Week 9. But whether his team faces rookie Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme, Belichick seems as unfazed about Cleveland's quarterback quandary as he was last week with Minnesotas FavreJackson toss-up.
"All the players that are on the roster and eligible to play we'll prepare for," he stated.
Game planning for tight end Benjamin Watson, who was with the Patriots until March of 2010, should be interesting. Belichick said he's definitely happy to see his former player do well with another team. With one minor caveat, of course.
"As long as it's not against us on Sunday. He's a guy who did a good job for us and he's doing a good job in Cleveland."