Patriots head coach Bill Belichick broke into the NFL during the Gerald Ford Administration scheming the stuffing out of special teams and it's an art still close to his heart 42 years and seven presidents later.
And it probably explains, in some part, why his teams rarely beat themselves. He really believes special teams are special. Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons only has to look at Belichick's roster as he prepares for one of his more formidable foes Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in New England.
"They've got 10 defensive backs active on game day and six of them are safeties. That's very reflective of special teams," Simmons said this week. "I don't know of any team that has six safeties all active."
So this week during a conference call with the Cincinnati media, it was no surprise that Belichick had his eyes on a Bengals rookie safety that plays only on teams.
"Fejedelem," said Belichick carefully of Clayton, a seventh-round pick. "I don't know about his name, but he does a nice job for them. Very aggressive in the kicking game.
"It's a good core group. Certainly (Vincent) Rey is one of the top linebackers in the league. It's a good group with (Marquis) Flowers. "
Simmons was a little surprised to hear that the head man on the other side was paying so much attention to him. But it makes sense. Simmons' mentor in Carolina at the turn of the century was Scott O'Brien, Belichick's old special teams coach in Cleveland whom he brought into for his early in New England.
"Absolutely," said Belichick when asked if he still keeps tabs on Simmons after he hung around one of his Browns training camp more than 20 years ago as a college punter.
"He spent time with Coach O'Brian in Carolina, about five years with him before he came to Cincinnati. When we watch Cincinnati's kicking game we see a lot of things in common. Techniques and scheme things that we do. They're very good in the kicking game, a good rush team. It's going to be a challenge. Their return game has really been explosive. (Alex) Erickson has been very impressive and obviously the Bengals felt that when they released (Brandon) Tate. We know Tate is a good returner, too, but Erickson had such a great preseason I can see why they made that move."
That's a pretty thorough examination of the special teams by a head coach, but that explains some things. The Patriots are again leading the NFL, this time by a full yard over the Eagles, in opponent drive start. The Bengals, without Pro Bowl cover man Cedric Peerman (arm), are struggling there at No. 22 in the league.
That Bengals' return game from the preseason hasn't taken off yet, mired in No. 30 and No. 24 in punt and kick, respectively. But the Pats are also mired at tie for 28th and 29th, respectively. But with perennial Pro Bowl cover man Matthew Slater and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the NFL's leading scorer the last four seasons, they're always a handful.
"They're always looking to get better. They keep churning (the back of) the roster," Simmons said. "But they've got a couple of constants that only play teams like Slater, (Nate) Ebner, (Jordan) Richards, (Brandon) Bolden."
And he takes a look at a newcomer like linebacker Barkevious Mingo, a top ten pick, playing 81 percent on teams and four percent from scrimmage and says, "It's a big part of their game."
EIFERT REHAB: Tight end Tyler Eifert re-surfaced on the rehab field for the first time since he hurt his back in the Oct. 3 practice but was out for the game.