Potentially Patriots: Part 6 - Spit it out...

Did you never gave a damn in the first place,

Maybe it’s time you had the tables turned

Cause in the interest of all involved I got the problem solved

And the verdict is guilty…

Indeed, problem solved.  Bill Belichick knows that last season’s shortcomings were directly related to a few miscalculations in personnel, particularly with the pass catching entities.

He gets it.  He’s guilty.  But if there’s one thing we know about the Patriots head coach is that making the same mistake twice is something that crawls right under his skin, so he has a plan to make sure that what happened last season never happens again…

The two-headed monster of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are looking forward to hopefully a healthy season.

…because we do give a damn, despite Slipknot’s claim to the contrary.  We’re paying attention, but not necessarily to lay blame on anyone or to indict the system – a system that has won double digit AFC East crowns in Belichick’s tenure, in each of those seasons fielding the best team with the best coaching staff in the NFL, yet have just three trophies to show for it.

Do we have a right to expect more than that?  Damned right we do, because in a system that prides itself on excellence, to not win a Lombardi is a disappointment.  Winning the division isn’t enough.  Just being thankful to play in the conference title game doesn’t cut it.  The only thing that makes the nut is winning the Super Bowl.

Fair or not, that’s the bar that Belichick has set for the organization and that’s the standard that he wants to be held to, so we do have the right and the responsibility to expect that from a team this good, and Slipknot reminds us of this, indirectly as it may be, that anyone that’s been in this game as long as Belichick has isn’t in it for the money, nor the glory, nor the fame.

No, a man that has coached football as long as Belichick has does the job for one reason: To dominate his opponent and earn the trophy…

All you wanna do is drag me down;

All I wanna do is stamp you out.

Yet, I wonder what the chances are that Bill Belichick sits alone in his office at Gillette Stadium with nothing but the New England Patriots play book and a yellow highlighter, door closed, getting cranked on some Slipknot?

Is anyone ready for that?  The idea that a 60 year old leverage junkie with serious designs on dominating the National Football League is hunkered down in a room where the only illumination comes from the incandescent light of his stereo’s digital display, a faint curling smile escaping his face – furiously scribbling in a notebook, the music cranked to 11 – designing ways to use his fine corps of tight ends…

Not many outside of Foxboro can conceive that notion, but the people who do understand it can’t be happy that Belichick had found additional motivation in the percussion-heavy nu metal stylings of a bunch of masked degenerates from Iowa…

…and, whatever.  Everyone knows that Belichick is a Bon Jovi fan, so theres not much chance of training camp turning into a gigantic mosh pit but Patriots fans couldn’t be more thrilled.

You see, the promise of turning these tight ends loose has been waning for some time now, though Belichick can hardly be blamed.  Injury robbed the team of the juggernaut last season and there’s nothing that can be done about that – however, there’s plenty that he can do about the upcoming season.

Find athletic depth for starters.  When the 2012 season began in Tennessee against the Titans, Belichick gave us a little preview of what was to come:  Loaded down with Tight Ends and running backs, the Patriots were conspicuously short on wide receivers, and this was by design.

In the “3”, “13” and “23” Personnel packages, Belichick was counting on his two headed monster of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski to be the focal point of an offense that used three tight end sets to force the defense to go with their bigger packages, making any effort to disguise coverages void of success.

The goal of an offense is to force the defense to defend the entire field, but it’s tough to defend the the entire field when a quarterback like Tom Brady has his offense set within 10 seconds of the end of the previous play, surveys the field to identify the weakness in the coverage and defeats you before the ball is even snapped with a simple audible putting the defense in the wrong coverage – being able to do nothing about it short of calling a time out, and there’s only so many of those lying around.

So with the versatile Hernandez being able to line up just about anywhere in the formation, the plan was to move him around to create a mismatch for him while holding the defense in their stances for 15 to 20 agonizing seconds.  If the defense adjusted on the fly and doubled Hernandez, Gronk was open, or Lloyd was open, or Ridley or Vereen would take the trap draw for 5 or 6 yards. Coordinators could identify what was happening, but were powerless to stop it…

…until Hernandez suffered a major ankle injury in the second game of the season.  Suddenly the Patriots were ordinary – just like everyone else – reverting back to the 2011 offense with Welker as the focus, a brilliant Plan B on the part of Belichick, but a plan that took time to adjust back to, given the fact that when Hernandez went down, Lloyd, Welker and Edelman were the only receivers on the roster.

The Patriots can not afford to get caught short on depth this time around.  The receiving corps have to be solid and backed up appropriately with similarly skilled athletes.  First Hernandez went down, then Gronkowski.  Had the Patriots a like-skilled backup the results of the past two seasons probably would have been much different.

Belichick noted that last offseason, and brought in Visanthe Shiancoe to back up the monsters, but he landed on the non-season ending IR and the team was forced to look at Kellen Winslow for one uneventful game before realizing that a switch back to the 2011 offense was the only option they had, and when they finally committed to it the Patriots offense adapted quickly and the result was a protracted winning streak.

With that in mind, some Patriots fans are in a panic due to the fact that none of last year’s wide receivers are still on the roster.  Welker defected to Denver, Lloyd was cut and Edelman is in free agency limbo.  The team has signed Danny Amendola as a solid #2 and also have brought in marginal talent in Donald Jones and Mike Jenkins, but neither project as the game breaking vertical threat that would force the defenses too thin to defend the entire field…

…so help is needed in the draft.  There are so many options and the talent pool is so deep that it’s easy to see Belichick trading out of the 1st round and snagging the players that he wants in the second and third rounds which, coincidentally, is where most of the players that fit the Patriots scheme sit waiting the call from Dollar Bill:

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (High 1st round projection)

The only player on the Big Board that would be a slam-dunk, take with the #29 pick.  Too bad he’s not going to be there.

Explosive talent with cartoonish athleticism, his change of direction skill seem to defy physics, leaving would be tacklers grasping as haplessly at a vapor trail as Wile E. Coyote.  reaches full speed a split second after his plant and cut and has a special “Roadrunner” gear to blow past defenders like they were standing still.

Peripheral vision second to none, and has the start-stop and lateral cutback ability not seen since Barry Sanders came out of Oklahoma State.  Small, but has proven durable and tough and his patience and vision while running in space almost seem scripted and rehearsed as it looks so effortless.

Equally dangerous taking the handoff in the backfield as he is getting the ball in space, but also has shown the toughness to carry the ball between the tackles, using his pinball-like suddenness to bound through the hole.

A rare talent and perhaps the only player in the draft that Belichick would be excused for mortgaging a few draft picks to move up for.

Keenan Allen, WR, California (1st Round projection)

Questions regarding a knee injury that sidelined him for the final three games last season have caused some teams to question the wisdom of selecting Allen in the 1st round, or at all.

A very good receiver, good size, catches everything with his hands and a long, tapered build with prototypical height for the position.  Good initial quickness and is a smooth accelerator with sneaky build-up speed. Natural big play threat with very good hand-eye coordination and a wide catching radius due to his length, flexibility and big hands. Tracks the ball well over his shoulder. Experienced route-runner who has extensive experience lining up outside and in the slot.

Shows a natural savvy running his routes, altering his speeds…so, what’s the problem?  He doesn’t have elite speed to begin with and the knee injury could not have helped his time and may have robbed him of some elusiveness.  At his best, a true #1, but is he at his best?

Robert Woods, WR, USC (Late 1st/Early 2nd Round projection)

It has been opined that Woods was responsible for making USC Quarterback Matt Barkley, and his showing at USC’s pro day may have confirmed that with many a scout.

Not sudden by any means, he is instead a natural route runner, smooth in acceleration and floats under even errant passes.  A lot of screens and asked to create on his own with good vision with the ball in his hands. Deceiving strength to come down with contested grabs with the toughness and fearless attitude to fight for every yard and go over the middle.

Can be outmuscled in a scrum but can compete for the ball in the air.  There’s nothing particularly impressive at all about him other than he is somehow consistently excellent – a steady Marvin Harrison type player who does it with guile and less than elite speed and size.

Good 2nd round value.

Terrence Williams, WR, Baylor (2nd Round projection)

“Gliding athlete” is how many scouting reports describe RG3’s former number two from Baylor.  That just sounds nice.  Gliding athlete.  Smooth acceleration and long-striding speed. Good body control and balance for his size with smooth transitions and movements.

A legitimate vertical threat  that has an extra gear which apparently can’t be measured on the track.  He’s not your classic burner, but his long gait and smooth shifting helps gain separation.  Tracks the ball well downfield and will work his way back to a scrambling quarterback and show him his numbers.

Reports have surfaced of him being somewhat high-maintenance if he doesn’t get the ball as much as he thinks he should, and there are questions regarding his desire, as he tends to sit down after catching the ball at times and not looking to gain yards after the catch.

Markus  Wheaton, WR, Oregon State (2nd Round projection)

Perhaps the most NFL ready receiver in regards to the press coverages, which he routinely beats in practice everyday and on the gridiron on Saturdays.  Excellent track speed that translates to the field and displays a quick burst of the line which will eat up a cushion, so he is also very good against off man and zones.

Beats press with an excellent swim move and gains separation with solid route technique and razor sharp cuts, and may be the most fundamentally sound pass catcher in the class.

The most natural deep ball receiver in the pool and has the ability to glide underneath the ball, and has hands of glue.  Looks to gain yardage after the catch but generally finds himself in space with room to improvise, which he does with a purpose.

Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech (Late 2nd / Early 3rd Round projection)

Rogers is a virtual Julio Jones clone, exhibiting an exciting combination of size, strength and explosiveness – also shows an Anquan Boldin type toughness that can’t be coached.

It is interesting that competing in the SEC against top corner talent, Rogers proved too strong and physical to consider pressing and when given free release has the speed and route discipline to gain separation easily, creating many explosive plays.

Lines up outside and is a legitimate vertical threat and has the versatility to be a Hernandez-type slot receiver, requiring more than just a corner to handle is physical style.

This is the guy.  He is a legit first round talent that found his way out of Tennessee because he couldn’t quit smoking pot – but since being at Tennessee Tech, he’s tested cleanly for the past year and is looking to prove he’s as good as any receiver in the draft – and he can be had in the late 2nd round unless some other team gets all excited over his potential and doesn’t mind “babysitting” him on the pot issue.

Gavin Escobar, TE/H-Back, San Diego State (3rd Round projection)

His physical talent and raw size and power make him the ideal hybrid tight end for New England’s “3” packages.  Is a physical load as a mauling blocker, and shows the athleticism to chip the defensive end and release into the pattern.

Attacks the seam and drags defenders for extra yardage.  Natural pass-catcher with excellent hand-eye coordination and rare body control for a man of his size. Shows the ability to leap and contort in the air to adjust to the ball, making him an effective jump-ball candidate. Tracks the ball well over his shoulder and has the straight-line speed to challenge the seam .

Good quickness and balance to generate separation against linebackers and uses his size well to make him a difficult matchup against defensive backs. Creative open-field runner, showing vision to set-up blocks, as well as the surprising lateral agility to elude and the speed to pull away for long gains.

Escobar was the featured receiver in the Aztek’s attack and worked primarily out of the slot which is a featured position in the 3 packages.  An excellent backup with the versatility to play any role the Patriots deem necessary with little dropoff in short spot duty.

Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (Late 3rd / early 4th Round projection)

A smaller receiver with the build of a running back, Bailey could project as an H Back in the pros as he is adept at lining up all over several different formations.  On deep balls he tracks the ball well and shows patience to not give the corner a hint that the ball is coming, and catches everything with his sticky hands.

Smart and aggressive, Bailey has been know to frustrate a corner or two, baiting them into penalties and suckering them into buying false lateral moves, gaining separation with a laundry list of solid route moves, including a start-stop move that breaks ankles.  Understands leverage and does a nice tight buttonhook back to the quarterback, showing him numbers as a steady dump off option.

Started in every game the past three seasons and hold the West Virginia record for most career touchdowns, so he knows how to find the end zone.

If Belichick does indeed trade down out of the 1st round, it’s safe to assume that he should get at least a 2nd and 4th round selection from a quarterback needy team desperate to leapfrog the other teams to get the signal caller that they covet…

…and three of the players listed above should take up three of the four picks the Patriots will be left with.

Markus Wheaton should be a priority in the second round, as should cornerback Jamar Taylor.  Round three should produce Da’Rick Rogers and Gavin Escobar or Stedman Bailey should be around toward the end of the third round or the beginning of the 4th.

Of course if Tavon Austin miraculously falls to the Patriots at 29 in the first round, it changes the dynamic of this theory, but that’s hardly a safe bet.

And neither is anyone thinking that they know what Bill Belichick is going to do in the draft.  Hell, he moved up twice last year to get players that he wanted, so we know from experience that he’s not afraid to pull that trigger.  The only thing that we think we know is that New England has some clearly defined needs and there’s a lot of talent to be had for a patient coach.

…and it’s his lot in life to be patient and then to dominate his foes on the football field.  He hasn’t run out of enemies as Slipknot so eloquently implies in this tune, but those rivals can take notice of the chorus to the song, because it’s a life’s work coming to a head for the head coach of the New England Patriots:

All you wanna do is drag me down;

All I wanna do is stamp you out.

Bill understands.  He it’s his job to stamp them out.

Tags: Buffalo Bills Da'Rick Rogers Gavin Escobar Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets Steadman Bailey Tavon Austin

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