By Tom E. Curran
This is the fourth in a series of looks at the Patriots' position-by-position needs after the draft, and who's available to fill them via free agency . . . whenever free agency might come. Today's position: Offensive guardcenter.
Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Ryan Wendell, Rich Ohrnberger, Thomas Austin, Marcus Cannon.Who's out there?
Robert Gallery (G - Raiders), Rudy Niswanger (C - Chiefs), Scott Mruczkowski (C - Chargers), Davin Joseph (G - Buccaneers), David Baas (GC - 49ers)What's the need?
From 1-10? Let's call it a6. Stephen Neal has retired, which leaves your presumptive starters across the front as Mankins, Koppen and Connolly. Mankins may be agitated with how he's being treated, but it's hard to fathom him forfeiting 10 million to play left guard for the Patriots in 2011, which he'll get as their franchise player (presuming the CBA gets worked out, blah, blah, blah). Not after receiving about 800,000 in salary as opposed to the 3 million he would have gotten if he'd signed his RFA tender and played the whole season. But plans need to be made for his exit after 2011. Koppen will be 32 in September. He is not dominant but he's the interior QB of a line that is exceedingly smart and efficient. The Patriots will miss him a lot when he's gone and that day is coming. His backup is Ryan Wendell, 25, a versatile player who has been capable in fill-in duty at guard and spot duty at center. Connolly is a pretty effective right guard and has the versatility to play the other side as well, as he showed during Mankins' holdout. Ohrnberger has done little to emerge in an area that's had opportunities for players to step up. Kaczur is in the mix as guard depth. Cannon, drafred in the fifth round and currently battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, figures to be out of the mix in 2011. His potential, after he hopefully conquers his health problem, is very high. Who do they chase?
Baas seems a smart choice because he has that guard-center versatility. Meanwhile, I've been hearing the team remains enamored with one-time can't-miss prospect Robert Gallery, who is now 32 and has been plagued by injuries in Oakland. Who do we look at next?
Defensive endsTom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran
Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters last week that spending time with Bill Belichick can make you "feel pretty inadequate as a coach."
But Belichick raved about Stevens during a conference call on Sunday. The two spent time together on Friday night for the Hall of Fame Huddle fundraiser to benefit Belichick's foundation, and the Patriots coach explained that he's learned a lot from the Celtics boss.
"Got to know Brad ove the last couple of years," Belichick said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he's done, taking a young team, a team that we barely knew some of the players on the team, and in a couple of years has built them into a strong team last year and played very competitively in the playoffs. Fun to go over there and watch them.
"Brad and I have talked about a lot of things that are just coaching-related. Obviously the sports are different. I don't know anything about basketball, and he says he doesn't know much about football. It's really not about Xs and Os and that kind of thing. It's more the other parts of coaching: Prepartion, training, team work, team-building, confidence, communication, players and coaches relationships and so forth.
"Obviously we're in the same business in taking more people to training camp than we can keep on a roster, then managing a roster and dealing with things that happen during the year with that roster, whether it's bringing other guys onto the team, trades and so forth. We've chatted about a lot of those things. He's given me a lot of insight.
"I'd say some of the players they get are a little younger than the guys we get on average. Kids that are coming out of college after one year, we get them after three years or four. Just the trans from college to pro which he obviously has a lot of experience with. Coming to the New England area for most players, that's an adjustment, we don't get too many guys from this area. All of those things like that."
How do the Patriots handle Sundays after Thursday night games? Bill Belichick says he won't be glued to the television as New England's next opponent, Buffalo, takes on Arizona. But he will be watching and thinking through situations as they play out live.
"I think for today, we've done preparation work on the Bills in their first two games, so this is one of those rare opportunities where you can kind of watch the game with a little bit of an idea of how you would want to play it or what you would want to do in certain situations," Belichick said in a conference call on Sunday. "Then, obviously not knowing what they'll do, kind of see how that goes, see what they'll do in those situations compared to what you think they're going to do. Or have they come up with something else, or is this situation a little bit different and has that changed their strategy or play-calling or whatever that happens to be?"
One of the elements of the game that Belichick may give a little extra thought to is how the Bills run their offense under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who replaced Greg Roman after Roman was fired following Buffalo's Week 2 loss to the Jets.
"Obviously, with a new coordinator, defensively we'll have to pay attention and see what changes or modifications they will make this week," Belichick said. "That may be an ongoing process. I don't know if they do decide to change things whether they could get it all done this week or maybe it would take a period of time, but we'll kind of keep our eye on that.
"In the end, we'll have the film by the end of the day today so that'll answer a lot more questions than the live part of it will. But the live part of it, I'd say as we're working on the scouting report for Buffalo, you can kind of have that game on in the background, sort of keep your eye on it, and see how it goes. But I wouldn't say we're just glued to the TV because we'll see everything that we need to see in a matter of hours anyway."