By Tom E. Curran
INDIANAPOLIS - With no formal access to players and coaches on this Wednesday before the NFL Scouting Combine starts, we've spent the day getting our agenda set for this week (read: loitering in lobbies, rattling the locked gates at Lucas Oil Stadium and staying out of harm's way). The Patriots' contingent is trickling in gradually. The scouting department is pretty much all here, but Bill Belichick isn't expected until Thursday. Instead of flying coaches down en masse for the week, I'm hearing the team is having specific position coaches fly in for the workout and interview portions of their specialty. The Patriots will conduct their player interviews in a large meeting room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown. That's the hotel that houses all draft prospects. There's a security desk there staffed by Indy cops so that no riff-raff reporters get through. New England normally holds its meetings well into the evening with prospects - until close to midnight in the past - so thePatriots' coaches aren't out and about quite as much as other staffs. The Patriots low-key it at these events and I'm not even sure yet if Belichick is going to meet with the media. Last season, Nick Caserio, the VP of Player Personnel did most of the talking. There is an NFLmeeting scheduled for Thursday, to which each team is supposed to send its head coach, GM and a finance guy.That would be Belichick, Caserio and - most likely - Floyd Reese. Meanwhile, a planned Thursday meeting with a select group of agents has been cancelled. The agents will meet en masse with the NFLPA on Friday. Attendance is said to be mandatory. In both cases, it's expected the meetings will be held to answer questions and give info about what the marching orders for contact are if and when the CBA expires March 4. So many players are about to hit free agency, so the question is: can agents discuss their clients with decision-makers from teams who may be interested in draft prospects once the CBA expires.Talking this week is supposed to be tampering, but every team flouts that rule. I'll be lookingto track down Logan Mankins' agent Frank Bauer after the agent meeting. I'm sure he'll be psyched to see me.We'll be talking to offensive linemen, kickers, punters, long snappers andtight ends tomorrow.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran
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.
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.”