- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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NEW ORLEANS -- He is a master of the nonanswer, having perfected the art of saying a lot without saying much at all when the topic isn't to his liking. Bill Belichick sure can be cagey when the microphones are pointed in his direction in those instances.
Belichick was all that, and more, when questioned on a variety of topics Monday at the NFL's annual meeting. Brandon Meriweather's presence at a shooting conditioning of players during the lockout the draft coaching promotions trading draft picks. Belichick offered little in those areas.
But there was one topic that pierced his football heart, resulting in his guard coming down and his letting it rip. It came when he was asked about the proposed rule change on kickoffs that will be voted on by owners Tuesday, and he openly expressed his disgust for it.
The change would move the kickoff up from the 30- to the 35-yard line, and spot the ball at the 25 on touchbacks. No player other than the kicker would be allowed to line up more than 5 yards behind the ball, and there would be no use of the wedge by the return team.
Belichick called the extensive rule proposal complicated before expressing his concern with what would happen if it was adopted.
"I don't like the idea of eliminating the kickoff from the game," he said, unconvinced of the safety risks that were cited as the reason for the proposal by the league's competition committee, and convinced that every team would simply boom the ball into the end zone for a touchback.
"I think it's one of the most exciting plays in football," he continued. "It looks like the competition committee is trying to eliminate that play. I don't know if that's really good for the game."
This is a Belichick not often seen in the public eye -- unfiltered, expressing a strong opinion, and speaking out on a game that he is passionate about. It's nice to see that passion come to the surface, even as he enters his 37th year in the NFL, making him the longest-tenured among the league's active head coaches. It's also nice to hear that passion at a time when management and players are firing verbal bombs at each in an ugly labor standoff, and the focus has been turned sharply away from the on-field product.
Those who have listened to Belichick over his 11-year tenure as New England Patriots coach know he has a standard answer when it comes to rules and regulations. It goes something like this: "My job isn't to make the rules, it's to understand them and make sure the players do as well."
But every now and then, Belichick publicly veers off that course to make a point. One example from recent years is his suggestion for instant-replay cameras at the goal line, much like tennis at the service line and baseline. His point is that the most important plays take place at that area of the field, but coaches are never assured they will get a good replay.
When the 58-year-old Belichick gets going on such topics, including the history of the game, it's a reminder of how much of his life has been invested in the NFL and how much he cares about the way the game is played. Belichick spent 20 years as an assistant coach and now enters his 17th year as a head coach. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only man in NFL history to serve 20 or more seasons as an assistant coach and at least 15 seasons as a head coach.
One doesn't stick around that long without success, and Belichick's résumé is well-documented. So, too, are some of his quirks and unconventional ways. Easier to overlook when it comes to Belichick are his strong feelings for the game, because he seldom opens up about them.
He did Monday, and given his cachet around the NFL, one assumes the message was heard loud and clear.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
Even in his 37th season, Bill Belichick's passion for the game shows through.