Patriots can deal with character concerns


Patriots can deal with character concerns

In 1998, then-Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Bobby Grier was asked about Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss had a checkered college career, bouncing from Notre Dame to Florida State, never playing a snap for either team as brawls, weed and a jail stretch landed him in Division 1-AA.

Said Grier, "The guy's an awesome talent. Some people may be willing to give him a chance. I don't think he's the kind of guy that we need to bring in here.''

The scar from the 1996 selection and release of Nebraska hoodlum Christian Peter was still fresh when Grier was asked about Moss. Peter, drafted in the fifth round by the Bill Parcells administration, was let go a week later when his criminal background came to light. The selection of Peter was an embarrassment for ownership; his forced release was an affront to Parcells and the football staff.

As Grier said in the 1998 predraft press conference with the media, "We've learned that some people we don't move down our board; they get moved off our board."

Irony of ironies, Moss was on the Patriots less than a decade later, catching 23 touchdowns.

But Moss came aboard under a far different administration than the reactionary post-Parcells braintrust of Grier and Pete Carroll. Moss was dealt for by Bill Belichick whose personnel gambles and bona fides were well-established by 2007.

The current Patriots are very amenable to rolling the dice on a player with a questionable track record.

They do it with veterans (Moss, Bryan Cox, Ted Washington, Corey Dillon, Donte Stallworth). And they've done it often in the draft. Last year, they took Ryan Mallett in the third round after rumors of drug use and thuggery drove his stock down. In 2010, they took Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez who had weed suspensions on their records. In 2007, they took Brandon Meriweather despite his on-field stomping of FIU players and a little gunplay activity at the U.

Meriweather didn't work out. Most guys do, at least for a spell.

On Thursday, Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio talked about how the team proceeds when scouting prospects with missteps.

"Sometimes you'll find that some of the information is misinformation so you want to make sure you have the correct information on a player," Caserio explained. "There's a lot of street scuttle or road scuttle and sometimes there's no verification of it so it's important for a team to do its own homework on a player and to make the decision they feel comfortable with."

In this draft, the high-profile player with baggage is North Alabama corner Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins has been on a media tour aimed at answering questions and allaying concerns about his arrests and life decisions. He's been convincing. But there's a lot at stake for Jenkins or any player suddenly faced with doubts.

"You have to try to figure out what's real and what's not given whatever the background may be," said Caserio. "There are other avenues you can explore in addition to face-to-face and it's important to have the right information because I think there's a lot of times there's misinformation out there.

"In the end you have to use your judgment, gut instinct and trust that you have all the accurate information, you feel good enough about whatever that is. You can have a conversation with a kid where you call them on something and they lie to your face. Then you have to figure out what's right, what's wrong."

Because of the Patriots' interest in getting premium value for their picks, they will often face the character conundrum.

Players slip to them because other organizations either don't trust the player or don't trust their locker room to rein him in. Or, maybe even more often, those organizations don't have the clout of success that makes them somewhat impervious to criticism.

The Patriots -- generally -- have those things. So they can take risks others may shy from because they've either made them work out in the past or shown a willingness to cut ties when the situation is going bad.

In a week, the decisions will once again face the Patriots. And nobody will be surprised if they take a chance on a risky prospect.

Steelers descending into disarray?

Steelers descending into disarray?

Less than 48 hours removed from openly wondering if the AFC Championship Game stage was “too big” for some of his young teammates, Ben Roethlisberger has decided to play the latter-day Hamlet/Brett Favre game.

Speaking on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday, Roethlisberger hinted at retirement.

“I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options,” Roethlisberger said. “To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season. All those things. I think at this point in my career, at my age, that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.”

The soon-to-be-35-year-old Roethlisberger is a likely Hall of Famer who’s still arguably one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. But for whatever reason, he’s got an insatiable need for people to register concern about his status. Whether it be limping around the field, lamenting injuries or this, few quarterbacks in the league go through the same histrionics Roethlisberger does in order to get those, “Attaboy, Ben!” backslaps.

I remember being at Steelers training camp in 2009 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and having veteran Steelers writers roll their eyes as Roethlisberger started hopping around like he was on hot coals after a throw. The quarterback having an owie act was a daily tradition.

Roethlisberger’s also got a passive aggressive side in which he’ll deftly twist the knife on coaches and teammates but leave himself enough room for plausible deniability.

In addition to openly wondering if his young teammates took the AFC Championship Game seriously enough, Roethlisberger gave the “just running the plays as I’m told” answer when asked about the Steelers resistance to running a quarterback sneak when they were at the Patriots goal line before halftime. Roethlisberger could have taken offensive coordinator Todd Haley off the hook there – he’s lobbied for Haley to get a head coaching shot after the two had a bad relationship when Haley arrived. But he opted not to.

Similarly, earlier this year, Roethlisberger’s critiques of the way head coach Mike Tomlin was running the team were aired. 

So, this could be part of a Roethlisberger power play aimed at the Steelers bowing to his wishes.

That wasn’t the only tidbit from Pittsburgh that looked bad for the AFC finalists. Linebacker Bud Dupree said the Steelers were surprised by the Patriots using an up-tempo offense earlier in the game. 

Do they not have electricity or internet access in the Steelers facility? Up-tempo is a staple part of the Patriots offensive diet. You can see it on the television or the internet through your smart phone.

While there’s no doubt that defensive coordinator Keith Butler – and defensive minded head coach Tomlin – were aware and talked about the Patriots going no-huddle, the fact Dupree (and his teammates) were unable to recall the preparation or adequately fall into an emergency plan to address it does fall on the coaches.

Need more? It’s also being leaked out of the building that Antonio Brown cares too much about his statistics. He made clear last week how much he cares about advancing his personal brand at the expense of Tomlin and the team with his Facebook Live video. 

If there’s an upside for anyone in all this, it would have to be Joey Porter. Nobody’s even talking about his off-field fracas anymore.

As this season ably demonstrated, the Patriots have plum run out of authentic rivals in the AFC. That the team they just pulverized is steamrolling into an offseason of dysfunction and uncertainty isn't good if you like parity. But it's terrific if you couldn't care less.