Saw a stat Tuesday night on ESPN that widened my eyes some. Know how many wide receivers and tight ends were drafted in the first three rounds last season? Just 14. So the amount of air, bandwidth and ink expended on speculating about the position before the draft is, just a little bit, out of whack. Easier to find a wideout in free agency, one would think. And the Patriots need one. Not desperately. But, honestly, they don't have desperate needs at any position. The 2011 offseason is one for roster tweaking, not renovation. But an outside-the-numbers threat acquired through free agency can make an already daunting offense that much more formidable especially against teams potent enough defensively (Baltimore, the Giants) to make New England lookgood, not great. Steelers wideout Mike Wallace, a 24-year-old restricted free agent, has piqued interest. My take? The Steelers offense under departed OC Bruce Arians and with Ben Roethlisberger at the controls is very dissimilar to what the Patriots run. So while Wallace certainly has the speed the Patriots could use (Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio were both very complimentary of Wallace before the matchup with Pittsburgh this season)I'm not sure he can make the transition quickly to a very different and complex offense. My good friend Greg Cosell at NFL Films does a great job analyzing players around the league. Here was his take on the Patriots' offense and their needs and Mike Wallace. "The lack of any verticality in (the Patriots) passing game hurt them this year," said Cosell. "Joe Fan will say, 'Hey they got to the Super Bowl this year,' but we're talking absolute football, ideal football. ... At the end of the day, theyhave no one who can stretch the field and tilt coverage. Their offense does not have a wide receiver who would qualify as No. 1 or No 2. It's a limitation."On Wallace, Cosell said, "He's a vertical receiver. There was a lot of talk last season about how he improved as a route runner. It's still not a strength. He is mostly a vertical receiver with otherworldly speed and acceleration. But he's still an OK route-runner. I think he's a one-trick pony still. He does make defenses deal with him. He would make plays in their offense. Here's a team that needs some verticality. He provides that."Cosell is higher on Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe than he is on Wallace. Bowe will be an unrestricted free agent, although Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said this week Kansas City intends to try and keep Bowe in town. "I think(Bowe) isbig, physical," began Cosell. "He's not a true vertical route runner. He can get over the top but that's not the only thing. He'svery good after the catch and with Brady's accuracy he would be a better fit in that way. He's a far more complete receiver (than Wallace)."Brandon Lloyd, the Rams wideout who will be a free agent and has said he'd prefer to stick with Pats OC Josh McDaniels, also intrigued Cosell. "He's field fast," said Cosell, meaning he plays much faster than his 40-yard dash time indicates. "He runs good routes. Really good hands. Early in his career he had issues (with maturity), but that hasn't seemed to be anissue."Cosell agreed with me when I said the Patriots need a receiver who can compete for the ball in the air. "At some point in every game, there's a play where aguy has to win on the outside. When you look at the offense, they do not have awide receiver who canline up outside the hash marks and win."Super Bowl XLVI turned on a play in which an outside receiver"won"on a deep throw down the sidelines. And it was also altered when a slot receiver was unable topull in a downfield throwthat was right on the numbers (field numbers, not jersey numbers).It's a need for New England.
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is the kind of season it has been for Clay Buchholz:
A little more than a month ago, he was merely taking up space on the Red Sox roster, having been summarily removed from the rotation after three months of poor outings.
He was in the bullpen, but the Sox were loathe to use him. Asked, memorably, why Buchholz hadn't been the choice to serve as a long reliever in a game in which the starter departed early, John Farrell candidly noted, in not so many words, that because the Sox still had a chance to win the game, Buchholz didn't make sense as an option.
But slowly, Buchholz became more effective in his new relief role. And when injuries struck the rotation, Buchholz got himself three cameo starts, during which he posted a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, topped by Tuesday's beauty -- 6 1/3 innings, one run allowed, nine strikeouts recorded.
Just as Buchholz has straightened out, however, Red Sox starters are suddenly stacked up like jets waiting for clearance to land at Logan Airport. Steven Wright returns from a brief DL stint Friday, and Eduardo Rodriguez is not far behind.
When he pitched poorly, the Red Sox didn't have any other options.
When he pitched well, the Red Sox have plenty of other choices.
So, now what?
"As far as Clay goes,'' said John Farrell, "this will be, I'm sure, a conversation (had) within (the organization). But setting that aside, he's throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.''
But the question remains: In what capacity will he throw the ball in the near future?
There's been a suggestion to keep Buchholz in the rotation while moving Drew Pomeranz to the bullpen. That would give the Sox a dependable lefty in relief -- as opposed to, say, Fernando Abad -- while also serving the dual purpose of putting a governor on Pomeranz's climbing innings total.
Pomeranz, who has plenty of bullpen experience in the big leagues, has also thrown 140 1/3 innings this season, eclipsing his previous major league high by nearly 40.
But Pomeranz is 27, not 21. He's shown no signs of fatigue. To the contrary, he's 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. The Sox shouldn't mess with his success.
Instead, Buchholz should become one of the team's high-leverage set-up weapons, available in the seventh or eighth inning.
True, Buchholz doesn't have the swing-and-miss capability you'd prefer to have in the eighth inning, where the fewer balls put in play, the better off you are. But he can get lefties and righties out, and, pitching out of the stretch full-time, he's greatly improved his command.
Buchholz would remain the best option for a spot start if one of the five Red Sox starters faltered or got hurt. But the bullpen remains the best choice for him.
Ironic, isn't it? When he pitched poorly, he remained in the rotation for several months. Now that he's pitching superbly, he can't earn a permanent spot.
It's been that kind of season.