For the last few years, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has had his team practice in the summer without numbered jerseys. But this year, the NFL put a stop to the practice.
Mike Reiss of ESPN reports that the NFL instituted a new rule requiring all players to wear jersey numbers while on the field for Organized Team Activities and mandatory minicamps. The rule was put in place to make it easier to monitor compliance with rules regarding player practices, including that injured players should not be practicing.
Belichick liked having his players practice without jerseys early in the offseason program because he thought it enhanced communication between players, forcing them to get to know each other by looking at more than just a jersey number. It’s a tactic Belichick learned from studying Hall of Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who always had his players wear jerseys without numbers in practice.
It’s the second consecutive year that the NFL has changed a rule regarding jersey numbers in response to something the Patriots did; last year the league changed the rules about eligible receivers wearing ineligible numbers after the Ravens complained about a trick play the Patriots used.