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Nick Caserio: Draft is only one part of an ongoing team-building process

04.23.13 at 12:07 am ET
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FOXBORO — Despite the fact that the initial wave of free agency is complete and the draft will soon be done, the team-building process doesn’€™t stop when the calendar flips from April to May.

In fact, once Mr. Irrelevant hears his name called on Saturday of draft weekend, the process is really just getting started. The 24 to 48 hours after the draft is always a crazy stretch, as each team around the league scrambles to find the best available talent in the form of undrafted and rookie free agents. Historically, the Patriots have always managed to find at least one player who ends up being a serious contributor down the road.

‘€œRookie free agents always play a big role in the draft,’€ Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said Monday. ‘€œIf you just look at our track record through the years: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Dane Fletcher, Justin Francis, Marcus Forston, Brandon Bolden, those guys last year. They’€™re always part of the equation.’€

On the current roster, there are 29 players who were undrafted, and while not all of them initially signed with New England, many of them figure to play some sort of role with the 2013 Patriots, including Fletcher and Bolden, as well as long snapper Danny Aiken; wide receiver Danny Amendola; cornerback Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole; tight end Jake Ballard; offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald and Ryan Wendell, and defensive lineman Kyle Love. They all went undrafted, but still found a spot on an NFL roster.

Ultimately, the signing and development of those players are a large part of the team-building process, and this year should be no exception, particularly because the Patriots have only five draft picks. It’€™s the lowest amount New England has had since Bill Belichick took over before the 2000 season.

‘€œJust from a sheer numbers standpoint, the roster is right around — let’€™s call it 70 players, give or take. So we’€™re going to be adding 20 more players to the team before we go to training camp,’€ Caserio said.

‘€œThat could come from draft picks, it could come from undrafted free agents. Whether or not they play a larger role this year, possibly. There are still street free agents that are available. You’€™re always looking at a multitude of ways to put your team together. We’€™ll take 90 to training camp and then we’€™ll go from there.’€

Ultimately, the draft is another step in the overall assemblage of the roster, which will also inevitably include more free agent activity between now and the start of the season.

‘€œI think the draft is part of the process. Really, the team-building exercise, it kind of never stops. It’€™s ongoing, specific to one segment of the year,’€ Caserio said. ‘€œThe team-building process is non-stop. It’€™s ongoing. Once we get post-draft, there might even be a period during training camp … like Rob Ninkovich, just to pick a name. I think we signed him the first week of August in 2009 in training camp. Rob has ended up being one of the better players we’€™ve had in our program. It’€™s constant and ongoing.

‘€œIt never stops. In the end, the most important thing is try to do whatever we can to help our team win games. Whatever shape that takes, then that’€™s what we’€™ll do.’€

Here are some other highlights of Caserio’€™s Monday afternoon Q&A with the media:

You guys have five draft picks. In the past you’€™ve talked about the flexibility having a lot of picks give you. With so few picks, do you go into this draft with the mindset of trying to create more flexibility for yourselves?

‘€œThat sort of materializes in and of itself. Even going into the draft last year, we really hadn’€™t had any substantive discussions about moving up or moving down. It just kind of happened to materialize once we were in the draft room and once we were on the phone. Could that happen when we get to the draft Thursday night? Possibly. But if we don’€™t, if we have five, we have five picks. We’€™ll take it as it comes. I don’€™t think it changes our philosophy. We’€™re going to know the board top to bottom like we do every year. If there is an opportunity that presents itself that makes sense, then we’€™ll consider it. I think you always have to be prepared to pick, regardless of how many picks that you have.’€

Would you like to have more picks?

‘€œWe’€™ll take whatever we can get. However we get them, we’€™ll take them. If we end up with five, we end up with five. If we get more, we get more.’€

How often does it happen where you just get stuck? Maybe you want to move but you can’€™t because there’€™s no one to move with?

‘€œI think when you go into the draft, you know going in, ‘€˜OK, you have X amount of selections that you’€™re going to make.’€™ You have to be prepared every time your name comes up. That doesn’€™t change from one year to the next. However many picks you have, you make the pick and if there’€™s an opportunity that’€™s out there that makes sense for you to move either way then you consider if it’€™s the best thing for ourselves at the time, then we’€™ll do it.’€

I’€™ve heard a lot of people say there’€™s depth but not it’€™s not that elite that it’€™s even across the board. Does that dynamic make it a little less predictable when you’€™re trying to forecast what will happen in front of you?

‘€œI’€™d say on a year-to-year basis, the top of the draft is, there are a handful of guys that are pretty certain and then really after that, they could come off the board in any number of different ways. I don’€™t think anything really surprises you anymore when you get to this point. I’€™d say this year really isn’€™t any different than any other years, at least from our perspective. That’€™s just our belief and our opinion. There are a lot of good football players that you’€™re going to be able to find: early, late, after the draft. They’€™re out there. You just have to find them. In the end, you have to take players that you feel fit your team the best. If you like the player, then you pick the player, wherever that is.’€

When you’€™re drafting as low as you’€™ve typically drafted, down in the 20s, how much time do you spend trying to forecast what’€™s going to happen in front of you or is that a waste of time?

‘€œIt’€™s difficult but let’€™s just say, we stay at 29, there are going to be 28 players that come off the board. How are they going to come off the board, its kind of hard to tell. You may have some degree of knowledge or you may have a feel one way or another of what a team may be looking at based on your research and analysis going through team-by-team needs analysis. But where we’€™re picking, it’€™s hard to say, ‘€˜These 28 players, they’€™re going to be gone when we pick.’€™ That’€™s a little bit of a dice roll. If it works out that way, then so be it. But I would say by and large, it probably doesn’€™t.’€

When pick you a guy as a college captain, how much does that figure into the résumé in your overall approach?

‘€œIt’€™s just part of their profile. Sometimes a captain is liked by the team, sometimes a captain is liked by the coach. But I think in the end, you’€™re just trying to look at the entire profile and the player’€™s body of work: his performance on the field, his character, his intangibles, his makeup, those types of things. It speaks to the player obviously, that they’€™ve done something right in their career and the players think highly of them and the coaches think highly of them. You take that into consideration but it’€™s just a part of the broader picture that you’€™re trying to establish on the player.’€

Does the spread offense keep it at a primitive level or does it make it a little more sophisticated where you’€™re able to find guys that are a little more polished?

‘€œI think it depends on the system because each team kind of employs it differently. The pace has definitely come into play at the collegiate level. That could also simplify some things because some teams say, ‘€˜OK, we have a menu of plays one through ten and essentially they have to memorize them’€™. So if one word means one thing, it kind of tells everybody what to do. Or we’€™ve talked to some players where they’€™ve looked to the sideline and there are five coaches signaling to the players, one for each position. So OK, one player is looking at this coach, another player is looking at that coach, so they’€™re focused on one thing only. So I think you have to look at the system and then I think you have to do your research and just look at a variety of different things. To what extent the schematic, how complicated it may or may not be, the terminology that’€™s involved, what they’€™re asking of the player. It’€™s not necessarily the spread and passing oriented, I think it’€™s really system specific and what they ask those players to do and then you have to make a determination, ‘€˜OK, how is that going to translate or not translate? Or we’€™re starting at Point A and this is what we have to do to get them to Point B. Or this player is a little bit further along.’€™ That’€™s where you have to do your own homework and make that determination, ‘€˜OK, here’€™s what we think moving forward.’€™’€

Are California and Southern California pro-style offenses? They have receivers, Keenan Allen and Robert Woods, I’€™m wondering if they would be a little bit farther along.

‘€œIf you look at just the Cal program, Coach [Jeff] Tedford [was] a great coach for a number of years. They run a pretty sophisticated offense. They ask those players to do a number of things. Coach [Lane] Kiffin has an NFL background. He’€™s implemented some of those philosophies into his offense. I think you have to look at it on a team-by-team relative basis. In the end though, you still have to do your own homework and see, ‘€˜OK, well here’€™s what they were asked to do. Maybe we’€™re going to ask them to do that. Here’€™s what we’€™re going to ask them to do. How are they going to be able to execute that? Are they going to be able to retain it? Are they going to be able to learn?’€™ Etcetera.’€

What’€™s your wish list in terms of needs?

‘€œI think our wish list is to improve the team. That’€™s the bottom line. Like I said, it all goes back to whatever we need to do help the team win games, then that’€™s what we’€™ll do. We’€™re going to add players that we feel can help us win, that’€™s what we’€™re going to try to do.’€

How do you go about weighing the options if a better player falls to you, compared to one that better fits a pressing need?

‘€œI think you just have to look at how the players come off. We’€™ll go through each stack horizontally and vertically. We’€™ve done the vertical stack which is by position then you start to work across. Then you just look at it in relative terms. Really you just have to make a determination. You can only pick one player so there’€™s a lot of things that I would say come into play: short term, long term. You pick the player that you feel is best for your team and that’€™s what you do.’€

Being three days out, will you guys still go on the road these last couple days?

‘€œWe have, we have. That’€™s something that I’€™ve done personally. We have some coaches that may or may not be doing that. We’€™re just trying to make sure there are no loose ends that are out there. We talked about this last year: I went the day before the draft, I can’€™t even remember the year it was, I went and worked the player out. It’€™s just another exposure that you can have. Maybe there’€™s something that’€™s dangling out there that you’€™re uncertain of. You can go see the players up until the draft. You can go out there Thursday morning and work the guy out, if they’€™re willing to do it.’€

In past years, who have been some guys that have been last minute visits that have panned out well for this team?

‘€œWe spend a lot of time in the spring working on a number of players. It’€™s a significant amount of players. The reason we do it is because we feel that it’€™s time well spent. We’€™re going to invest the time and we feel it’€™s worthwhile. I wouldn’€™t say there’€™s one player in particular. We work out a lot of players and we’€™re just trying to make sure that in the end we get it right and this way, we can make the right decision for our team.’€

Has your role changed much this year compared to previous years, specifically with contracts?

‘€œI think everybody understands what their job and what their role is organizationally. I would just say that over the past few years, my role really hasn’€™t changed all that much. Whatever everybody is asked to do, everybody does their job and tries to do it to the best of their availability.’€

Has the spread offense changed what you have to look for in defensive players?

‘€œI think what you’€™re finding in college is they’€™re taking ‘€“ we’€™ve talked to a number of players that they’€™re playing defensive line more than linebacker, that they were a defensive back or they played corner in high school and they were recruited as an athlete. The overall speed and athleticism, I’€™d say is taken on sort of a life of its own. If you look at a program like Alabama, they’€™re big, strong, physical, tough. They run the football and they’€™ve been pretty successful the past few years. The players have been asked to do some different things. Even offensively, just going to back to that real quick ‘€“ sometimes you never see an offensive lineman literally put his hand down in a three-point stance. The only way you can figure out if a guy can actually do it is to go work the guy out and see if he can bend his knees, see if he can come out of a stance. Ninety percent of the guy’€™s plays, the guy is in a two-point stance and he’€™s trying to run block, down block in a two-point stance. Is that the most effective way to do it? It works both ways. Offensive players and defensive players but you’€™ve seen what teams have done. They’€™ve taken some players that have played other positions and kind of bulked them up a little bit and let them put their hand down, at least on the front seven and let them rush the passer, chase the ball or use their athleticism, use their speed.’€

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