Bill Belichick doesn’t like the NFL telling him what to do, right down to the jerseys his players wear in practice.
Two years ago, the NFL ordered Belichick to stop having players practice in numberless jerseys, as he had been doing in Organized Team Activities. So now Belichick has players wearing numbers in OTAs. But many Patriots are wearing numbers that they won’t wear when the season starts.
That’s why running back Sony Michel is wearing No. 51 at OTAs, even though when the season starts he has to wear a running back number, which in the NFL means numbers between 20 and 49.
Belichick scoffed about the significance of giving rookies their numbers at this point in the offseason.
“Really not too worried about all the important stuff like that — numbers and what color gloves you wear and all of that,” Belichick said, via ESPN. “That’s not really at the top of the list right now. Trying to learn football, trying to become a team, trying to get better each day — that’s really where our focus is.”
All of the Patriots’ draft picks are currently practicing with numbers in the 50s, even players like Michel and rookie quarterback Danny Etling, who obviously won’t be wearing 50s numbers when the season starts. Undrafted rookies are wearing numbers in the 60s and 70s.
Belichick liked practicing without numbers because he felt it forced players to communicate better and not rely on jersey numbers to identify each other. It’s a tactic Belichick learned from studying Hall of Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who often had his players wear jerseys without numbers in practice. Now that the NFL has prevented the Patriots from going numberless, Belichick has found the next-best thing.