Johnson: NFL set up for 'abuse of power'


Johnson: NFL set up for 'abuse of power'

President Barack Obama is the latest high-ranking individual to question the safety of football, but it's been a hot topic long before that.

Over the past couple years, the NFL has tried to take steps to prevent "concussions" by limiting what defenders can do. Essentially, they've tried to take big hits out of the game.

That obviously hasn't sat well with players on defense linebackers, safeties, etc. who are trying to make a living stopping offenses from gaining yards and scoring points. One linebacker, Ravens' Bernard Pollard, said today that with the way things are trending in the NFL, it may not be around in 30 years. Fans will lose interest in a game that has changed too much than what they fell in love with.

Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson is living proof that concussions and the overall physical nature of football has long lasting health effects. Johnson has been a part of tests, and has both written and spoken out about the dangers that come along with football, specifically brain damage. He himself suffers from post-concussion syndrome.

But does he fear for the future of the game?

"No, I don't," Johnson said on Felger and Mazz, in New Orleans for the Super Bowl. "I think the only thing- here's my involvement: I've been thinking about this a lot on my drive up here today. All I ever wanted is for guys to know the risk. What we always say is the blanket statement: football is inherently a dangerous game. We get that. But you know what we know now, that nobody is quite saying it like this: football can cause brain damage. End of story. You can get brain disease from playing football. End of story. Now that everybody knows that, go do what you want to do. Now you know all the risk.

"People say, 'Ted back in the day, come on, you knew the risk. You knew what you were getting into. You signed up for that.' I did to a point. I knew I could tear my bicep, all the things I could identify with that I've seen happen to other guys, I get that. No one ever told me that playing football could potentially lead to having brain damage or brain disease, now that we know it's called CTE."

But Johnson thinks the league is going too far, or doing the wrong things to help the issue. It's not wide receivers taking on huge hits that are ending up with debilitating post-concussion symptoms. It's the ones on the lines doing normal football things, or making normal hits over, and over, and over.

But is there anything those players can do about it? That's the name of the game. And according to Johnson, going to the coaches about it, or being labeled as a guy who can't go in there and take the hits, will get you out of a job fast. After all, coaches have all the say.

"The thing about football that makes it so unique is that it's a coaches league. They have the power. It's not like I'm at Orlando and Dwight Howard can get Stan Van Gundy fired. I can't get my coaches fired. They have all the power. So there's an abuse of power there. The system is set up so that they have an abuse of power, and it's not fair for the guys when a coach can have that much power over if a guy plays or doesn't play, and use his power as leverage to get him out there maybe before he should be ready to play."

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers


Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

The Patriots find themselves in a difficult spot following Sunday's win over the Rams: They are a team that likes to lean on three-receiver sets, yet they have only three healthy receivers.

Danny Amendola suffered an ankle injury during a punt return over the weekend that further thinned an already thin position group. The healthy receivers left on the depth chart are Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.

The Patriots will in all likelihood make an addition to their 53-man roster at some point in order to bolster their depleted receiving group, and in a way, they've been preparing for this.

The team has been adding and subtracting receivers on their practice squad for much of the year. They began the season with rookie seventh-round pick Devin Lucien and fourth-year wideout Devin Street on the p-squad. On Sept. 14, they added DeAndrew White as a third receiver on the 10-man unit, a relatively unusual amount of practice-squad depth at one spot. 

After Street was signed away by the Colts, the Patriots have also given practice-squad shots to Da'Ron Brown and Shaquelle Evans. Neither of those players stuck, but Lucien and White have, showing that the Patriots have been encouraged by their contributions.

"I think they’ve made good progress . . . They both have been consistent," Bill Belichick said during a conference call on Tuesday. "They’ve been out there every day. They work hard. They’ve made plays for us in practice on the scout team against our defense, so overall our guys on the practice squad do a good job.

"They certainly help us get ready for the games by simulating our opponent’s schemes and playing styles and at the same time they’ve improved with their individual skills and techniques. Both of those guys – they’ve done a good job for us."

ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that the Patriots voluntarily increased the salary of White (from the minimum of $6,900 per week to $10,000 per week), perhaps making him the favorite as a potential call-up to the 53-man roster.

White is in his second pro season out of Alabama, and he was signed by San Francisco last year as an undrafted free agent. He played in four games as a rookie, catching two passes for 18 yards. He also returned six kicks and returned one punt for the 49ers. During his collegiate career, he returned five kicks and two punts.

Should the Patriots feel as though they would be straining to add a receiver to the 53-man roster, they could find some help with the depth they have at running back. Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster are all capable pass-catchers who have the ability to line up wide or in the slot. Foster, who was a college teammate of Lucien's for one season, played receiver as a senior at Arizona State.