FOXBORO - Conversation about the Patriots' playoff prospects centers on two things. Whether the defense is championship caliber and whether the offense can avoid seizing up under heavy pressure. Virtually ignored? The special teams component. There's a credible reason for some of it. On kickoffs, the Patriots are a middling group statistically. On kickoff returns, they average a starting field position of 21.9. On coverage, their opponents' offenses take over at the 21.3. In the punting game, though, Zoltan Mesko is quietly having an outstanding season with a net average on punts of 40.8 yards (second in the AFC) and only two touchbacks on 42 punts. And on returns? Julian Edelman seems close to getting the knack for a job he is still a relative novice at. Edelman is averaging a respectable 12 yards on his 21 returns and he's only fair caught six punts. He's a bit of a panic back there, which may be part of the reason Wes Welker comes in to catch plus-50 punts. But he is also explosive and elusive. I caught up with Edelman in an otherwise deserted Patriots' locker room Monday to talk about his return progress. "Well, considering I dropped one this week, (not so good)," Edelman deadpanned. Aside from that? "You build the confidence in a week's practice," he explained. "You see that the (return) guys are holding their guys up and doing their job. You always like to think you can make someone miss. I guess there's a little confidence there but we didn't get to do it this week. Hopefully we can do it against the Redskins."Even though Edelman took back 21 punts last season and averaged a very impressive 15.3 yards per return, he is still a neophyte at the job. He didn't return until his final college game and only then because his coach was trying to showcase his versatility for NFL scouts. When I said the job takes guts, Edelman answered, "It's educated guts.There's a lot of study.Film study and taking punts to get the feel for the trajectory of the punt and what you have protected and if they're rushing and stuff. You usually know if you'll be able to return it or not (pretty early). Sometimes you take a risk and try to make someone miss and hope they overrun you."I mentioned to Edelman that I've seen him grab bouncing punts with coverage in close proximity. "I don't necessarily know if that's smart," he admitted. "Situationally, I have a lot to learn. I know when I do something wrong that I'm going to get yelled at when I get back to the sideline but sometimes you're competitiveness of wanting to make something happen wins out. But I have to get better at controlling that."Knowing how much Bill Belichick values special teams and how much he culls history for pertinent instruction, I asked Edelman if he's studied the great Cleveland Browns returner Eric Metcalf. "I've watched Metcalf. I've watched Steve Smith (from Carolina)," said Edelman. "I've watched a lot of the guys that Scotty O (special teams coach Scott O'Brien) has coached. Those guys not only were special athletically, they were situationally smart. They looked like professionals and as a punt returner you can tell if a guy knows what he's doing out there or not. That's something I have to get better at and hopefully we can put that together in this Redskins game."
The assumption was that some NHL jerseys and logos were going to get tweaked when Adidas takes over for Reebok as the manufacturer of the game sweaters and it looks like the Black and Gold of the Bruins will be getting some alterations.
According to a report on Sportslogos.net, the Bruins are one of 13 NHL teams, including the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, that will have some changes made to the jerseys they wear.
There’s no indication as to how sweeping the changes will be and it’s doubtful something as heinous as the 1990’s Pooh Bear jerseys will be entered into the B’s mix. The last major changes for the Bruins came when Reebok first took over in 2007-08 and some slight alterations were made to the B’s logo, but the Bruins have also switched around their third alternate jerseys several times over the past decade.
The personal favorite at this address is the gold Winter Classic jerseys the Bruins donned on Jan. 1, 2010 against the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park. Something like that could be a pretty interesting look as a home alternate jersey for special occasions at TD Garden, but the expectation at this address is the Bruins will keep it simple with something in black that’s not too distant from their 2016 Winter Classic jerseys that have become their alternate third jerseys.
The speculation on the blog was that the Bruins sweater alterations will be something along the lines of a “font change for the names or numbers” on the jerseys, and that’s something that wouldn’t qualify as a significant deviation from the classically popular Bruins game sweaters. In other words, the Bruins and Adidas shouldn’t be messing with something that isn’t broken with the Black and Gold, or with their fan base that still wears old school Andy Moog and Ray Bourque Bruins sweaters to home games on a regular basis.
BOSTON -- Like most NBA executives, Danny Ainge loves to get as much intel on players before picking them as he can.
And with the No. 1 overall pick, Ainge knows he has to do all he can to absolutely get this one right.
That’s why any thoughts he had of drafting Lonzo Ball are likely out the window after the talented UCLA guard refused to work out for the Celtics.
“We tried to get him in for a workout and he politely said no,” Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show.
Lonzo Ball’s desire (or his dad Lavar Ball’s desire; hard to say who in the Ball camp wants him in L.A. the most) to play for the Los Angeles Lakers is one of the worst-kept secrets leading up to next month’s NBA draft.
And with the Lakers holding the No. 2 pick in the draft, turning down the Celtics only increases the likelihood of Boston passing on him and instead drafting University of Washington star Markelle Fultz.
“It’s not ideal,” Ainge said of Ball's decision to decline working out for Boston. “Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. It’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them. Sometimes players don’t want to come in, not because they don’t like you, they see our roster. They think they would prefer to go to another team.”
The Celtics, like most teams, have been mum publicly as to who they would take in the draft. But all indications at this point in the process are pointing towards them selecting Fultz with the top overall selection.
And the fact that Ball, the projected number two pick even before the draft lottery order was established, refuses to work out for Boston will only increase the likelihood that Fultz will be a Celtic and Ball and his camp will get their wish which has always been to don a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.