Belichick lauds combine's progress

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick made a surprise and unscheduled appearance behind a microphone at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday, the first day of media availability at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Belichick spoke at the same time Jets general manager John Idzik was holding his scheduled meeting with the media at the opposite end of the room, maybe just the latest minor barb in the rivalry between New York and New England.

Belichick last did a combine press conference back in 2009, and the Patriots rarely have a press-conference presence of any type at the NFL's annual major pre-draft event.

Speaking for the first time since the day after New England's loss in Denver in the AFC title game, Belichick opened his comments by raving about improvements to the combine over the past 30 years.

"I was walking over here just this afternoon thinking about just how far the whole combine has come," Belichick said. "The first one I was at was the second one at Arizona State. Obviously held outdoors. The day ended not in total darkness, but certainly past dusk. I still have the image of (future Bears defensive tackle William) 'Refrigerator' Perry doing the vertical jump out there in the middle of the Arizona State field in almost total darkness."

That's a far cry from the current event that takes over Indianapolis each February and has more than 900 credentialed media in attendance as well as 330-plus prospects.

"Now we have the banners on the streets, we have NFL Network," Belichick said. "This is a huge media event and fan event. It's really come a long way."

The New England coach went on to describe the importance of the combine for him and his talent-evaluation staff.

"Obviously a great opportunity for our organization to see the players," Belichick said. "From a medical standpoint, I'd say that's probably the biggest thing we get out of this is to have the physical examinations and have them all done at one time. The medical part of it is huge.

"Having personal interaction with the players personally is good, certainly for me. Just being able to see them in person. Even though the drills are workout drills and not really football drills, certainly there is something to be said to be able to line up all guys together and seeing them compete."

Like many other coaches and general managers, Belichick spoke about the impressive prospects on hand this week.

"Obviously it's a pretty good looking group of players," he said. "We have a long way to go in the evaluation. I'm nowhere close to being able to give you any type of analysis or evaluation of what this draft is or isn't, but it certainly looks like a lot of interesting players. Certainly a lot of guys we have to do work on. This is the heaviest underclass group that's come out, so we have a lot of catching up to do in that area."

After his trip down combine memory lane and his general comments, Belichick took questions on a small variety of topics. In his typically deflective fashion, he gave very few answers of any note.

In regards to the moves his team made this offseason to its coaching staff -- losing the likes of tight ends coach George Godsey, veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson -- Belichick said simply, "I think our coaching staff is pretty well set right now, so we'll go forward with it. I'm excited to have the people that we have. We'll just see how it all comes together."

Would he like to have some continuity on offense after a season in which that unit was struck by great turnover?

"I don't know," Belichick responded.

And in regards to two key free agents, cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Julian Edelman, where is New England in negotiations with those players?

"I talked about that at the end of the season, about the process that evolves," Belichick said. "And I would say we're in that process."
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