Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique

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Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. Second in this little string: wide receivers. Cosell makes the salient point that the Patriots' system and quarterback are what makes their receivers potent. That and the receivers' willingness to buy into the system's precision and be deferential to the quarterback's decisions are what make the Patriots offense unique. More skilled wideouts than Wes Welker and Deion Branch exist. But there aren't any who fit more seamlessly with the Patriots than they do. On Wes WelkerGC: I've had this debate with Peter King (of Sports Illustrated) for years about the top players. He would always have Wes Welker. Now I love Wes Welker. It's hard not to love him. But he's a very specific kind of player and -- as remarkable as he is -- he is a function of the entire offense and what's around him. He's got a tremendous understanding on how to run routes against zone and what made Welker too good with Randy Moss is that Moss demanded Cover-2. Against that kind of coverage, the phenomenal short area quickness, the fact that he's in and out of breaks so quickly and never has to throttle down makes him as good as anyone in football between the numbers. But he is a function of an entire offense. He doesn't define an offense. Moss, Brady's ability before the snap and the versatility of the offense means he's in a perfect, perfect situation.On Deion BranchGC: I think Deion Branch is a nice, short-to-intermediate receiver. He's a good route runner. He can win against man coverage but if you give him a steady does all the time he will struggle to separate. He is deadly against zone. Skill-set wise, he is replaceable, but because of the nature of the Patriots passing game which is so much based on pre-snap reads, his intelligence is not. That's where he does excel. And that's why he can go somewhere else and he becomes just another guy then comes back to New England and flourishes. He's got a great understanding of all that's involved. On Brandon TateGC: Very often, the way players are used tells you how a coaching staff feels about them. The way the Patriots use Brandon Tate tells that they don't think much of him at this point. He runs about three routes and the only time the ball comes to him is when a play is specifically called for him. In terms of physical ability, he's very good. If you look at the skill set of a wideout, he has it. He's big, he runs well, he's got good lateral quickness. But in taking the spot of Randy Moss,hewas stepping in for someone who wasas good a vertical receiver as we've ever seen. Tate has vertical skills but not Randy Moss vertical skills and that's why coverage was different for Tate after Moss left. I also think Tate's hands can be erratic That can't happen with the few plays they run for him. They just don't feel he was ready last year. And he's the kind of guy getting killed by the work stoppage. He really needed this offseason. On Julian EdelmanGC: I'm not saying anything that people haven't already realized in that he's very similar to Welker. (Asked if he believed Edelman will ultimately be capable of replacing Welker, Cosell answered that he could.) SummaryCosell cuts to the Catch-22 of the Patriots' wideout situation. There's a high level ofinstitutional knowledge necessary to play well at wide receiver for the Patriots. So while Welker and Branch may be a lot closer to the end of their physical usefulness than the beginning, it's hard to push away from them. Once the season starts, it comes down to winning games. So the emphasis on developing guys like Edelman, Tate and Taylor Price goes out the window as the Patriots prepare for every Sunday's matchup. Meanwhile, because Tate is lacking as a vertical threat to be taken seriously on every play, the Patriots are a more horizontal passing offense since neither Branch nor Welker is going to burn past corners with regularity. The Patriots sacrifice explosiveness for precision and -- as the numbers show -- it works. But getting the successors to Branch and Welker well-versed in the nuances of the Patriots attack gets harder all the time -- especially with the lockout ongoing.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Does Butler want to be with Patriots beyond 2017? 'Whatever happens, happens'

Does Butler want to be with Patriots beyond 2017? 'Whatever happens, happens'

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler came off of the Gillette Stadium practice field to a gaggle of reporters who had been interested in speaking to him all offseason. There had been speculation not too long ago that he'd be traded. There was speculation he might sign elsewhere as a restrcited free agent.

What he would say on those topics might prove to be informative. People were eager to hear from him. But it was what he didn't say that may have been the most interesting part of his first back-and-forth with reporters since Super Bowl LI.

In the rain, in front of a dozen or more microphones, following his team's third organized team activity practice, Butler was asked if he would like to be in New England beyond the 2017 season, the final year of his contract. 

"Can't predict the future," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."

Butler was given several opportunities to say that he'd like to stick with the Patriots for the long term, but he was non-committal. Though his presence on the roster for this season gives the Patriots a supremely talented cornerback duo, the fact that the team gave Stephon Gilmore a lucrative long-term contract this offseason makes Butler's long-term future in New England a bit hazy.

Playing for a restricted free agent tender worth $3.91 million, Butler was asked if it was difficult to separate the business side of things from his on-field performance.

"Not really," he insisted. "Just gotta come here and just play football. You gotta earn everything you want. Gotta come here, work hard each and every day. Nobody's gonna give you nothing."

He added: "Just gotta keep working. Ignore the noise, and just keep working. No matter what. You got a job to do no matter where you're at. Glad to be here to do this job."

Butler received significant interest from the Saints during the offseason, and he made a trip to New Orleans to visit the organization's facilities there. Unwilling to provide Butler with a big-money contract offer and turn over their first-round pick to the Patriots, the Saints decided to cease in their pursuit of the 27-year-old Super Bowl XLIX hero. 

Butler said he didn't wasn't always sure he was going to be in New England for 2017.

"You never know what's gonna happen, I was just sitting back patiently waiting," he explained. "Just doing what I can do, control only what I can control. I'm here now and that's what it is."

That Butler has been at Patriots workouts and OTA practices since signing his tender is an indication that he's ready to throw himself into the upcoming season with his sights set on performing as well as possible in order to put himself in the best position possible when he's scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the year. 

"Wasn't gonna hurt nobody but myself if I missed this," he admitted. "This is extra time to get better, and that's what I'm out here to do. To get better and have another great year. Anything to help the team. Present a positive image."