All about adaptability: Belichick on Gronkowski, Slater, Taylor similarities


In the process of answering a question about Rob Gronkowski, recently named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Steelers, he paid both Gronkowski and Matthew Slater the ultimate compliment. 

He compared the uniqueness of their skill sets to that of former Giants pass-rusher and Belichick pupil Lawrence Taylor.


For Slater in particular, who was named to his seventh Pro Bowl on Wednesday, it was an eyebrow-raising correlation. Taylor is in the Hall of Fame and Gronkowski is sure to be there years from now. 

Gronkowski finished Sunday's win with nine catches for a career-high 168 yards, which bumped his season total to 1,017 yards. He now joins Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten as the only NFL tight ends with four 1,000-yard seasons.

The final Patriots drive, especially, may have helped Gronkowski solidify his standing as the top choice to be named First Team All-Pro. He caught three passes for 69 yards, he made a strong block on defensive end Stephon Tuitt to help Dion Lewis find the end zone for the game-winning score, and he caught a crucial two-point conversion. 

It was one of the most dominant sequences that one of the most physically dominant players of his era has ever put together -- and he did it against a few different types of defenses from a variety of alignments.

"I think Rob's seen a lot of different coverages, seen a lot of different looks, ways that people try to defend him," Belichick said. "I think as any player like that sees more of those things he learns how to deal with them. 'Here's how I deal with this situation, and here's how I deal with that situation. This works. This doesn't, or this works better than that, or this has a place.'

"I think those kinds of things that specifically apply to him. The same thing that Matt Slater deals with on kick coverage. The same thing that when I coached [Lawrence] Taylor that he dealt with as a pass-rusher. You see five or six different things that everybody else doesn’t see. They see what they normally see [but] those guys see different things. Slater has seen every kind of double-team block, every type of trap block, every type of short set, deep set. Every way he can be blocked, he has seen that.

"I think Rob has seen every different way you can cover him from an inside or an outside position based on his style of play, the way teams try to play him. So, you learn how to deal with those. That’s certainly something that experience teaches you because there’s a certain point in your career where you don’t deal with those things, but as you build up and have success, and different teams use different techniques or schemes. You’ve got to figure out how to deal with them or they can take you out of being a productive player."

For Belichick to lump Gronkowski and Slater in with Taylor speaks to the respect he has for those two Patriots captains and their on-the-field adaptability.

"Just mentioning those players – one on offense, one on defense, one on special teams – not trying to put them into separate categories, but I’ve dealt with those types of things with players in all three areas of the game and that’s what it is," Belichick explained. "Those players continue to be productive even though they see repeated schemes or techniques to try and slow them down. They find ways to still be productive within those schemes. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for Rob."

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