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Nick Caserio Q&A, 2/26

02.26.10 at 1:31 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS ‘€” Patriots director of player Nick Caserio just wrapped up a 30-minute Q&A session with a handful of New England reporters here at the combine. We’ll have more on his comments soon, but here’s the complete transcript of what he talked about:

Opening statement:
‘€œThis is an exciting time of the year. Most of our staff is here. Obviously the whole league is here to kind of do a job. We’€™re just trying to do our job as best we can. Whoever wants to fire away, go ahead and fire away.’€

What is a typical day like for you?
‘€œThis morning was the weigh-ins. So we were over there with the quarterbacks, the receivers and the running backs. The weigh-ins usually start around 7:30 and on Saturday what will happen, about 9 o’€™clock or so, the on-field workouts will actually begin. We’€™ll kind of shift gears and come over and watch the on-field component. The weigh-ins are great, it’€™s good to see some of the guys. For me personally it’€™s my first time seeing a lot of these guys. Once you go through the workouts, those usually take you through the afternoon, about 1:30, 2 o’€™clock, and then there is a little window until about 6 o’€™clock when you start to do the player interviews in the evening. However many you have scheduled, those will go from 6 to 10:30, 11 o’€™clock, whatever that might be. You get up the next day and do it all again.’€

Does your role change at all this year? Feel more comfortable doing what you are doing?
‘€œI think we were kind of going through a little bit of a transition last year in terms of the responsibilities and my job. I wouldn’€™t say it’€™s that drastically different. The things that I am doing here are very similar to what I was doing last year and I think that kind of goes for the whole personnel department as well, Jon Robinson and Jason [Licht] as well. We’€™re kind of going through the process like we normally would, so I wouldn’€™t say there has been too drastic a change from last year.’€

Second time around’€¦
‘€œSure, sure. I think everybody kind of knows their roles and responsibilities and what is expected of them. We have a great staff. We have a lot of guys that have been with us for quite some time. They’€™ve been here, they’€™ve been to Indy a number of times. We have a certain mindset, a goal that we’€™re trying to get accomplished and everyone is on the same page along those lines. I think we’€™re moving in the right direction.’€

You mentioned you’€™re seeing these guys for the first time. When do you first start studying this crop of seniors?
‘€œIt probably begins, really, in the spring. We go through and do a spring book, if you will. Once this draft is over. ‘€¦ for example, whenever the draft is over at the end of the month in April, starting in May we’€™ll go through the senior prospects for the following year. We put together a comprehensive book of 150-200 players who will be seniors, and based on the information that we get from the coaches, here are the A prospects, B prospects, from their perspective. We’€™ll start to go through and actually write reports on those players in the spring, so it kind of gives us an overview of what to anticipate going into the fall, so when you go to a school in the fall, you’€™ve actually watched these players and now you’€™re studying them a little more closely. It’€™s a year-round thing, really.’€

At the Senior Bowl, players talked about the intensity of meeting with the Patriots and how in-depth it was. Is that something that is your goal, to put them on the spot?
‘€œI think the most important thing is you’€™re trying to, with any player, to get a feel for a number of different things ‘€“ their character, their make-up, their football intelligence, how they think. Our process is a process that works for us and I think it’€™s really something we’€™ve been doing since I’€™ve been here. You’€™re trying to take all the information and this is actually the first opportunity you have to talk to the players, because when you go to a school in the fall, you can’€™t do that. You get to the All-Star game, now you have information that you gathered from coaches, school administrators, whoever it might be, but this is the first time that you can actually have a one-on-one, face-to-face actual conversation. So our tactics and our process, I wouldn’€™t say they are that drastically different from a lot of other clubs. You go into it with the mindset, OK, you’€™re trying to accomplish certain things and in the end you’€™re trying to see the player and kind of get an idea of a lot of different things.’€

How relevant is the combine now?
‘€œThe way we kind of look at it, if you evaluate the player over the course of the fall, let’€™s say you watch six games, this is really kind of another game, it’€™s another opportunity for them to be evaluated, just like the all-star game. I think sometimes the combine, there is a lot of emphasis put on it, but the reality is that there is a lot of work that’€™s been done prior to that, so this is kind of a culmination of things. You’€™re kind of trying to put the finishing touches together basically on the combine, then after the combine you have the individual workouts, the Pro Days, so from March through April, there is still a little more work that needs to be done. I would say by this time you have a pretty good idea of who the players are, and really, you’€™re trying to earmark specific questions when you are here to see if you can get the answers.’€

Position by position, does anything stand out for you in this draft?
‘€œI think every year, it really changes and evolves. I would say this year, the safety group is a pretty deep group. I think those conversion players, the defensive end/outside linebackers, I’€™d say that’€™s a pretty deep group this year. There is a pretty good crop of tackles. Each year it kind of changes, so as you go through the fall, it starts to crystallize a little bit and you have an idea ‘€˜OK, there is a little more depth at this position relative to some others’€™, just like it is every year.’€

On the tackles ‘€“ offensive or defensive?
‘€œI’€™d say the offensive line and defensive line is a pretty deep group.’€

On Wednesday, we heard from Robert Kraft that things were close with Vince Wilfork. Since that time, Casey Hampton agreed to a deal. Are you closer now or has anything changed from when Robert Kraft made those remarks?
‘€œSure, I know Mr. Kraft made those statements and we put the statement out the other day. You know, I’€™m not really going to expound too much further. I would say the communication has been good. It’€™s been ongoing. I think we’€™re just concerned about the Patriots, we’€™re not necessarily concerned about what other clubs are doing, so I would say that process continues. To put a timetable on it, that’€™s not really for me to say, to say that this is the end.’€

With the other free agents ‘€“ the Banta-Cains, Boddens, Faulks ‘€“ can you make progress with them here at the combine in possibly closing something up with them?
‘€œSure, I think you have levels of communication with all your free agents. You are at different stages. Obviously, all the agents are here, so I would say there is continuous communication amongst all parties, whether it’€™s myself, whether it’€™s Floyd [Reese], and that communication is ongoing. Obviously once we get into free agency, it goes a little bit further. I think you’€™re always talking, you’€™re always having discussions, and you’€™re just trying to find what you feel is best for your club. That’€™s what we’€™re going to do, just like we always do.’€

With any of those guys, do you have a feeling that you are close, like Kevin Faulk for example?
‘€œI would say the communication is consistent. I wouldn’€™t want to put any sort of timetable on where we are in terms of the discussions.’€

As far as those guys, would you like to settle that before March 5?
‘€œI wouldn’€™t say there is any particular deadline, obviously that day is the first day of free agency, so I’€™d say you have discussions at different points. Whenever that is resolved, it’€™s hard to say. If you get to that point, great. If you don’€™t, I think the lines of communication are open and that will continue and we’€™ll stay in touch with all the necessary parties.’€

With such a huge crop of restricted free agents out there, do you think around the league there will be more opportunities; is that interesting to you?
‘€œThat’€™s something that we don’€™t know exactly what that will be, because those tenders don’€™t come out until March 5, so it’€™s hard for us to say what we’€™re going to do as it relates to some of those players. I think once we get to March 5th, once we know what we’€™re dealing with, then we kind of investigate a little further if it makes sense.’€

Will this be a unique offseason with that and the uncertainty of the CBA? Is this a more difficult offseason?
‘€œI’€™d say there are some different factors, but I think in terms of the process, in terms of player acquisition, the reality is it’€™s not that much different. You have free agency, you have the draft, you have players who have been released, some vested veterans like the LaDainian Tomlinsons, and then you have another pool of players who may not have played in 2009 who had played in 2008, for example the David Pattens and those types of players. I think there is multiple avenues in terms of player acquisition, so I would say in terms of the process, it’€™s not that drastically different. Obviously there are some things we can’€™t control as it relates to the CBA and that is out of hands right now.’€

Can you talk about the acquisition of David Patten and how that came up?
‘€œSure, David was in camp with the Browns. He made it really all the way to the end, and I think he had some injury things that he was kind of dealing with and they released him. David kept himself healthy, we kind of maintained some contact with him, it was more towards the end of the year. We brought him in, worked him out, gave him a physical, and based on his performance just on the field, you saw a lot of things that you saw from David Patten — he was fast, he was quick. So that decision was made. Obviously we have a history with David Patten, he’€™s a pro’€™s pro, he’€™s a veteran. It was a few years back. I don’€™t think we’€™re living in the past or trying to go back to the past, but here’€™s a guy who still shows a pretty competitive skill set, at least based on the workout. Whenever he’€™s played, whatever team he’€™s been on, he’€™s been productive. In 2007, when he was with the Saints, he caught 54 balls. David has been great for us, he’€™s great off the field. He has an unquestionable work ethic. So we want competitive, tough-minded, hungry football players looking for an opportunity, and I think David Patten kind of falls into that category. We’€™re happy to have David. He has to come and earn his role on the team. Here is an opportunity for him, and whatever he makes of it, that’€™s entirely up to him, but we’€™re certainly happy to have him.’€

Is leadership something you’€™re trying to look at?
I think we were happy with the leadership we had on the club last year. No question about it. I think David has a certain presence about him and what he brings to the table, it certainly can’€™t hurt.

On the edge rushers ‘€” Dumervil, Harrison ‘€” and possibly tweaking that ideal and looking at someone like Brandon Graham‘€¦
I think that’€™s an interesting point, because the reality is that pool of players, the 6-4, 260-pound guys that run 4.6, there’€™s not many of them. You’€™re looking at a number of different qualities. You’€™re trying to identify, ‘€˜OK, here’€™s their skill set. Here’€™s what they do well.’€™ And then, you have to look at, ‘€˜OK, how are they going to fit with what you do defensively and schematically.’€™ Some of the small guys ‘€¦ like, I think Dumervil is a great example. A 5-11, 260-pound guy ‘€¦ maybe he’€™s not the prototypical outside linebacker type, but he can rush the passer. He was productive in college, and that production has translated over into the NFL. You look at a player like Dumervil, and he’€™s got quickness ‘€¦ he might not be the fastest guy, but he’€™s got good playing strength and he’€™s really good leverage and he uses that to his advantage. So there’€™s different ways to skin a cat. You’€™re looking for this ideal. The reality is that sometimes that ideal is hard to find. You have to be able to look at that player and say, ‘€˜Here’€™s what they do well.’€™ And then, once you’€™ve identified that, you try and fit it into your system and, ‘€˜OK, here’€™s how we’€™re going to use it to maximize his skill set.’€™

On the challenges faced because more teams are going to a 3-4′€¦
Yeah, it looks like half the league is employing some 3-4 type of configuration. It kind of evolves. There are 3-4 teams that don’€™t really play with a zero technique, they play with a one technique and they reduce the backside. And then that defensive end, he’€™s really not an outside linebacker, he’€™s a defensive end. So there’€™s a lot of different things you can do with the front. And it is becoming more challenging because there is more teams that are essentially looking at the same pool of players, so it kind of limits your opportunities, because you realize you’€™re really competing really with the rest of the league on that front.

On Adalius Thomas‘€¦
Adalius is under contract. He’€™s on the team. When he was on the field, he was productive when he played. We’€™ll make the decisions in the end we feel that are best for the club. Whenever that is, then that’€™s what we’€™ll do.

How do you plan for such an uncertain future when you don’€™t know about the labor situation?
You do the best you can. I think you sort of have to gave a ‘€¦ you have to worry about the 2010 season, and that’€™s kind of why everybody is here getting ready for the draft. You’€™re preparing for that. As far as what happens beyond that, I mean, it’€™s out of our hands, it’€™s out of our control. You kind of deal in the present, and once whatever resolution is reached, as long as we know what the rules are, then, we’€™ll proceed accordingly. There’€™s a delicate balance between the two, but I think the most important thing right now is to go through the offseason, get ready for the draft, and then get ready for the 2010 season.

On spending in an uncapped year, but worrying about a resolution of the cap for 2011 ‘€” finding a balance between the two. Are you guys balancing that?
I think just kind of some of the plans that we alluded to earlier, in terms of our process, we go through the same process this year as we did in years past. We have a budget in place like we do every year. It doesn’€™t really change for us in terms of what we do in terms of spending and player acquisition. That really hasn’€™t changed. As far as what the situation is moving forward, I mean, I don’€™t have a crystal ball, you don’€™t have a crystal ball. We’€™re operating under the terms that we have in place and that haven’€™t really changed all that much since I’€™ve been here.

On trades and the possibility of moving up’€¦
I think it’€™s hard to say that right now, because really, you have to go through the process. You set your draft board and you’€™re kind of, as the draft takes place, you kind of looking at that pool of players and then if you feel there’€™s an opportunity at some point whether it’€™s higher or lower to get that player, then you’€™ll try to make the move accordingly. I mean, we’€™re kind of in a similar situation. Really, we had the picks last year, and we ended up picking in the second round. We moved out of the first round. I wouldn’€™t say there’€™s a definitive formula, that this year we’€™re going to do this, next year we’€™re going to do that. I think you sort of let that unfold and there’€™s a lot ‘€¦ actually, it’€™s kind of funny because there are a lot of things you don’€™t really anticipate that are going to happen. You might get a phone call and you start to think about it and you say, ‘€˜That makes sense,’€™ and then you consider it. So really until you get o that point, it’€™s hard to pinpoint.

Do you think about it more when you have more picks available?
I wouldn’€™t say the draft strategy has altered that drastically. I mean, you have a few more picks, great, but in terms of the actual strategy and the process, I wouldn’€™t say that it’€™s a lot different.

Will that be altered by the change in the draft schedule ‘€” the rounds’€¦
Yeah, this is the first year. It’€™ll be an interesting dynamic because you’€™ll get through Round One, and you’€™ll take a breath. I think what it will really enable teams to do is say, ‘€™We’€™ve gone through the first round, we’€™ve had 32 players that are picked.’€™ Now, you can look at the board and say, ‘€˜OK, here are the players that we like and, OK, we’€™re going to Day Two.’€™ When you’€™re done with the second and third round, and then, you hit the pause button again, and then take another look and see what you have left. And then you go to the next day. So it will be interesting, how it all breaks up. But I mean every team will have a plan in place. I’€™m sure we’€™ll have a plan in place. I think it gives you time to think. There’€™s a lot longer nights after the draft when you’€™re sitting back up there looking at the players you need the next day.

The tenders for the restricted guys ‘€“ any info on that?
We actually haven’€™t talked about that yet. I’€™m sure by Friday we’€™ll have that in place. But as far as right now, I really couldn’€™t talk about all that.

On his role in 2010 re: coaching’€¦
That’€™s a good question. I think the offensive staff that’€™s in place is a great staff. There’€™s a lot of great coaches that are here that have been with us. I think right now my focus is on the draft and getting ready for that and that’€™s why we’€™re all here. As far as what happens when the season rolls around, it’€™s hard to say, but I’€™m happy to be here. I’€™m happy with my job and my role, and whatever that is moving forward, I’€™ll certainly oblige and do the best I can.

On no coordinators’€¦
I think Bill made a statement a couple of weeks ago just to answer some questions on that. Like I said, I think everybody, at least on the offensive staff because my involvement was a little bit more with them, but everybody understands their role, everybody has a job to do, and right now, they’€™re going through the process of evaluating things from last year and saying, ‘€˜Here’€™s what we did well and here’€™s what we didn’€™t do well.’€™ There’€™s great communication. Everybody gets along well and everybody understands what their expectation is. Like I said, this staff, we have a lot of experience on this staff, whether it’€™s Dante, Ivan’€™s been around since Bill’€™s been here. Billy O’€™Brien has been here for three years now. We brought Chad in. Brian Ferentz has been here for a few years. We’€™ve got a lot of experience on that staff, and everybody is comfortable working with one another. I think we’€™re happy with the situation that exists.

On Wes Welker‘€™s progress’€¦
I think Wes is going through the rehab process right now. I’€™m sure he’€™s going to do the best he can to get himself ready. Whenever that is, that’€™s up to the doctors to decide and they’€™ll let us know when that will be, so ‘€¦ everybody knows that Wes will do everything in his power to get back on the field, whenever that may be.

Evaluate the Pats receiver position as a whole…
You look at Randy [Moss], I mean, you look at the time he’€™s been here, he’€™s one of the most productive receivers in the league the past three years. He’€™s a great player, he’€™s certainly been an asset to this offense. Wes [Welker], his body of work speaks for itself. I think [Julian] Edelman was a pleasant surprise for us last year. That’€™s a tribute to him and the work that Chad [O'€™Shea, the wide receivers coach] and Billy [O'€™Brien, the QB coach] did with Julian ‘€“ here’€™s a guy who never played the position before. He got up to speed pretty quickly. When he was out on the field, he had 43 receptions and a significant amount of production. We feel good about Julian and hopefully he’€™ll improve. He’€™s got a lot to learn. Sam [Aiken], when he was on the field, he produced. Brandon [Tate] is kind of the unknown right now. We’€™re excited about him. He’€™s going through the off-season process right now, trying to get himself healthy. I think it’€™s a good group. Where are we once the season rolls around? It’€™s hard to tell. But where they are right now, you’€™ve got a lot of guys who were productive at different levels of experience. We’€™re excited about what the opportunities are going forward.

Will Tate take part in passing camps or mini-camps?
That’€™s a good question ‘€¦ I really don’€™t know. It’€™s a matter of how well his rehab goes.

Is receiver the most boom-or-bust position to evaluate?
It’€™s hard. There’€™s a lot of factors ‘€“ actually, we were just kind of going through our draft study, and that’€™s the one position where there’€™s a lot of variation in terms of where the production comes. We have some at the top end, some in the middle ‘€¦ a guy like Austin Collie last year ‘€¦ who were really productive. The thing with the receiver position is, even though the college game is very pass oriented, there’€™s a lot of other components that come into play in the NFL. There are a lot of things that the [college] receivers haven’€™t seen. For a lot of receivers, the corner is [line up] from me to that pole [over there], so the receivers, they just run their route and don’€™t have to deal with press coverage. So, there’€™s an element of that. ‘€˜OK, how do they deal with press coverage?’€™ ‘€˜OK, there’€™s route adjustments.’€™ For example, there’€™s one particular route that we run four or five different ways based on what the coverage is, and the receiver has the read the coverage on the fly. So, as a receiver, there’€™s a lot to think about and comprehend. Then you get into some of the blitz adjustments, some of the sight adjustments. There is a lot for that player and that’€™s where the mental component comes into play. It’€™s a different animal. That’€™s why, maybe, some are more productive than others. A lot of it is based on the offense that they played [in college] and the offense they’€™re going into [in the NFL]. Our offense may be different than someone else’€™s offense. It’€™s a hard position.

With spread offenses in college, is it harder to assess front seven college players because defensive ends and linebackers may be smaller, maybe you have to project a little more…
In the end, you’€™re evaluating that player’€™s skill set, whether it’€™s a defensive end or defensive tackle. You’€™re looking at his physical attributes and the things he did well, the things he didn’€™t do as well. Sometimes you get 3-4 splits, and then it goes back to the offensive side of the ball where you see the offensive linemen are always pass-protecting. ‘€˜OK, how good a run blocker are they going to be?’€™ Maybe you have to spend a little more time studying that player or in an individual period with a one-on-one workout to see whether or not that skill set is going to transfer over. The college game has certainly evolved. If you look at the NFL, a lot of the offenses aren’€™t shaped that way. So, in the end, you’€™re evaluating the players’€™ skills at that particular spot and what they do well and then you try to project how that’€™s going to fit into what you do.

Is that why you see shorter defensive ends, because they don’€™t have to do as much in college?
It’€™s probably just the best spot for that particular player on the defense. You have a choice of playing down, playing up, playing inside, playing outside. Do you want a 260-pound guy working against a tackle, or is he better off inside. I mean, that’€™s up to the coaches. Our job is to take those defensive ends and figure out, ‘€˜OK, is he a defensive end, an outside linebacker? Is he an on-the-line player, an off-the-line player. I would say that position is hard to evaluate because you never see them really play with their hand off the ground. Their hand is always on the ground and he’€™s just storming up the field.

Evaluate running backs big guys vs. smaller guys…
I think really, you’€™re looking at their production. How productive are they with the carries that they’€™re providing? There is different, if you look at the league, there’€™s different types of backs. You have the 220 pound backs, like the Matt Fortes that’€™s been productive, then you have the Leon Washington‘€™s who are a little bit smaller and they certainly have a niche. And there’€™s probably not a more productive guy when he’€™s on the field than Leon Washington. So, in the end, it’€™s what they do with the ball in their hands, how productive they are, even a smaller guy, he might be small, but he might run with good strength and power vs. a 220-pound guy, maybe he doesn’€™t run with as much power as you think he does, but he’€™s a better perimeter player. I mean, you look at the running style, you look at their production, what they do with the ball in their hands and you just try to figure out how the fits with what you do.

Number of plays help see?
Even those smaller backs, those 5-8, 200-pound backs, he might carry the ball 20-25 times a game and hold up just fine. I think it all depends on the player.

On the top tight ends…
I actually didn’€™t get to see them weigh in, I missed that, but talking to some of our guys, they said it was a pretty impressive looking group.  I think that’€™s one position, relative to last year, that there’€™s more depth throughout. Last year, Pettigrew, he was at the top of the heap, he went in the first round, then there were some other guys, Shawn Nelson, he was drafted in the fourth round, he had a little bit of production. The kid from Rice, the Texans took, James Casey, he went in the fifth round, so it look like it’€™s a pretty solid group, it’€™s a very productive group. Gresham was productive, Pittah was productive, Moahki is productive, Gronkowski missed the year, but if you go back to 08, he had a huge year, Hernandez from Florida, he was productive. So there’€™s been a lot of production in that group. They’€™re all kind of different, but I would say at that particular position, there’€™s quite a bit of depth, relative to last year.

Is college production necessary to see?
Right, you hope that that production translates over. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’€™t. You know, you just hope that you figure out why it does, and you don’€™t end up (wondering) why it didn’€™t. And all those players, Gresham played in a pretty wide open offense, Gronkowski played in a spread offense, at Florida, Hernandez played in a spread offense, that’€™s one position in particular, too, we talked about the defensive line, like the tight end position with some of these spread teams, a lot of these guys aren’€™t really blocking that much. There are pieces when you see it, but they’€™re pretty involved in the passing game, you sorta have to weigh, how good of a blocker is he going to be relative to his production in the passing game, which you can actually see.

Some of the top TEs were injured and some WRs are juniors. Do you take a leap of faith with those guys?
I think any time you have a player who misses a full season, you really have to go back, do your homework and make sure that’€¦ but I think the reality is, especially over a two-year period, whether it’€™s 2008 and 2009 or the reality of that player changing all that much probably isn’€™t that significant. What you see in ‘€™08, is probably what you would’€™ve seen in 2009. Now, I would say that’€™s case the majority of the time, sometimes it’€™s not. So, hopefully, the biggest thing is the health component. That’€™s the X-factor. How healthy is he going to be? How is that actually going to affect his performance, I would say from that perspective, it’€™s tough because you’€™re going off of, OK, here’€™s what he did in 2008, oh no, he missed a year, hasn’€™t been healthy, OK, then you get into the well, the doctors, their analyses, you take that information, put that together and it factors into your decision.

On wide receivers…
I think it depends on the offense and what they’€™re going to be asked to do. I would say it depends. Should they have stayed another year, was there a benefit of staying another year? Ultimately, they have to make the decision that’€™s best for themselves.

Who are you picking?
I wish I knew, I wish I knew. We got a couple months to figure that all out.

(Thanks to colleagues Ian Rapoport, Mike Reiss and Erik Scalavino for assisting with transcription.)

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