Curran at the Combine: 5 from Day 3

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Curran at the Combine: 5 from Day 3

By Tom E. CurranCSNNE.com Patriots Insider

INDIANAPOLIS - It all starts with the quarterback, they say. Saturday, it all ended with the quarterbacks. All the head coaches and GMs finished their moments at the podium (except the Patriots, who took a pass on speaking to media) and that cleared the way for the star attractions of this week, quarterbacks Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett. Their local link is minor so we'll get to them a bit later in Saturday's edition of the 5. THE TROUBLE WITH TRADINGFormer Patriots GM Scott Pioli said that a lockout shouldn't be a big problem for teams trying to make pre-draft trades."It's one of those things I don't spend time worrying about or thinking about," said Pioli, who was part of the draft-happy Patriots' front office before going to the Chiefs. "Whatever the circumstances are, that's what they are. You can't spend time or energy on things you can't control."There are moving parts to consider though. For instance, the Patriots have so many early picks there will be a market for them. So what if they wanted todeal for the rights to a player? Would that trade hold up post-lockout? And wouldn't the team want to kick the tires or find out as much as possible about the player pre-trade? Surely deals are done without players being contacted all the time, butthe Patriots' draft weekend deal for Randy Moss required extensive conversations. Just another monkey wrench to lob into the works. OLD PATRIOTS DON'T FORGETOn Saturday, Pioli was asked what he remembered of assistant coach Brian Daboll whenDaboll was a Patriots' assistant. Daboll was part of the outflux of coaches that left with Eric Mangini when Mangini got the Jets job. Daboll then went with Mangini to Cleveland and is now the newly-hired offensive coordinator in Miami. Hard feelings over the way Mangini recruited Patriots coaches to go with him to New York and, of course, Spygate seemed to be close to the surface when Pioli answered. "I remember that he was part of a great deal of success there," Pioli said curtly. Pioli could have pulled a punch as well when he was asked about Charlie Weis leaving the Chiefs to go to the University of Florida and coordinate offense. I dont think you enter any relationship thinking its going to be a short-term relationship, especially when someone is under contract. It changes, theres nothing you can do about it, you adjust to it as you have to. Thats life, Pioli said.THE EXPERIENCE FACTOROne thing that may lurk in the back of teams' minds as they shop for players this April is how soon they'll be able to get those players in with their coaches. If, for instance, the situation between owners and players isn't resolved until August, it will be almost a lost year for the incoming group of rookies without much college experience. Those players will have missed out on minicamps, passing camps, etc. And by the time training camp starts, getting the veterans ready may trump the need to get rookies up to speed. So if you're a team looking at a third-year sophomore like defensive end Aldon Smith from Missouri or four-year senior Cameron Jordan from Cal who played twice as many games after high school, wouldn't it make sense to err on the side of experience? The ability of teams to self-start despite not being with coaches is going to be absolutely vital once football starts again if there's a protracted work stoppage. BIG DAY FOR CASTONZOBoston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo probably benefited as much as anybody when USC tackle Tyron Smith left the Combine early and passed on running in Indy. Castonzo ran a very respectable 5.23 in the 40 and word from two team sourcesis that Castonzo continues to impress in team interviews. "I'm having a blast," Castonzo told me Saturday afternoon outside the Indianapolis Convention Center. "These interviews are perfect for me. I love the grilling." Castonzo was an exceptional student at Boston College, a bio-chem major. It's no surprise he's killing it. GRILLED QUARTERBACKThere was really no way that Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett could win on Saturday when he stepped to the podium. Dealing with a flurry of rumors that he's been involved with drugs, he was bound to be questioned about it. And he was. Four times. After the last entreaty, he ended his interview and left the podium. He'll be criticized for that. People will use that moment to extrapolate he can't take pressure. But, as a quarterback, sometimes you have to know when to get out of a bad play, as it were, and I felt that's what Mallett did. When initially asked about the rumors, Mallett said, "When I saw that stuff, I laughed about it."He insinuated he's being sabotaged by saying, Obviously someone did that for a reason, right before the Combine.Mallett said he wasn't going to address anything in the press conference forum and that he'd speak to the teams in his personal interview. Which is perfectly reasonable. What college kid should be made to address a room full of strangers and possibly unveil drug use when that's only going to turn into headlines for the next two months? And nobody's going to say, "Oh. Thanks, we don't need to know anymore," if Mallett comes clean. As for Cam Newton, his problems were minor in comparison. He had to squish the perception he's a diva after saying he hopes to become "an entertainer and an icon."He tried to undo that by opening his time at the podium with a statement, saying, "First and foremost I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be. I know and believe that.He said he was speaking about an endorsement he'd signed when he said the words. I was making the point that I want to be the best possible ambassador for them just like I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for, Newton said. He's an eminently likable kid. He handled the questions about his readiness with aplomb. And by using the third-person. Obviously, everybody knows that Cam has been in a spread offense and I have been trying to work as much as possible on trying to be fluid, he explained. He was also asked about his father, Cecil Newton, who nearly cost his son his eligibility by allegedly demanding Mississippi State pay for Cam Newton's presence. "My father is just like any other father that wants the best for his son. He wants to see his son succeed in every way possible.He added that the experience brought he and his father closer together.
Tom E. Curran canbe reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

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Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

The Patriots opened a roster spot by waiving defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, but they won't be adding a quarterback to take his place. 

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the team has swapped one defensive tackle for another by adding former Browns big man John Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who played under former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi when Lombardi was Cleveland's general manager in 2013. 

Hughes was released last week after spending just over four years with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012. He signed a four-year extension with the Browns last season that was worth $12.8 million. 

With the Patriots, Hughes figures to work in as part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line along with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine. Unlike Johnson, who was more of a penetrating pass-rusher, Hughes should factor in as more of a space-eating type. He has 5.5 career sacks in 53 games. 

Johnson is the latest in a long line of Browns who played under Lombardi to end up in New England. The two most notable Patriots who spent 2013 in Cleveland are defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who arrived in New England in a trade this summer, was drafted by Lombardi's front office as the No. 6 overall pick in 2013.

Pats exploit 'element of unknown' with Garoppolo or Brissett at QB

Pats exploit 'element of unknown' with Garoppolo or Brissett at QB

There’s no way to spin rookie Jacoby Brissett starting a game rather than three-year NFL veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or future Hall of Famer Tom Brady as preferable.
 
But can the disadvantages be mitigated? Can the fact there is no “book” on a player be helpful?
 
“I think there’s always an element of the unknown when you’re dealing with a player or something you haven’t seen or scouted as much,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage there, it’s just that you don’t have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first cquarter, the first half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven’t seen before, if it is a player that you haven’t played against and don’t have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on.

"What’s happening in the game? How much of an impact is that player having? Are they trying to  do something that’s disrupting what you’re trying to do with their scheme? I think that happens a lot of weeks during the course of the year based on health and availability, new players, guys being called up, someone that just got signed and you don’t really have a lot of experience watching them play in their system. I would say that’s a common occurrence for us.”
 
With a fullback or UDFA guard pressed into duty, there’s not a helluva lot that will be altered in terms of scheme. With players like Garoppolo and Brissett, though, the Patriots' long-established offense can take on an entirely different look if different areas are emphasized.
 
For instance, jet sweep is a play the team won’t use much with Tom Brady except as a “keep ‘em honest” on the edges kind of play. With Garoppolo, quickness when he gets outside the pocket has to be respected so if he fakes that jet sweep and rolls to the outside, he’s a run-pass threat with speed and downfield accuracy. With Brissett, he’s a threat with elusiveness, size and power as a runner. Additionally, if the Patriots wanted to try the old Elway Throwback to the opposite sideline, Brissett may have more arm power than either Brady or Garoppolo.
 
McDaniels said the Patriots aren’t looking necessarily for ways to “surprise” opponents as much as they are looking for ways to accentuate players’ strengths.  
 
“We’ve got to take the guys that we get to play with, based on health and other factors, and then we consider the defense that we’re getting ready to play against, and the great players and the scheme that they use, and then we try to formulate the right plan to allow our players to go out there and play fast, play well, and do the things that suit their talents the best,” McDaniels explained. “I don’t think that our mindset has changed.

"Some of the variables have changed from one week to the next, which is always the case,  and of course, when you get a group of guys a plan and then you work so hard to get ready for Sunday or Thursday night and go out there and watch them play and execute and take care of the ball and do the things you need to do to try to win, and then they enjoy it so much, that’s really the thing that you take the most satisfaction from as a coach.”