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Patriots head coach Bill Belichick cautions against ‘over-evaluating’ individual training camp plays

Related: Bill Belichick on the Patriots’ quarterback competition: ‘We want to give everybody an opportunity’

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images

With the first week of full-speed training camp practices in the books, the New England Patriots’ coaching staff now has plenty of material to work with and analyze. This is especially important in regards to the biggest position battle of them all: Jarrett Stidham versus Cam Newton versus Brian Hoyer for the vacant starting quarterback job.

After five practices this week, no clear frontrunner has emerged as the team decided to generally distribute opportunities rather evenly. While practice statistics and interceptions thrown may point one way or another, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pointed out earlier on Friday that the evaluation process cannot be broken down by simple statistics or plays that ended in a negative way regardless of position.

“I don’t think over-evaluating one individual play for any player at any position is usually a good evaluation tool,” he said during a media conference call ahead of Friday’s practice. “All players have good plays out there, all players have bad plays, as do the coaches. I think you look at the body of work because we’re running hundreds of plays, and it’s the composite of all of it. I don’t think it’s one play by anybody. Of course, good plays are good and plays that aren’t so good aren’t so good. We all have those.

“I think it really comes down to the consistency and the overall performance of players, and I would say the progression and the track that they’re on — improving, staying about the same, or possibly declining. I would say we don’t see a lot declining because guys are working out there every day and they’re generally getting better. But sometimes it’s the rate of improvement and the overall consistency.”

When it comes to the quarterback position, consistency has been somewhat of an issue early in camp for the Patriots. Whether it is Cam Newton getting used to New England’s offensive system after nine years in Carolina, Jarrett Stidham’s increase in interceptions and reported leg injury, or Brian Hoyer’s at times uninspiring throws, the group as a whole is still looking to get into a rhythm in Year One after long-time starter Tom Brady.

According to Belichick, however, the team is still in the foundational period of camp and not yet at a point where play will actually be evaluated.

“Every player makes mistakes out there, every player gets corrected, every player gets coaching points on things that they can do better, differently. Ultimately, we will reach a point where we have to really evaluate what the performance is. I think in the early stages there’s definitely timing, confidence, anticipation issues that are different from player to player depending on who they’re with and what the play was and how things unfolded and so forth,” he said.

“Sometimes those are mistakes, sometimes they’re learning experiences, sometimes they could be mistakes by multiple people involved in the specific part of the play that has to be ironed out. Our job is to evaluate the overall performance and progress of the players and I think as we get a little bit further into camp, that’s easier to do when everybody has done their assignment multiple times in multiple looks and they’re confident and they know what they’re doing.”

The overall process of analyzing players and performances is of course looking differently this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the NFL. Not only were offseason workouts canceled across the league, there will also not be any preseason football between now and the start of the regular season in September. Evaluations and roster decisions will of course still have to be made in due time, but for now Belichick’s focus is first and foremost on learning.

“First time through for any of us doing anything doesn’t go as smoothly as it does when you’ve had multiple repetitions at that experience,” he said on Friday. “That’s what our job is, that’s what we’ll evaluate, and it’s certainly an ongoing one. I think it’s going to become more important in succeeding days: the first day or two, three, whatever is not as critical as going forward when you’ve been through things multiple times.”