By Paul Kenyon
---- — FOXBORO — It is rather late in the game for Bill Belichick to change his image.
As the coach likes to say himself, “It is what it is.”
While he is one of the most successful coaches of his era, Belichick has never been a candidate for the “Most Popular” award. He does nothing to promote himself, often is curt with the media and makes it clear that the public relations aspect of his job is not a priority.
At least that’s the way it was for his first 38 years in the league. In year 39, Belichick seems to be acting differently.
He handled himself beautifully in dealing with the Aaron Hernandez situation. He has been pleasant through training camp. On Monday, as his team held its final practice before heading to Philadelphia for four days, Belichick was at his engaging and entertaining best in his meeting with reporters.
Two areas stood out. One was a question dealing with tight end play in the NFL. For that one, Belichick put on his professorial hat (an area where he always has been excellent) and provided a lesson on why it is one of the most difficult positions to play.
Then, later, he was asked about his weekend trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame ceremonies and he all but gushed about what a great time he had, displaying his personality much more than he usually does.
It is hard to tell whether he is doing it intentionally, but the coach does seem to be different from in the past. A question about his trip to Canton elicited a delightful response.
“It was a great experience,” he said.
“It was awesome. It was impressive.”
Belichick spoke about how he has coached in the Hall of Fame game twice, but had never been to the weekend as basically just another fan. He went this time to show his support for his former boss, Bill Parcells, who was one of the inductees.
“It’s an amazing collection of all the icons from professional football,” he said, “not just the people who are there in the gold jackets (those being inducted) but many of the other people who come for the experience.”
Belichick was relaxed and pleasant a bit earlier when he was asked to talk about tight ends.
The questions began with rookie Zach Sudfeld, who has had an impressive camp, as the focus. Belichick turned them into a teaching opportunity.
“I think it’s one of the most difficult positions in any offense,” he began.
“Any time you change formations, that player is really at the heart of the changes. The backs are usually in the backfield, other than some empty plays.
“The receivers are usually detached, other than some close formation plays. Normally the tight end or tight ends, they’re involved in a lot of the formation variations, which then involve them in a lot of different assignments.
“Basically,” he went on, “they’re involved in the passing game, the running game, pass protection, blitz adjustments, all the multiple tight end personnel groups like goal-line and short-yardage and four-minute offense and things like that in addition to their, as bigger players, their roles in the kicking game.
“It’s really hard to get around, you might be able to get around a part of that, but not too many parts of it. Or else the guy is a receiver or he’s an offensive lineman. That’s really what it comes down to. Sure, that position takes a lot. It takes a lot, there are a lot of assignments, there are a lot of adjustments. They have a lot of different responsibilities.”
Sudfeld is doing a good job learning the position, he said.
“Zach has come in and absorbed a lot of information. The offense that he played in in Nevada is quite a bit different than what we do. I’m sure there are some similarities but there are quite a few differences as well,” he said. “
He’s been able to acclimate to those changes. He catches the ball well.”
Part of what he has to go through, as a rookie, is to develop physically, Belichick explained.
“I’d say that probably in 90 percent of the cases, the players that come into this league at age 21, 22, whatever it is, as rookies, physically are behind the players who are 25, 26, 27, 28 that have another three, four, five, six years of professional football training that a 21-, 22-year-old just doesn’t have, as well as the whole mental side of experience and amount of football playing,” Belichick said.
Preseason Opener Day: Friday Time: 7:30 p.m. At: Philadelphia Eagles TV: Channel 4