This past weekend I finally got to listen to the first two episodes of the Patscast Podcast (available on Itunes). I was impressed with their guest Jay (forgive me for blanking on his last name), who sounds like he really knows his stuff. For most of us fans interest in the Xs and Os come later in life. While I played some high school football (worst tackle ever) I still had no big picture understanding of how the game is played. I just tried to block the guy in front of me, and usually failed.
When a fan like Jay comes along, who played football at the college level, and considered a career in coaching, he’s able to descibe exactly what is going on on the field. It’s easy to say a player would be a good “fit” for the Patriots, but how many fans really truly know exactly what that player would be asked to do in Belichick’s system.
I’ve educated myself just about as much as one can via the internet, but that is no substitute for someone like Jay who knows what he’s talking about, can directly relate it to the Patriots players and schemes, and go into depth with terminology you might not quite understand at first.
I’ve listened to both Patscasts a couple times, and here are some interesting tidbits that stood out to me:
– The DEs in the Pats 3-4 actually play head up on the offensive tackles so for those who were saying “we need a 5 technique like Odrick” like me, we were wrong. The Pats’ DEs line up mostly as 4-techniques.
– Height really isn’t the most important trait for a DE in this two-gap system. It’s length and “sand in the pants” (aka ability to stand your ground against the double team). While Richard Seymour had both those, he was also 6’ 6" which is the exception, not necessarily the rule. So someone like Ron Brace, despite only being 6’ 2" could make an effective DE, but technique is the most important thing to develop. This gives me hope Brace could still contribute.
– Brandon Spikes should be a great fit for this defense and has the opportunity to contribute immediately.
– Jay thinks that the Pats are returning to the tough, physical types that won them Super Bowls and that this signifies a change, more appropriately a return to a different philosophy.
Personally I don’t think it was necessarily that they ever really wanted to get away from that. Yes, the years of Asante (good player but not physical), Ellis Hobbs, Randall Gay and the drafting of Wheatley and Wilhite, point to small, quick corners. But there were also misses on bigger, more physical CBs like Fernando Bryant, Lewis Sanders and Deltha O’Neal.
So yes, I agree that it’s a concerted effort to bring in more big, physical players, but I don’t think there was ever an effort to get away from them. Their smaller guys were just better and/or more productive.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the finer points of Patriots Xs and Os I highly recommend the Patscast. There are more little nuggets of information contained in them that would make a full transcription desireable. I will try to get up quick hits after each episode to help the non-podcasting portion of Patriots Nation.
Bill Belichick loves him some linebackers, but without a single high priced free agent among them, this is largely an unproven group, drafted by Belichick or pulled from the NFL free agency scrap heap.
I am excited about this young group, because there will be a lot of opportunities. The group:
Tully Banta-Cain: Now the eldest statesmen of the Patriots linebacking corps after spending 2007 and 2008 in San Francisco. TBC had 10 sacks last year, and was generally the Patriots best player on defense, along with Vince Wilfork. Expect him to continue as a 3-down contributor, who would benefit from additional pressure across from him.
Jerod Mayo: The young captain of the defense whose play was limited my a sprained MCL in the first game of 2009. Look for Mayo to play the Will (Weak Inside Linebacker) where he should continue to use his speed and instincts to only get better.
Gary Guyton: Guyton got a lot of experience in many different positions in 2009, and along with Brandon Meriweather played the highest number of snaps of anyone on the Pats defense. He looks to be his best in coverage, but still has some versatility to play OLB when the Pats go to their 4-3 defense.
Rob Ninkovich: Ninkovich has kicked around the league for a few years, but did enough in 2009 to earn him a contract extension. The Pats must like him, and he does look somewhat like a Vrabel clone (#50 aside). If he can prove sturdy against the run he could be the starting LOLB against Cincinnati.
Pierre Woods: Woods got some time in the base defense in 2009, and was largely invisible. Looks like Pierre is what he is, a solid special teams player. And that’s fine.
Shawn Crable: Year three of crazy legs is about to begin. I have to say, I’m a big “look” guy and based on Crable’s look I really want him to be good. He’s got a lot of length and speed, here’s hoping it will finally translate to a unique OLB.
Tyrone McKenzie: McKenzie gets a lot of love for the dude that he is, and how hard he works. He was productive in every defense he’s ever played in. But figuring out the Mayo-Guyton-Spikes-McKenzie rotation seems impossible at this point. But he’s played lot of LB positions in lots of defenses so who knows what BB could come up with.
Brandon Spikes: Seems like everyone in Patriots Nation loved the Spikes pick and he should really bring a Ted Johnson-esque presence, along with leadership, that has been missing. Spikes can relieve Guyton from heavy run stopping responsibility at SILB (Mike), and allow Mayo to WILB (Will).
Jermaine Cunningham: Hard to expect much out of a rookie DE-OLB conversion project, but if Cunningham can just start as a sub-package rusher he should be able to contribute right away. And if he gets snaps at OLB on early downs it’s icing on the cake.