A closer look at Gronkowski and Hernandez


A closer look at Gronkowski and Hernandez

By TomE. Curran

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. First up, tight ends.
On Rob Gronkowski
GC: "I think he has a chance to be a very complete tight end. My initial comparison is with Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), but he's a bit more fluid and smoother. Therefore, I believe he has a chance to become a better intermediate receiver. He can certainly run the vertical seam. He can block, he can run routes from the line of scrimmage, he can be flexed out."On Aaron Hernandez
GC: "I really liked him coming out of Florida. I believe he is a 'new age' tight end that is continuing the evolution of the position. He's what I like to call a 'Joker',like a movable chess piece. You can use him all over, which is what Don Coryell did with Kellen Winslow (back in with the Chargers in the 1980s - a development which is highlighted in the GamesThat ChangedThe Game book). He's very fluid, a much better pure athlete than Gronkowski, really a different player than Gronkowski. He's very good after the catch and I watched him beat corners off the line (in 2010)."On Scheme ImpactGC: "When they put Gronkowski and Hernandez on the field at the same time, they are asking defenses, 'How do you want to treat these players?' Hernandez really has to be treated as a wide receiver. He beats cornerbacks (Cosell cited a "stick-nod-go" route on which Hernandez blew past Chargers' corner Quentin Jammer as evidence). So the Patriots are making defenses declare. Do they want to play base personnel? If so, Hernandez is matched up with a safety or a linebacker. If the defense wantsto put a corner on him, the Patriots may have a mismatch elsewhere with Wes Welker against a safety. That's what happened against the Colts when Gronkowski and Hernandez were on the field. The Colts ended up with linebacker Pat Angerer on Welker and Welker scored a 22-yard touchdown."On Presnap Reads of Tom BradyGC: "Reading the defense before the snap is critical for all quarterbacks. Tom Brady, (Peyton) Manning, (Drew) Brees and (Aaron) Rodgers are the best in football at deciphering the personnel packages and the favorable matchupsthat are there to take advantage of. The magic with Brady happens before theball is snapped. With all the Patriots' personnel packages and multi-dimensional tight ends, it makes it difficult for a defense. It makes them declare their personnel and their coverages and when they declare, that's when quarterbacks like Brady have the advantage."SummaryIn terms of skill set, Cosell really isn't telling those of us who watch the Patriots regularly anything we didn't learn in 2010. But he really amplifies the point that the goal of the Patriots offense is creating mismatches. Some teams are just "we'll run our stuff" type offenses, but the Patriots' constant effort to get multi-dimensional players at the same position is what makes them a "game plan" offense that's so hard to match up with. For example, when the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as running backs, there was some wonderment about whether BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2010 work wasn't valued or whether Danny Woodhead was going to be replaced. In reality, Vereen and Ridley aren't replacements for those two but complements and depth. Vereen can't be expected to be as potent a receiver, scatback as Woodhead, but he can affordsome of that while also being abackupto Green-Ellis' role. And Ridley brings short yardage thump that Green-Ellis may not have and replaces Sammy Morris, an outgoing free agent.Opposing defenses will have to figure out how the Patriots plan to deploy them, same as they had to - and still have to - with the Gronknandez Combo at tight end.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Belichick convinces UDFA to sign, tells him to be in shape


Belichick convinces UDFA to sign, tells him to be in shape

The moments following the final round of the NFL draft are always a whirlwind because the work done by those in their respective war rooms isn't finished. Every year, coaches and personnel staffers work their phones calling undrafted free-agents in order to round out their rosters with passed-over talent.

Arizona State receiver and running back D.J. Foster was one of those fielding calls on Saturday, giving his cell battery a workout. The Cardinals, Texans and Patriots all came calling, and he was leaning toward what he considered his hometown team in Arizona.

Then the Patriots deployed their top recruiting weapon: coach Bill Belichick.

You can watch Foster's draft day ordeal here with this video put together by 12News.com in Phoenix.

When he's made his decision he gets a call from one team employee telling him how "fired up" they are to have him on board. Then Belichick calls again, his mission accomplished, to first congratulate Foster and then order him to be in shape for rookie minicamp.

Foster was barely in elementary school when Belichick and Tom Brady helped the Patriots win their  first Super Bowl. Ever since, they've been one of the most consistently successful teams in football.

That track record couldn't have hurt Foster in his decision-making process, but it seems as though he was proposed the best financial deal by the Patriots. They're also a team that won't be afraid to try players at multiple positions. The fact that Foster considers himself both a running back and a receiver could be seen as beneficial in regards to him making the team. Being labeled a "'tweener" isn't always a detriment.

In the Patriots offense, there is room for a player with Foster's skill set. Perhaps he will work alongside Dion Lewis and James White as a "sub back," who specializes in the passing game and poses a threat either lined up in the backfield or out wide like a receiver. The other option would be for Foster to serve as a full-time receiver -- something he focused on last season -- who might be best suited for the slot. As an undrafted rookie, he'll also likely be expected to contribute in the kicking game in some way shape or form.

Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension


Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

Is the Patriots roster so loaded that Tom Brady can be suspended for four games, and they're still the favorites to win it all? 

Apparently so, according to odds released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Not long after the completion of this year's draft, the Patriots were favored at 6-1 to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy even though their quarterback is scheduled to miss the first month of the season after his Deflategate punishment was recently reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady plans to appeal that ruling. 

Next on the list of favorites are the Seahawks, Steelers and Packers, all of whom are tied at 8-1. The Panthers, who fell in Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos, have 9-1 odds to redeem themselves after last season's defeat and walk away winners. 

The Patriots are, of course, favored to win the AFC (3-1) and the AFC East (4-9), and their season win total projection has been set at 10.5.

Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?


Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

Three mid-week thoughts for your perusal . . . 

-- I was 100 percent behind the drafting of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And then I read comments about the kid from Charlie Weis and Bill Parcells in Karen Guregian's excellent story in the Boston Herald on Tuesday.

Now I'm down to about 80 percent.

"He's a Curtis Martin-, Willie McGinest-, Troy Brown-type of player,'' said Parcells. "That's the kind of guy he is. That's what New England is getting. Those kind, those Tedy Bruschi types, those players who've been successful -- he's very similar in his personal life to those kinds of guys.''

"Let me tell you,'' added Weis, "this kid, from the time he was in high school, is the Pied Piper . . . He was definitely the leader of the pack. In the quarterback position, I think that's a critical factor. And that's what he was.''

Added Parcells: "He has zero personal issues.''

So why would glowing reports cause me to like the pick less? File under: Too good to be true.

I read those quotes and get the feeling I'm being sold something, which shakes my confidence a bit. Plus, it's a little too much on the intangible element. Character is certainly important at the position. In fact, it's crucial. But if intangibles were the only thing that mattered, Tim Tebow would have been an NFL QB. And we all know how that turned out.

Bottom line: I still like the pick. I still want the Pats drafting and developing quarterbacks. I just smell a bit of bull crap.

-- Chris Mannix nailed it regarding what it would take for the Celtics to lure Kevin Durant to Boston.

"Boston's ability to lure him is going to come down to who else they can get. You can't walk into a meeting with Kevin Durant and say, 'We've got Isiah Thomas and 97 draft picks; we're going to be good in a few years','' he told Toucher and Rich Tuesday morning. "Kevin doesn't want to hear that . . . What he wants to hear is that we're ready to win now . . . They have to come to the table with a Jimmy Butler, with a Bradley Beal, with an Al Horford. They can't just come with Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge and a bunch of draft picks.''

In other words, the pieces on the current roster aren't nearly as good as they looked in the regular season. And, no, Thomas is not a franchise player. And, finally, don't get too attached to those picks, no matter where the ping pong balls land.

-- I wonder if the Bruins look at the current landscape in net across the NHL playoffs and consider how wise it is to pay their goalie, Tuukka Rask, $7 million a year.

Still alive are guys like the Islanders' Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million cap hit), the Blues' Brian Ellliott ($2.5 million), the Sharks' Martin Jones ($3 million) and Penguins rookie Matt Murray ($620,000). Out are 8 of the top 10 highest-paid goalies in the league, a list including Henri Lundqvist, Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller and, of course, Rask.

Please note: No one is saying you can get away with shoddy goaltending in the playoffs. It's an unassailable fact that you need elite play in net to contend for Stanley Cups. The question is what you have to pay for it. 

And in that regard, this year is no aberration. Sometimes you have to pay through the nose for it, and sometimes it just falls in your lap.

Can the Bruins get away with trying to survive in that second camp? Good question. This much I know: Paying Rask $7 million a year to miss the playoffs two straight years isn't doing anyone any good.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.