Bill Belichick pleased with 'significant improvement' on health of roster

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A run of good health in professional football can be a little bit like a no-hitter in baseball to some: While in the midst of it, there can be a reluctance to acknowledge it because of superstition or the belief that things might suddenly turn.

But Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to subscribe to that line of thinking.

During a low-key yet informative Sunday conference call in which just four reporters asked questions, Belichick didn’t hesitate to state the obvious: The Patriots are healthier this year, which is a direct result of some changes the team has made in 2016.

While Belichick did not delve into too many specifics, there some of the things that have been obvious to media members who spend time around the team daily:

  • Moses Cabrera was elevated to head strength and conditioning coach, with James Hardy hired as his assistant.

  • Full-padded practices have mostly been moved from Wednesday to Thursday, giving players an extra day after Sunday games before absorbing contact.

  • Lightening the load on players in practice -- and sometimes not having players practice at all -- when GPS tracking data worn in players’ practice jerseys indicates they could benefit from a reduction.

  • Adopting rotations at certain positions in games to limit higher snap counts while also building depth. This has always been part of the approach to some degree.

Surely, there are more items behind the scenes, but these are a few of the scratch-the-surface observations that come to mind, along with this contrast in statistics: As of Monday, the Patriots have placed four players on injured reserve and have three players on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Last year at this time, the team had 11 players on IR and four on the PUP list.

“We’re halfway through the season, and at this point, you can look at the numbers relative to where we were a year ago, and see there is a significant improvement,” Belichick said. “Hopefully, we will be able to maintain that through the second half of the season when we ran into some trouble last year.

“I think we’ve always worked hard. We’ve tried every year to work a little bit harder, try to do things a little bit better, and hopefully some of those little things are paying off. I know the players work extremely hard on their training as well as their nutrition, hydration, rest, recovery, all the things that go into performance. We’re always looking to fine tune those for each individual because they’re all different.”

Belichick noted how when the Patriots declare their inactive players before each game, the choices haven’t been as clear-cut this year because more players are available from a health perspective.

“In previous years, a lot of those players were just out of the game, couldn’t play, so there was really no consideration. There wasn’t really a lot to dispute on. The decision was minimal, whereas this year, that really hasn’t been the case,” he said. “The seven inactives, maybe five, six of them, whatever the number is, whatever it averages out to be, are guys that could play, would help us, and then it’s just this player versus another player, which player has the most value for that game.

“It’s actually a good problem, a good conversation to have, a good situation to be in, but it’s a lot different than -- going back through my notes, especially in games we played last year. You kind of look at where you were last year in that game, and we’ve fortunately been in a different place in many of these games this year. We’ll see if that continues. Hopefully it will.”

Belichick was asked how much of that can simply be attributed to good fortune.

“I’m sure you’re right about the breaks of the game, if you will, the good fortune, but I think when you look at it over a longer view -- five years, 10 years, 15 years, probably somewhere along the line there -- there’s a little more to it than that,” he said.

“Not saying that isn’t part of it, it always probably is, but I’d say the thing we try to concentrate the most on are the injuries that we feel are most preventable and those being predominantly soft-tissue injuries that are a function of training and hydration and nutrition, rest, and things like that. A broken bone or an impact hit that causes a problem, it’s hard to prevent those. Some of those are going to happen, although I do think there is an element of training that comes into play there, too.

“But non-contact injuries, injuries that occur from pulled muscle, from dehydration or fatigue or whatever happens, those are the ones that I think as a coach and as a staff you look back on and say, ‘Could we have done things differently there?’ So yes, some of that involves the individual player, his specific body composition and skill set and demands, and some of it is probably the training that we put him through and so forth, and how we best prepare the players for the workloads that they’re going to have on game day. It’s a long conversation, and one that, we’ve spent a lot of time on.”