|10 questions for Patriots as summer begins||06.14.16 at 3:51 pm ET|
With the spring OTAs coming to an end this week and minicamp done, here are 10 questions — in no particular order — we still have about the Patriots as the countdown to late July and training camp begins.
1. How soon can Julian Edelman return to full strength?
If you spend time obsessively monitoring social media, it appears there is some progress when it comes to the health of Edelman. He was healthy, he was in a walking boot (for some sort of procedure on the same foot he injured late last season) and now, it appears he’s out of the boot. He wasn’t on the field all spring, at least in the workouts the media got to see. It’s not like he needs a ton of reps to get up to speed with Tom Brady, but from this perspective, getting him on the field sooner rather than later would eliminate some of the uncertainty around his situation.
2. Was Aaron Dobson’s performance a tease, or something he can build on?
There were a ton of familiar faces on the offensive side of the ball missing from minicamp, but Dobson was the guy who did the best to take advantage of the opportunities he was given. He pretty much caught everything that was thrown in his direction over the course of the three days, but what impressed us the most was his compete level when going against cornerbacks. He consistently won the one-on-one battles, and flashed some moments of real talent. For a guy who has been a non-factor the last two years, the question is now whether or not he can build on that going forward into training camp as he continues to fight an uphill battle for a roster spot at the back end of the receivers’ depth chart.
3. Is Rob Gronkowski right when it comes to Jimmy Garoppolo?
We spend a lot of time talking to people like Gronkowski and Jeff Christiansen who know more than we do about Garoppolo and his development, and they all seem to believe that he’s ready to step in to start the year if Brady is sidelined because of Deflategate. And he certainly looked the part over the course of the spring workouts — while the Patriots’ didn’t necessarily increase his workload, he looked confident and polished, at least in the sessions that were open to the media. But the truth of the matter is that there’s no way of knowing what sort of quarterback Garoppolo will be when asked to take significant snaps. As Christiansen said, the opener on the road against the Cardinals would be a challenge for any signal-caller, but at the same time, three consecutive home games would appear to set up relatively nicely for the Eastern Illinois product. Ultimately, it’s a great unknown. Like Christiansen said, that’s why we buy the tickets, right?
4. Will we get some closure on Deflategate?
We are still waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to the en banc hearing, which means — as of this writing — there’s still uncertainly around the quarterback position for the first four games of the regular season. Short answer? The Patriots would love some clarity at quarterback sooner rather than later. For what it’s worth, they didn’t appear to deviate from the norm when it came to quarterback reps over the course of the spring workouts that were attended by the media, as it went Brady, Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett.
5. Can Cyrus Jones step in and start at nickel corner?
Over the course of the spring workouts — both minicamp and OTAs — it was hard not to notice how comfortable the rookie out of Alabama looked while playing alongside starting defensive backs like Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty. At this stage of the offseason, when it comes to first-year players, all you’re looking for is that they aren’t consistent error-repeaters. And while it was hard to judge defense because there were no pads on, Jones looked to have no issues when it came to keeping up with the veterans. He’ll certainly bear watching when training camp comes around, but at this point, he appears to be headed in the right direction as a third/nickel corner. In addition, with no Edelman or Danny Amendola on the field, he had plenty of chances to work as a punt returner. While he bobbled a few, he looks like he’s certainly going to be part of the conversation at that position in 2016.
|Sebastian Vollmer: ‘We don’t need extra motivation for anything’||05.17.16 at 4:22 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sebastian Vollmer wasn’t about to take the bait.
The 34-year-old veteran offensive tackle took time out from his offseason workout Tuesday at Gillette Stadium and spoke about the process of moving on and building something new for the coming season.
When last we saw the right tackle entering his eighth season in the NFL, he was playing left tackle on a make-shift offensive line that was manhandled by the defensive front of the eventual Super Bowl champion. It was a performance that precipitated the departure of offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and ushered in the return of Dante Scarnecchia.
Did the way the season ended last year (losses in Miami and Denver) factor into inspiration for this year?
“It’s a new year. I feel like we don’t need extra motivation for anything,” Vollmer said. “I think we come out here and try to better yourself as a player, as a team, as a group, all that stuff. Putting in these hours and working toward the common goal. Now, it’s getting ready for OTAs next week and then we have training camp coming up and all that stuff. So, it’s a long road ahead. But it’s just doing what we’re told to do and grinding it out, really.
“It’s good. There’s a lot of new teammates, obviously,” Vollmer said of the re-worked offensive line. “It’s exciting for us to get to know them and all get on the same page with OTAs starting next week. Exciting times.”
Exciting indeed. Naturally, everyone wanted to get a feel for what it’s like to have Scarnecchia back in the budiling.
“Obviously, had him my first five years. Excellent coach. Can’t praise him high enough. So obviously, us as players we’re asked to do to the best of our abilities. We’re going to keep that approach the same. Expecting good things. I think he expects the best of us and himself. I think just the way he coaches, detail-oriented. He just gets the best out of you.”
Vollmer downplayed the familiarity aspect of Scarnecchia.
|Josh McDaniels: Dante Scarnecchia ‘an incredible guy to have on our staff’||05.03.16 at 3:22 pm ET|
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was as happy as anyone when it came to the return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and said as much when he met the media on Monday.
“This is one of the guys I would credit with teaching me a lot of the things that I’ve been fortunate enough to learn while I’ve been here in New England and pro football,” McDaniels said of Scarnecchia. “I have the utmost respect for him as a coach, and even more as a person. He’s an incredible guy to have on our staff. He’s a tremendous asset for me and for everybody else in the building. He’s works as hard as anybody else does. He’s as knowledgeable about offense, offensive line or anything else associated with that as anybody that I could imagine. And he’ll be a tremendous benefit to our team and to our offense this year.”
|Mike Petraglia, Chris Price on Dante Scarnecchia, Steve Belichick, Patriots 2016 draft||05.02.16 at 3:10 pm ET|
FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price break down the return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and what it means to the future of the offensive line, new safeties coach Steve Belichick and his football relationship to his dad and recap the Patriots 2016 draft and what to expect from some of the higher profile selections in their upcoming rookie season.
FOXBORO — The 68-year-old Dante Scarnecchia knows full well what he’s getting back into.
The new Patriots offensive line coach returned this January after two years off and on Monday, at Gillette Stadium, he strolled down the hallway from the team offices and explained why he came out of retirement.
“After the season, maybe two weeks after the season, my wife and I were out in California doing some stuff for the University of the Pacific and got a call and asked if I would be interested in coming back. Over the next probably 8-to-10 days, we decided to come back. Basically, that’s it.
“It is a tough decision because you get pretty used to a very nice lifestyle. I like retirement. Retirement was great. It was a lot of fun. We saw things we hadn’t seen ever, took trips and spent a lot of time with our grandkids. All that was great and, to a degree, it’s very hard to give up. We talked about it, my wife and I, and decided this would be a good thing on a lot of different levels, as far as the grandkids being able to come to the games for free and just be part of it all.
“And I like coaching football. I love coaching football. I didn’t retire because I didn’t like coaching football. I retired because I got tired of the lifestyle. After two years off, I’m OK.”
Scarnecchia, who still worked out the likes of Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming in retirement, insisted that the offensive line problems at the end of the season that cost Dave DeGuglielmo his job did not factor in his return. “None,” was Coach Scar’s one-word reply to the question.
Scarnecchia, who began his Patriots coaching career in 1982, made it very clear that if it weren’t for the unique situation of Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and the Patriots, he’d still be enjoying retirement.
“I think the number one thing is if you decide to go back into coaching, you’re kind of at the mercy of the business, that is to say, ‘Who’s going to hire you and where do you have to go?’ So, what makes it unique is that we’re here and everything’s the same and that really makes it easy,” Honestly, I probably would not have gotten back into coaching had I had to to go somewhere else because I was going by myself. She ain’t going. OK? Let’s get that straight. And really, I can’t leave my kids and grandkids. I couldn’t do that.”
|Joe Thuney sees himself ‘more of an interior guy’ on Patriots O-Line, looks forward to Dante Scarnecchia||04.30.16 at 1:20 am ET|
FOXBORO — As the Patriots learned last season, versatility along the offensive line can come in real handy.
In an effort to stockpile depth along the offensive line and to stay younger, the Patriots took one of the more versatile quality offensive linemen available with their second pick of the night on Friday. They selected Joe Thuney out of North Carolina State.
How versatile was the talent worked out by Dante Scarnecchia before the draft? He started four of the five positions on the offensive line, with center being the only position missing from his impressive resume. The Patriots covered that angle by having Thuney snap some balls for Scarnecchia during the workout.
Where does Thuney (silent ‘H’) see himself fitting in?
“I think I see myself as more of an interior guy: more as guard, center. If it gets to a pinch in the game, I can go at tackle but it’s really wherever coach wants me to play. And I have experience at all five so wherever he sees me best, I think that’s the best fit for me,” Thuney said.
“Just on the interior, I feel more comfortable. I don’t have the typical length of a typical NFL tackle but I feel like I move and pull and have the leverage on the interior”
“Throughout college I’ve always been open to whatever position the coaches needed. I’ve never had a set position in mind. As the process has gone on further and further, I’ve kind of realized where my strengths lie as a player and I think that the interior probably is where the coaches see that.”
Thuney, who said he hasn’t been told where he’ll play exactly, enters an environment where he’ll be competing against the likes of Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson for playing time along the interior line.
|How do Patriots handle possible pre-draft disconnect between coaches, scouts on college prospects?||04.21.16 at 10:26 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots have cycled through a handful of positional coaches the last few seasons, including at offensive line, linebackers and safeties. With the great majority of those coaching changes coming in late winter/early spring — the late stages of the pre-draft process — it’s natural to wonder how much if at all those coaching changes might impact their approach heading into draft weekend.
Regardless of how long they’ve been around Foxboro, the coaches enter into the evaluation process much later than the scouts — they’ve been focused on the team all season long while the scouts have focused on the prospects. That’s not to say that the positional coaches aren’t on the pro day trail: Ivan Fears (running backs) and Dante Scarnecchia (offensive line) are just two coaches who have been routinely spotted on campuses in recent years.
But ultimately, when it comes to the pre-draft process, it doesn’t matter how long the coach has been on staff. Patriots personnel guru Nick Caserio said earlier this week that it’s a collaborative effort between scouts, coaches and the front office. And while some prospects are debated more than others, it’s something that involves everyone involved.
“The coaches are involved in the process,” he said earlier this week. “You’re trying to take all the information, put it all together, and then make an assessment of how you feel that player is going to adjust or project what you’re going to ask them to do. Like I said, sometimes it takes players a little bit longer relative to others. There’s a lot of information that goes back and forth. There’s a lot of dialogue.”
One of the things this offseason that has likely helped offset any transitional issues is that the changes that have been made on the coaching staff have been kept mostly in house. Brian Flores moved from coaching the safeties to the linebackers, while Stephen Belichick moved from his previous role as a coaching assistant to the safeties. And after two years in “retirement,” Scarnecchia has returned to coach the offensive line.
While there’s always the possibility of a disconnect between a new coach, the scouting staff and the rest of the front office on a college prospect, when you have assistants who came of age in the New England system, the possibility of philosophical differences arising are minimized.
“In the end we’re trying to get it right the best we can,” Caserio said of the pre-draft evaluation process. “The reality is that the way the draft is designed it doesn’t always work out. I mean honestly, at times, it’s a 50-50 coin flip. That’s just the reality of it. So even if you think it’s going to go a certain way, it may not go and you try to figure out, ‘OK, well what can we do better or how can we adjust it?’
“We’re always trying to look at different ways of doing things, (looking) at our processes — whether that’s playing, whether that’s coaching, whether that’s scouting, whether that’s in the weight room,” he added. “Just (trying) to figure out if there’s something that we can improve how can we improve it and then how do we implement that improvement moving forward.”
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