Forty-two lines on 21 topics: I really, really hope I'm wrong because I like Bill O'Brien a lot. But this ain't gonna be pretty at Penn State. This is not a football job. It's a renovation, reclamation, resuscitation of one of America's great programs and the restoration of self-image for the university, its alumni and a region. And Penn State turns its lonely, post-Paterno eyes to a guy they may have never even laid eyes on until O'Brien wasbeingrestrained while screaming at the greatest quarterback of his generation a month ago. Yow. O'Brien's a football coach who's never been a head coach. And he's led the cloistered, monklike existence of a Patriots' assistant in which every syllable is parsed by Bill Belichick for tone and appropriateness. O'Brien serves up organization-approved pablum and non-answers on his conference calls every week. Neither he nor Nick Caserio stray from the Patriots' talking points. This Penn State job? It's everything but football right now and if the school or O'Brien have deluded themselves otherwise (and here's proof they have) then O'Brien's about to be fed into the wood chipper. Fortunately for Penn State, O'Brien is smart as hell, genuine and a terrific communicator. He will present exceedingly well in his introductory press conference, I guarantee that. But this job needs a Tony Dungy-type right now and O'Brien is a fire-and-brimstone football guy who, inevitably, is going to lose patience with the persistence of the media. Unlike what he goes through now, this isn't going to be eight people on a Monday conference callhalf-assedly askingwhy Chad Ochocinco hasn't been a bigger factor. This is NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, SNL, Jon Stewart, the NYT, the BBC and every other organization with air time and bandwidth to fill and a stomach-turning scandal that is going to go on and on as it moves through the judicial system. Nobody's going to care much about the route tree. And never mind recruiting in a Pennsylvania living room when file footage of Sandusky in his Nittany Lions gear pops on the screen, have you heard the reaction of the football alumni? Said former linebacker Brandon Short: I dont want to be affiliated with the university if they dont choose a Penn State guy because of our standards, our graduation, all the things that have been important . . . its no longer Penn State, so we might as well be in the SEC. They are intent on turning it into a booster culture. Ira Lubert went out and purchased a national title with wrestling and hes under the illusion that he can do that in football. Well, ask (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder about that. Penn State is a family and it is real and if they choose to get rid of Bradley and not hire a Penn State coach, then theyve turned their backs on our entire family. I don't think Bill O'Brien's going to get a fair shake there. But I hope - I really hope - I'm wrong. Meanwhile, as Bill Belichick asked in 2010, "Who's been wrong more than Charlie Casserly." Good question. I'll take the Texans over the Bengals in the first AFC Wild Card game. I'm going with the Broncos over the Steelers in a seismic upset in the second one. In the NFC, Saints rout the Lions. And the Giants take out Atlanta. I think the Saints are playing the best football of anyone right now. Their road to Indy - Detroit, at San Fran and probably at Green Bay - is so hard they won't likely get there, though. A little non-football? Marquis Daniels does curious things on the basketball court for the Celtics. Hoop game for my son's seventh-grade team on the Vineyard on Sunday. Only been over there once in my life and never been to Nantucket (landlubber). Everyone's invited to the Renaissance Patriot Place on Monday at 6:30 p.m. for Comcast SportsNet's pre-playoff party. Food, drink, a Q&A, special guests and the Patriots cheerleaders to count you down to the BCS National Championship game between LSU and Alabama. Last May, after 11 years of minivan driving, we traded that mess in for a pretty nice SUV. We miss the minivan. "She sounds hideous." Favorite commercial these days - in a rout.
FOXBORO – Damn, Patriots, back at it again with drafting the wide receivers.
At least in the instance of Malcolm Mitchell there are no questions of softness or character or coachability. The 6-foot, 198-pounder is a media relations dream. He was reading at a junior high level when he got to Georgia so he devoted himself to getting better at it and joined a woman’s book club after a conversation at a Barnes & Noble.
He’s written a children’s book. He blew his ACL in 2013 but he did it after sprinting downfield to celebrate a teammate’s touchdown. He was a team captain at Georgia, loves to block, is a dependable third-down receiver, etc.
The questions about him will be his durability (2015 was his first season fully healthy) and the same question that dogs every receiver that comes into the Patriots system: Can he master the intricacies?
But the scouting report? Impossible to quibble with for the 112th overall pick.
This was the scouting report on Mitchell from Nolan Nawrocki, one of the most exhaustive and unflinching draft analysts in the business.
“A tough, passionate, crafty slot receiver who can be trusted to move the sticks in critical situations. Mitchell gained more confidence in his knee in his second year removed from ACL surgery. Brings similar energy, toughness and attitude as Steelers 1998 third-round pick Hines Ward. Smart and versatile enough to contribute in multiple roles perhaps even at cornerback where he began his Georgia career and could be most attractive to a veteran coaching staff such as the Patriots or Steelers.”
Where does Mitchell fit on the Patriots depth chart?
At 6-feet, 198 pounds, he’s got the short-area speed and ability to play slot where route-running and change of direction are vital to uncovering quickly on option routes. The Patriots are well-populated there at the moment with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan on the roster there.
But he also has the speed, length (extremely long arms and big hands) and leaping ability to be a high-pointing outside receiver. The Patriots are not as stocked there. They have the annually disappointing Aaron Dobson, 32-year-old Nate Washington and the dependable-but-low-ceiling Keshawn Martin.
Perhaps the best way to get Mitchell ingrained in the system is to let him master a little bit at a time. Start him on the outside, where he took the bulk of his 2015 snaps with the Bulldogs, and leave the slot stuff to the others.
If the team unloads Amendola – and his $6.8M cap is really starting to stick out – they still have Hogan and Edelman to take inside reps. If Mitchell shows competency, the team can unload Dobson and have the outside group of Washington, Mitchell, Martin and Hogan/Edelman.
Mitchell isn’t the long, angular field-stretcher that “takes the top off the defense” but the Patriots are not that kind of vertical offense. They can just as effectively spread a defense out over the 54 horizontal yards and they need quick, tough, smart players to do it. Mitchell may be a step in that direction.
FOXBORO -- It's not always easy for new Patriots receivers to come in and contribute off the bat. Just in the last handful of years drafted players (Josh Boyce and Taylor Price) as well as accomplished free-agent acquisitions (Chad Ochochinco and Reggie Wayne) have had their difficulties adjusting.
Patriots fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell, taken with the No. 112 overall selection on Saturday, will be submitted to similar rigors when he arrives at Gillette Stadium for the first time and he knows it. But he isn't planning on struggling.
Mitchell has been very open about some of the challenges he had reading when he arrived on campus at the University of Georgia. In a piece put together by CBS This Morning, he estimated that he was reading at about a middle-school level when he began his collegiate studies. Since then his love for reading has grown, he's become an advocate for children's literacy, and he's authored a children's book.
Now that he's been drafted by the Patriots, into an offense that has been evolving for 16 years under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Mitchell was asked in a conference call how he might handle the famously complicated language in New England's playbook.
"I appreciate the question," Mitchell said. "To be completely honest, I'm pretty confident in my abilities to learn. You know, when I took a visit with the Patriots, we went over several different things to see if I would be a good fit for their system. For them to pick me up lets me know that they have confidence in me to be able to make that adjustment and learn what I need to learn to be the most effective player that I can be on the field."
Mitchell had a productive career for the Bulldogs, serving as one of the most explosive receiving threats in their pro-style offense. He's played both on the outside and the inside, though the majority of his snaps came as an outside option last season. He also seasoned when it comes to running routes that can be adjusted based on the defensive look in front of him.
Because that's something that the Patriots ask of their wideouts, Mitchell already may have a bit of a jump start on what he'll be learning from receivers coach Chad O'Shea.
"I have a lot of experience in that," he said. "To be honest, the majority of our plays were scripted out that way. That's something that I'm comfortable with and I've been doing for four or five years already."
Mitchell got a master's course in that style of play last season under Brian Schottenheimer, who served as Georgia offensive coordinator for a year following three years with the Rams as their offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer is now the quarterbacks coach for the Colts.
"I think it helped a lot because Coach Schottenheimer immediately came into UGA with that mentality," Mitchell said. "He had been doing it for so many years. The tape that we would use to learn plays, the types of plays, the concepts, the adjustments, we got a big dose of that last year at UGA, which honestly, I believe is going to prepare me for whatever comes next."
FOXBORO – Never mind what Robert Kraft was attempting to do last May when he folded the Patriots’ tent and said the team would “reluctantly” accept the league’s Deflategate penalties.
Forget about the fact there was really no other option than to do what he did in San Francisco.
The hole Kraft dug for himself when he opted for politics over optics is one he’s trying furiously to dig out of. Still.
Friday night at a draft party the team hosted at Gillette, Kraft’s main talking point was – again – that he didn’t abandon Brady last May.
“Number one, there is no finer ambassador for the game of football, and the New England Patriots, than Tom Brady,” Kraft said. “We always have had, and will continue to have, Tom’s back. Especially when he’s being treated unfairly. He knows that. All the decisions that this organization and I personally have made throughout this ordeal have been focused on putting Tom in the best possible position for success.”
Kraft believed taking the hit on the draft picks would satiate other owners enough to leave Brady alone. But they – and their arrogant marionette Roger Goodell – wanted more than to see Bill Belichick’s program stung. They wanted to see Brady brought to heel.
Once that dawned on Kraft over the coming months, he returned to the rhetoric he used when he began fomenting local outrage at the Super Bowl, demanding a league apology. He even ratcheted it up, speaking at the outset of training camp about having made a grave mistake when he put faith in the league to do the right thing.
But for too many New England fans, it was too late. In their minds, all it took was 24 hours of fellow owners giving him the stink eye in California for him to side with the billionaire boys club over Brady.
Kraft anticipated an unhappy reaction, saying last May, “I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision. But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”
He never expected to be demonized the way he’s been. And, to Kraft, it’s maddening, saddening and hurtful that the vocal opinion in New England is that he screwed Brady.
He’s refusing to take the criticism in stride, which means every time he’s in front of a mic, he has to prove his bona fides.
“I have been in constant communication with Tom over the past 16 months and we’ve had numerous conversations this past week,” Kraft said. “We are both on the same page and he knows exactly where my allegiances, and the total team’s [allegiances] are, relative to the extremely unfair discipline that he has been subjected to. I share in our fans’ anger and frustration with the penalties the league has levied, and the entire process and how it was conducted. But please trust that I am always trying to do what I believe is best for this franchise, and pledge that I will always continue to do that.”
This is where Robert Kraft is at the age of 74. A man who figured he’d be praised and adored in the autumn of his ownership reign having to pledge allegiance over and over to HIS region and HIS team.
It’s got to be unfathomable to him how it got to this point.
Here’s a lifelong New Englander who – he’s always happy to remind everyone – sat on the metal benches with all the other bedraggled fans in the old stadium. A guy who used his business savvy to leverage purchase of the team, stubbed his toe a lot in his first few years, then made decisions and gave resources that allowed the Patriots to become the greatest dynasty in NFL history. A guy that built a kickass stadium and donated millions around the region. This is a guy that now feels compelled to explain himself and beg understanding every time he gets in front of a microphone these days.
I don’t think he deserves that.
There are plenty of things that I’ve eyerolled about with Kraft in my 20 years covering the team. From white-collared shirts to his weird game-day lifeguard chair to the subtle switch from Bob to Robert, the damn sneakers with the suits, slinging spirituality a little too cavalierly at times and his happy engagement in the NFL’s backroom lever-pulling and deal-making. For almost 25 years, Kraft has ridden a lead horse in the NFL’s stampede for money and power. The Game of Thrones environment that’s come with that, replete with throat-slitting, backstabbing and vengeance has visited Kraft’s kingdom.
You can second-guess his strategy. You can point out that he’s the one that made a king of Goodell and sowed bitterness with fellow owners by pushing them to do what Roger says. You can rightfully point out that Kraft wants too much the love and respect of both his fellow owners and his New England constituency and that he can’t have his cake and eat it too.
You can’t reasonably regard him as a “traitor.”
Unfortunately for Robert Kraft, plenty of people do. And plenty of them aren’t going to move off that spot.
At some point, he’s got to get his mind around that and accept that too.