Curran: If Tebow stays, it won't be for football

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Curran: If Tebow stays, it won't be for football

The Tebow Issue remains for the New England Patriots.

 


With all teams cutting to 75 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m. and 53 by 6 p.m. on Saturday, interminable speculation about whether Tebow would make the Patriots will -- mercifully -- terminate.

 


The Tebow Conundrum (like the Bourne Conspiracy, but with less subterfuge and more overthrows) has only grown more mystifying. Creating a role for him in the Patriots offense is like giving up your car so that it can get an 8-track installed.

 


Don’t need it. Won’t use it. And not very good at its job (in the 8-track’s case, playing music; in Tebow’s case, playing quarterback).

 


Everybody’s got an opinion on Tebow’s future. Some are delivered as fact.

 


But since camp began, virtually all evidence submitted by Tebow himself proves he doesn’t belong on the Patriots roster.

 


He’s gone 5 for 19 in his two appearances. Only one -- ONE OUT OF 19 PASSES -- could be classified as too difficult for a middle school quarterback to execute. That was a 17-yarder to Aaron Dobson against the Eagles. Of the four other completions, all traveled less than 5 yards. Thirty-two of his 54 preseason passing yards came on middle screens to Leon Washington and Bolden against Philadelphia.

 


Tebow’s run for 61 yards on 10 carries, but he’s also been sacked three times and thrown a pick in limited action. When trying to read defenses, he’s been decisive as a stoned Price Is Right contestant relying on the studio audience. Not a single aspect of anything related to playing the position has been done consistently enough in practice or games to allow a reasonable person to say, “You know, on football merits, Tebow deserves a spot on the Patriots.”

 


When I consider Tebow, I keep thinking of players who could conceivably go if Tebow stays. Like Brandon Bolden. Bolden is a second-year player signed as an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss in 2012.

 


Bolden absolutely has NFL talent as a running back. He presents as very smart, engaging and diligent. He’s made mistakes -- a four-game PED suspension last year being a primary one. And he’s not been outstanding in this preseason -- a running-into-the-kicker call against the Eagles that extended a drive; a fumble inside the 15 last week against the Lions.

 


But he’s also had positive plays, with 11 carries for 58 yards and a presence on multiple special teams units.  

 


Brandon Bolden deserves to be on the Patriots more than Tim Tebow. I hate to begrudge a person who is so unfailingly decent, upright and spiritually blessed his opportunity to keep chasing his NFL dream, but I’m doing it with Tebow. And I’m not pretty sure about it, I’m convinced. Tebow hasn’t earned it.

 


If I know that, one can imagine Brandon Bolden does as well. And running backs coach Ivan Fears. And special teams coach Scott O’Brien. And Bolden’s teammates in the running backs room.


If Bolden goes and Tebow stays (please note, I’m using Bolden as a “for instance” -- this could be any player on the bubble), it has to be viewed through the lens of who would have made a bigger contribution for the team,



Belichick’s mantra -- his fallback and his shield -- has always been “I do what’s best for the football team…”

 


On football merit alone, Tebow is currently the worst Patriot.

 


One square inch of Belichick’s brain carries more football knowledge than my whole noggin. So, if Tebow is on the team past Saturday at 6 p.m., a non-football reason will be the driving force. And Tebow’s values, work ethic and off-field example could be the reason.

 


The Patriots’ locker room bottomed out in 2009. Players were selfish, cliquish, immature and the chemistry sucked. After fumigating the locker room prior to the 2010 season, New England was a less talented team but wound up going 14-2. Chemistry and attitude had a lot to do with that.

 


The 2012 Patriots were nowhere near as bad as the 2009 edition, but there was an immaturity and an entitled air seeping into their locker room. The pursuit of individual attention became a focus (Rob Gronkowski is the best example but he’s not been the lone one). Average guys acted like Pro Bowlers (hellooo, Brandon Deaderick) and other guys were just jerks (Brandon Lloyd). Even before Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, you could see the Patriots addressing the personality deficiencies with the players they drafted (who all presented very professionally) and the ones they released.

 


Nothing is absolute -- LeGarrette Blount doesn’t have the resume of a Boy Scout and the Patriots traded for him -- but in general, you could sense a different type of person being imported.

 


Less conspicuous than the signing of Tebow has been the presence this year of a team chaplain. I first noticed him in Philly on the sidelines during practices and have seen him with the team frequently since. That’s not unprecedented for the team but this chaplain has been more visible. Whether that’s his particular style or he’s been asked to be a visible presence is unknown. It’s just noteworthy in the context of Tebow’s role.

 


To me, if Tebow ends up on the 53, it won’t be because he’s a valuable football player. It will be because he’s a valuable presence. Doing what’s best for the football team doesn’t have to mean keeping the best players -- Brandon Lloyd and Adalius Thomas are proof of that. But if Tebow remains because he’s a good person, hard worker and spiritual example, the fact he plays badly will be a cross for him -- and the Patriots -- to bear.

Film review: Burkhead provides Patriots combination of power, quickness

Film review: Burkhead provides Patriots combination of power, quickness

Rex Burkhead knew he was staring at a rare opportunity.

Going into Cincinnati's 2016 season finale, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound back was averaging just three carries per game. But with both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard injured, the fourth-year player out of Nebraska understood he had a chance to put something on tape that would help him land a job in the offseason. 

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"Can't lie," Burkhead told his college teammate Adam Carriker. "Going into free agency, I knew that game was huge. It was a good opportunity for me to show what I could do. I guess it kind of helped me out."

It certainly didn't hurt. 

Burkhead ran 27 times for 119 yards and two scores against the Ravens, showing off an intriguing blend of toughness and elusiveness in the process. 

Burkead was already an accomplished special-teamer -- he led the Bengals in special-teams tackles last season -- but his performance against the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing defense made it clear that he could be leaned upon for more than just a few carries every week.

The Patriots must have taken notice. 

They signed Burkhead earlier this month to a one-year deal that will pay him $1.8 million in base salary and carry what some considered a relatively surprising maximum value of $3.15 million. That's more than the $1 million LeGarrette Blount was offered on his one-year deal last year, and it's enough to make Burkhead the highest-paid running back on the roster. 

What did the Patriots see from Burkhead that made him worth that kind of money? Let's take a closer look at his film -- particularly what he did in Week 17 last season -- to get a sense of what he might be able to do in New England. 

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The Patriots have long had a "big back" on their roster. Most recently, that's been Blount, who has been complemented by sub back James White and all-purpose runner Dion Lewis. 

Before Blount it was Stevan Ridley. Before Ridley, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis. You can go all the way back to Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith. Belichick likes runners who can get what's blocked, protect the football, then create their own yards in the secondary by punishing defensive backs.

Burkhead doesn't quite tip the scales as those players listed above -- though he comes close to Green-Ellis (5-11, 215) -- yet he's currently the biggest back on the Patriots roster, and he seems to run with a bruiser's mentality. 

On his very first carry against the Ravens, when he got through the line of scrimmage and into the secondary, he saw that safety Matt Elam had him lined up. Instead of trying to spin away from Elam or hurdle him, Burkhead lowered his shoulder and became the aggressor. 

Elam, who was thought to be one of the biggest hitters to enter the league four years ago, had to give himself a moment before popping back up to his feet after the collision. 

Statement made. 

Burkhead's strength, it seems, is his strength. Just ask Eric Weddle and the rest of the Ravens how he turned this play into a nine-yard gain to help the Bengals bleed the clock late in the fourth quarter. 



Burkhead consistently fought through first contact and fell forward to pick up maximum yardage snap after snap versus Baltimore's stingy run defense. On his first touchdown of the game, he was tripped up near the line of scrimmage but showed good balance by stumbling into the end zone from five yards away. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Burkhead's performance against the Ravens was his ability to keep the Bengals out of negative plays. On multiple occasions, he was hit at the line of scrimmage or behind it and consistently made his way back to the line or beyond it. 

Early in the fourth quarter, he was hit for what looked like it would be a three or four-yard loss yet somehow he was able to twist and dive back for no gain. Midway through the second, he was hit at the line and turned it into a four-yard pickup. 



One of the reasons Lewis has been so valuable to the Patriots when healthy the last two seasons is that when things break down up front, and when it looks like Tom Brady is about to be looking at second-and-11, he cuts and knifes forward for a yard or two or more. 

Those aren't big plays in the box score, but they're critical when it comes to extending drives. It seems like Burkhead has the ability to submit the same kinds of small-but-important gains with a hard-charging style all his own.

VISION, QUICKNESS TO FIND RUNNING ROOM
For someone who seems to enjoy imposing his will on would-be tacklers, Burkhead has a good amount of wiggle to his game. His vision and lateral quickness helped him make Ravens defenders look silly at times. 

As opposed to burrowing into a pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage early in the third quarter, his jump cut to the right helped him find space in the open field for an eye-opening eight-yard run. 



On the very next down, he was stopped a yard behind the line of scrimmage but was able to pick up three thanks to another jump cut that allowed him to stretch the run out wide.

In the fourth, Burkhead showed good patience by stalling behind the block of receiver Brandon LaFell, picking a path, and running decisively once he did. 



Burkhead may not be Lewis when it comes to his elusiveness, but he has the ability to mix in some off-speed stuff in between snaps spent trying to bowl over tacklers. 

Asked by Carriker if he preferred powering through defenders or bouncing around them, Burkhead said he'd actually go with the latter. 

"I think making a guy miss just because I feel like they don't expect that from me a lot of times," Burkhead explained. "But growing up I always took good pride in that. Just my quickness, my ability to make my guy miss."

MR. VERSATILITY
Part of what makes Burkhead's signing so interesting is that he doesn't fit tightly into the definition of either "big back" or "sub back." He seems somewhat like a larger version of Lewis -- an all-purpose runner who he can be used in a variety of packages and deployed in a variety of positions.

Burkhead has run out of the I-formation and the shotgun. He's caught the ball out of the backfield and lined up as a receiver, where he spent most of Cinci's 2014 Divisional Round game against the Colts. He caught three passes that day for 34 yards and ran a reverse for a gain of 23. 

"He has tremendous short-area quickness," then-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said during training camp two years ago. "His 10-yard times were off the charts; his three-cone was off the charts. He's very talented [as a receiver]."

However Burkhead is used, he'll very likely continue to see time as a contributor in the kicking game. Not only does he have a wealth of experience when it comes to covering kicks, but he's served as a kick-returner in the past as well. 

So to recap: Running back...receiver...special-teamer.

Sure sounds like someone Belichick would be willing to invest in.

Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

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Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room. 

"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."

Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.

During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday. 

As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.