Archive for February, 2010

Ex-Pats’ bringing New England style to rest of NFL

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — With so many former Patriots’ personnel guys and assistant coaches now running other teams, it’s easy to see how New England’s team-building approach has popped up in places like Atlanta, Denver and Kansas City.

But that’s been a double-edged sword for the Patriots. While the franchise can take a legitimate sense of pride in seeing its system disseminated throughout the league, there’s suddenly more of a demand for the kind of players New England has traditionally coveted.

It’s something that ex-Patriots execs’ and coaches talk about all the time.

“No question about it,” said Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, who worked as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 to 2007 before taking over in Atlanta. “I was up there arguing about it with (Kansas City GM Scott) Pioli. We happen to have suites right beside each other. We’re just talking about that very same thing. Typically, you take all that you’ve learned from an organization like New England especially with as much success as we had, whether it’s on the trade side of things or acquisitions.

“We do a little busting on each other, no question about it. If we feel that the person has tried to cut around the back to try to get something. But we are usually pretty good.  I maintain that this league is about having a handful allies. I think it’s very good group of us who have moved on from New England and have taken care of business in the right way.”

As a result, the Patriots have been forced to try and step up and meet that challenge — maybe becoming more creative, particularly when it comes to finding players who fit their 3-4 base defense.

“Yeah, it looks like half the league is employing some 3-4 type of configuration,” said New England’s director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “It’s 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.”

‘Belichick schools’ well-represented

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to the draft, the Patriots are far from predictable. Trying to forecast Bill Belichick’s late April plans has become a practice in futility for many. The reason? The natural tendency to look at which player fits the mold. With the Patriots, however, it seems that it is more about which coach had the player.

Alabama LB Rolando McClain

Alabama LB Rolando McClain

They’ve been referred to as “Belichick guys,” whether they’ve coached with him before or not. Alabama’s Nick Saban, Fresno State’s Pat Hill, and Florida’s Urban Meyer seem to each have a pipeline that runs straight from their respective campuses to Gillette Stadium. If the prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine weren’t aware heading into the weekend, they are now. Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain has already met with the Patriots and knows the relationship.

“I was nervous because of Coach Belichick,”  McClain said Saturday. “He was there. I know him and Coach Saban have a pretty good history. I was excited but yet I was nervous also. We just had a good conversation. We talked football. It’s something I like to talk and I can talk [about].”

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Easy like Sunday morning

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — We are back for another day of action here at the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s not supposed to be a big day for the coaches (only Oakland’s Tom Cable is scheduled to address the media), but there should be a healthy amount of defensive players making the trek here to the media work room here at Lucas Oil Stadium, primarily defensive backs and safeties (as well as the linebackers and defensive linemen who didn’t talk yesterday).

A few quick hit thoughts before things really get started:

•Ndamukong Suh spoke to the media yesterday, and struck me as exceedingly well-balanced and extraordinarily mature, even when it appeared he was being baited into questions about who he thinks should go No. 1 in the draft. He handled every question with ease. This is a guy who is well-prepared for his time in the spotlight. “For me, I just like being No. 1 and striving for No. 1,” he said with a shrug. “As long as I put in the work, which I feel I have, and come here and perform and do everything that I’m asked of, that’s what I want to do. And then at that point in time, if I’m to be decided to be No. 1, I’d be happy. If I’m not, then get ready for that next team who wants me, and make the most of it.”

•Lots of Patriots talk here. From Nick Caserio’s 30-minute chat with reporters on Friday to the ex-Patriots front office guys and assistants (Thomas Dimitroff, Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini) to players (Brandon Graham, Jordan Shipley, Dexter McCluster), there’s been a lot of good New England-specific banter. Lots of receivers comparing themselves to Wes Welker, including Shipley, who said, “That’s not a bad comparison to me. I think that guy does job as good or better than anybody in the league. It’s almost like a separate position. He’s in there inside, and nobody can cover him.” And when it comes to Graham, he’s a guy who’s already familiar with the Patriots, thanks to his friendship with Pierre Woods. “He just said it was a great experience,” Graham said of his conversations about the Patriots with Woods. “He said it was just like Michigan — you love to hate them. They have a swagger about them and they take pride in what they do, and everybody in the building works hard. So get ready if you become a Patriot.”

•Don’t think that the Patriots are going to go crazy when free agency hits, even with an uncapped year looming. Caserio made it sound like the Patriots are going to approach it in the same way that many other teams have already made clear — there’s going to be a budget, and they’re going to stick to it. “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,” Caserio said. “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.”

Are Pats in Dwyer need?

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — Excluding the potential return of free agent Kevin Faulk, the Patriots have four bodies at running back. However, none of the four (Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis) are signed past next season. With none of them appearing to be a long-term solution even with a new contract, this could be the year that the team takes its first crack at landing a young started at the position since they swung and missed with Maroney in the first round in 2006.

A lot is riding on Dwyer's 40 time Sunday (AP).

A lot is riding on Dwyer's 40 time Sunday (AP).

The Patriots have already spoken to Ole Miss speedster Dexter McCluster, but they would plan on using him as a slot receiver. C.J. Spiller of Clemson will likely be gone in the first half of the first round and a selection of Jahvid Best, who missed his final four games at Cal with a concussion and a back injury, at No. 22 might be ill-advised considering the pass-rushers that will likely be on the board. Which brings them to the second round, where they have three picks and quite possibly could have their pick of the remaining backs in the draft.

With running backs scheduled to work out on Sunday, perhaps the one that Patriots fans should keep and eye on is Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer. With Maroney’s perceived inability to run straight ahead, the Patriots would be wise to take a long hard look at perhaps the draft’s most promising power back. It’s why they were scheduled to meed with him Saturday night and why, with a decent 40 time (he said Saturday that he plans on running between a 4.4 and a 4.5) he could be an ideal choice with the 44th overall pick.

“I’m going to be a different kind of back,” Dwyer said Saturday. “I could be the back who can make the home-run play [and] be physical. Every time I get the ball I’m going to make sure that it’s going to be positive yards. I just want to be a key factor in the offense for our team.”

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Griffen a questionable call

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — Southern California defensive end Everson Griffen is yet another name on the long list of college defensive ends who could find themselves lining up at outside linebacker in a 3-4.

griffen

Griffen addresses the media on Saturday.

“Whatever you need me at, I’ll play,” the projected late-first-to-mid-second-round pick said Saturday. “Just draft me. Give me a chance.”

Like Arizona State’s Dexter Davis said he was doing earlier in the day, Griffen said that he has been working on outside linebacker drops to prepare him for a potentially new position. Speaking at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, Griffen came across as defensive when addressing a myriad of topics, including his 6-foot-3, 273 pound frame.

“I think I’m one of the biggest defensive end/outside linebackers in this draft. [Being bigger] is good, because once I start with the combine drills I can show them that I have the range.”

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Sapp speaks

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — Those who have seen Clemson pass-rusher Ricky Sapp play know that he doesn’t need to be related to Warren to scare the the living daylights out of opposing quarterbacks.

sapp21The man projected to the Patriots with the 22nd overall pick took the podium Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Listed at 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 throughout his four years at Clemson, Sapp was measured at 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds at the Scouting Combine. While this certainly won’t keep him off too many draft boards, the Patriots’ historical unwillingness to budge from the benchmark of 6-foot-5 could mean trouble for his prospects of calling New England his next home.

“I wouldn’t think [two inches] would make any [difference],” Sapp said of the Belichick Line. “I know I could play in that scheme, so I’m just going to take it from here and go.”

At 6-foot-3, Sapp still remains one of the taller college defensive ends who will likely move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. His speed as a pass-rusher is what has made many feel he will be coveted in the mid-to-late first round area. He acknowledged that he needs to improve his play against the run, but while in Indianapolis he is making sure that teams walk away from him knowing his right knee, which was operated on in 2008, will not have an effect on his NFL career.

“My main thing coming to the combine was my knee and how strong it was,” Sapp said. “So far, everybody has said it looks good, so I’ve got a little confidence now.”

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McDaniels keeps New England to Denver pipeline open

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — When Josh McDaniels left the Patriots at the end of the 2008 season to take over as head coach in Denver, there was a handful of players who followed him to the Broncos.

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McDaniels meets the media this afternoon in Indianapolis. (DJ Bean Images)

Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, running back LaMont Jordan, long snapper Lonie Paxton, offensive lineman Russ Hochstein and defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith all ended up moving from Foxboro to Denver before the start of the 2009 season.

Many new coaches like to filch players from their own address — it helps the transitional process, especially in the locker room. One of the reasons the Patriots were so successful so quickly after Bill Belichick became head coach was because he brought many of his own guys with him to New England from his stops with the Jets and Browns.

But McDaniels said Saturday afternoon at the NFL Scouting Combine that the reason he ended up with so many ex-Patriots on his roster this past season was not to make the transition easier, but because he believed they could all still contribute.

“I think it was helpful because they were productive players, for the most part,” McDaniels said. “I think anytime you can add a player who’s a productive player and can play a role for your football team and help you win, it’s a good thing.

“We didn’t bring those players to Denver just because they were from New England. We brought them there because we thought they could help us win.”