Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 8/13/2000

Discipline Smishipline...

So far all we've heard from the Patriots players and outside media observers is how much "different" things are under Coach Belichick than they were under Pete Carroll. Apparently, the only thing separating the Carroll lead team, which limped to the finish line at 4-8, and the team we see now is Discipline. Lack of discipline in the Carroll regime is why the team had grown progressively worse during his tenure. Simple fix, right? Bring in a disciplinarian, and it's 1996 all over again.

Not so fast. From what we've seen so far in the preseason, the Patriots have picked up right where they left off last December. The only player on offense capable of generating offense is Troy Brown. There is no running game whatsoever, and the offensive line cannot give Bledsoe any time to throw the ball. The lack of pass protection has led to very poor play by Bledsoe, who has now turned the ball over in the redzone in consecutive games. The only signs of life from the Patriots offense came on their first series of the 2nd half, when the Redskins had the entire 2nd string defense on the field.

On the defensive side of the ball, said to be the strength of the team, they continue to look like the '85 Bears until 3rd or 4th down rolls around. Despite having among the leagues highest paid secondaries, consisting of three players selected 22nd, 23rd, and 36th overall in the NFL draft, receivers continue to get open on the critical downs. 3rd down killed the Patriots on both sides of the ball last season, and three games into the Bill Belichick era of "Discipline," things don't look to be any different. Yes it's just the preseason and the team is 2-1, but after spending a #1 draft pick (Shaun Alexander) to bring in a new coach, one would hope to see signs of improvement as the team breaks camp at Bryant College.

Having Bruce Armstrong back won't help. Yes he's probably better than Jason Anderson at left tackle, but there's probably a good reason why Armstrong ended up back on the Patriots payroll at the veteran minimum after being a free agent for nearly the entire offseason. Waiting for J.R. Redmond to rescue the running game? So far he's just another rookie who will probably learn the hard way that it just doesn't pay to hold out and miss training camp. After a poor performance at last Wednesday's practice (which I attended), Redmond did not even make the trip to Washington. Ted Johnson is missing on the defensive side, but he won't be any help on 3rd and long when he returns to action.

Not to continue my negativity here, but while I'm on a roll let's take another look at Belichick's first draft. In my post draft column, I had projected Klemm, Redmond, and Stachelski as starters. Klemm and Stachelski have yet to even suit up, and Redmond is currently 5th on depth chart behind Harris, Faulk, Pass, and Shaw. 4th rounder Robinson-Randall has looked decent at right tackle, and may even be better than the oft-maligned Grant Williams who was penciled into the RT spot when signed as a free agent from the Seahawks. None of the remaining picks has shown capable of meaningful contributions this coming season. Tom Brady and Patrick Pass have made the most of their playing time, but they are likely destined for the practice squad. Undrafted free agent DE Reggie Grimes has thus far outplayed the other 4 defenders drafted ahead of him by the Patriots.

So what do we have here...

Before I'm accused of being a "bring back Carroll" poster child, let me reiterate that Carroll HAD to be fired after the way the team fell apart last season, and I'm also of the opinion that Bill Belichick was, and still is, the best man for the job. I do feel, in time, that his approach will improve the team beyond what we witnessed over the final 12 game of 1999, but I don't expect any miracles just yet.

While I feel overall the team will be more competitive this year (i.e. no laying down on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles), I am not so convinced this improvement will show up in their final record. Looking at the schedule, I'd be pleasantly surprised with a 9-7 season. A few good bounces and they could certainly be 10-6 and make the playoffs, but a few bad ones (i.e. missed chip shot field goals to win games), and this team could slip to the 7-9 or 6-10 that many of the national publications are predicting. Their first 8 games before the bye week are brutal, and will be very telling. If they can hit the break even at just 4-4, they have a great shot to make the playoffs. If they stumble out to 2-6, the season is over.

On offense, the talent simply isn't there to get it done. Aside from Damien Woody, there isn't a single player on the offensive line who's the envy of another team's roster. Terry Glenn is the only bona fide WR on the team, but he has a habit of turning on and off his Pro Bowl form from week to week. I am sick of hearing "this is Vincent Brisby's comeback year" or "this is Tony Simmons's breakout year." I don't expect anything from Brisby as the #2 receiver, and I'd be surprised at this point to even see Simmons on the final roster. Troy Brown is worth every cent the Patriots paid him in the offseason. Against the Redskins, like much of last year, he was the only player who could provide a spark. The running back situation does not look any better than it did at the start of last season. Harris and Faulk have shown some flashes, but neither appears to be the #1 back necessary to consistently establish the threat of a running game.

When given time to throw the ball, Bledsoe has the ability to have an MVP season. Watching him at practice with his "hands off" red jersey on, Drew puts every ball he throws right on the money. Short, long, bullet, or touch, Bledsoe lights up the rear field at Bryant College. Under such conditions, it's very clear why Bledsoe is hands down the best QB on the roster (enough Bishop talk, OK?). However, lacking a running game and a line that can protect him, Bledsoe is nothing special. Defenses have proven time and time again that if you batter Drew Bledsoe, his game falls apart. Bringing everyone and the kitchen sink is certain to be the theme of every opposing defensive coordinator's scheme this season, beginning week 1 with Tampa Bay.

Willie McGinest seems poised for another strong season, and a linebacking quartet rounded out by Ted Johnson, Andy Katzenmoyer, and Chris Slade should make the Patriots a tough team to run against and one that can pressure the passer. Chad Eaton looks thus far to be more the Chad Eaton of '98 than of '99, and newcomers Reggie Grimes and Jeff Marriott appear suited to Belichick's two-gap scheme along the line of scrimmage (bye bye Henry Thomas?). As I mentioned before, the secondary should be strong as well with Tebucky Jones's potential finally on display at safety. If this defense as a whole can remedy their Achilles' heel, the big play, then the potential for a dominant defense is there. The Patriots defense must be the strength of the team if they are to succeed in 2000. The Tampa Bay Bucs rode a strong defense and an anemic offense to within one pass play of the Super Bowl last season, proving it can be done.

So while I think we have before us another 8-8 or 9-7 team on the fringe of the 6th AFC playoff seed, keep in mind that the two Super Bowl teams last season were not on anyone's pre-season favorites list. The Colts went from worst to first in the AFC East, finishing at 12-4, and are of course everyone's pick to repeat as division champions. Thanks to an equitable collective bargaining agreement, any fan in the NFL can go into the season thinking "What if?" or "Why not?" If this were baseball, we could already eliminate 27 teams from championship contention, and half of those teams would unload all of their talent in November to the 2 or 3 remaining contenders. Grant Williams and Todd Rucci on the right side of your line? So what! This is the NFL, and anything is indeed possible. I am really looking forward to the September 3rd home opener, at which time will resume it's weekly update format.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back often this season.