Youkilis encouraged by team meeting

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Youkilis encouraged by team meeting

FORT MYERS, Fla. As the currently second-longest tenured player on the Red Sox, Kevin Youkilis has a unique perspective. After Saturdays first full-squad workout he talked about getting to know his new manager, Bobby Valentine, and the teams first official meeting of the season.

It's fun, Youkilis said of getting to know Valentine. It's definitely one of those things where once you start to get to know somebody's personality and what they want on the field, what fundamental things they preach, that's one of the differences to is when you have a manager out there, you've got to understand their style of play. I've only played for one manager. Terry Francona's philosophy was we're going to hit the ball, we're going to run the bases well and then we're going to play and we're not going to bunt that much. Bobby might be different. Bobby might have us bunt and I don't know the situation. There's no correct way of playing the game of baseball other than just doing the little things, running the bases, getting hits and moving guys over. That's what our goals are in spring training early and often.

So far, Valentine has been a very hands-on manager.

I think an enthusiastic manager also gets the players going, Youkilis said. There's going to be times where there's some bad situations that come up. Rain delay here and there, tarps coming off the field. If you've got a manager that is enthusiastic and getting you out there and getting you ready to play, that's a good thing. So we're excited to get him on board and all the new coaches and all the new people on board to help us win a World Series.

Early Saturday morning, the team held its first meeting of the spring, during which Valentine, general manager Ben Cherington, presidentCEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner addressed the team. Principal owner John Henry was at the meeting, but did not speak. David Ortiz was the only player to speak.

It was just a good meeting to start off, introduce all the new people on the staff and just about going out there and playing ball, Youkilis said.

And what about the new team rules, including Valentines ban on beer in the clubhouse?

Our rules are just kept between our rules and that's stuff that's just in-house, Youkilis said.

But, I think the mood was great. It's one of those things where you're just excited to get going and be together as a team. Bobby came out there and just talked to us and basically just gave us a good message. For us, it was fun to see him up there talking and get to know your manager a little bit. Everyday we're on the field we're going to get to know him a lot more, as a man and as a manager. It's exciting. I'm very excited about it.

Youkilis would not elaborate on what was discussed in the meeting.

That's the stuff we're just going to keep in-house, he said. We're not going to really talk about it. It was a good meeting. We got out there and playing the game and doing the little things, it was kind of fun to go out in the field. All the different, new, intricate things and guys hitting fungos to each other and all that stuff, that was the cool thing. We actually did cool things where the coaches were hitting the ball and we were at each base and all working on, right from the get-go, situational things, man on first, man on second, man on third, what do we do? And that was the fun part of it.

For Youkilis, it was nice to get back to playing baseball, even making him feel like a kid again.

It was good. he said. I kind of like it. You're kind of moving. A lot of times when you start stopping for a 10-minute period and you're sitting around, you start to tighten up and you have to crank it back up again. Especially in this warm weather when you take a water break and sit down. But the cool thing is we kind of have a little snack break, which makes us think like we're back in camp again, which is a lot of fun. I'm not going to lie to you. We get apple sauce and granola bars.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.