New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was a guest speaker at the Ohio State coaching clinic and he discussed the character traits he looks for in his players. With the NFL draft fast approaching, it’s important to understand what the Patriots are looking for in a prospect.
“For me, tough, smart, dependable,” Belichick said, via ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “That’s where I would start. Tough -- mentally and physically. Smart -- good decisions, good football understanding, high football IQ. Dependable -- [in] critical situations, you can count on those players to perform under pressure. You can count on those players to execute what you want to execute as a team. The tougher the game, the more critical the game, the more important the situation, the more I want the tough, smart, dependable player in the game, in the eye of the storm, making a decision that needs to be made for us to win.”
Belichick has often said that availability is more important than ability, and “availability” seems to represent a perfect marriage of a player being tough and dependable, as well as smart with preparing and taking care of his body.
The players that often find themselves in the dog house are those that either suffer a major breakdown at a critical point, or they are repeat violators of mistake. Belichick expects his players to take his criticism and advice and to incorporate it into their game. Those that don’t will not see the field, even if they are more talented than the player Belichick uses instead.
We saw players like Jabaal Sheard and Cyrus Jones and Jamie Collins benched over the course of the 2016 season and there’s no question that they’re more talented than some of their back-ups. Sheard is better than Rob Ninkovich, Cyrus Jones is better on defense than Jonathan Jones, and Collins is better than whatever person the Patriots pulled out of the stands to play on Sunday.
But Ninkovich is always available (apart from his four-game suspension in 2016) and despite his physical limitations, he rarely makes mental mistakes, Jonathan Jones was a special teams stud and was better at his job than Cyrus Jones was at his, and Jamie Collins was not following the coaching commands as well as Belichick would have liked.
There’s a reason the Patriots often draft college captains and it’s because they usually come ready-made with those three important traits as leaders of their respective teams. Patriots captains like Tom Brady and Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty are regarded as geniuses at their respective crafts and often help out other players at learning their jobs.
For the Patriots, the mind is more important than the physical athleticism.