Belichick gives his slant on the slot

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Belichick gives his slant on the slot

FOXBORO - No team has ever wrung more offensive production from their slot receiver position that the New England Patriots.

Their reliance on the position predates Wes Welker's arrival in 2007 with the stylings of Troy Brown who, because he was the Patriots best offensive player from 2000 to 2003, forced the Patriots and Tom Brady to become slot-focused.

This week, the Patriots will deal with one of the best slot receivers not named Welker, Davone Bess of the Miami Dolphins.

Bess, who's signed through 2013 with Miami, is an intriguing player. At 5-10, 190, he's a little more solidly built than Welker. He's also a little faster. Bess is a player I used to think could be plugged into the New England offense in place of Welker and give identical production.

The 2011 season Welker submitted moved me off that stance, but I still wonder if slot receivers aren't virtually interchangeable. Could Bess do what Welker does if the Patriots part ways with Welker and court the 27-year-old Bess in 2014? Could Danny Amendola do what Welker does if the Rams slot receiver comes available after this season (speculation is, Amendola will be franchised)? Will the Patriots simply let Julian Edelman assume the slot and expand the position's "route tree" because of Edelman's superior straight-line speed (but inferior guile working the middle of the field)? Or do the Patriots find a way to make sure the 31-year-old Welker sticks around a while longer?

Bill Belichick spoke in-depth about the position Wednesday, stating plainly that slot receiver and wide receiver are wholly different positions.

"I think its a little bit of a different world in there (for a slot receiver)," Belichick said when asked if slot receiver was a simple position to fill. "There are a lot more people involved you have linebackers, you have safeties, you have corners, sometimes defensive linemen coming out and blitzing on those."

Looking at the contracts of wideouts compared to slots, it's plain that - even though slots can generate more production and handle the ball more often - teams are willing to allocate more money to pay their best outside receivers than they are going to pay the slot.

That may be, in part, because teams can't teach the kind of speed, strength and athleticism players like Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald possess. Measurables matter and a player like Welker simply could not do the things Johnson or Fitzgerald does if you put Welker on the edge.

In the slot, guile and guts trump measurables. Most outside receivers probably COULD play slot at a serviceable level (although long-striders are a liability inside) but they wouldn't have the belly for it.

There's an incredible amount to process when you play in the slot.

"You have different combinations of coverage and its really important that that receiver and the quarterback see things exactly the same when to keep going, when to slow up, when to stop, any kind of option routes, which way to break, when to come out of it. It definitely takes some work," Belichick explained.

"The visual communication between those two players is, I think, more difficult," Belichick added. "Im not saying its easier outside; there are just more variables inside. Again, especially when you get into option routes and decision making, youre just going to run five yards and run across the field and thats fairly straight forward although there is some, Do you go over? Do you go under? Do you slow down? Do you speed up? Do you stop? Do you throttle? What are your rules? What tells you to do what? Most importantly, it has to be exactly what the quarterback thinks youre going to do so you dont go behind the linebacker when he thinks youre going in front of him and its a bad interception, that kind of thing. I think theres a lot to that, yeah. I think it takes a lot to play that position.

If there were a slogan for slots it would be, "We try harder, do more stuff and take more risk for less!" Not really something you'd want your son to sign up for, but, indispensable.

Bruins admit they 'just weren't ready' to play Isles in shutout loss

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Bruins admit they 'just weren't ready' to play Isles in shutout loss

BOSTON – The Bruins are starting to run out of adjectives and descriptors for these “no-show” performances on home ice.

The Bruins made it twice in two months that they’ve dropped a disappointing dud to one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams when they came out flat, and never showed any signs of life in a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. The lack of effort and pitiful results were particularly disappointing coming off a solid five game stretch where they’d engineered high effort wins over Florida, St. Louis and Philadelphia.

Patrice Bergeron finished a minus-3 on the afternoon, and said in quasi-disgust that he knew five minutes into the game that his team didn’t have “it” on Monday.

“Something that we talked [headed into Monday was] about building from the last few weeks, and how good it felt around the room, I guess, with winning games basically,” said Bergeron. “[The shutout loss] just shows that you have to show up every night and not take things for granted. I think we did [take things for granted] this afternoon.

“It was about finding someone to get us a shift to get us going basically. We had a few good shifts there, and we sustained a little bit of pressure there. But then we just couldn’t keep that for the next lines after going, we couldn’t sustain that or build from that. It was really the whole team throughout the lineup that didn’t show up and, you know, it’s obviously inexcusable, unacceptable.”

Claude Julien mentioned the compacted schedule and potential fatigue playing into the Bruins looking “flat” on Monday against the Islanders, and perhaps that is partially to blame for an uncharacteristically lifeless performance from the Black and Gold. But the B’s essentially did nothing for 60 minutes after not having played for 48 hours dating back to a Saturday afternoon matinee win over the Flyers, so the fatigue excuse is difficult to swallow.

Instead it looked like a Bruins team that thought they were going to roll out the pucks and beat the worst team in the Metro Division that had lost four-of-five games. Instead a defensive zone breakdown led to a Nikolay Kulemin goal midway through the second period, and the Bruins collapsed after that. Josh Bailey tucked a short side goal past a late-reacting Tuukka Rask for a soft serve special allowed by Boston’s ace goaltender, and Kulemin scored again in the second period once the Bruins began cheating at the offensive end of the ice.

To make matters worse, the Bruins showed zero fight or willingness to scratch and claw their way back into the game in the third period. Instead it looked like they quit on two points that could end up being extremely important at the end of the season.

It also looked like the Bruins weren’t ready to play, and that they overlooked the downtrodden Islanders for the second time in as many months.

“Maybe we took them a little lightly, but we just weren’t ready [to play],” said Brad Marchand. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror and all be a little bit better. We all have to be prepared for every game. You can’t look at the guy besides us and think he’s going to do the job. We have to take a little onus on ourselves and all be a little bit better. As a team, again, we have to play the system together and we have to back each other up. We have to play as one unit and we didn’t do that.”

It’s long past the point where the words even matter that the Bruins are uttering after games like Monday afternoon. Instead it’s about results and nothing else, and the B’s were nothing short of putrid in that category against the Islanders with points at a premium this time of year.