Mesko ready to take on his second season


Mesko ready to take on his second season

By A. Sherrod Blakely Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
FOXBORO Zoltan Mesko is a man of many talents. He speaks five different languages. He has not one, but two college degrees. But the NFL is a completely different subject, one that he's picking up quite nicely.

The 6-foot-5 punter had a solid rookie year with the New England Patriots last season. A year older and wiser, Mesko has shown signs of being even better.

The only major difference now, Mesko says, is he knows what to expect.

"The workload is the same," he said. "The pressure for success never decreases. It's definitely a better experience the second time around just knowing what challenges are ahead of us, ahead of me. That's basically it -- knowing what to expect."

With the Patriots having an offense with even more weapons than last season -- or in 2007 when Brady and company set a number of offensive benchmarks -- opportunities for Mesko to get on the field are likely to be down from a year ago.

You would think that the pressure to perform would be even greater when called upon this season. But Mesko doesn't see it that way.

"You just imagine the consequences of a bad performance," he said. "That keeps you on edge."

Poor play has not been an issue with Mesko thus far in the preseason.

In New England's 31-14 win at Tampa Bay, Mesko averaged 41.4 yards on five punts, one of which was a booming 57-yarder.

With Saturday's game at Detroit's enclosed Ford Field, Mesko doesn't have to worry about the elements being a factor in his kicking game.

"That's the thing you can't rely on," Mesko said of playing indoors. "Sometimes your concentration level goes down as far as, 'everything is perfect so I can relax now.' You still have to be on edge, have that same concentration level as before."

Mesko, who was born and raised in Timisoara, Romania, until he was 10 -- that was when his parents hit the green card lottery which allowed them to come to the United States -- is still relatively new to the business side of the NFL.

But he's wise enough to know that punters and kickers, maybe more than any other positions, are dispensable if you don't produce when the opportunity presents itself.

"The motivation has to be internal as far as that goes," he said. "I'm a competitive person. I don't like to lose, even in a spitting game. It's just me wanting to do the best for the team and myself."

So far, so good.

"It's been definitely an organization where you see the fruits of your labor," said Mesko, who has an undergraduate business degree and a master's degree in sports management -- both from Michigan. "You reap those once you put in the work. There's definitely a good sense of accountability at this organization that makes you, kind of forces you to be successful because of the work that's required of you."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Fourth-round pick Mitchell joins crowded Patriots WR group


Fourth-round pick Mitchell joins crowded Patriots WR group

FOXBORO – Damn, Patriots, back at it again with drafting the wide receivers.

At least in the instance of Malcolm Mitchell there are no questions of softness or character or coachability. The 6-foot, 198-pounder is a media relations dream. He was reading at a junior high level when he got to Georgia so he devoted himself to getting better at it and joined a woman’s book club after a conversation at a Barnes & Noble. 

He’s written a children’s book. He blew his ACL in 2013 but he did it after sprinting downfield to celebrate a teammate’s touchdown. He was a team captain at Georgia, loves to block, is a dependable third-down receiver, etc.

The questions about him will be his durability (2015 was his first season fully healthy) and the same question that dogs every receiver that comes into the Patriots system: Can he master the intricacies?

But the scouting report? Impossible to quibble with for the 112th overall pick.

This was the scouting report on Mitchell from Nolan Nawrocki, one of the most exhaustive and unflinching draft analysts in the business.

“A tough, passionate, crafty slot receiver who can be trusted to move the sticks in critical situations. Mitchell gained more confidence in his knee in his second year removed from ACL surgery. Brings similar energy, toughness and attitude as Steelers 1998 third-round pick Hines Ward. Smart and versatile enough to contribute in multiple roles perhaps even at cornerback where he began his Georgia career and could be most attractive to a veteran coaching staff such as the Patriots or Steelers.”

Where does Mitchell fit on the Patriots depth chart?

At 6-feet, 198 pounds, he’s got the short-area speed and ability to play slot where route-running and change of direction are vital to uncovering quickly on option routes. The Patriots are well-populated there at the moment with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan on the roster there.

But he also has the speed, length (extremely long arms and big hands) and leaping ability to be a high-pointing outside receiver. The Patriots are not as stocked there. They have the annually disappointing Aaron Dobson, 32-year-old Nate Washington and the dependable-but-low-ceiling Keshawn Martin.

Perhaps the best way to get Mitchell ingrained in the system is to let him master a little bit at a time. Start him on the outside, where he took the bulk of his 2015 snaps with the Bulldogs, and leave the slot stuff to the others.

If the team unloads Amendola – and his $6.8M cap is really starting to stick out – they still have Hogan and Edelman to take inside reps. If Mitchell shows competency, the team can unload Dobson and have the outside group of Washington, Mitchell, Martin and Hogan/Edelman.

Mitchell isn’t the long, angular field-stretcher that “takes the top off the defense” but the Patriots are not that kind of vertical offense. They can just as effectively spread a defense out over the 54 horizontal yards and they need quick, tough, smart players to do it. Mitchell may be a step in that direction.  

Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire


Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire

FOXBORO – Never mind what Robert Kraft was attempting to do last May when he folded the Patriots’ tent and said the team would “reluctantly” accept the league’s Deflategate penalties. 

Forget about the fact there was really no other option than to do what he did in San Francisco.

The hole Kraft dug for himself when he opted for politics over optics is one he’s trying furiously to dig out of. Still.

Friday night at a draft party the team hosted at Gillette, Kraft’s main talking point was – again – that he didn’t abandon Brady last May.

“Number one, there is no finer ambassador for the game of football, and the New England Patriots, than Tom Brady,” Kraft said. “We always have had, and will continue to have, Tom’s back. Especially when he’s being treated unfairly. He knows that. All the decisions that this organization and I personally have made throughout this ordeal have been focused on putting Tom in the best possible position for success.”

Kraft believed taking the hit on the draft picks would satiate other owners enough to leave Brady alone. But they – and their arrogant marionette Roger Goodell – wanted more than to see Bill Belichick’s program stung. They wanted to see Brady brought to heel.  

Once that dawned on Kraft over the coming months, he returned to the rhetoric he used when he began fomenting local outrage at the Super Bowl, demanding a league apology. He even ratcheted it up, speaking at the outset of training camp about having made a grave mistake when he put faith in the league to do the right thing.

But for too many New England fans, it was too late. In their minds, all it took was 24 hours of fellow owners giving him the stink eye in California for him to side with the billionaire boys club over Brady.

Kraft anticipated an unhappy reaction, saying last May, “I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision. But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”

He never expected to be demonized the way he’s been. And, to Kraft, it’s maddening, saddening and hurtful that the vocal opinion in New England is that he screwed Brady.

He’s refusing to take the criticism in stride, which means every time he’s in front of a mic, he has to prove his bona fides.   

“I have been in constant communication with Tom over the past 16 months and we’ve had numerous conversations this past week,” Kraft said. “We are both on the same page and he knows exactly where my allegiances, and the total team’s [allegiances] are, relative to the extremely unfair discipline that he has been subjected to. I share in our fans’ anger and frustration with the penalties the league has levied, and the entire process and how it was conducted. But please trust that I am always trying to do what I believe is best for this franchise, and pledge that I will always continue to do that.”

This is where Robert Kraft is at the age of 74. A man who figured he’d be praised and adored in the autumn of his ownership reign having to pledge allegiance over and over to HIS region and HIS team.

It’s got to be unfathomable to him how it got to this point.

Here’s a lifelong New Englander who – he’s always happy to remind everyone – sat on the metal benches with all the other bedraggled fans in the old stadium. A guy who used his business savvy to leverage purchase of the team, stubbed his toe a lot in his first few years, then made decisions and gave resources that allowed the Patriots to become the greatest dynasty in NFL history. A guy that built a kickass stadium and donated millions around the region. This is a guy that now feels compelled to explain himself and beg understanding every time he gets in front of a microphone these days.

I don’t think he deserves that.

There are plenty of things that I’ve eyerolled about with Kraft in my 20 years covering the team. From white-collared shirts to his weird game-day lifeguard chair to the subtle switch from Bob to Robert, the damn sneakers with the suits, slinging spirituality a little too cavalierly at times and his happy engagement in the NFL’s backroom lever-pulling and deal-making. For almost 25 years, Kraft has ridden a lead horse in the NFL’s stampede for money and power. The Game of Thrones environment that’s come with that, replete with throat-slitting, backstabbing and vengeance has visited Kraft’s kingdom.

You can second-guess his strategy. You can point out that he’s the one that made a king of Goodell and sowed bitterness with fellow owners by pushing them to do what Roger says. You can rightfully point out that Kraft wants too much the love and respect of both his fellow owners and his New England constituency and that he can’t have his cake and eat it too.

You can’t reasonably regard him as a “traitor.”

Unfortunately for Robert Kraft, plenty of people do. And plenty of them aren’t going to move off that spot.

At some point, he’s got to get his mind around that and accept that too.


The book on Patriots fourth-round WR Mitchell: He can play


The book on Patriots fourth-round WR Mitchell: He can play

The Patriots grabbed another weapon for their passing attack on Day 3 of the draft when they selected Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round with pick No. 112 overall.

Mitchell checks in at 6-feet and 198 pounds, but he has the ability to play like a much larger wideout. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he recorded a 36-inch vertical leap and he possesses incredibly long arms (32.5 inches) and massive hands (10.5 inches). 

Where Mitchell lines up as a pro is yet to be seen, but he has the skill set to play both inside and outside the numbers, giving him the type of versatility the Patriots often covet in their pass-catchers. At Georgia, Mitchell played primarily outside and showed off an ability to go up high-point contested throws. But he's also a sharp route-runner and has no fear going over the middle, which could allow him to transition to the slot in New England. 

A big-time recruit from Valdosta, Ga., Mitchell chose the Bulldogs over Alabama, Auburn and other SEC powerhouses. According to CBS Sports analyst Dane Brugler, he was given the opportunity to play either corner or receiver and he chose the offensive side of the ball, eventually earning Freshman All-SEC honors. 

Mitchell tore his ACL in 2013 while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown run, but he was healthy enough this past season to catch 58 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns -- all career highs -- in Georgia's run-heavy offense. According to Pro Football Focus, he dropped just four passes on 93 catchable targets sent his way in 2014 and 2015. 

He continued to deal with knee, groin and shoulder injuries over the last two seasons, which could help explain why he fell as far as he did after posting a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and a 6.94-second three-cone drill at the combine.

Mitchell's production, length, athleticism and versatility -- he has kick-return experience and some believe he could play corner in the NFL -- all likely made him an attractive selection for the Patriots. He also brings some unique off-the-field intangibles to the Patriots locker room as well. He was a captain at Georgia, and while in college he became a strong advocate for children's literacy.

After arriving on campus with an ability to read only at what he has estimated was a middle-school level, his love for reading grew and he eventually joined a book club -- made up of women about 30 years his senior --  that met monthly. He also wrote a children's book entitled The Magician's Hat.