Sometimes New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hates talking to the media. Ask him about the health of his star player and he'll refer you to the injury report. Ask him about a performance from last week and he'll tell you the Patriots are focusing on next week.
But ask him a question about his time with the Giants? He'll go on forever.
Ask him a question about special teams? Bill. Please. You've been talking for three hours and I have a family. Please stop.
Some intrepid reporter asked Belichick the following question:
With Australian punters coming into the league, has the teaching and philosophy of when to field punts changed, or do you still tell your returners to stand on the 10-yard line and if it goes over your head let it go?
A fairly harmless inquiry. It could have been answered with a "Yes" or a "It depends on the game situation and we coach situational football here" or even a "Well I can only talk about players on our roster and Ryan Allen is a left footed punter; we understand the value of kickers that put a different touch on the ball to get the returner out of their element."
No. None of that. Bill Belichick, take it away (or jump to the bottom for a summary):
"That's a really good question and I think there are a lot of factors that go into the coaching of that position and that situation that you described, but among the things that the returner has to consider is where the ball is being punted from and how close the coverage is to him and how apt they are or what kind of position they're in to be able to down those balls.
"We've all seen a lot of plays where the returner runs out of the way and the coverage player comes down there, turns around and catches the ball on the three-yard line or whatever. I think it's definitely a challenging situation.
"First of all, it's a lot different when a punter punts the ball from his own 40 and the ball is carrying 55 yards and hits on the five-yard line from when he's on your 40 and the ball is being punted straight up in the air and it comes down on the five-yard line. The trajectory of the ball and as you mentioned the technique of punting it where it has a backspin if you will or kicked in a way that it's less likely to bounce forward, then you've got to think about catching the ball inside the 10 as opposed to letting it be downed on the one or two and the chances of it going into the end zone are probably not very good. So, there is that whole situation.
"I think a good returner can tell by the way the ball is traveling, not that you can predict at 100 percent, but you can get a pretty good idea if it's going to bounce or if it's going to kick backwards based on the way the ball is spinning. So that can play into it.
"The wind can play into it. And then there is the whole philosophy like we talked about before with kickoff returners that if you have a great returner, and you handle the ball, assuming that you don't fumble it, that you handle the ball in that kind of situation, what's the risk and what's the reward. You might lose a few yards of field position versus giving that player an opportunity to return a kick and possibly make a big play.
"So are you willing to trade a few yards of field position for an opportunity at an explosive play and handling the ball, and I think that a lot more returners are given the green light on that maybe than what they were in decades earlier let's call it.
"I think that's part of the equation, too, taking your returner out of the game just because the ball goes inside the 10-yard line, not saying that's wrong, but it's also a decision you're making to limit the playmaking ability of potentially one of your explosive players.
"Long answer to a short question, a lot of different factors, I think every team probably gives their returner certain guidelines. I think the more trust and confidence and experience that player has, the more willing you are to let him make the right decision based on the actual kick and what happens on that play as opposed to just a generic set of rules.
"And then there are some situations that are cut and dry, depending on the score, time and situation of the game, there is not really a decision to make. Here's the way it is and we follow those rules. But it's certainly an interesting point of discussion, and I don't know that there's any right or wrong answer to it other than whatever has been identified and communicated to the returner by the team.
"But there is certainly variability on that subject."
Question: How has the strategy for returning punts changed with the increase in rugby style punters?
Sparknotes Answer: If the punter is kicking long distance, the trajectory has a better chance of sending the ball through the end zone. If the punter is kicking short distance, they'll be able to get the ball to bounce vertically, pinning the returner deep. If you have a great returner, you trust them to make the right decision because you don't want to limit a great player with absolute terms.