Sometimes New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will drop a dime in a press conference, and sometimes he doesn't even mean to do it.
Belichick opened up on what he's learned about defensive end Jabaal Sheard over the past season, as well as his thoughts on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota's adjustment to the NFL. There was a common thread between his responses: determing a player's capabilities.
"I'd say the big thing about Jabaal that has kind of been a little bit of a revelation is just his versatility," Belichick said. "In Cleveland he basically just played left defensive end on every play - first down, second down, third down, and he played it well. Here as you've seen we've used him in different spot. He's played inside, he's had a lot of production inside, he's played outside, has had a lot of production outside, he's played on the right as well as on the left, although it's been more on the left, but he's played on both. He's had coverage responsibilities, which I'd say he's had either zero to very little of in Cleveland.
"But he's long, he's athletic, he's got very good paying strength, has got good in-line quickness. He's a hard guy to block in the run game, he's a hard guy to block in the pass game, and he can match up against a lot of different players both inside and outside."
Belichick highlights that the Browns were unable to capitalize on Sheard's strengths and abilities because they wanted to keep him contained in a box. They wanted him to align in a single spot and that's where he played. Belichick discovered Sheard's natural ability with hard work and a little bit of luck.
"Didn't know that he couldn't do it," Belichick said. "Didn't know that he could do it, just didn't know, but he's done a good job with all that, has given us a lot of versatility as well as production obviously...It's not his fault that he was in one system. It's not his fault that he's in another system. It is what it is."
Belichick really opened up about scouting players like Mariota, coming from a spread offense, and how he thinks they could fit into schemes at the next level.
"The thing I've learned about all that is guys learn what you teach them," Belichick said. "If you teach them to do something different, then they learn something different. Some learn it better than others, quicker than others, it comes easier.
"All of us are individually different on that, but just because a player has been taught one thing definitely doesn't mean when you teach him something else that that's going to be a problem or that he can't do it. You don't know that that's how it's going to turn out, but I wouldn't just rule that out out of hand. Just because a guy hasn't been asked to do something doesn't mean he can't do it."
Similar to the expansion of Sheard's role, a college prospects development and growth at the professional level shouldn't be limited to prior experience. Players can and will learn and adjust and play in whatever scheme the coaches implement.
And this is why teaching is so important for coaches. There's a necessary trust between the players and the coach where both sides have to trust the other to put the whole team in the best possible situation.
It's why locker rooms like Buffalo implode, as the defensive line dislikes how head coach Rex Ryan deploys them in pass rushing situations, and it's why there's always smoke around the Philadelphia locker room: the trust isn't absolute.
It's why Belichick shipped away Adalius Thomas and it's why Alfonzo Dennard was released. It's also why Belichick loves players coached and supported by acolytes like Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Greg Schiano, and Mike Lombardi.
If Belichick can trust that these players are going to have the right disposition for the team, with an inherent trust in the coaches, then there is a layer of a successful relationship already laid down and success will be far easier to attain.
"It's a lot easier to scout [players] in the NFL," Belichick said. "Because you see them against the same people we play against. You see them in a similar environment in terms of the routine, the schedule, the length of the year and so forth and so on. There's a lot more in common even though each team is different. When you look at guys coming out of college there are a lot more variables and the level of competition is a lot different, too, so it's a little bit harder."
This marries with the addition of players like Leonard Johnson, Leonard Hankerson, and
Leonard LaAdrian Waddle. All of these players operated and succeeded under staffs that Belichick trusts (Schiano, Thomas Dimitroff/Scott Pioli, Jim Schwartz, respectively). It's why Belichick went after former Browns, like Sheard and Dion Lewis: he trusts Lombardi the same way that he needs the players to trust the coaching staff.
Sheard has been one of the best free agent acquisitions on the year and it's because the Patriots system works.
"He's worked hard to adapt to those changes or those things we've asked him to do," Belichick said about Sheard. "We didn't know exactly how it would turn out. Sometimes some guys can do it, sometimes they can't."
With Belichick at the helm, these players can do it more often than they can't.