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.
A look at the Patriots Offense, and how the class of 1998 will fit in.
Unbreak my heart?
Who is going to replace the departed Curtis Martin? It's the popular belief in Patriot Nation that Martin will not be missed all that much, and that a new back can be found to step in and get those 1,200+ yard seasons. If that's the case, then why did the Pats go without a great running back after injuries cut Craig James career short in 1987? The Pats went through the likes of Reggie Dupard, Leonard Russell, John Stephens and Marion Butts in search of a ground game. A few of those guys had their moments, but not until Martin arrived in the 3rd round of the 1994 draft did the Pats finally find a true feature back who could be counted on to produce a few hundred yard games and amass over 1,000 total yards like clockwork.
I've heard, and even buy into, some of the criticisms of Martin. He could not get the consistent 4 yards per carry, he could not get the 1 yard when you needed him to, he could not take the punishment, his stats were padded with long runs after the game had been decided, yada yada yada. Some or all of that may be true, but one way or the other, Martin gained over 1000 yards each season since he was drafted, and last season he did so in just 13 games. That's a tough act to follow.
The Patriots brass seems to agree, which is why they spent their first selection in the first round on a running back. With the selection of the 5'11", 217 lbs. Robert Edwards, the Pats have at least added 15 pounds to the running back position. While just as quick as Martin, Edwards uses his added bulk to be more of a North-South runner, something Martin was not on a consistent basis. Fellow Georgia alum Terrell Davis is also a North-South pounding back, but at just 200 pounds, Davis is even smaller than Martin. The one knock on Edwards, which was the big reason he was the 18th rather than a top 5 selection, is his injured past. A broken foot and sprained ankle kept Edwards off the field too much in College, and NFL scouts question his durability. Both Mel Kiper Jr. and Pat Fitzmaurice (of Pro Football Weekly) have gone on record saying that if Edwards stays healthy, the Patriots have the best of the rookie backs.
Edwards will battle for playing time with last years 3rd round pick Sedrick Shaw. At 6', 214 lbs., Shaw is also a bulkier back than Martin, but in his limited playing time last year showed "Martinesque" moves behind the line of scrimmage. Pete Carroll has admitted his mistake in not getting Shaw on the field more last year. By not making Shaw active for many of the games last season, they still don't know what he can do. He'll get his chance in a big way this summer in Smithfield, R.I.
David Meggett is an excellent player who the Pats would sorely miss, but he is not an every down running back in the NFL. Even if things clear themselves up in Canada and Meggett stays with the team, he is not a legitimate threat to take playing time away from either Edwards or Shaw. Carroll did not use Meggett on 3rd downs last year nearly as much as Tuna did. When Parcells was here, Meggett was in on 3rd down whether it was 3rd and 2 or 3rd and 15. With Martin and his excellent receiving skills now gone, Carroll may elect to restore Meggett's 1996 role.
Among the biggest backs in camp is 6th round pick Harold Shaw. At 6' and 228 lbs., Shaw is bigger than Mario Grier, who is listed as a fullback. Shaw had a very quiet college career at So. Mississippi (yes, where Favre is from) until entering his senior season in the best shape of his life. His senior year numbers were nothing like his past stats, as Shaw punished runners up the middle for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Is one good season enough reason to believe a guy can play in the NFL? At the expense of just a 6th round pick, it's worth it to find out. Perhaps Shaw is just now realizing his upside. One thing is for sure, with a guy like Shaw on your roster, you would not throw the ball 4 consecutive times from the 1 yard line. Zampese knows better.
Other backs on the roster include special teams standout Derrick Cullors, and free agent pickups Rodney Byrd and Mike Geter. Cullors will not be a factor in the RB mix, although he did have a good game in the wildcard playoff against the Dolphins. I know nothing at all about the other two, but at 6'2", 245 lbs., Byrd is an interesting specimen. The jury is still out on whether a veteran free agent will be added to the mix, but if one is, look for it to be Terry Kirby, who played for the 49ers while Carroll was an assistant coach there.
Leading the way...
With last years starting tandem of Keith Byars and Sam Gash both departed via free agency, the fullback position needed new blood, and fast. The favorite to start is free agent pickup Tony Carter from the Chicago Bears. At 5'11", 236 lbs., and 25 years of age, Carter is a younger and stronger version of the departed Sam Gash. Gash was a very smart player, however, and he brought a very healthy attitude to the huddle. With an extra offseason to work on his surgically repaired knee, Gash should prove to be a solid addition to the Buffalo Bills. By signing Carter, however, the Pats hope to have a better blocker, and more of a long term solution. Carter also signed for nearly $400,000 per season less than what Gash got. It is interesting to note that Buffalo did not begin talks with Gash until after they lost the bid on Tony Carter to the Pats.
The one FB remaining on the roster from the '97 season is Marrio Grier. Grier is an outstanding special teams player, but is not exactly your prototypical fullback. At just 225 lbs., Grier is more of a RB/FB hybrid. With all the running backs in camp, Grier will have to make this roster as just a FB, or perhaps on the merits of his special teams play. Safety Corwin Brown was caught in the numbers game last year in the secondary, and he went on to lead one of the leagues best special teams units with the New York Jets. Do not underestimate the importance of having solid special teamers on your roster.
The Pats used their first pick in the 3rd round to add still more youth to this position, acquiring Chris Floyd from the University of Michigan. The former Wolverine stands at 6', 235 lbs., and was a consistent producer at one of the nation's top programs. Mel Kiper Jr. had Floyd rated as the best pure FB in the draft, while Joel Buchsbaum adds that Floyd is a "...nasty, physical, and aggressive blocker who crushes little men." Pete Carroll has said he expects Floyd to challenge Tony Carter for the starting spot, although I can't see the Pats opening up in Denver on Monday Night Football with an all rookie backfield.
And on the outside...
As he showed by his presence in 1996 and his absence in 1997, the success of the passing game begins and ends with Terry Glenn. Without him, no other WR was able to distinguish himself as a go to guy, or someone the opposing defense really had to concern themselves with. This in turn hurt the play of Ben Coates and Drew Bledsoe, who were targeted and banged around in passing situations. When Glenn came back for the Green Bay game, he three times ate the NFC Champions secondary alive for huge gains. The Pats lost that game, but Terry Glenn had a huge night. Word out of Foxboro is that he is working hard with Johnny Parker each day, and even participated in a few drills during the rookie mini camp. Those attending the camp noted that Glenn does appear to have bulked up. If Terry Glenn can stay on the field for 16 games this season, the Pats will be well on their way to their 3rd straight divisional title.
Just in case Glenn does not shake the injury blues, the Pats added one of the true deep burners in the draft, tabbing Wisconsin's Tony Simmons with their first pick in round 2. Simmons did not play in a passing offense, so he does not have the eye popping college statistics, but he does have a great combination of size and speed. At 6', 206 lbs., Simmons still runs a 4.35 40, which is nearly a full tenth faster than either Kevin Dyson, Jacquez Green, or Randy Moss. In fact, of the 133 wide receivers profiled in Mel Kiper Jr.'s draft guide, none have a better 40 time than Simmons. Scouts question his route running skills, which were not really developed in the Badger offense. Despite the philosophy and with the lack of a bonafide passer, Simmons still finished his college career averaging better than 20 yards per reception, and one of his TD's last year came at the expense of Heisman Trophy winner, CB Charles Woodson.
As for Shawn Jefferson, there are those out there who like him, and those who don't. Patriot Nation is very much divided on his value to the offense. I for one think Jefferson is an excellent #2 receiver, who will make the sneaky big plays when the attention is focused on the other side of the field. Even without Glenn last season, Jefferson still had a good year. He has shown in his two years here that he can make the tough catch over the middle, and that he can get deep, very deep. In the 1 point loss to Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Pats drove out from the 1 yard line with under 2 minutes to play with the help of three crunch time catches by Jefferson. Coates, Glenn, and Meggett were all on the sideline. The Steelers knew the Pats were throwing, and they knew where it was going, but Jefferson still made the plays. I also like Jefferson's commitment to conditioning, and his strong desire to win. There aren't many guys on the roster more competitive than Jefferson. It was Jefferson who publicly challenged Glenn to commit to the offseason conditioning program at the end of '97 so the team could make a deeper run in '98.
With the departure of Vincent Brisby imminent, the Pats signed veteran WR Brian Stablein from the Colts. Although at 6'1" Stablein is 2 inches shorter than Brisby, he is 5 pounds heavier. This bulkier frame will help the Pats on the short over the middle routes on 3rd down, where Stablein figures to get most of his playing time. Add dependable 3rd down wide out Troy Brown to the mix, and Pete Carroll has his work cut out for him formulating the final roster. Also in camp are Dietrich Jells, Tony Gaiter, Todd Doxzon, Anthony Ladd, Shawn Turner, and Denis Montana. Unless the Pats decide to keep more than 5 wide receivers on their roster, it will hard for any of these guys to be ahead of Glenn, Jefferson, Simmons, Stablein, and Brown on the depth chart. When healthy, the Patriots receiver core is among the deepest and most talented in the NFL.
In the trenches...
Only 1 one the Pats 10 choices in the draft was spent on an offensive lineman, and that was BYU Center Jason Andersen, taken just a few picks ahead of "Mr. Irrelevant." Although the Pats will return all the starters from a less than impressive 1997 line, this is not an area of need on the team. Sure they could be better at run blocking, but as a unit they provide excellent pass protection for Bledsoe, who puts it up more times per game than most QB's in the league.
Guards Todd Rucci and Max Lane, and tackle Bruce Armstrong were all unrestricted free agents retained by the Pats in the offseason. Many fans and the media are questioning the wisdom of giving Lane and Rucci very lucrative long term deals, but history has shown that cohesiveness is very important along the offensive line. Returning the same cast of characters will ensure no learning curve for the line mates, or for Bledsoe.
As for depth, last years rookies, Damon Denson, Ed Ellis, and Scott Rehberg have a year under their belts on an NFL roster and may challenge the incumbents for playing time, particularly Denson, who reportedly has a world of potential at the guard position. Heath Irwin is also in the mix, and saw effective playing time last year at guard when Lane moved back to tackle when Moss was out. At Center, Dave Wohlabaugh returns, and will be backed up by either Juan Porter or Jason Anderson. In a pinch, Heath Irwin can also play the center position.
At tackle, don't be surprised to see Max Lane moved back and Zefross Moss get cut. Moss showed up at last years training camp overweight, and was hampered by lower back problems throughout the season. He is also one of the few Patriots not participating in the offseason workout program. Moss is a good tackle when healthy, but his health concerns, age, and salary situation do not bode well for Moss if one of the young guards in camp really makes an impression. Should Denson or Irwin show that they belong on the field, Moss, who is in the final year of his two year contract anyways, could be a casualty as Lane moves over to make room for youth. Ed Ellis and Scott Rehberg will make adequate backups at the tackle position.
Big Ben still ticking...
Even at the age of 29, Ben Coates continues to be a premier tight end in the NFL. He is signed long term, and should retire as a Patriot. He is the starter, hands down, and the other tight ends on the roster know that.
The veteran backup is Lovett Purnell, who at 245 lbs. is as big as Coates, but is not as effective a blocker. Purnell has shown flashes on the receiving end, but again he is no Ben Coates. For now, he's the best backup they've got.
The Pats used their second pick in round 2 on 6'5" 270 lbs. Rod Rutledge from Alabama. Rutledge played his senior year after recovering from major offseason knee surgery, which severely limited his speed. The consensus among the scouts was that Rutledge, being an average talent and a medical risk, was at best a 4th round draft pick. Many teams even had him off their draft board. This is the one pick that has drawn the most criticism. Not only is this guy a medical risk (much more so than Edwards), but even when healthy he wasn't that good to justify being a 2nd round selection. Despite his size, he really does not dominate on his blocks. This is definitely a risk that the Pats are taking. Even with all those draft picks, this pick seems like a big reach in round 2. Given the lack of players at this position on the roster, however, Rutledge should make the roster. That's not exactly saying much for a 2nd round pick.
Long snapper Mike Bartrum and B.C. grad Scott Dragos round out the TE position. Should anything serious happen to Ben Coates, the TE position is in big trouble. There is yet to emerge an heir apparent to Ben "the man" Coates.
Need I bother?
OK, for those of you who don't know, Drew Bledsoe will be the starting quarterback, and Scott Zolak will back him up. The only "QB controversy" in this camp will be whether Northeastern QB Jim Murphy can show enough to stick as the #3 QB, and let Tom Tupa focus on the punting only. With Zolak entering the final year of his contract, Zo may elect to leave New England following 1998 for some playing time in the QB starved NFL. With that in mind, Murphy will be given a very long look.
Thanks very much for reading. My next column will look at the defensive side of the ball.