Game Day: Crennel, Pioli stand tall in tragedy


Game Day: Crennel, Pioli stand tall in tragedy

MIAMI -- Some quick hits on the dawn on Week 13 . . .

An immeasurably sad crime in Kansas City on Saturday. There will be endless debate about whether or not the Chiefs and Panthers are doing the right thing by playing on Sunday. My overriding feeling on that is that, whatever the Chiefs players think is the right thing to do is the correct thing to do. But there is no "right" answer. None of it is "right". I wouldn't disagree with anyone who feels the game should have been postponed out of respect to the family of the slain girlfriend of Jovan Belcher and Belcher's family. If that was their wish. However, at this point, it's probably best to get the football game out of the way. Postponing it would merely create a maudlin media circus out of the crime. There will be more important things for the Chiefs players, coaches and staff to attend to this week and the sooner they can get to those the better.

Police in Kansas City reported that GM Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel intercepted Belcher when he arrived at the Chiefs' offices andprevented "further violence."Both men showed what kind of people they are by intervening in the situation. It was brave for them to do so but, knowing them as I do, they would never have considered doing anything but that, despite the fact Belcher was clearly dangerous and unstable given the events of the day.

Parallels have been drawn between Jim Harbaugh's controversial quarterback call in San Francisco and the decision Bill Belichick made in 2001 when he turned the reins over to Tom Brady. On the face of it, they're similar: The starter got hurt; the backup got the job and remained in place. But the similarities end there. In the case of Alex Smith, the supplanted starter, you have a quarterback the Niners have been angling to replace despite Smith's efficiency and success. Prior to Belichick taking over in New England, Bledsoe was an untouchable. And ownership had rewarded Bledsoe with a massive, 10-year contract just months before he went down in the season's second game. Meanwhile, Smith has played about as well as he could since the start of 2011. In the Patriots' case, Bledsoe was in decline and had played poorly throughout the 2001 preseason and the first two games of 2001. Brady submitted weeks of competent play before Bledsoe was ready to return and reclaim -- as Bledsoe put it -- "my job." Kaepernick had one good start while Smith was still recovering from his concussion then another good start after Smith was cleared to play.

Is San Francisco making the right call? What we haven't seen is probably what made Harbaugh feel confident in his decision: Practice reps by Kaepernick that made his upside unmistakeable in relation to Smith. Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. Smith is a good NFL quarterback. But he isn't likely to win games for you on his own. He's a cog in the machine. The dual threat ability of Kaepernick to run, to move, to create and be a more explosive thrower than Smith tips the scales. Kaepernick is bound to have a bad day and make mistakes Smith wouldn't because Smith -- by dint of having been in the league longer -- has already learned how to handle some situations Kaepernick hasn't yet encountered. There will be pressure on Harbaugh when Kaepernick falters to decide whether he rides out the missteps or goes back to Smith. Personally, I don't think it's an awful thing if Harbaugh goes back to Smith later. There's a perception -- often espoused by former quarterbacks -- that the position requires a commitment from the sidelines and that a quarterback can't play while looking over his shoulder. I kinda think competition is good and it should sharpen the focus of whoever is on the field, not serve as a distraction. If Smith or Kaepernick play scared because they may get the hook, do you really want them to be your quarterback anyway?

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots


Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

Until the tidal wave of free-agent moves comes crashing down in March, it's not exactly clear what anyone's needs are in this year's draft. But that won't keep us from guessing with the NFL Scouting Combine taking place this week in Indy.

From a Patriots perspective, they may need a tight end to provide some Rob Gronkowski insurance, especially if Martellus Bennett leaves town for the highest bidder. Defensively, they might be looking at big bodies up front or linebackers. They could also choose to dip into one of the deeper position groups in this year's class -- defensive back -- if they're taking a strict best-player-available approach. 

No matter which spots they're thinking about in this year's draft, the Patriots have a pretty well-defined set of likes and dislikes when it comes to prospect traits. That's what allows someone like NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- who held a marathon two-hour conference call with reporters around the country on Monday -- to make an educated guess on the types of players Bill Belichick will be thinking about grabbing in late April. 

At tight end, Mayock thinks Alabama's OJ Howard is a perfect match for New England. He can catch. He can block. He's an athlete. He came up in Nick Saban's program. The only problem is there seems to be very little chance Howard is available at pick No. 32. 

The good news for the Patriots? It's such a deep tight end class, Mayock rattled off a handful of other names who could potentially find themselves in a huddle looking at Tom Brady in 2017. 

"As you drop down and look at the other tight ends after [Howard], there's some really good pass-catching tight ends that would be more like an [Aaron] Hernandez," Mayock said. "You start talking about David Njoku of Miami, he's an absolute freak, and he's also tough enough to learn how to block. Again, I don't know if he gets to the Patriots [at No. 32].

"Evan Engram and Gerald Everett are the two guys that are kind of the move wide receiver, tight end. They can play in the slot. Jake Butt had an ACL at Michigan at the end of his season, but he's one of those in-line blockers. Tough guy. Good enough athletically to catch the ball short and intermediate.

"This is a great tight class. You can get second and third-round tight ends that make a lot of sense. I think down the road a little bit, Michael Roberts from Toledo is a big guy that needs to block better, but he's got some pass catching skills. New England's going to have their choice of a bunch of different tight ends in this draft and get them in the first three rounds."

Defensive back is another area where the Patriots may be able to wait to find an impact player, Mayock suggested. One of the first names that popped into Mayock's mind when it comes to what intrigues Belichick was a player who played his college ball in the area.

"I think a guy that would have to be interesting to New England is Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut," he said. "Six-foot-4, 219 [pounds], and he's probably going to run sub 4.5 [40-yard dash]. If he runs in that range, I think teams are going to start looking at him a a corner and a safety.

"The reason I think New England, with Matt Patricia, I think they're the best matchup group in the league. Look what they did with Eric Rowe from the Eagles, what they did with [Kyle] Van Noy -- two guys that were kind of cast-offs. They brought them there for matchup reasons. That's what they do. I look at Melifonwu, he looks like a guy that could cover a tight end one week and go out wide and cover a big wideout the next week. I think he'd be interesting.

"[Another] a really good football player that nobody talks about is Lorenzo Jerome of Saint Francis. And what he runs this week is going to be important. But I think he can play both safety positions, and he's really, really a good football player. Like him a lot . . .

"Other names: Des King, who is a corner from Iowa that I think is going to be a nickel or safety, and I think New England always has success moving those guys around a little bit . . . I like Des King; I like Kevin King from Washington who is a corner that can play some free safety; and I like Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado, who (is a corner that) I think might be better off as a safety."

Haggerty: Trade flurry makes Bruins' road to the playoffs more slippery

Haggerty: Trade flurry makes Bruins' road to the playoffs more slippery

Don Sweeney and the Bruins aren’t expected to be big players Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline, understandable since they've won six of seven under interim coach Bruce Cassidy.

But they might be feeling a little more pressure to do something as many Atlantic Division teams -- and Eastern Conference ones, for that matter -- are making moves.

The biggest headline-grabber occurred out of division as the Washington Capitals shipped a first-round pick, two forwards and a conditional second-round pick to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a young goaltender. Shattenkirk will turn the already explosive Capitals into a strong Stanley Cup contender, maybe even the favorite. And the pressure's on for them to deliver, since it’s expected the 28-year-old All-Star will head to the New York Rangers in free agency this summer. 

Shattenkirk had been linked to the Bruins in the past but they weren’t about to pay that exorbitant a price for a rental, not while they're still more rebuilder than contender even as they push for the playoffs. Moreover, the Bruins weren’t going to do a sign-and-trade for a player who's going to command a seven-year, $49 million deal on the open market and would ostensibly be blocking the top-4 development of both Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy as stud, right shot D-men. 

Instead, expect the Bruins to invest heavily over the next year in a potential top pairing left-side defenseman who could eventually step in for Zdeno Chara. 

The highest impact moves that concerned the Bruins during Monday’s flurry of activity, however, were the divisional teams they’re competing with direction for playoff spots:

-- The Maple Leafs made a sneaky big move in shipping out a second-round pick to Tampa Bay for gritty, battle-tested, third-line center Brian Boyle, who will bring size, sandpaper and character to a young Toronto team pushing for the playoffs. 

-- Ottawa sent a prospect to Vancouver for bad boy Alex Burrows, whose claim to fame is biting Patrice Bergeron during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. The Senators and Bruins wplay each other three times in Boston’s final 20 games in the kind of matchup that could dictate the playoff fate for both clubs, and Burrows' cheap-shot antics will undoubtedly make the Sens a tougher team to play down the stretch. 

-- The Canadiens shored up their defense group by adding Dallas D-man Jordie Benn in exchange for young defenseman Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round pick. They did so before pulling off an important, come-from-behind win over the Devils on Monday night. 

The Bruins woke up Tuesday morning still holding their third-place spot in the Atlantic Division and still very much in control of their own destiny. But there’s no denying Boston’s competitors have all improved themselves. The gauntlet has been passed to Sweeney and the Bruins to do something smart for the long haul, but to also improve right now if the right deal presents itself. 

That could mean dealing off veteran players like Matt Beleskey or John-Michael Liles if there’s an interested party. It could mean picking up a cheap rental like Radim Vrbata or Dmitry Kulikov if the price is right. Or it could mean standing pat and not messing with a team playing its best hockey of the season. 

One thing is clear: Monday's moves have increased the Bruins' degree of difficulty for ending their two-year playoff drought.