|02.21.13 at 11:09 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — A slightly chastened Rex Ryan addressed the media at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday, and the Jets coach — who has never been shy about making predictions in the past — was asked about the gap between the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East.
“Each year is different, [but] I can honestly say that we’re going to get our shots. We’re going to get our swings,” Ryan said Thursday afternoon. “We’re stepping up to plate with a bat in our hand and we’re not going to let any strikes go by without swinging. We are going to take our cuts. We may take a cut at a ball in the ground as well, but we are definitely going to take our cuts.
“To me, I have that vision,” he added. “Some may say, ‘Well, you’re aggressive on defense.’ I don’t think we’re close to being as aggressive as we’re going to be this year in all three phases of the game, and I’m looking forward to it. How many wins? Nobody can tell you that. But I know one thing — we’re going to take our shots.”
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|02.21.13 at 8:10 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The first day of media availability at the combine is in the books. Here are some impressions and highlights from chatting with some of this draft class’ offensive linemen, as well as coaches and executives.
– Wisconsin offensive linemen have a pretty good track record, and former walk-on Ricky Wagner would be a good fit for the Patriots at right tackle, either for depth’s sake or if Sebastian Vollmer leaves and creates an opening.
– Speaking of schools that produce a lot of good offensive linemen, right tackle John Wetzel and left tackle Emmett Cleary are both at the combine and hope to carry on the tradition of Boston College O-linemen in the NFL.
– You can’t talk about linemen in this year’s draft class without bringing up Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, who is the best of the bunch. Joeckel figures to be in the mix to go first overall, and he told a funny story.
– Hoping to see Percy Harvin in a Patriots uniform? Not so fast.
“Could there be a trade? Yeah, anybody could be traded,” Ryan said. “But do I expect there to be a trade for Darrelle Revis? No. But that doesn’t mean something couldn’t come up.”
– The people who announce the players at the podiums have a tough job, as they have to pronounce a ton of different names. There were no pronunciation issues Thursday, but Hawaii long snapper Luke Ingram (brother of former Patriots long snapper Jake Ingram) was announced as “Hawaii long slapper Luke Ingram” — get this — twice. It was the best.
– Colts general manager Ryan Grigson couldn’t be more polished, especially when you consider how uncomfortable and overwhelmed he looked in the same situation a year ago. He’d just been recently been hired to replace Bill Polian and he had to juggle the whole Peyton Manning situation, as the QB was still under contract with the Colts despite the expectation that the Colts would draft Andrew Luck first overall.
On Thursday, Grigson was cool as a cucumber. In all honesty, he was probably the most interesting guys to speak, as he still sounds like a scout (which he was for years between St. Louis and Philadelphia). Grigson even had a good sense of humor when talking about last year’s train wreck with the media.
“It’s funny now, after a year’s passed how everyone tells me now how miserable I was up here. The words ‘fidgety,’ ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘sweating bullets’ — and those things were all true — but it’s definitely easier for me to be up here and to talk about football and not be too guarded,” he said. “Last year, I had a lot of things going on that I couldn’t stand up here and talk freely about, and that’s just the plain truth. This year, it’s a little bit better.”
– Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano weighed in (very little) on former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, saying that he did everything that Schiano and the Bucs asked of him this season prior to his trade to the Pats.
– It wasn’t long ago that Chip Kelly was the offensive line coach at UNH, and now he’s the head coach of the Eagles and saying all sorts of nice things about Bill Belichick.
– UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria is in town for the combine and said he’s received a lot of guidance from his uncle, former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria. Joseph’s a big boy, as he’s listed at 6-foot-7 2/8 and 257 pounds.
|02.21.13 at 5:14 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS ‘ Boston College is used to sending offensive linemen to the NFL — Marc Colombo, Damien Woody and Anthony Castonzo are just a few who have gone on to become successful pros over the years — so BC tackles John Wetzel and Emmett Cleary hope to continue that tradition.
Neither are expected to be high picks — Wetzel could be a mid-to-late-rounder while Clearly will go late if he’s drafted at all — but Wetzel called Boston College’s reputation with NFL offensive linemen “a tradition I hope to carry on and then some.”
“When you have someone get drafted pretty much every year on the O-line, you want to keep that going,” Wetzel, a right tackle, said. “You don’t want to be the guy that breaks that tradition. It just makes me play even harder, because I know the tradition that BC has and the expectations for linemen that boosts me to a higher level.”
Said Cleary: ‘BC, they’re concerned about you as more than just a football player, so as much as developing my body and my skills, they help to develop you as a man, as an intellectual, as a person,’ he said. ‘I hope that shines through in this process.’
Playing at BC, both players had a lot of exposure to the Patriots, who held workouts at BC during the lockout in 2011. Cleary’s biggest observation?
‘[Vince] Wilfork is the biggest human being I’ve ever seen in the flesh,’ he said of the Patriots defensive tackle. ‘I couldn’t believe it.’
Neither Cleary nor Wetzel have met with the Pats yet, but Wetzel said he’d happily play for them despite growing up a Steelers fan. As for Cleary, he said he’s seen enough of them to know what they’re all about.
‘It’s a great franchise,’ he said. ‘It’s a case study in the NFL on how to run an organization. It’s been cool seeing that up close. They’re on TV all the time. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan, but I’ve been following them my whole career.’
Wetzel got to meet Logan Mankins one offseason and was pleased to find that Mankins’ meanness — something he admires — was limited only to his play and that he was “welcoming” as Wetzel picked his brain about the NFL.
Though they obviously play different positions, Wetzel, who came a stripe away from being a brown belt in karate — looks up to Mankins for his toughness. He said that Mankins, a Fresno State product, plays with the “BC mentality.”
“[Jeremy] Trueblood and Marc Columbo, they were all aggresssive-style players before me,” Wetzel said. “That’s another tradition I want to carry on, being a tough blocker, a tough lineman in the NFL.”
|02.21.13 at 3:59 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s always interesting to see players’ characters when dealing with them at the scouting combine, but ultimately, work ethic and talent matter far more than whether a guy’s a polished speaker.
Yet when it comes to top prospects — like the guy who might get drafted first overall — they do need to present themselves well. Give Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel a check in that column, as the star left tackle had a very good showing with the media Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Offensive line is what I was born to play,” he said when asked about being a candidate for the top pick despite playing a less glamourous position. “I love the position. I love the physical aspect of it. You finish every single play with a one-on-one block. There’s not many other positions on the field like that. I love that part of it. I’m a background guy and that’s why I belong on the offensive line.”
Joeckel said he has not met with the Chiefs, who hold the first pick (so far, he’s met with only the Titans and the 49ers), but that he would love to play in Kansas City, noting that he’s been there once and loved the barbecue. As for being the first overall pick, Joeckel said it’s something he wouldn’t take for granted.
“It would be a really cool,” he said. “It would be a dream come true. I want to get there, I’m definitely striving to be the No. 1 pick, going through this entire process and playing the season and all that kind of stuff, but my dream was just to play in the NFL. Being the No. 1 pick, after that it doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to and prove yourself in the NFL.”
Joeckel also shared a pretty interesting anecdote with reporters. A quarterback in junior high, Joeckel made the move to offensive line in high school, where his twin brother, Matt, was the quarterback. He said the two had a very competitive relationship — with occasional fisticuffs and more than occasional arguments.
“My junior year, I pancaked a guy and Matt was bouncing out of the pocket and I pancaked the guy right into Matt’s legs,” Joeckel said. “I get up, and instead up him yelling at me, I started yelling at him, like, ‘You gave me a sack. You’ve got to be a better athlete than that.’ He never chewed me out for giving up sacks. I chewed him out for me giving up a sack. That’s kind of our relationship.”
Joeckel still has to work out and prove his worth to the Chiefs and other teams at the top of the draft, but consider him off to a good start with his showing Thursday. He didn’t seem nervous and didn’t come off as overly cocky. Plenty depends on whether or not the Chiefs bring back starting left tackle Branden Albert, but if you’re a struggling team that’s about to invest a lot of money in a player in the hopes of selling a new direction to fans, Jeockel did nothing to hurt his case.
|02.21.13 at 3:40 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Depending on what happens with free agent Sebastian Vollmer this offseason, the Patriots could enter the draft either looking to add offensive line depth or needing to add a starter at right tackle.
Should the Patriots not re-sign or franchise Vollmer, one intriguing option in the second or third round would be Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner, who met with a Patriots scout Wednesday night.
Wagner’s an interesting prospect. He’s a tight-end-turned-tackle, a la Nate Solder, and he went from a lanky walk-on as a freshman to a legitimate NFL left or right tackle prospect who arrived at the scooting combine in at 6-foot-6 and 308.9 pounds. Plus, he’s an offensive lineman from Wisconsin. That’s got to be worth something, as there have been 14 Badger offensive linemen drafted in the last 12 years.
“It’s like having a whole new set of coaches with you,” Wagner said of the Wisconsin O-line. “They’re the best at their position, and you just try to mimic their game.”
The Wisconsin native never played tackle in high school (he was a tight end throughout) and weighed 195 pounds as a sophomore before bulking up and eventually moving to the offensive line.
“I came out of high school at about 260 as a tight end, took about a year to get to 300,” he said. “So over the course of my freshman, sophomore year I put on about 40 to 50 pounds.”
Despite being rated the ninth-best player (and top tight end) in the state of Wisconsin coming out of high school, Wagner elected to take his chances walking on at Wisconsin in hopes of earning a scholarship. He said it had long been a “dream” of his to attend Wisconsin, and it all worked out pretty well.
“It’s something I’m very proud of, being a walk-on and earning that scholarship,” he said. “It’s been a long ride, but I’m very thankful that I got the opportunity to go to Wisconsin.”
Wagner started 10 games at right tackle as a sophomore before making the move to left tackle for the last two seasons. He said Thursday that he’d have “no problem playing right tackle or even guard.”
Keep an eye out for Wagner. With Wisconsin’s reputation for churning out professional linemen — Joe Thomas, Gabe Carimi, and Kevin Zeitler among many, many more — he might be worth it come late April.
|02.21.13 at 3:26 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The two fastest offenses on the field this season were Oregon and the Patriots, and so it’s no surprise that former Ducks coach Chip Kelly — who was recently hired as head coach of the Eagles — would be linked to Bill Belichick.
On Thursday at the scouting combine, Kelly called Belichick an “iconic” coach, and said he had plenty of chances to talk with Belichick while he was working as a college coach. Part of that was because of Kelly’s local ties — he is a New Hampshire native who went to UNH and coached there as late as 2006.
But another part of it was just made good sense.
“I know coach Belichick — I’m from New England, and so I spent a lot of time going down as a coach when they opened up practice for college coaches to come down and visit and talk with them, and I’ve always asked them questions,” Kelly said. “But I didn’t talk to coach about coming to the NFL. I didn’t talk to coach about what to expect in my first season. It’s … he’s one of the iconic coaches in this profession, and obviously, his record speak for itself. When you’re around people like that, you do a lot more listening than you do talking.”
At the same time, Kelly made it clear that he’s been able to pick up a variety of different things from different coaches over the course of his career.
“I don’t know — I think we’re all byproducts of our experiences,” Kelly said. “Whether your visiting coach Belichick, or I went to OTAs with Joe Philbin las year. I went with Chan Gailey in Buffalo. I’ve been to see Jim Harbaugh at the 49ers. I’ve been to see Pete Carroll in Seattle. All those guys have been gracious to let me come watch practice. Obviously, I’ve learned things from watching other teams practices, but there’s not one I’ll rely on more than another.”
|02.21.13 at 2:01 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to looking for under-the-radar talent, the Patriots went north of the border this offseason, landing defensive linemen Armond Armstead (of the Toronto Argonauts) and Jason Vega (of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers).
Armstead is a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder who was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end ‘ where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) ‘ he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle, but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and was never cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted, and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship.
Vega, who stands 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, is a native of Brockton who played his college ball at Northeastern. The 25-year-old spent the past two seasons playing for the Blue Bombers, recording 66 tackles and 12 sacks. At Northeastern, Vega battled through injury issues (including a broken elbow) to record 137 tackles and 14 sacks in 41 games. He was not selected in the 2010 NFL draft. (For more on their acquisition, check out this story from last month.)
New Bears coach Marc Trestman — who was hired by Chicago after spending the last five seasons in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes — talked Thursday morning at the scouting combine about the transition for players from the Canadian game to the NFL.
‘There’s some players up there that have shown that they can play in the NFL,” Trestman said. “That’s been proven over time. There haven’t been many, but the guys who’ve shown up down here have done a pretty good job of fitting in. The players up there are very similar to the guys down here in terms of their character — they want to master their craft and be the best they can be. Some of them have had the opportunity south of the border and done well.
‘These guys love football up there. They have dreams of wanting to do it down here. Those that can will give it a try; those that can’t have experienced a lot of exciting football up there.’
In the end, Trestman said that football is football.
‘There are multiple differences, obviously,” he added. “But just generally, the ‘box’ is still the ‘box,’ the blitzes you seen in the CFL are similar to the blitzes you see south of the border. The field is wider, it’s intelligently created, it’s a three-down league. The defensive line is a yard off the ball, the field is a mile long and a mile wide. And we’re playing with 12 and multiple motions.”
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