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 8/13/1999

My take on Willie Clay...

Only in Boston would the press treat the release of a free safety like the retirement of Barry Sanders. Why? Because Clay and others had plenty to say about it, and that attracts the Boston media like flies to you-know-what.

Willie Clay was signed as a free agent from the Detroit Lions after the 6-10 season of 1995 and was an immediate impact starter. Clay had not missed a start in his 3 seasons with New England, each time going to the playoffs, while anchoring one the more talented secondary units in the NFL. Newcomers Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy developed into Pro Bowl players during that time, and Clay claims he played a big part in that. One would tend to believe him given that Law and Milloy were visibly upset and very outspoken the day following his release.

There is no question that Clay is a talented player, and was the brains of the defensive backfield. When speculating in my last column as to who would be released, I singled out Clay (and Shawn Jefferson) and being "foolish" to let go of. While I still believe there are other players the Patriots could have let go before Clay (Brisby); I don’t see this as being as devastating a setback as some have made it out to be.

The notion that the Patriots were unfair to Clay to let him go just before training camp is laughable. Clay seems to think that because he played so well for the Patriots for the past three years, he deserved more respect than what he was shown. Excuse me? There was not a player I can think of whom was more disrespectful of Pete Carroll than Clay. Maybe Carroll is not a good head coach, and maybe he’ll be gone before the 2000 season rolls around, but you don’t vent frustrations about your boss in the print media, even if you’re right.

The media could always count on Clay to say something that would sell newspapers, making him a darling of the journalists who (coincidentally) have been the most critical of his release. In Carroll’s first season, the Pats went down to Jacksonville and beat a very good Jaguars team on the road. I’ll never forget the TV cameras catching Pete Carroll trying to say something to Clay on the sideline while Clay turned his back on his head coach and walked away. Granted that’s Carroll’s fault too for allowing such behavior (hopefully in year 3 he’s learned from that), but why would Carroll owe Willie Clay anything in terms of respect?

Yes Willie was a great player while he was here, but he also collected a paycheck for that. Is a player going "above and beyond" to perform on the field when he’s being paid $1.5 million per year? It’s called doing your job, nothing more. We have just seen Marshall Faulk and Jamal Anderson refuse to honor their current contracts, which they had supposedly signed in good faith. For their efforts, each player is now among the highest paid at their position and has pocketed a huge signing bonus. Why is it OK (and common practice) for a player to not honor their contract, while it’s "unfair" for a team to terminate a contract? Maybe the team will sorely miss Willie Clay, maybe not. I tend to think they will, but I certainly don’t feel sorry for him, nor do I think he was due anything more than the paychecks he cashed while he was here. Players these days think nothing of leaving the team that drafted them 5 or 7 years prior and signing with archrivals for $20Million over $19.8Million. Turnabout is more than fair play.

For every Sam Gash, Corwin Brown, and Willie Clay who chooses to take the low road out of town, there’s a Robert Edwards, Drew Bledsoe, Ted Johnson, or Dave Wohlabaugh who will go out of their way to say how much they like playing for the Patriots. The Patriots wrote a $1million check to Edwards after his injury simply out of good faith. Wohlabaugh had nothing but positive comments for his former team after he signed with the Browns in the offseason. When Lawyer Milloy says "Things are getting ridiculous around here", suffice it to say he is not speaking for the entire 53 man roster.

The Patriots have claimed that Clay was the choice for the "necessary veteran casualty" because they wanted more youth and athleticism in their secondary. The AFC East is laden with talented wide receivers, resulting in many spread formation sets. Ty Law can only cover one receiver, not three or four. Against the traditional offensive set, the free safety is asked to play "center field", sprinting over to help out the corner backs once the ball is in the air. In this type of defense, Clay excelled. Despite his lack of speed and big hit ability, normally prototypical of the position, Clay was more often than not in the right place at the right time. Hence the (self-given) moniker "Big Play".

However, when the Jets, Bills, and Colts spread the field, the free safety becomes another cover corner, and this did not play into Clay’s strong suit (nor Milloy’s). By placing the speedier Tony George or Chris Carter on the field, the hope is that the Patriots secondary will be better suited to defend multiple wide out sets on 1st and 2nd down. This trend in offensive philosophy is what made Steve Atwater, one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, expendable in Denver. The Broncos, seeking younger and faster players who could better stick to a receiver man to man, seldom used Atwater on passing downs. Having won back to back Super Bowls, you’d be hard pressed to question their judgement.

The Patriots do have a valid point here, but they are still taking a big gamble that a player with little or no NFL experience can step in and replace one of the better free safeties in the game. The fact that Clay received little attention from AFC East clubs seems to back up the Patriots claim. The Colts offered Clay half of what he was due to earn from the Patriots, and could not guarantee he would be their starter. Clay has since found a home with the Saints in the NFC West, where opponents like Carolina, Atlanta, and St. Louis aren’t going to scare anyone with multiple receiver sets.

For those wishing the Pats had handed Todd Rucci or Max Lane their pink slips instead, consider this. The defending division champion New York Jets, if they have a weakness, is at guard. Certainly Rucci, and likely Lane, would have lined up across the Pats as starters on opening day in the Meadowlands. The last thing Bobby Grier wants to do is patch what may be the only hole on a Bill Parcells led team that went 12-4 last season.

Déjà vu all over again...

As freakish as Ted Johnson’s torn right biceps injury was last December 6th in Pittsburgh, to tear the left one the next time he steps onto a football field is even worse. Those still believing that this injury is somehow the fault of Pete Carroll must think Bill Parcells is much more than just a hall of fame football coach.

This injury, like the one to Robert Edwards, has absolutely nothing to do with player commitment or how much a coach screams and yells. Drew Bledsoe said it best. "There's no justice in what happened to Ted. If you said to a kid this is the way it's supposed to be done you'd point to Ted.'' There are those who say that Johnson may have overtrained, bulking up to the point that his biceps were too large for the tendons. While there is some medical credence to that theory, you can’t say for certain that too much time in the weight room caused this problem. Remember Vincent Brown? Did he have small biceps? Bruce Armstrong has biceps bigger than most people’s legs. There are over 1600 players in the NFL. Ted Johnson is not the only one who spends "too much" time in the weight room.

Regardless of the cause, Ted Johnson is gone for the entire season. The Pats should end any speculation of his return and place him on injured reserve. Aside from Ty Law, Johnson is the player the defense could least afford to do without. Competing in the AFC East, the Pats defense had their work cut out for them even with Johnson in the lineup. Going to war without him raises the bar another notch.

When Johnson went down last season, Coach Carroll had to turn to Marty Moore. Moore is a great guy to have on your team, but is not what you want to start in the middle of your defense for an entire season. Of all the Bill Parcells compensatory draft picks given to the Patriots (Sedrick Shaw, Damon Denson, and Tony Simmons) none looms larger now than Andy Katzenmoyer. Considered a "steal" by some late in the 1st round, Big Kat will now be moved from weak side linebacker back to the inside where he made a name for himself at Ohio State.

While bigger and much faster than Johnson, scouts and draft nicks were still quick to point out deficiencies in Kat’s game in the middle. Many, including Pete Carroll, envisioned him as a "read and react" weak side linebacker in the NFL to mask those reported weaknesses and play into his strengths. One biceps tendon later, the experiment is over. The spotlight is now on Katzenmoyer big time. He’ll certainly have his chance to prove his critics wrong, beginning opening day against the team that could have had him with the 28th overall pick in the 1st round.

It’s also time for Tedy Bruschi to prove that he’s an every down player rather than a situational pass rusher. The motivation should be there for Bruschi, as he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. The paychecks are quite different for linebackers who can pass rush, run defend, and cover vs. those who can do just one thing. Calling the defenses will also be Bruschi’s responsibility with Johnson out.

Camp observations...

For the second straight season, I was fortunate enough to obtain sideline passes for Patriots training camp at Bryant College. An anonymous "thank you" goes out to those responsible. It’s one thing to see the Pats practice from behind the ropes. It’s quite another to be there on the sidelines, literally elbow to elbow with the players and coaches. Here are a few quick observations from that day to wrap up my column this week:

Run block or else...

Dante Scarnecchia is like night and day compared to Budreau. Scar is all over the lineman to do things right. The guy is a perfectionist, and he really seems to detest mistakes and lack of effort/ concentration. He was barking like a drill sergeant during the positional drills, and during the 11 on 11, stepped into the middle of the pile after a failed running play and completely ripped one of the lineman to shreds (I believe Fletcher). He ended his tirade, which I think the entire state of R.I heard, by saying something like "It's either your way or my way, and around here it's my way every damn time".

27-year old veteran...

Drew Bledsoe is a machine. He has total command of the offense (and the defense for that matter). You can "feel" on the sidelines that this is his team. His performance was awesome. The intangibles are there as well. The way the other players interact with him, both one on one and as a group, is "special". I don't know how to say it really, and there may not be a word for it, but he definitely has that "Marino/ Elway/ Montana" halo around him on the sidelines in the eyes of his teammates.

1st down, Patriots...

With all the "Terry Glenn is back" talk, Troy Brown is quietly showing how badly he was missed in '98. There were at least 4 or 5 plays were Brown seemingly just appeared in the middle of the defense to catch a short dump off and head up the field for a 1st down. He is to the Pats what Chrebet is to the Jets. In '98, the Pats did not have that sneaky type of receiver who always seemed to move the chains. His value to the offense is definitely understated with guys like Glenn and Coates around.

Year three and learning...

At one point, Frieze threw an interception to his right. On the left side of the field, Kato Serwanga had gotten tangled up with his receiver, and knew he had committed a penalty (if there was someone there to call such a penalty - only offsides were being called). Kato was dejected and headed for the sidelines. At this point I was about 3 feet behind and to the right of where the DB's not on the field at the time (Law, Whigham, Milloy, et al) were resting. Kato had barley made it over to them when Carroll came sprinting over and was very PO'd, yelling "KATO! KATO! CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT JUST HAPPENED ON THAT PLAY?"

Kato turned around and mumbled "no", knowing that his answer would get him in big trouble. Carroll then erupted, barking that there had been an interception on the play, and his not knowing that could cost the defense a touchdown in a real game. He then went on to call Kato's grabbing, etc "Chicken s*** football". He began to calm down as he went on to say "I have more confidence in you than you have in yourself. Use your technique and athleticism to stay with the defender, not that Chicken s*** B.S. If you had the confidence in yourself that I have in you you'd be a much better player".

That was great to see, and here's the best part...

When Carroll walked away, I was very anxious to hear the after-mumblings among the DB's. Whigham was the one who did most of the talking, but he essentially backed up what Carroll had just said. I was half expecting a "don't pay any attention to him..." kind of thing, but to a man those gathered around Kato seemed to be saying "Coach is right" and respected what he was trying to do. His authority and yelling did not come off as being fake or rehearsed at all. That was a great moment for me as a fan, extinguishing the Globe and Herald speak that the players do not listen to Carroll and do not take his tough guy act seriously. What I saw was no act.

Wish I could say more...

I was also fortunate enough to engage in some sideline conversations. To mention who or what on the Internet, however, would pretty much mean kissing my sideline passes for camp 2000 goodbye. I will go against my own grain here, and for once keep my mouth shut. I will, however, say that I was encouraged by what I heard. I’ve got tickets to the opening game in the Meadowlands on September 12, and I felt better about the Pats chances at 11am that morning than I did at 9.

Thanks for reading!