Clint's Corner Archive
Clint's Corner Archive
The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.
So what should we expect from the 2001 Patriots? It's been nearly eight full months since the Patriots last played a down, dropping a last-second 24-27 contest to the AFC East champion Dolphins. That game was a microcosm of the 2000 season, showing the Patriots could play with just about anyone in the NFL, but that they just couldn't win. If the team that left the field in defeat that Christmas Eve day was in fact the New England Patriots, then who are these guys that have been training down in Smithfield, RI the past few weeks? Never before has it been more evident in this area that in the modern day NFL, you don't cheer for a team, you cheer for a uniform.
There are so many faces come and gone in the past 8 months that even the most die-hard of Patriots fans cannot claim more familiarity with this team than the casual observer. Apart from the April NFL Draft, the Patriots in the off-season signed 21 new faces, and parted company with 16 familiar ones. Such "turnover" is not defined simply in these numbers themselves, but rather in how these numbers will impact the makeup of the team we'll see on the field every Sunday.
Of the 16 players either released or not resigned, 8 were regular starters or major contributors to the team. That number is 9 if you count Todd Rucci who was released mid-season. Of the 21 new additions, 14 have an excellent shot at starting and/or making regular contributions on their side of the ball. Such additions when coupled with the 2001 draft class translates into even more familiar faces being let go before the end of the preseason.
Impact Additions (14)
DE Anthony Pleasant
CB Terrance Shaw
LB Bryan Cox
LB Roman Phifer
WR Charles Johnson
WR Torrance Small
WR Bert Emanuel
WR David Patten
RB Antowain Smith
CB Terrell Buckley
FB Marc Edwards
G Mike Compton
LB Mike Vrabel
LB Larry Izzo
Don't forget to write (9)
LB Chris Slade
DT Henry Thomas
DT Chad Eaton
DB Larry Whigham
CB Antonio Langham
G Max Lane
FB Tony Carter
G Todd Rucci
T Bruce Armstrong
When you field 11 starters among the 15 to 16 regular contributors on each side of the ball, such dramatic turnover amongst those players clearly has the potential to turn around a struggling team in a hurry. How or if that potential is realized is the real question surrounding the 2001 New England Patriots.
How will these changes effect the starting lineups? While some positions are carved in stone, that number is fewer this season than in any other since 1993. The actual starting lineups will depend a great deal on how healthy the team is going into Cincinnati on September 9, but many positions are too tough to call, particularly along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.
Below is how the starting lineup may look in a few weeks. This assumes that Terry Glenn will be serving his suspension, and that Willie McGinest has recovered from his back surgery. I'm also betting that Belichick does not settle on either the 3-4 or 4-3 defense, but rather plays variations of each depending on the opponent, and will even switch up the alignment throughout a game.
My projected starting lineup returns only 4 starters on offense and 5 on defense. For a team that went 5-11 while maintaining one of the league's highest overall payrolls, that's the way it should be.
QB Drew Bledsoe
WR Charles Johnson
WR Troy Brown
TE Jabari Holloway
LT Adrien Klemm
LG Mike Compton
C Damien Woody
RG Joe Andruzzi
RT Matt Light
RB J.R. Redmond
FB Marc Edwards/ WR Torrance Small
DE Willie McGinest
DT Richard Seymour
DT Anthony Pleasant
DE/OLB Mike Vrabel
OLB Tedi Bruschi
MLB Ted Johnson
M/OLB Bryan Cox
SS Hakim Akbar
FS Lawyer Milloy
CB Ty Law
CB Terrance Shaw
What's the punchline?
While overall I feel that these moves have made the Patriots a more competitive and much deeper football team, I do have to step aside for a moment to question the wisdom of at least one these moves.
While the departed QB John Frieze didn't really do much in his limited opportunity to warrant keeping him around, paying ex-Dolphin QB Damon Huard $1 million and declaring him "clearly" the #2 quarterback is puzzling to say the least. While it has always been true that the Patriots will go nowhere if Bledsoe should be out of action for a few weeks, it's never been more true than now if Huard indeed does emerge from the preseason as the #2 signal caller.
Now I know Huard won a few games in 1999 down in Miami when Dan Marion was injured, but that was on the strength of the Miami defense. He was hardly perplexing opposing defensive coordinators. He did have a big game off the bench in New England that season, but then again the Patriots defense made Shane Mathews and Doug Pederson look like gods in games against the Bears and Browns last season.
What does it tell you that Marino reclaimed the starting job late in 1999 and into the playoffs despite not being able to throw the ball effectively more than 20 yards? The following season Dave Wannstedt named former Jaguar 3rd string QB Jay Fielder over Huard as his opening day starter despite Fiedler being new to the offense and having missed virtually the entire preseason due to injury. Miami made no attempts to resign Huard in the off-season, and instead surrendered a draft choice to the Jets for QB Ray Lucas.
In case you're unable to read between the lines, Huard is awful. The Patriots could have done much better going into the defunct XFL after Tommy Maddux or Jim Drukenmiller. Are you telling me the Patriots felt Huard was better than Trent Dilfer? I'm well aware of Dilfer's shortcomings, but he's light years ahead of Huard in terms of being a solid #2 quarterback. If the Patriots elect to keep only 3 quarterbacks and cut either Bishop or Brady in favor of Huard, that will be a crime. While Bishop did not show much with his opportunity in NFL Europe and Brady is still a question mark, each of these guys at least have an upside and are costing the Patriots less money.
The decisions by the Patriots to release or not resign a few players this past off-season came under heavy criticism from some members of the press. Not to pick on just one guy, but Boston Globe football writer Nick Cafardo seems to think he could field an All-Pro team with the players the Patriots have released in the past few seasons. Nick is an outstanding football writer, but I find his annual loyalty to released veterans to be puzzling.
When Pete Carroll cut Willie Clay in 1999 it was major news. Although Clay was a starter, he was not Steve Atwater circa 1992. Surely Clay had been released due to his differences with Coach Carroll, not because of any lack of talent. Clay signed on for the veteran minimum as a backup with the Saints, and was out of football a year later.
The following season the Patriots cut Ben Coates and Bruce Armstrong. All Nick Cafardo wrote about was what a huge mistake it was to cut these guys. He even went out of his way to praise the "genius" of Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome for signing Coates to back up Sterling Sharpe. Coates did receive a Super Bowl ring last season, but caught less than 10 passes despite being healthy all season long and was a non-factor in the post-season. Armstrong received minimal interest from just one club, Detriot, and ultimately resigned with the Patriots for the veteran minimum. The fact that he was the starting LT all season was more an indictment on the rest of the Patriots roster than it was an indication the Patriots had taken a risky gamble. Both Coates and Armstrong are currently out of football.
This year the Patriots are supposedly "crazy" for releasing LB Chris Slade. Cafardo even wrote in his column a few weeks ago "How is it that a guy like Chris Slade is still unsigned?". Slade was costing the Patriots big bucks on their salary cap, yet only the Steelers and the Panthers, two teams on the verge of nothing, showed any interest in him as a free agent. Ultimately only Carolina came knocking, and that was for one year at the veteran minimum. Slade may indeed have something left in his tank, but he's running on fumes, is limited to specialized role as a pass rusher, and was certainly not worth his cap figure with the Patriots.
Looking back, the one big mistake the Patriots did make was releasing Sam Gash in 1998. Gash went on to have a few very productive years in Buffalo, and even made the Pro Bowl. He was again the victim of the salary cap in 1999, but signed with the Ravens where he was, unlike Coates, an integral part of their ball control offense en route to the Super Bowl.
While Ben Coates, Bruce Armstrong, Chris Slade, and maybe even Willie Clay were all once great players and it was sad to see them go, the Patriots clearly in hindsight made the right move in each case. Coates and Armstrong will very likely join fellow Patriot John Hannah in the NFL Hall of Fame someday, but every dog has his day, and football is a heartless business. For every veteran that is mercilessly sent packing, there is a player being paid way too much money for little if any benefit to his team. The salary cap may be heartless, but you need look no further than the ludicrous salaries on the bench in the Red Sox dugout to know that the salary cap is good business for the NFL.
As for Chad Eaton, reportedly the Patriots offer to him was competitive. He did not leave for the Seahawks due to any wrong doing by or lack of interest from the Patriots. Eaton is a guy who will sorely be missed, but if you can't ask a team to be loyal to it's veterans, you can't ask the veterans to be loyal to their teams.
For those of you who still can't get over the departure of so many veterans over the past few years, consider that the Patriots are projected to have more than $8 million freed up in the 2002 salary cap heading into their first season in CMGi Field.
On the Terry Glenn situation, let me first start out by condemning any and all speculation, particularly in the media, as to what happened in Glenn's home last May, and as to why he has been suspended by the NFL.
All we know for sure concerning the domestic abuse allegations are that allegations have been made. That's it. Glenn has proven himself to be an immature 27 (then 26) year-old with a lot to learn, and Glenn's very troubled childhood has often times granted him the benefit of the doubt with that fault. Given what we know, or think we know, about Terry Glenn, what can we assume of the woman who fathered his child 6 years ago? My guess is that she's the female version of Terry Glenn. Young, immature, and with a lot to learn.
Throw millions of dollars into a child custody/ visitation battle between two such individuals, and the outcome is all too predictable. While certainly there is never, ever, ever an excuse to hit or shove a woman, my point is that no one knows for sure if that really happened. Likewise, it's not OK for Glenn's girlfriend to push and shove him around, and if we're going to assume that Glenn is guilty because "that sounds like Terry Glenn," then why can't we likewise assume that Ms. Combs pressed these charges as a payback or revenge? The truth is that neither you nor I, nor the press knows anything for sure.
The fact that the allegations by Ms. Combs have been recanted in a sworn affidavit do little more to prove Glenn's innocence than the original charges did to prove his guilt. All this does is further cloud the truth. One thing is for sure. Either Ms. Combs was lying and decided after the fact to tell the truth, or Ms. Combs is telling the truth and, like many other victims of domestic abuse, is recanting her story so as not to incarcerate the father of her son and lose out on future financial support. Either case is sad, and both further lend themselves to the immaturity involved here on both sides. While it's unlikely Glenn will be found guilty of anything, the real loser here, and the one we should be more mindful of, is Terry Glenn Jr.
Recent reports surrounding Glenn's suspension for "violation of the NFL substance abuse policy" prove that the original speculation when the suspension was announced last Friday was perhaps even more out of control than with the May incident. As it turns out, Terry Glenn has never tested positive for any controlled substance while under the monitoring of the NFL substance abuse program. The reasons why Terry was part of the program to begin with are still unclear, but it's seems reasonable to assume that Glenn has not been a drug or alcohol abuser for quite some time.
According to statements made by Glenn and his agent, the suspension is a direct result of Glenn's perceived failure to submit to a drug test within the 24-hour time frame mandated by the NFL under this program. Gould maintains that Glenn was "away" when he received the call and made numerous attempts to contact the proper individuals that he would not be able to make the 24-hour deadline. Glenn did take, and pass, a drug test with 36 hours of the phone call.
If Glenn's 4-game suspension is indeed the direct result of his passing a drug test 12 hours late, then the NFL probably needs to take a hard look at their own program. To issue a press release stating Glenn was "in violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy" is a far cry from the facts of the matter as told by Glenn and Gould. While the 24-hour window is clearly in place for a reason when trying to detect the presence of a controlled substance in one's system, there has to be some room for benefit-of-the-doubt in these matters.
If Glenn can in fact prove that it was nearly impossible for him to show up for the test within 24 hours, and that he did in fact make earnest attempts to notify the NFL of this, then he should not be suspended. Could any drug that was in Glenn's system at the 24th hour be completely undetectable 12 hours later? Could Glenn have known that? These are good questions, but questions which must be given very careful thought before suspending a professional athlete from one-quarter of the season, particularly when that suspension could cost him over $9 million.
So what do I think?
Looking at what's transpired with the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East during the off-season, I see no reason why the Patriots cannot emerge as a "surprise" team in 2001. If you look at recent rags-to-riches stories such as the Ravens, Giants, Rams, and Falcons, that thought is not so far fetched.
The most important factor in the Patriots taking the league by surprise is their schedule. Outside of their division, the Patriots go on the road to face the Bengals, Panthers, Falcons and Broncos. In their final season in Foxboro Stadium the Patriots will host the Browns, Chargers, Saints, and Rams. Of those 8 games, only the Broncos and Rams appear to be "stretch" wins for the Patriots. The Saints and Chargers will be decent teams in 2001, but having home field in those cases may be the difference. Even if the Patriots are only a marginally better team than they were in 2000, grabbing 6 wins outside of the AFC East is not at all an unreasonable goal.
While the Patriots may not have improved enough to make the playoffs, they certainly do not appear to be a less talented team than they were last season. The same cannot be said for the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins. Neither of those teams made many additions, and all three have suffered major losses. The Bills lost two anchors of their defense in Wiley and Washington, and are now counting on Rob Johnson to stay healthy for an entire season (Thanks Tom Donahoe).
The Jets have had complete turnover in their coaching staff, front office, and ownership, and will be relying on Curtis Martin and Wayne Chrebet to carry the entire offense. Their defense will be without the services of Bryan Cox, Jason Fergusen, and Ernie Logan, all of who were solid contributors for the Jets last season. Their 1st round draft choice, dangerous WR Santana Moss, will miss at least the first half of the season following knee surgery.
Miami lost Trace Armstrong to free agency, and their offensive line at the present time is not shaping up to be much better than New England's. The Dolphins struggled all last season on offense, yet did not make any additions to their offense outside of the draft. Unless one of their rookies steps up, the Dolphins offense will have a very tough task just performing at the level they were able to last year. Starting CB Patrick Surtain is out for at least the entire preseason. The full extent of his injuries, and how much time he'll miss, may not be known for a couple of weeks. If Dolphins fans are pointing to the addition of WR James McKnight as hope for a brighter tomorrow, they need only ask a Cowboy fan how much of an impact he made on the Dallas offense last season.
The Colts appear to be the only team in the Division who should make the playoffs simply by showing up every Sunday. While their defense remains a question mark, their explosive offense did not lose anybody in the off-season, and their already talented offensive line will have had another season under their belts. The Colts may very well be the only team in the division to make the playoffs, while the other 4 teams struggle to just reach 8-8.
Back to the Patriots, there are still too many "ifs" to be answered, but we'll know many of those answers before October 1. Given the Patriots favorable September schedule, their record after 4 games should prove to be a good barometer for the rest of the season. If the Patriots are able to come out of the gates 3-1 or 4-0, then 9 or 10 wins is a very real possibility. If the Pats can only manage 2 wins over that span, then it's a safe bet the Pats are in the 7 to 9 win range, which is still an improvement over last season. However, should the Patriots rack up 3 or 4 losses in their first 4 games, then the season is again over before it's gotten started, and Bill Belichick will officially be on the hot seat.
I'm not saying the Patriots should or need to destroy the Bengals on opening day, but if they lose that game, even a close game, it will be panic city in Patriot Nation heading into Carolina for week 2. Coming off a 5-11 season the Patriots can afford to take no one lightly. If the Patriots are not 100% prepared and focused on that game, then Corey Dillon will have a field day against the defense while Justin Smith and the rest of the talented Bengals D-line will embarrass the Patriots untested offensive front.
The Bengals haven't got a quarterback, you say? That didn't matter at all last year, as the Patriots poor pass rush and sub-par coverage in the secondary continually made journeyman quarterbacks look like world-beaters. If the Patriots lose to the Bengals, then all of this talk of improvement, mental toughness, and veterans who "know how to win" will be quickly forgotten. For what it's worth, I'll be there on September 9; September 23 was much too late in the season for me to attend my first game.
Before I close, I'd like to thank guest columnists Scott McCandless and Greg Moore for their contributions to GoPats.com while I was in hibernation. Look for my next Clint's Corner just before (or right at) the end of the pre-season schedule.