Observations from Patriots OTAs


Observations from Patriots OTAs

FOXBORO -- A few notes from watching New England's first OTA session open to media.

The shirts-and-shorts session began with stretching. Offense wore blue and defense wore grey. As noted on Tuesday, the players did not have jerseys on, but numbers could be spied on shorts and helmets.

I didn't see Sebastian Vollmer, Daniel Fells, Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, Tracy White, Myron Pryor, Anthony Gonzalez, or Jeremy Ebert while scanning the practice field. It's possible any or all showed up after reporters left the session.

Rob Gronkowski was seen jogging and working with trainers. He was joined by Brandon Spikes, who had offseason surgery on his right knee; Matt Slater, who might have tweaked something during the session, and Nate Ebner, who spent time on a stationary bike during rookie camp because of an unknown injury. Spikes looked okay, running at one point on a harness (it does look as weird as it sounds).

The team then broke apart for positional work. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia could be heard hollering at the offensive line as the guys did some one-on-one work. Nate Solder got a few snaps at left tackle, as expected in the post-Matt Light era. Elsewhere on the line, Robert Gallery stood in as left guard for Mankins and Ryan Wendell played right guard for Waters. Also of note on the O-line, Dan Connolly was first in at center with long-time starter Dan Koppen behind him. More on that later . . .

The trio of quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, and Brian Hoyer -- did some passing drills with a rotating group of receivers, backs, and tight ends. At one point, Brady was surrounded by a new-look group: Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Aaron Hernandez, Chad Ochocinco, and Joseph Addai on his right.

Despite the targets, backup Ryan Mallett struggled with accuracy on a few balls. He followed up a sweet bomb to Stallworth with an ugly grounder in the slot where Welker was waiting. Mallett then missed Hernandez on the outside. There was some sloppiness all around, though.

Julian Edelman worked with the offense for as long as I could see. He also played special teams as a punt returner (as did Deion Branch and Wes Welker).

Interesting sight: Defensive end Alex Silvestro had to act as a tight end. With Gronkowski unavailable for positional work and Daniel Fells absent (during the media portion, keep in mind), Silvestro was -- at least for today -- the handiest replacement.

Got a look at Shane Vereen and rookie Brandon Bolden during running back drills. All the players were tasked with basic stuff -- keeping their weight over their feet and selling the move without going too hard. From what I could see, everybody had soft hands. Bolden dug in too hard on one run, but corrected the next time out and was complimented. Second-year back Stevan Ridley had nice quickness today.

During 7-on-7, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington started at cornerback. Patrick Chung and free agent acquisition Steve Gregory were the safeties.

Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots


Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots

Before I make the following point, I'd like to make one thing clear to my sensitive readers: I do not believe the Denver Broncos are better than Patriots. I do not believe they have “passed'' the Pats. Please, Patriots fans, when New England goes into Denver and wins on Dec. 18 and/or the Pats beat them again in the playoffs, save your emails and calls. Don't get your panties in a bunch. You're still the best.

However, as we assess the pathetic state of brainpower across the NFL, the Broncos are one of only a few teams that deserve mention alongside the Pats. Perhaps they're the only one.  As their recent handling of their quarterback situation shows, especially from a coaching standpoint, Gary Kubiak and John Elway have proven they know what they're doing -- and how many teams in the league can you say that about?

In Denver, Brock Osweiler actually looked like a quarterback with a future. In Houston, he barely looks like he belongs in the league. That's about coaching, scheme and culture. It seems that somewhere between the silly letterman jackets in Houston and his second crack in Denver, Kubiak got a clue. Last year, he managed Osweiler to a 5-2 record before sitting him and somehow winning a Super Bowl behind the noodle-armed Peyton Manning. This year, he has another marginal talent, Trevor Siemian, off to a 5-1 start in his first season under center.

There are many NFL coaches who didn't hit their stride until their second job, and you have to wonder if Kubiak falls in this camp. I actually saw him put down his playsheet with his offense on the field the other night and thought, maybe he's starting to get it. He looked more like a head coach and just a little less like an offensive coordinator. 

Either way, Kubiak has displayed an excellent touch with a string of mediocre quarterbacks. And from the original decision to shut down Manning, to the insertion of Osweiler, to the reinstatement of Manning, and then the ultimate handing of the job to Siemian, he and Elway have pushed all the right buttons. If Paxton Lynch turns into a player down the road, look out.

Of course, Kubiak hasn't had much to do with his defense, which has been the domain of Elway, the architect, and to a lesser extent, Wade Phillips, the coordinator. Elway remains one of the few executives to build a championship team largely through free agency, and some of his moves have been so cold-hearted, so debated at the time, that only Bill Belichick could relate.

Who else fires a coach who led you to four division titles and a Super Bowl berth (John Fox), and then follows that up with a title? Who else lets go of BOTH quarterbacks who led you to a title and follows that up with a division lead?

It's moves like those that led ESPN to display a stat montage late in the game on Monday depicting Elway as ``the Don.'' (Wonder where they got that idea from?). Think about it.  Who else in the league -- what coach, executive or owner -- gets that kind of ``mastermind'' treatment? I don't think anyone else deserves it other than Belichick and, in second place, Elway. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore would be a distant third; or perhaps Pete Carroll and John Schneider in Seattle deserve mention.

Regardless, as the ESPN graphic showed, the Broncos' record since Elway took over in 2011 is now 63-24, second in the league over that time only to the Pats (67-20). Denver is also one of just four teams to make the playoffs every year during his tenure (the Packers, Pats and Bengals are the others). Like the Pats and Seahawks, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. And like the Pats, he has won his division five straight years.  

Perhaps that all comes to an end this year, and it sure looks like Denver will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to earning home field over the Pats come December. But for now, in a league where there are no equals to Belichick, it's almost refreshing (to me, anyway) to consider someone who at least belongs in the conversation. 

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN New England.


Belichick: A lot of teams around the league are 'kind of reluctant to trade'


Belichick: A lot of teams around the league are 'kind of reluctant to trade'

FOXBORO -- It's not easy to pull off trades in the NFL around the deadline. Just look at how many are completed in the final days leading up to the deadline every year. Yet the Patriots have worked two already, and they have until Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. to execute another.

One of the trades they pushed through earlier this week saw them send a sixth-round pick to the Lions in exchange for a seventh-rounder and linebacker Kyle Van Noy. What helped that deal cross the finish line was the relationship between the front offices in Detroit and New England. 

Lions general manager Bob Quinn spent the majority of his professional career working for the Patriots under Bill Belichick, serving most recently as Belichick's director of pro scouting until being named to his current position in Detroit. 

Belichick acknowledged on Wednesday that there are times when having a long-standing relationship with someone can help a trade get done.

"I mean it could, yeah," Belichick said. "I mean, you know, there are a lot of teams that don’t . . . they seem kind of reluctant to trade -- this time of year, especially. But it’s one of those things that came up fairly quickly and just worked out. It wasn’t something we had talked about or anything like that previously. As I said, it kind of came up so we were able to work it out.

"Look, Bob's great to work with. But we made another trade with another team in our conference so if it’s there to be made, it’s there to be made. If it’s not, it’s not."

That other trade saw the Patriots send tight end AJ Derby to AFC rival Denver in exchange for a fifth-round pick. 

Belichick doesn't seem to care much about who he's trading with -- "We’re trying to make our team better," he said, "that’s what we’re trying to do" -- but because of the league's reluctance to deal, it seems that if the Patriots are looking for help at tight end, along their offensive line, or at pass-rusher, they may be more likely to find it by calling old friends in Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Houston or Atlanta, where former Belichick proteges are now employed.