Tuesday, July 25, 2006

TRAINING CAMP BECKONS

Ahh, training camp for the Patriots is so close that I can almost smell the sweaty offensive linemen going through the running drill as I stand at the Mansfield train station in the morning. Nope, sorry, the stench is the sweaty guy standing next to me.

Anyway, if I see one more article called
The Top Ten Questions the Patriots Need to Answer
Or
Seven Difficult Questions in Foxborough
I swear I will explode. There are questions for every team every year. No matter who they are, there are roster, health, and contract questions. Let me put everyone at ease and answer all of these so-called burning questions:

Question 1: Why have the Patriots insisted on playing this doomed season
considering that Adam Vinatieri is in Indianapolis?
Umm, there is one player who is irreplaceable on the roster, and the last time I checked, he was still listed as number twelve on the roster. The Patriots have simply not had nor needed a clutch kick since beating the Panthers in the Super Bowl. As I recall, number four was not perfect in that game. Vinatieri is not the same kicker he was in 2000. Heck, he proved that by hand-selecting his destination as a turf-covered, dome-covered environment. The legacy does not look good when the heart is willing and the leg is not. Do not get me wrong, I think Vinatieri is the greatest clutch kicker in football history. Short of never seeing that hideous Bernie & Phyl commercial he made, there is little upside to losing an All-Pro kicker. However, his pricetag and his want to kick in a more friendly environment fueled his leaving New England. He had no intention of coming back. But the fact remains, the Adam Vinatieri of the past two years was very average and is entirely replaceable.

Question 2: Why have the Patriots insisted on playing this doomed season
considering that Willie McGinest is in Cleveland?
With apologies to Will Smith (the family friendly rapper slash movie star slash Fresh Prince not the New Orleans defensive lineman), Big Willie Style was when smacking and sacking was going on on the gridiron from the days of the Tuna through the Pete Carroll era (error?) and in the Belichick/Pioli glory days. Big Willie was the defensive swagger on the team (sorry Ty Law, but no one buys a swaggering defensive back). The Patriots could have brought him back, but no one in their right mind would pay him to play in New England for what Cleveland is paying him. Why? Quick, name a Cleveland Browns linebacker. No, the guy you are thinking of who leveled Bledsoe with a cheap shot is out of the league. Romeo Crennel is trying to install credibility. Much like Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton at the beginning of the Belichick era, the coach needed coaches on the field, and for that he needed veterans he could trust. In New England in 2006, Willie McGinest would be the overpaid, aging, back-up outside linebacker. In Cleveland in 2006, he is the validation of the system Romeo Crennel has installed and the coach on the field. To Cleveland he is priceless, and that is why they could overpay him. The Patriots? Well, last I checked there were Mike Vrabel and Roosevelt Colvin to man the outside, with Tully Banta-Cain ready to step-up and take a larger role.

Question 3: Look, look! You said Vrabel will be at outside linebacker!
That means there in no one inside. Can the Patriots seriously go into the
season with uber-bust Monty Beisel at an inside linebacker spot?
Listen, chump. I would like to see you try to play a position you had never played before, be responsible for the defensive calls for the first time in your career, and at the same time be expected to replace Tedy Bruschi. To say that Beisel struggled is an understatement; however, to say he had improved immensely by the end of the playoffs would be dead-on accurate. With Bruschi back, Beisel can slide to the inside position off the line of scrimmage and drop into coverage or use his speed to run to the ballcarrier rather than try to bust through offensive linemen and the fullback all the time. The linebackers are again a strength, and although the depth is young, there is at last depth.

Question 4: Why have the Patriots insisted on playing this doomed season
considering that David Givens is in Tennessee?
David Givens wanted to be THE Man. In New England, he knew he would never be THE Man. He wanted the validation of the big money. Good for him, I say. He was a seventh round pick who worked his tail off to get a chance at a big payday. This is one guy I will not fault for taking the moolah. That said, Chad Jackson is a more talented receiver than Givens ever would be. Whether he will be a better receiver depends on his effort and execution. Reche Caldwell is an interesting receiving prospect. Tim Dwight and Andre Davis, by the way, were horrible at wide receiver. This is addition by subtraction as far as those two were concerned. Sure, the Patriots will miss Givens a little, but then again, with more playing time for Big Ben Watson, maybe they will not.

Question 5: Why have the Patriots insisted on playing this doomed season
considering that Doug Flutie is chilling in Natick?

Is Matt Cassell ready to assume the number two quarterback mantle? Sure, why not. He cannot be any worse than Rohan Davey. Can the Pats go with two quarerbacks on the roster? Why not, it certainly frees up a roster spot. By the way, if Brady is out, it does not matter if Cassell, Flutie, Jay Fiedler, or I am the back-up quarterback. At that point, it is over.

Question 6: Corey Dillon is pissed-off! Is he just a slow, big-mouth,
moody malcontent who will drag down the team?

First, let me address all the jerks who blasted Dillon last season as he tried to play through pain and help the team: You are all #$&^%* idiots! That felt good. Second, Dillon says he will be healthy. If he is healthy, he will be effective. With Laurence Maroney around, Dillon will be motivated. The Bill Belichick/Scott Pioli regime gave Dillon all the motivation he needs for the next three years while Maroney has all the time in the world to settle into the role of future lead back. An insurance policy. A motivating tool. A great draft pick.

Question 7: Why have the Patriots insisted on playing this doomed season
considering that Ty Law is in Kansas City?
I thought Ty Law did not get along with Herm Edwards last year? Happy Herm must not be too thrilled to have Law back telling him what he can do with his Cover-2 scheme. Anyway, Ty has made it clear all along that the ecstacy in the bag belonged to his cousin when he was stopped at the Canadian border after the Bills game all those years ago and that he was following the dollar signs. I am comfortable with Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs at cornerback. In fact, I cannot wait to watch Ellis Hobbs play this season. He was great as a rookie, and with Randall Gay healthy and pushing for the number two corner position, the cornerbacks should be a strength (if they stay healthy for once).

Question 8: Can Rodney Harrison return to form?
How the heck do I know? But I will tell you this: as the management in San Diego learned the hard way, I would NEVER bet against the man.

Question 9: What about the offensive line?

What about it? They lost Tom Ashworth, the back-up to the back-up tackle. Hmm, not exactly a major loss in my book. Two key blockers returning from season-ending injuries (Matt Light and Dan Koppen) and two battle-tested second year players (Nick Kazcur and Logan Mankins) and they re-signed Steven Neal, who should be going to the Pro Bowl. All in all, they look pretty good.

Question 10: Will the Patriots re-sign Deion Branch?

Duh. Of course they will. It may take a little time, but Branch will be in the fold at a reasonable number. He is not a Steve Smith/T.O./Marvin Harrison type number one because the Patriots system will not allow him to put up those kinds of numbers, but he is a second-tier number one, and will end up getting fairly compensated. No doubt about it. This is such a resolvable issue, it is really a non-issue.

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