by Scott Benson
Long time no see, my friends. A quick look at the datestamp on my last post reveals its been exactly three weeks since we’ve had a chance to catch up on the Pats. Tomorrow the month of April begins, the most active off-season month for pigskin-deprived fans, so we better clean up any loose scraps that have been left hanging around. Grab a broom, will ya?
BACK TO WORK
The Pats re-assembled at Gillette this week for the start of the team’s off-season program. You have to ask yourself what it’s like to go an especially reviled 18-0, lose your final game in front of millions of people all over the world, and then come back to work about seven weeks later to start the whole process all over again.
Since last we spoke at length, the Pats have added Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders and Fernando Bryant to compensate, at least in part, for the loss of free agent cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Randall Gay. I guess I like their chances at this point; Bryant, a nine year vet, has started all but one of the 110 games he has played in his career, and Webster has started 75 of his 87 career games. Sanders, a career backup, is an eight-year veteran of nickel and dime packages across the NFL. All that experience is good salve, at least on the last day of March, for the abrasion that still exists on the Pats secondary. They didn’t cash all those game checks by being, in the words of Initech’s Michael Bolton, no-talent assclowns.
But there’s more to be done, as Samuel had evolved to become one of the better corners in the league before he flew to the Eagles, and experience and savvy alone won’t plug that hole. The ubiquitous Ty Law debate has commenced, though Ty is still maintaining that he’s gotta eat. I’ve read enough threads at patsfans.com to know that I don’t know what to think about a Brandon Meriweather switch to corner. I can see the demand – a young player with promise to replace the pro bowl corner. But what do you give up at safety? When he came on at the end of last season, emerging as a mobile, athletic hitter, I envisioned a Meriweather-James Sanders tandem patrolling the middle of the field for some time to come. That may not be a short-term need (not with Rodney Harrison and Tank Williams set for 08) but it is for the long-term. What of this, if Meriweather moves to the front lines?
That brings us to the coming draft, in which the Pats have four of the first 100 picks (7th, 62nd, 69th, and 94th). Turns out it’s a better than average class of cornerbacks, thanks largely to the early entry of some top ranked juniors. So doesn’t it seem like the Pats ought to be able to add a prospect (or even two) to the mix by the end of this month, and Meriweather can be spared? I can’t figure out if the Pats would take a cornerback at #7 (seems they historically have liked the inside-the-hashmark player with their earliest picks), nor can I figure if there’s a ton of difference between the 1st and the 10th players to be drafted at that position. The draftniks all say that this year, there will be second and third round corners that will become starters in the NFL before long. So how does all this affect the ‘value’ standard the Pats will apply to the seventh selection of the draft? In other words, why pick a corner at 7 when you may have an equal chance with the guy taken at 62?
That’s the fun of the draft. Until it actually happens, anything is possible, and in our minds, quite likely.
HIS RIGHT FOOT
For awhile there, it looked like the Pats would take a flyer on Adam Seward, the restricted FA LB from the Panthers, and try him in the middle with (or even for) Tedy Bruschi. Yet nothing apparent has emanated from his visit to Gillette early this month. The theory is the Pats are stringing it out to make it less likely that Carolina would match an offer. Maybe so. But maybe they just got a good look at his right foot.
Linebacker is another area that’s attracting the attention of the draftniks, who dearly love to nail those top ten picks. The names of Vernon Gholston and Derrick Harvey are being uttered liberally these days, and fans envision an invigorated pass rush in 08. But as with corner, will the Pats actually take a linebacker at #7? It’s said there’s a better than average chance that Gholston will be gone by the time they pick, and while Harvey has been a decorated player, it’s uncertain whether he warrants the financial commitment that comes with 7th selection in the draft. It’s that commitment, and what it means to the team’s salary cap, that has some observers convinced the Pats will trade down. Which is cool with me, as long as I understand the following: who’s trading up, and for whom, and with what? If the Pats don’t want that pick, why does somebody else? And how bad do they want it? As bad as we think? The other day our pal Mike Reiss blue-skied a trade with the Panthers at #13, which would net an additional fifth round pick, or perhaps Seward instead. Seemed sort of underwhemling to me. I guess in that case, I’d rather have the 7th pick. I understand the concern aboout having a certain percentage of the salary cap tied up in an unproven player, but aren’t they all unproven players at some point? Wasn’t Richard Seymour (the only other top 10 pick the Pats have had in this decade)? Doesn’t it still come back to a test of your core principles in scouting a player? You’d have a hard time convincing me that there won’t be a single player available to the Patriots at #7 that won’t ultimately prove to be worth that investment. The trick is in finding him, something the Patriots are supposed to be good at. If they pick the right guy, then over the long-term, the return dwarfs the initial risk, and they’ll be happy to have had that commitment. Even with Seymour’s durability issues throughout his career, the commitment they made to him in 2001 has since been more than justified.
There may never another Patriot quite like Troy Brown, whose 14 year run with New England appears to be over. He came from humble beginnings, but he leaves a king. No one got more from what God gave him than Brown, who rose from the 198th pick in the 93 draft to become a dynamic returner, a record setting receiver, and finally, an all-purpose Mr. Gadget who lined up at cornerback and even quarterback for the Pats. Through all of it, he was the epitome of everything we implore our athletes to be – humble, diligent, smart, talented, and more often than not, just plain heroic. Doesn’t it seem that one of the giant murals that hang outside the Gillette Stadium gates should be of Troy Brown? For good? Starting today?
All that said – I’m bouyed that the Patriots refused to be tugged by sentimentality here, now of all times. For now, their eyes must be fixed on the horizon, not on the past, as glorious as it often was. If you were ever going to linger too long, it would be for players like Brown, author of so many everlasting memories. But you do that, buster, and you’re only a few steps away from the white track suit, the whithered tan, and the delusional insistence of ‘greatness’ even as your team goes 4-12.
Nobody wants that.
THE MAN HAS A FAMILY, FOR GOD’S SAKE
I noticed this the other day; Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com took to ESPN’s web for a look at which quarterbacks took the most physical abuse in 2007. Check out #3. Aaron suggests that if you throw the ball on a preponderance of occasions, even above-average pass protection won’t keep your quarterback upright. And people of New England, I say to you: hail Aaron! Finally, a kindred spirit from the just sling it wilderness. Let’s build some Internet momentum on this grass roots movement. I hear all the time about the impact of candidate sites and blogs on the current presidential race; well, that’s fine, but doesn’t it seem like time the Internet was used for something important? We get this ‘Run First, Ask Questions Later’ movement on the rails and we’ll intimidate the Patriots offense all the way back to 1978.
LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS
I mentioned earlier I enjoy lurking on the message board at PatsFans.com, especially lately when the daily news on the Pats has thinned out. Yet if someone somewhere wrote something on the Pats, there’s usually a thread about it at PatsFans. It’s there that I first learned of a message board poster called ‘NEInsider’, who has been gathering some Internet attention (and let’s face it, that’s the best kind) with his posts on an ESPN message board. Allegedly, NEInsider is exactly that, a team employee with access to information that message board denizens would trade their prized avatars for. Hey, he spins a good tale, which he’s done on a few occasions to date. This is always picked up by someone who rides through the Internet countryside on horseback, alerting all the cybervillages that new word has come down from ‘inside’. At times, I’ve found myself hoping he was ‘inside’, especially when he breaks down on Spygate (Verdict: Pats Real Victims), or suggests that Dom Capers, known for his hyper-aggressive, blitzing defenses in Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, has already made a significant imprint on the Patriots defensive plans for 2008. One patsfans poster smartly suggested NEInsider’s Internet ‘credibility’ came mostly from the fact that he was telling other posters exactly what they wanted to hear. Guilty, here.
I can’t say I’ve been as impressed with his recent efforts (a little too heavy on the Goebbels for my taste, and that’s saying something), and his sporadic posts are now greeted with extended debate as to their veracity. Now I’m hoping he’s just Dave Somebody from Anytown, USA, havin’ a laugh, just livin’ the Internet dream, baby. He’s a pretty big deal down at the cracker factory. His every keystroke reverberates. I’m sure he’s noticed.
Because if it’s NOT that…..ugh. There’s something kind of ‘Ben and Jed, Theo didn’t make the Beckett trade’ about that thought.
APRIL FOOLS DAY
Every year I wonder if we should do some April Fools Day thing, but considering we haven’t posted in three weeks, I’m pretty sure that would be the proverbial tree falling in the forest. But if I did do something, it would have to be BELICHICK BANNED FOR LIFE! Someone could cause a panic with that, worse than any Lite Brite contraptions.
Of course, after April 1 comes April 2, which means there’s only 24 more days to the NFL Draft. I’ve got all my magazines (Lindy’s, Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly), which I plan to read real soon. I’m actually better with pictures – hey, there’s Glenn Dorsey on all three covers. I think they should get him. Seriously, I’m astounded by all the stuff that’s available to us these days, whatever it’s worth. I kind of lean towards Pro Football Weekly, as they have historically found something to dislike in everyone, which does wonders for managing my expectations. I like SN’s ‘Stacking the Board’ feature, where they slot players based on what their value is, instead of where they’ll be picked in the draft. Lindy’s has the excellent scouting reports of NFL Draft Scout, the great web site that’s home to legendary draftniks Rob Rang and Dave Te Thomas. I heartily recommend all three to you fledgling Larry Johnsons out there.
Anyway, short story seems to be that the draft is rich in tackles, running backs and wide receivers for the offense, and ends, outside linebackers and cornerbacks for the defense. If you’re looking for quarterbacks, tight ends or interior linemen, you’re up against it. If you’re in the market for defensive tackles, inside linebackers or safeties, you may have to wait at least another year.
RUMOR INVENTORY V.2
I’m still keeping track of draft rumors as best I can, and I figure it’s time to post an update, which is linked here. There remains a steady flow of scuttlebutt, and our list is now up to 55 players, with a concentration of cornerbacks and outsixde linebacker types at the top of the board. Have a look.
I should note a couple of changes to the chart: I’ve added a second contact column as Gillette visits begin to be scheduled, and the Sporting News has been added to our round projection calculation.
WHAT WE DID ON OUR MARCH VACATION
A couple of us have been combing through the results of the last eight Patriots drafts, on a mission that I’m quite sure we can’t define at this point. We’re concerned that if we try to rationalize this effort, we’ll have to confront the obvious fact that it’s pointless. It beats watching the snow melt though, so on we forge. We are chronicling our tentative yet courageous journey through the already-quite-widely known, and we hope to report back to you soon on the senselessness of our efforts.
I’ve mentioned this before, but we are sincerely interested in adding more voices to this page as we move towards the 08 season. Particularly if you see the games from a more technical standpoint, from position assignments to offensive and defensive schemes to weekly game plans, and you can clearly articulate what you’re seeing every week. It’s our intent to emphasize that sort of analysis this year if at all possible, so if you think you can help us do that, I’d love to get an e-mail from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. The same goes for you guys that might be a little more, uh, visceral in your analysis of the Patriots. Anyone who can write and wants to is welcome to do so – there’s plenty of room for everybody. I’ll tell you what I tell everybody else – there’s no money in it, and people are going to try to hurt your feelings. I know, I know, it sounds too good to be true. And it is! I’ll look forward to hearing from you soon, then.
DON’T BE A STRANGER
We’ll be posting more often this month as the draft approaches, so check back when you can.