Wide receiver wish list has Patriots fans aflutter

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Wide receiver wish list has Patriots fans aflutter

Of Tom Brady's 41 attempts in the Super Bowl last Sunday, seven were sent to "outside" receivers. Four were completed - three to Deion Branch and one to Chad Ochocinco. In the AFC Championship game, six of Brady's 36 passes went to outside receivers (as opposed to tight ends, slot receivers or running backs). The Patriots' offense worked pretty well in 2011 even though Brady wasn't afforded a classic "field-stretcher" who works on the outside. But that fact shouldn't detract from the reality that the Patriots did seek a viable outside threat in 2011. They spent 4.5 million in salary on Ochocinco and another 1.5 million in bonus money. That wasn't a simple donation to the Ocho Fund, they wanted a player who would contribute and were willing to pay for it. They just picked the wrong player. So it's natural to assume that the Patriots - after missing on guys like Ocho and, via the draft, on Taylor Price and Brandon Tate - will be back to take another swing at getting that position filled with a productive player. Especially since Ocho and Julian Edelman are the only wide receivers currently under contract to the Patriots in 2012. Wes Welker is a free agent but is a strong candidate for the franchise tag. The list of veteran wideouts the Patriots have tried to wring production from is long and the results are decidedly mixed. Charles Johnson, Bert Emanuel, Torry Holt, Joey Galloway, Donte Stallworth, Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Jabar Gaffney, Andre Davis, Tim Dwight and Donald Hayes all have been brought aboard at different points during the Bill Belichick Regime. Stallworth, Moss, Gaffney, Caldwelland Dwight were the best fits. The list of viable targets this offseason is long. Reggie Wayne is a prominent name and Willie McGinest said he asked Wayne if he'd be interested in joining the Patriots and Wayne reportedly said, "Who wouldn't."In related news, Wayne also likes warm sunshine. Of course he'd like to play for the Patriots. His current employer in Indiana is in disarray and the Patriots are an annual threat to win a championship. Over the next few weeks, soon-to-be-available targets like Wayne, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Mario Manningham, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston can expect to be asked what their interest level in playing for the Patriots would be. (Ever notice nobody asks these guys how much they'd like to play for the Jaguars?)Any player not answering in the affirmative would be doing himself a disservice because A) they want every other team to believe they are ready to move and B) a player saying he wouldn't want to play with Tom Brady wouldn't be viewed as intelligent. Wayne, Lloyd, Colston and Bowe would figure to be logical targets for the Patriots. This doesn't mean the other top players won't be, just that the others make the most sense. Wayne turns 34 in November and he had his five season run of Pro Bowl appearances snapped in 2011 when he caught 75 balls for 960 yards and four touchdowns. But he did that with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing to him on an awful Colts team. Wayne is precise, glue-fingered and smart. He would be, as McGinest said, a tremendous fit. Lloyd turns 30 in July. After seven uneventful seasons to start his career, he exploded in 2010 for the Broncos with 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. He credited then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels for his success and - after being traded to St. Louis during the 2011 season - he finished the season with 70 catches for 966 yards with McDaniels as offensive coordinator. Lloyd said at the end of the 2011 season, "I'm tied to McDaniels. He uses me differently than other offensive coordinators used me in my entire career. He uses me as an every-play receiver. The short game, mid-range game, gimmick passes, deep balls. I do everything in this offense as opposed to other coordinators who would just run me off as the deep guy; run me off into double coverage and then say I'm not open. So I really like how Josh uses me within the offense. I'm extremely comfortable in the offense."That would seem to give the Pats an inside track. Colston, the Saints best wideout, could be the odd-star out in New Orleans. The Saints have to keep the franchise tag available in case they need to use it on Drew Brees. If not Brees, then perhaps guard Carl Nicks. Colston may become free. If he does, his 6-3, 225-pound frame would be enticing to New England. So would the fact he's just 29 and is an 80-catch, 1,200 yard per season guy who's played in an intricate offense for the Saints. Bowe - like Lloyd - can be mercurial. But he had success in Kansas City in a Patriots-style offense and - at 28 - still has several productive seasons ahead of him. Free agency begins March 13. As another still-available wideout once said, "Getcha popcorn ready."

Celtics aren't asking Al Horford to be 'anything more' than what he is

Celtics aren't asking Al Horford to be 'anything more' than what he is

WALTHAM -- From one media station to the next, Al Horford effortlessly moved about during Boston Celtics Media Day.
 
In between stations, I jokingly asked the nine-year veteran, "Been through a few of these before?"
 
"A couple," he quipped.
 
But Monday was different. And every other Monday going forward this season will be different, too, for the longtime Atlanta Hawks forward, who is now a member of the Boston Celtics after they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract this summer.
 
With that significant increase in salary comes -- from those outside the Celtics program at least -- a higher level of expectations.
 
"We’re not asking Al to be anything more than him," said coach Brad Stevens.  "He’s a good fit for how we play on offense. He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. He’s a guy that guys can follow by example."
 
However, Horford joins a Celtics team that -- since the rebuild began in 2013 -- has yet to win 50 games in a single season or get past the first round of the playoffs.
 
And while it will certainly be a collective team effort for Boston to achieve those goals, make no mistake about it: Horford is expected to be the man leading the way.
 
"We need to start building good habits from Day One," Horford said.

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, is a big fan of Horford’s character and versatility, which has been on display throughout his career.
 
"As much as anything he’s been very consistent over his career," Ainge said. "Shooting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s a guy that fits in with our system with big guys handling the ball a lot."
 
Horford’s new teammate echoed similar sentiments about the four-time All-Star.
 
And when you listen to his new Celtics teammates talk about him and what he’ll bring to a roster that’s loaded with returnees, there are a couple of common themes that seem to develop.
 
"He brings leadership; hard work," said Avery Bradley.
 
Bradley had a chance to spend some time around Jeff Teague, one of Horford’s former teammates in Atlanta.
 
"He just told me I’m really going to enjoy having him on this team," Bradley said. "He’s going to open the floor for everybody. He’s a great player on the offensive end, defensive end. He knows how to play the game of basketball. To have him be a part of this team, I’m just happy about it."
 
So is Amir Johnson, who will likely start with Horford in the frontcourt for Boston.
 
Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man. With the addition of Horford, Johnson won’t be relied on as heavily to be Boston’s last line of defense, which makes his life easier and, more importantly, makes the Celtics a better team defensively.
 
"[Horford] has so many skills he can contribute to the game," Johnson said. "He can run the floor, block shots, shoot the 3-ball, which is big now. He can do it all. It’ll be a big piece to carry us over the top. We just have to put it all together."