Bill Belichick’s Greatness For Finding the Right Guy For the Right Job
You always hear Bill Belichick utter his famous mantra, “do your job.” From the first New England Patriots’ super bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams through today, “do your job,” encompasses everything that the Patriots have come to stand for. You only came to the Patriots last year? Well, Dont’a Hightower is out for the year with a torn pectoral, Kyle Van Noy, do your job and quarterback the defense. You used to be the swing-tackle most likely to be a healthy scratch? Well, Marcus Cannon is on the IR, so Cameron Fleming, you now get to play significant minutes at Tackle for Tom Brady, do your job and do not let him get killed. Good Luck. Or you are an undrafted free agent corner who got spit-roasted in practice on a pick-play at the goal line, does not matter. Bill Belichick and the Patriots expect you, Malcolm Butler, to learn from that mistake and somehow come up with maybe the greatest defensive play in super bowl history.
Where Bill Belichick rightfully gets a ton of credit is how he always seems to have his players prepared. He is constantly finding the right guy for the right job. “GM Belichick” is always on the same page as “Coach Belichick” and this manifests whenever a star goes down; the Patriots never panic, it is simply “next man up.” All football teams try to adopt this philosophy, but none are better than the Patriots, and this is because of Bill Belichick. Where Belichick truly separates himself from the field is that he is not afraid to try something unorthodox in order to find the right man for the right job.
This unorthodoxy of Belichick’s comes from a confidence that when it comes to football, he knows better than most and it enables him to see things that almost nobody else can glean. Belichick’s greatness comes from not just his ability to mold players, but his ability to (stupid corporate world phrase coming up) think outside the box. It allows him to not just help players improve their skill foundations, but also, to find talents the players themselves might not even be aware they possess. Belichick has a long history of seeing a void and filling it… and most importantly, not giving a damn about what anybody else might think. To Belichick the question is simple, “can this man do that job?” If the answer is yes, Belichick slots that man in, no matter what everyone else thinks his position might be. So, with the Patriots looking for their sixth super bowl title this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles (and me needing to waste time until then) here are Bill Belichick’s Top Five Greatest Positional Changes, AKA, the Bill Belichick Do Your Job Starting Five.
Note: This list is comprised solely of players that played entirely out of position either at one point in their career and produced better than anybody could have imagined. However, it is confined to football players who had a set position beforehand and learned an entirely new position. Players that actually played different sports and then joined the Patriots and dominated out banned from the list (so, unfortunately, crossover badasses like Nate Ebner and Stephen Neal do not count for this list–yes, that is Neal wrestling Brock Lesnar… yes, you should absolutely watch that video).
No. 5 Bill Belichick Greatest Positional Change: James Develin DE–>FB
Our first name on the list is the Patriots latest first-time All-Pro selection, James Develin. Not bad for a guy that was a strong-side defensive end for an Ivy League school huh? That’s right. Develin was a defensive end for the Brown University Bears, garnering an All-Ivy selection in 2009 while leading the conference in tackles for a loss (16) and finishing sixth in the category nationwide. But the man who was a mechanical engineering concentrator at Brown had a long road before winding up as one of the best walking anachronism in football today.
Develin played a season with the United Football League’s Florida Tuskers (great name) in 2010 before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad later that year. The 6’3 251 pound monster originally was signed to the Bengals practice squad as a defensive end (just like in college), but at some point in the 2011 season was moved to fullback. The Bengals saw no use for Develin in September of 2012 and cut him… and Belichick swooped right in to pick up the intelligent, and walking house of a man (his middle name is actually Rittenhouse, which is just so fitting). Develin appeared in just one game during that 2012 season, but after that, his career took off.
Develin appeared in 16 games in 2013 (where he rushed for his lone career touchdown) and 2014, and looked primed to do so again in 2015 before a broken leg in preseason stopped that streak. However, Develin signed a new contract with the Patriots before 2016 and their run-game has improved ever since, helping to both keep Tom Brady healthy and reaching heights the Patriots have not seen since Corey Dillon. Develin comes in at No. 5 on the list because while Belichick was the one to utilize Develin in his newfound role, it was actually the Bengals that shimmied Develin from defensive end to fullback.
No. 4 Bill Belichick Greatest Positional Change: Devin McCourty CB–>FS
When Bill Belichick TWICE traded the Patriots first round pick in 2010 people were not happy. They were even less happy when he eventually grabbed Rutgers cornerback and return specialist Devin McCourty, a man many pundits had as a second-round draft choice. Ahhhh, but Belichick knows best. All McCourty did that first season was pick off seven passes, tally 17 passes defensed, force two fumbles, and make the Pro-Bowl. After one year of play, it looked like McCourty was one of the best picks of the draft… then 2011 happened. For some reason, McCourty turned into a pumpkin over night. He was getting beat like a rented mule, and he carolled just two interceptions and 12 passes defensed. The pro bowl corner was nowhere to be found. In a year where Belichick expects players to take a leap forward, McCourty had fallen off of a cliff… and into alligator infested waters. It was ugly.
But then… 2012. McCourty began the season at left cornerback and continued to struggle. But good coaches do not simply give up on good players with obvious talent. McCourty was having the hardest time tracking the ball, and turning to make plays. A corner that cannot turn and locate the ball is not a corner. He is just a defender wide receivers love to see lined up across from them. How to fix the problem? Move McCourty to safety and allow him to see everything on the field.
But while moving from corner to safety might seem like an easy switch to some fans, the change is drastic and far from simple. Everything about the position is different; from your first read and steps to how you are used as a run force, they are two entirely different positions. But McCourty took to it like a pig to slop. All of a sudden, McCourty at safety was an entirely different player. One of the fastest guys on the roster was no longer indecisive. The speed that made him so dynamic in college as a kick returner was on full display in the defensive backfield. Combine that with fantastic tackling and one of the most cerebral defensive minds in the NFL, and you have the perfect Bill Belichick safety.
No. 3 Bill Belichick Greatest Positional Change: Julian Edelman QB–>WR
Imagine being a linebacker in the MAC and having this guy doing these things at quarterback (skip to a minute in)?
Edelman was part of the 1,000-1,000 club. Running for 1,000 yards and throwing for 1,000 yards. That is a pretty nifty skillset. Constantly passed over, and forced to play junior college football out of high school, Edelman found a spot with the Golden Flashes and immediately told the starting quarterback he was just practicing to hold his bag (Edelman never lacked confidence). Yet, despite a great career at Kent State, nobody wanted the undersized (5’10) dual-threat quarterback. Doug Martin, Edelman’s coach at Kent State, knew people were going to overlook Edelman and started to put him as a kick returner and punt returner.
However… nobody wanted Edelman… except for the Patriots. Martin recalls the Patriots had an inkling of how good Edelman could be, “the Patriots really did the best job evaluating Julian. If I remember correctly, six different assistant coaches—not scouts—came to interview him, put him on the board and worked him out” (Bleacher Report). The Patriots eventually put their evaluations to the test, drafting Edelman with Pick No. 232 of the 2009 draft (the Jacksonville Jaguars traded the pick and a 2010 Second Round Pick for the Patriots Third Round Pick. The Jags took running back Jared Cox).
Edelman had a solid rookie season with 37 catches and a receiving touchdown, but with Wes Welker redefining the role of slot receiver, Edelman rarely saw the field. So he proved his worth on special teams where he returned a punt in each of the next three seasons including a 94-yard return in 2010. But Edelman had trouble seeing the field because Welker was blocking his way. However, the greatest coach (and greatest general manager) in football took the end of Welker’s contract, which many say as a curse, and turned it into a blessing. He let Welker walk, knowing what he had in Edelman (and Danny Amendola) and did not bat an eye. The rest of Julian Edelman’s career is well documented and you do not need me to tell you any more about how good of a wide receiver he has been for the Patriots, so I will just leave you with this:
No. 2 Bill Belichick Greatest Positional Change: Mike Vrabel LB/DE–>TE
You want to know the answer to the greatest statistical receiver in the history of football? I give you the answer; Michael George Vrabel. Vrabel was an afterthought with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They drafted him in the Third Round of the 1997 Draft and pretty much forgot about him. His highest tackle total in four years with the Steelers was 17… in his rookie season. He never accrued more than 2.5 sacks and never played a full 16 games for the Steelers (although he did have a game-saving sack and forced fumble against the Patriots in 1997). The Steelers let him walk in free agency in 2000 and Belichick snatched him up in 2001 for the kingly ransom of… $225,000.
He immediately made an impact with the Patriots. He racked up 63 tackles, three sacks, and a pair of interceptions. But it was in his second season where things really took off. He wound up with 82 tackles in that second year with the Patriots, including 4.5 sacks, a couple of fumble recoveries and another interception. But it was something that happened on the offensive end that year that really turned some heads. In the fourth Patriots game that season, in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers, Vrabel lined up at tight end and Brady found him from a yard out for a touchdown. One career target for Vrabel… one career touchdown. Mike Vrabel, the tight end, was batting 1.000… and it did not stop there.
Vrabel did not catch a pass in the following regular season, but he did pull down a touchdown in the 2003 super bowl against the Panthers. He followed that up with two more regular season TDs in 2004 and a sensational juggling catch in the super bowl against the Eagles. Vrabel was an absolute offensive stud and it only got better. Vrabel had his highest scoring season as a player in 2005, opening up his scoring with an interception return against the Panthers, pulling one in against the Saints, and rubbing salt in the wound a couple of times against the Jets when he scored the first two touchdowns of a Patriots 31-21 in.
Thanks to that interception return in 2005, Vrabel has one of the most unique offensive stat lines in the history of the NFL. Including the playoffs, Vrabel was targeted 16 times in his career and scored 13 times while grabbing 12 catches for 12 touchdowns. Mike Vrabel… the greatest statistical target in NFL history… and it all went down because Bill Belichick had the forethought to let it… but Vrabel does not get the top spot. The top spot belongs to the walking emodiment of do your job and next man up…
No. 1 Bill Belichick Greatest Positional Change: Troy Brown WR–>CB
Before John Madden uttered, “what Tom Brady just did right here gives me goose bumps,” there was Troy Brown in the AFC Championship Game doing this…
Bill Belichick knew that whenever he needed somebody to make a pivotal play for him, whenever he needed somebody to step up and do their job, there was Troy Brown. Brown as the punt returner? No problem. Brown on the field goal block unit? Sure thing. Brown as a cornerback? Wait what?!?!
Yup. In 2004, with the Patriots secondary decimated by injuries, Bill Belichick asked Troy Brown to play slot corner. The 33 YEAR OLD responded with three interceptions (including one of former Patriot Drew Bledsoe) and 17 tackles. And yet, the best defensive play of his career was one where he started the play on offense.
The Patriots were having a down year (for them), so had to travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers in the Divisional Round. With the Patriots down by eight and facing a fourth and five with 6:25 to go, Tom Brady tried to thread a pass to Reche Caldwell. It was picked off by Marlon McCree. All McCree had to do was go down and the Chargers are probably winning that game going away. Instead, McCree wanted a big return and to put the game away himself. Troy Brown immediately tracked him down and stripped him from behind. The now 35-year-old came up with his first and only forced fumble of his career. Caldwell jumped on the ball for the Patriots recovery. Brady immediately drove 32 yards and connected with Caldwell for a 4-yard touchdown. Patriots nailed the two-point conversion to tie the game, the defense held, and Stephen Gostkowski hit a 31-yard field goal to put the Patriots up by three. Philip Rivers got the Chargers within field goal range, but Nate Keading missed a 54-yarder… Patriots win… all because of Troy Brown… the man that more than any other Patriot did his job whenever Bill Belichick needed him to, he did his job (NFL does not let you embed video, so check out Troy Brown here).
1) Patrick Chung: Safety–>Linebacker
2) Vince Wilford DB
3) Dan Connolly KR
4) Doug Flutie K
5) Tom Brady P