Rough N' Rowdy 19 - Season's Beatings feat. Pacman Jones vs. Lights Out Laing Rematch and Grace O'Malley's First-Ever Brawl | TOMORROW 8PM ETBUY NOW

Belichick Made His Players Learn Everything About Each Other to Build Chemistry and They Loved It

Belichick OTAs

On the first day of Patriots training camp, I wrote this:

 I’ve been going to Patriots training camp since the 90s, when it was in Smithfield, RI. And gone to Bill Belichick-run camps since his first year. … And I can honestly say that in all those years, I’ve never seen a camp open like this one.

In the first two days of practice, this Pats camp is … I’m looking for the right word. Relaxed? Casual? Informal maybe? … These practices almost have a sort of walkthroughish vibe to them. Whether that’s just the coach bringing his team along slowly or his response to all the talk his players don’t have any fun remains to be seen when the first padded practice happens tomorrow. I’m not saying he’s running Red Sox spring training, with barely-interested pitchers doing “covering first” drills while outfielders stretch and plan which Ft. Myers titty bar they’re going to hit. But he’s not Herb Brooks making his team skate gassers after a game, either.

Look, it’s not for me to call attention to how right I was. How prescient. I’m not about to call myself brilliant. I prefer to leave that to others. But The Belichick Whisperer was onto something. From the Herald:

 Off the field, Belichick had introduced a new wrinkle to camp, too.

He split up his 90-man roster — plus coaches — into eight or nine “teams,” melding players and coaches of different ages, from different position groups. The individuals on each team were tasked with learning each other’s backgrounds and personal stories. Deep dives, according to special teams captain Matthew Slater.

As safety Duron Harmon described it, “you had to spend some time with people that you wouldn’t always spend time with.”

And, in typical Belichick fashion, there were quizzes and mini-competitions throughout camp. …

“This time, I’m expected to know who Danny Etling is — where did Danny go to school, what’s about Danny,’”said Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. “I think it’s cool, because usually it’s the rookies that got to know Tom Brady, where’s he from and all that crazy (expletive). It reversed. It’s cool that Tom is expected to know who Jomal Wiltz is.”

In addition to the intermittent quizzes, each group put on a skit. Everyone was included — rookies, veterans, and coaches. There were various events. Points were kept. The Pats established some type of scoring system and leaderboard for this competition throughout the summer. …

Players that wouldn’t usually hang out were getting to know each other. Bonds formed across the locker room. And there was time allotted in each day for this, “as opposed to running around like lab rats on the clock,” said Hightower. …

They all agreed, though: The change-up from Belichick this summer was a welcomed one.

Holy smokes. I sensed something was different, but I had no idea it went this deep. In his 43rd year in the NFL. In his 23rd time being in charge of a training camp, Bill Belichick, the Dark Lord, completely changed up the way he does things. As a matter of fact, he went full Coach Boone:

Just when you think you’ve started figuring out the answers about The Hooded One, he changes the questions. He’s Yoda in Last Jedi, telling Luke to go ahead an burn the Jedi temple and the sacred text because a real pager turner it was not and Ray’s generation needs to learn in an entirely different way.

I’m surprised, but not entirely shocked. I once asked Belichick about an article that explained how the Jim Tomsula 49ers had teamed up with Stanford psychologists to learn how to coach their Millennial players and as a result they were holding shorter meetings and giving them all regular breaks so they could go check their messages and social media and so on. I thought I was teeing it up for an old school hardcore football guy lifer who was fetching coffee for Ted Marchibroda in 1975 to go off about how the human brain hasn’t changed and how stupid it was to treat these men like infants. But he didn’t. He acknowledged that people do change and you have to adapt to new methods and how delivering information to player was handled different now than it was 10 years ago which was different than it was 10 years before that.

The guy changes with the times, which is why he’s been on an almost 20 year run. And counting. The locker room was feeling divided. Or at least segmented. Maybe cliquey is the right word. So he went TC William Titans on everybody’s ass and the players responded. Complete with competitive, high takes talent shows. Probably fat guys singing Marvin Gaye:

Everything but the cross country run to Gettysburg. Goddamned endlessly fascinating. Especially considering how the conventional wisdom on him is he’s stubborn. Of course I don’t doubt for a second the media wretches will spin it as he caved once Brady undermined his authority. But this isn’t caving. It’s evolving from beyond the cave in order to survive. Now that’s genius.

Maybe the best part of the whole exercise was this gem:

Stephon Gilmore, who spent the first five seasons of his career with the Bills, learned that Rob Gronkowski grew up just outside of Buffalo.

“I’m like, ‘Bro, what did you do there?’” Gilmore said.

Among other things, Gronk frequented the legendary Bills tailgate parties.

“Yeah, that’s why he acts like that,” Gilmore joked.

So Gronk was going to Bill’s Mafia tailgates before he was Gronk and they were Bill’s Mafia. If he ever went to one today, based on what he and they have become, it would break The Seventh Seal and we’d all die in a raging hellfire of burning tables and Fireball shots that would burn the world to the ground. But it would be worth it.