New England Patriots coach Steve Belichick will start a new job in 2020, but it’s not the promotion most were expecting.
Bill Belichick’s eldest son spent last season shrouded in mystery. He had the position title of safeties coach, a position he’d had for four years at the time, but he seemed to be taking on more responsibility. He was wearing a headset and carrying around a play sheet. It looked as if he was calling plays, but no one in the organization would confirm it. Because there was no defensive coordinator, a gig as the play-caller would probably be a big indicator of who was taking the top leadership role in the defense. Bill Belichick kept that under wraps, however.
When this season began, Steve Belichick’s status with the team seemed like one of the biggest points of interest when the team released its media guide, their way of making any big announcements in staff changes each year. But rather than get the defensive coordinator position, Belichick moved to outside linebackers, where he’ll coach alongside inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.
“Every year, there’s always different responsibilities and new things that come along. I’m really excited this year to work with a different group,” Belichick said Aug. 7. “I’m obviously going to miss those guys that I coached last year. It’s not that I’m not coaching them anymore, but not spending as much time with them. I’m looking forward to seeing the game from a different level, working with some different guys on the team, and whatever role I get, I’m just going to do the best I can with it. … So whatever role I get, I’m going to do the best I can with. It’s a new group, I’ve got a lot to learn, but we’re going about it day by day just trying to get better.”
The safeties group, for years, has been a particularly experienced, with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. This outside linebacker group, however, is experiencing major departures, with Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins departing in free agency. The team will likely look to linebackers John Simon, a journeyman veteran, and Chase Winovich, a 2019 third-round pick. Rookies Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche may take on big roles, too. The composition of the outside linebacker group is in a much more challenging place than that of the safety group when Belichick coached the unit. (It has since entered a similarly large state of flux after the Harmon trade and the Patrick Chung opt-out.)
The work with the linebackers may also bring Belichick closer to Mayo, who was clearly in constant communication during games. Mayo was also on the headsets, and though he didn’t have a play sheet, he seemed to have an influential role in defensive leadership. Perhaps because Belichick and Mayo are taking a more collaborative approach to the coordinator role, the Patriots decided to have them working together on a more immediate basis by sharing the linebackers.
But as Belichick noted, he won’t abandon the secondary altogether. He worked with both safeties and cornerbacks in 2020. It sounds like he’ll keep an eye on other position groups, particularly with his younger brother Brian Belichick running the safety group.
“As an older brother and a more veteran coach than he is, I’m doing the best I can to lead him through that safety room,” Steve Belichick said. “Having Devin (McCourty) in that group really helps and I’m sure Devin’s helping that room. I’ve spent a lot of time with Brian in the offseason and so far in training camp to try to bring him up to speed.”
Though the move from safety to outside linebacker may seem lateral — or even like a demotion — the position change is more complicated. Clearly, New England is trying to get Belichick more experience at a new position and with new players. And perhaps they’re still grooming him to take over the defensive coordinator role in the near future. For now, he’s still casting mystery over his actual day-to-day role with the team. He was asked whether he’ll be calling plays in 2020.
“Oh, we’re a long way away from games, so we’ll see how that goes,” he said.
If there’s anything we’ve come to expect from Belichick this year, it’s that he’ll probably keep attempting to confuse what it is he does, exactly.