Around the NFL  

 

Witten joining Belichick's opponent Mt. Rushmore

Print

In advance of Sunday's matchup with the Patriots, 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten is bidding for a coveted spot on the Mt. Rushmore of Bill Belichick opponents.

It's a treat for football cognoscenti when Belichick unfurls praise for a respected foe because he is so detailed and precise in his analysis of the player's strengths.

"(Witten) does it all," Belichick said Tuesday, via CSN New England. "They use him really to do everything. I don't think there are any limitations. I don't think they're sitting there saying, 'Well, we don't want to run this play with Jason in there.' He run blocks, he catches the ball over the middle, he catches the ball in the red area, third down, inside, outside, seams, man coverage, zone coverage, pass protects. I mean, whatever they need him to do, he does it and does a good job of it."

The NFL's most decorated and revered head coach went on to praise Witten as "one of the premier tight ends in the league" who "comes up big in big situations" and has exhibited "remarkable" durability.

Belichick is a bipedal football encyclopedia. His track record speaks for itself. When he evaluates, we listen.

As the Wall Street Journal's Kevin Clark put it so perfectly this week, praise from Belichick is the "white whale" for football players.

Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez once explained that seven words from Belichick got under his skin to such a degree that he was determined to block as hard as he could on the otherwise casual kickoff unit of the Pro Bowl.

After Belichick detailed Peyton Manning's excellence last October, the quarterback replied, "I truly appreciate those words because of just the unbelievable productivity and consistency of his teams over the course of his entire career ... I appreciate that coming from a coach that's been as impressive as he has (been) in his career."

Let's examine the top candidates for Belichick's opponent Mt. Rushmore:

1. Peyton Manning, Colts and Broncos quarterback: "I mean, he's great, he's obviously a great quarterback. The best quarterback I've coached against. ... Not to take anything away from the Montanas, Marinos and Elways or whoever is up there with those guys, but [Manning] is tough."

2. Ed Reed, Ravens safety: "Can't say I've ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary. ... Everything he does, he does at an exceptional level. I mean it's just so obvious when he's reading the quarterback. Those receivers will run right past him, and he never flinches. He doesn't even acknowledge them. ... Unbelievable."

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals wide receiver: "He does everything well. He's a great receiver. He'll go down as one of the all-time greats. He might end up as the best one ever, I don't know. You have no idea where he's going to line up from play to play. He has a very big route tree. He runs all the routes ... one route sets up another. It's very hard to find him. It's very hard to defend him."

4. Jason Taylor, Dolphins and Jets pass rusher: "Jason is a terrific football player. He has a big motor. He comes hard every play. He has a lot of upfield speed that has a good counter move inside. He can bring some power, even though he is primarily a speed guy, but if you start playing him soft for his speed, he can bring the power. He is relentless. He has long arms. He does a good job of reaching the blockers and grabbing them from behind and jerking them and throwing them off balance. He is a guy that, obviously, you have to identify."

After the Patriots beat the Dolphins in 2009, Belichick told the six-time Pro Bowler he would be "in the Hall of Fame someday." Bills coach Rex Ryan revealed in his 2011 autobiography that Belichick called Taylor every day to recruit the pass rusher to New England the previous offseason.

"I really can't think of a player that Jason Taylor hasn't given problems to," Belichick added in 2009. "I think he's one of the hardest guys to block in the league. Speed is one of Taylor's assets, but it's certainly not the only one. "If you take one thing away, he has other things that he can complement that with. That's what makes Taylor, to me, as good a player on defense as I've seen this year."

5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers quarterback: "He's a great player. He does a tremendous job, at everything. No weak points. Makes every throw. Handles the team very well at the line. Checks and adjustments, he certainly sees the defense well, uses all of his weapons, makes great throws, the short ones, intermediate, down the field, sideline, back shoulders, deep routes, then he has a great ability to extend plays, either sliding in the pocket or at times scrambling outside the pocket. ... He's a hard guy to tackle, hard guy to get, very hard thrower, very accurate thrower, has great vision. He's really good."

When a reporter began comparing Rodgers to other mobile quarterbacks the Patriots have faced, Belichick cut him off: "Not like him. He's great. He's quick, he's big, he's fast, throws the ball very accurately and has great vision down the field. He finds guys that there's not a lot of space, but he finds 'em and then he hits 'em. Not taking anything away from anybody else, but this guy's a really good player."

6. Reggie Wayne, Colts wide receiver: "Really one of the best route runners obviously in the game -- maybe ever in the game. He really does a great job of making all the routes look the same. He's got really good quickness to separate at the top of the route. He's good on releases and smart in zones to find the open space. Good hands. ... He's such a dependable guy."

Every game, all season

7. Fred Jackson, Bills and Seahawks running back: "I have as much respect for him as really anybody we've played. He's a complete guy, does it all and shows really good toughness and can get the tough yards. ... He's outstanding, good at everything, good on blitz pickup, a good outside runner, good inside runner. They use him in the passing game as a receiver, split out and empty and those kinds of things. He's a very good screen back. ... He's got big-time speed as well as power, but he's very tough in the tackle-to-tackle area. It seems like he can always find some space and get a few yards and squeeze through there or power through there."

A year later, Belichick ratcheted it up another notch: "There's really no weak points with that guy. He does everything well. ... He's really outstanding. One of the best backs in the league. I would say no weak points. I don't know what the weak points would be."

8. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins and Chargers running back: "I think he's been outstanding. He's done a good job of in the running game of being patient. ... He runs hard, he's hard to tackle, he's extremely durable, been a good outlet receiver, broken a lot of tackles, good job of converting a lot of third downs. ... He's physical, he's a strong player, he's tough to handle. I haven't seen anybody play any better than him (in 2007). To me, he's the best player we've seen on the offensive side of the ball."

9. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys and Broncos pass rusher: "Lawrence Taylor, you're talking about a pretty high level, but Ware does all the things and he's the best player that we've faced this year. He does all the things you want him to do. He's strong against the run. He can rush the passer. He's great at pursuit. He's got power. He's got speed. He's got good technique. He's good at pass coverage. He gets a lot of depth. He's an asset to your pass coverage if you want to drop him. I can say all those same things about Lawrence Taylor."

10. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers quarterback: "Very hard to tackle, very difficult to get down ... on top of that he's got great vision ... very good accuracy downfield. He doesn't have to step into the throw or have a clean pocket. Guys hanging all over him, falling down. He's as good as anyone we play at that. ... He then has the ability to shrug those guys off and still look downfield and get the ball accurately downfield. He was over 40 percent last year on throws over 20 yards. That's pretty good. Some quarterbacks have a little trouble with throws under 10 yards. He makes a lot of good throws. It will be a huge challenge for us. Nobody will be a bigger challenge than him in terms of the total package."

11. J.J. Watt, Texans defensive end: "Watt's a major force, there are very few players I would put in same conversation with Lawrence Taylor, I would put J.J. in there. He's a dynamic player. He can ruin a game. He's a special player. He was the defensive MVP last year. He's already earned that award this year even if he didn't play the last four games. This might be a good game for him to rest."

12. Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator for Bengals, Steelers, Titans: "There's no coach in the league I have more respect for than Dick LeBeau," Belichick said this week, via the Titans' official website, "and what he's done in his career and what he's done with the Titans, and how well they play, and how well coached they are. ... Of course Dick LeBeau, I don't think I could just say enough about him. What he's done over his career, not only the length of it but the quality of it, is really remarkable. The man's given so much to this game and one of the real, one of the guys I have as much respect for as really anybody in professional football. Dick's just made great contributions to the game."

Print