INDIANAPOLIS Along with his hoodies and monotone delivery at press conferences, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has this thing about turning wide receivers into cornerbacks, and turning low-round draft picks into gold.
A tradition that includes the best sixth-round quarterback and NFL history and using wideout Troy Brown at corner will be tested heavily today in Super Bowl XLVI when the New York Giants take aim at a Patriots' secondary full of castoffs, unheralded players and a former college quarterback.
Sterling Moore, who preserved the Pats' AFC championship game win by knocking the ball away from Baltimore's Lee Evans in the end zone, was out of work in October after the Raiders cut him from their practice squad.
Moore, an undrafted rookie out of SMU, was in the stands for last year's Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium. Antwaun Molden was with Houston for three years before he was waived in August when he had a tough time learning the Texans' new system.
Then there is Julian Edelman, the Kent State quarterback who has been playing wide receiver and cornerback since Belichick told him at midseason to start attending defensive meetings. Three months later, Edelman is the Patriots' primary coverage man against slot receivers and a target of Giants receiver Mario Manningham, who believes he, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz can expose him for what he is.
"He plays wide receiver. He's not a real defensive back," Manningham said this week.
As a 5-11 former quarterback from the Mid-American Conference, Edelman is used to the slights.
"Usually the MAC guys have a chip on their shoulder because they feel like they were snubbed their opportunity to play big-time ball in college," Edelman said. "I think that's what helps small-school guys get into the NFL. We're hungry."
That hunger is part of the reason Belichick does not shy away from bringing in other teams' rejects, as well as players from little-known schools. The Patriots' roster features 17 players who were undrafted free agents - a list that includes running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead and center Dan Connolly.
Connolly and Woodhead played at Southeast Missouri State and Chadron State, respectively. Good luck locating the latter without Google.
"They aren't big-name, high-profile guys coming in, but they have outworked and out-competed who they are competing against for those roster spots and that playing time," Belichick said. "Big credit to those guys. It's not how you get to the Patriots, it's what you do when you get there."
Patriots kick returner and reserve receiver Matt Slater has Hall of Fame bloodlines. His father, Jackie Slater, was an offensive tackle who played in the Super Bowl with the Rams following the 1979 season. But Slater did not get his dad's size, and slid to the fifth round of the 2008 draft before the Patriots took him.
Like Edelman, Slater has played defense this season: The former UCLA player started at safety against the Colts in December. Slater senses an esprit de corps among the Pats' low-round, undrafted brigade.
"You kind of have that sense of urgency from the day you come into the league knowing that things are not going to be easy for you," Slater said. "We know that, but you've got to kind of come in and be willing to do dirty work, whatever it takes to stick around. I think a lot of guys on this team have that mentality, and that's why we've had the success that we've had."