Patriots represent a second fresh start for Talib

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Patriots represent a second fresh start for Talib

Greg Schiano admitted he was concerned. But the first-year Tampa Bay coach chose an optimistic outlook when it came to Aqib Talib.

"Well, any time you have a guy where there's an off-the-field situation that could affect his on-the-field situation, you're concerned,'' he said in the Tampa Bay Times after charges of assault with a deadly weapon against Talib -- the third incident (including two arrests) on record since he entered the NFL in 2008 -- were dropped in June.

But Schiano decided to focus on the Aqib Talib he'd dealt with since becoming coach, not the one he'd heard about.

"The thing that I can tell you is since I arrived here January 26, he's been awesome," Schiano said. "The way he's worked, he's been here every day. I hope that it's left behind him and there isn't anything and that we can move forward because, again, I can only judge people since I've been involved.
"I can't stick my head in the sand, as I've said before, but on the other hand . . . he's been extremely focused and here, doing everything that we asked. So I'm pleased with that and hope everything can just kind of sort itself out and we can get back to life . . . normal situation.''
Talib escaped the potential 20-year jail sentence. After dismissal of the charges, he promised he'd fly right.
Clean slate, clean start, Talib told an Atlanta radio station. Got the little situation behind me, man, so Im just forward from now on.
He drew hope from Schiano. The way Talib tells it, former coach Raheem Morris wasn't much of a disciplinarian.
It got a little loose last year where people got a little too loose around the building, he said. So Schiano definitely came in and brought that order back to the building.
All went well for a while.
Talib started all four of Tampa's September games. He had 21 total tackles, seven passes defensed, one interception, and a blocked punt.
But then came the suspension. A violation of the league's policy on PED's earned Talib a four-game ban on October 13. Instead of fighting, the corner confirmed the positive test for Adderall so he could return to game play as soon as possible.
His apology was part of the team's official statement:
Around the beginning of training camp, I made a mistake by taking an Adderall pill without a prescription," explained Talib. " This is especially regrettable because, for the past several months, with Coach Schianos help, Ive worked very hard to improve myself -- professionally and personally -- as a player and a man. I am truly sorry to my teammates, coaches and Buccaneers fans, and Im disappointed in myself.
"I will work diligently every day of this suspension to stay in top football shape and be ready to help this team in the second half of the season. I have chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation I put myself in, which is why I will not exercise my appeal rights and will begin serving the suspension immediately.
Schiano was forced into an unenviable position. But when the coach was asked after Tampa's 38-10 win over Kansas City what his feeling on Talib was, he appeared to stick by his guy.
When Aqibs suspension is up, I really believe hell work hard and be ready. And then well go from there, said Schiano.
When he gets back, then we go with him. But when hes away, Im really, really proud of the way E.J Biggers stepped up. And everybody. Its a trickle-down effect. Guys didnt miss a beat. They went out and played Buccaneer defense."
Tampa won all three of its games -- against the Chiefs, Saints, and Vikings -- played in Talib's absence. Perhaps that made it easier to let go.
Now it's up to the Patriots to see if there's enough reason to hold on.

Friday, May 6: Boudreau excited at prospect of coaching Senators

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Friday, May 6: Boudreau excited at prospect of coaching Senators

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while fairly certain I’ll never be buying Tom Brady’s $200 cookbook:

-- Good piece on NBC’s Inside the Glass man Pierre McGuire, who is once again doing yeoman’s work during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

-- Bruce Boudreau is excited at the prospect of coaching the Senators as he readies for an interview with Ottawa. Boudreau would be a good fit there, given his past history with offensively talented teams.

-- Down Goes Brown lists their top-10 old guys without a Stanley Cup whose playoff hopes are still alive in this current postseason.

-- You’ve got to love the fancy stats crew that, when their team is down 3-1 in a playoff series, contends it’s all based on luck. No, it’s based on the other team scoring more goals than your team rather than which team is winning the puck-possession battle.

-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer ripping the goalie interference replay system, saying it’s been “clear as mud” all season after it cost the Sharks in their triple-overtime loss to Nashville. It feels like he’s got a point: I thought the Joe Pavelski goal should have been a game-winner too rather than be waved off for goalie interference.

-- It looks like the mighty have fallen quite: Stephane Da Costa isn’t on France’s World Championships roster after being in the NHL a couple of years ago. Or maybe the mighty are just hurt after playing last season in the KHL. It’s tough to tell at this point for the former Merrimack hockey star.

-- The massive nation of China is becoming a growing incubator for budding young hockey players and could become a new resource for the NHL.

-- For something completely different: For a Lego commercial for Star Wars movies that still don’t come out for almost a year, this is pretty great.

Patriots first pick understands social-media landminds

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Patriots first pick understands social-media landminds

Watching Robert Kraft refer to Cyrus Jones by Jones’ twitter handle “Clamp Clampington” was the perfect confluence of amusing, surreal and awkward.

Like when my father used to complain about the kids “making donuts” in the intersection outside our house in the middle of the night, or anybody over 30 combining the words “epic” and “legit,” it just hits the ear wrong.

Social media has bridged the communication gap between the generations. Or at least made “old” people privy to conversations that -- throughout the course of recorded history -- kids haven’t wanted them nosing into.

This newfound access doesn’t allow us to merely appropriate and make others cringe. It also allows people -- in the context of professional sports -- to consume, judge, interact and drop consequences on athletes because of their social media persona.

Employers, fans, owners and media members now have unprecedented access to players’ personal lives. And the player who forgets that, or decides he doesn’t care and marches on without asking “How will this reflect on me?” is courting disaster. Or at least a level of irritation.

No player drafted in 2016 will ever forget the impact social media can have on a career. Even though Laremy Tunsil didn’t tweet out a video of himself smoking a bong while wearing a gas mask in front of a Confederate flag (social media hat trick), he paid the price. His draft drop cost him millions because, even though he didn’t actually tweet it, the video called into question Tunsil’s decision-making, off-field habits and the circle of people around him. That’s a lot of judging off of one tweet, but that’s what the deal is.

I asked Mr. Clampington – whose twitter feed shows he’s a Sagittarius who’ll go back at people who offer critiques – what his philosophy will be now that he’s in the NFL.

“Social media is one of those things where you gotta control and discipline yourself to not pay too much attention to it,” said Jones, the Patriots second-round pick on Friday. “As you get older, people tend to stray away from social media and I’m already starting to. At least trying to. And being more aware of what I put out there and knowing that I can’t respond to everything somebody says. That’s definitely something that myself and fellow rookies have to understand . . . We’re not just representing ourselves but our families and this organization. “

Jones -- based on the 10 minutes we spoke to him and the conference call from last Friday -- seems sharp enough to know where he ought not tread. In case he doesn’t, he and the rest of the rookies will get an indoctrination.

Time for a tough transition

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Time for a tough transition

This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

Casual Bruins fans probably thought they were getting a Shawn Thornton-type player when Boston traded a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Zac Rinaldo last summer.

Instead it was a deal that was a win in the ledger of Flyers GM Ron Hextall from the very second it was approved by the NHL’s central registry. Hardcore hockey fans knew the Bruins-Rinaldo marriage had little chance of ever working out.

Rinaldo is a physical player who likes to wildly throw the body around. He has above-average skating ability and is fearless, as evidenced by the much bigger, stronger players he tangles with on a regular basis. But there's no comparison between a cheap-shot artist like Rinaldo and a genuine enforcer like Thornton, who struck a tone of intimidation with opponents whenever he was in the Bruins lineup. Thornton gave the B's an air of toughness and courage, and was one of the unquestioned leaders in the dressing room, able to command both respect and accountability.

Thornton's final year in Boston wasn’t without its challenges, given the lengthy suspension he received for knocking out Brooks Orpik at center ice and the needless water-bottle-spraying incident with P.K. Subban in that season's playoffs. But one thing is certain: Thornton would never have watched Adam McQuaid get train-wrecked from behind on a dirty hit by Washington’s Zach Sill, and then simply skate to the bench. That, however, was the reaction of Rinaldo when Sill hit McQuaid this season.

Rinaldo explained his non-actions by saying he was tired at the end of his shift and wary of getting in trouble with the league. He left it to Patrice Bergeron to grab hold of Sill, even though that sort of retaliation is exactly what the Bruins were expecting from Rinaldo when they brought him to Boston in the first place.

It was similar to the hesitation 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes showed at times as the opposition pushed around his linemates, or took runs at other Bruins players while he was on the ice. Hopefully Hayes learned that he needs to knock that indecision out of his game if he’s going to be effective here.

But it all speaks to a bigger issue: The change in the makeup of the Bruins, and the need to get back to a tougher, more intimidating style of play.

During their seven-year playoff run, the Bruins earned a reputation as one of the hardest teams to play against in the NHL. Players like Thornton, McQuaid, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk had size and strength, and were hard-hitting and tough when it was called for.

Very few teams messed with the Bruins. If they did, there was a good chance it would explode into a back-alley brawl . . . like the night when virtually all the Bruins went to war with Sean Avery, Steve Ott and the rest of the Dallas Stars:

It didn’t matter how those teammates felt about each other off the ice. It was no secret that Ference and Mark Recchi had their differences early in their time in Boston, stemming from things that were happening within the NHLPA. But that didn’t stop Ference from jumping to Recchi’s defense when he got smashed in the open ice by David Backes:

That should be the standard for any Bruins team when opponents start to take cheap shots, simply because it makes the B's much more difficult to handle. There were too many nights last season when the Bruins simply didn’t want to battle out on the ice. Not coincidentally, there were also too many nights when they buckled under the bright spotlights of big games.

"We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well . . . " said Chara. "But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating."

Those things might happen a little less if they returned to the previous standard of intensity, engagement and urgency.

That might be easier said than done, but it all starts with the players the Bruins are bringing into the fold.

Matt Beleskey is a prime example of a callback to those previous B’s teams: The kind of hard-hitting, high-energy gamer who would have fit in perfectly with the Stanley Cup-era squads. While the Bruins seemingly missed on Hayes and Rinaldo, they hit -- in the best way -- with the free-agent signing of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Beleskey. He changed momentum in games with massive hits thrown on the ice, led the club in registered hits last season, and showed up in many of last season’s big-game disappointments when so many others did not.

The Bruins simply need more players like Beleskey, and who preferably can also play the game at a similarly high, or even higher, level. 

Torey Krug is often the smallest guy on the ice, but never stops fighting against XXL-sized opponents while refusing to give in on any level. He even dropped the gloves with the massive Chris Stewart, the very definition of courage (with perhaps a little insanity thrown in for good measure).

Noel Acciari is another young player who energized the fourth line toward the end of the regular season with his fearless style of play. He's unafraid to throw violent but clean hits against even the biggest of opponents while bringing energy and thump to the lineup. He didn’t quite get the hang of the offensive game at the NHL level during his brief audition, but the hope is that will change with a little more experience.

Players like Beleskey and Acciari speak to the Bruins’ acknowledgement that regaining their traditional identity is important, and it’s something they did intermittently last season.

“I still think we have room to improve in that area," said president Cam Neely. "I believe the group [last year] was a closer group; they enjoyed playing for each other and working hard for each other. I thought . . . aside from a couple stretches, we were a team that showed more passion probably than the year prior. But it’s still an area we need to improve upon.”

Most importantly for Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, coach Claude Julien and the Jacobs' ownership group is the need to understand how important their fan base feels about that style of play. The loyal Bruins followes can forgive quite a bit if they feel their team is hustling, working hard and fighting for each other at every turn.

That’s the bare minimum the Bruins should be striving for next season. A lot of good things could start happening if they get back to those basics.