For years, we've asked our three favorite NFL scouts (who cannot be identified because of their team affiliations) to analyze the talent coming out for the April draft. Since it's logical to think the Patriots might have to draft an inside linebacker or two given Tedy Bruschi's uncertain future, the loss of Roman Phifer, and the fact that Ted Johnson is under contract for only one year, we asked them about linebackers.
One name that popped up was a guy who wasn't a linebacker in college: Georgia defensive end David Pollack.
"He's the next Tedy Bruschi for teams who are thinking of him that way," said one of the scouts. "He's the type of kid that the Patriots would project into that type of role. Other teams will take him as a defensive end, but those who think a little bit outside of the box, like the Patriots, could definitely project him as the next Bruschi."
One problem, though, is that the Patriots pick 32d. At least, they do for now. Pollack hasn't had the greatest workouts, and he has gone up and down on teams' draft boards the past few weeks, so it's hard to say exactly where he falls in a first-round projection. But the Patriots have been known to move up to get the player they want, so if Pollack is their guy, they'll wheel and deal.
Pollack, who is listed at 6 feet 3 inches, 276 pounds, broke the Georgia record for sacks with 36. He also won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman, the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player, the Ronnie Lott Award as the nation's biggest impact player, and the Ted Hendricks Award the past two years as the top defensive end.
"He'll be a good pro player whichever way he goes," said one of the other scouts. "He's not the fastest guy, but he's quick enough to play off the edge in a 4-3. But you could see him playing linebacker in a 3-4."
Pollack seems to epitomize what the Patriots look for. He's doesn't wow you with his stopwatch times or measurements, but he can play football at a high level with great instincts. That is something Bill Belichick has often said about Bruschi.
After Pollack, our scouts rank the linebackers this way:
1. Derrick Johnson, Texas. "The best linebacker in the draft. He's probably going to be an outside linebacker, but he can play inside in a 3-4 because he's so tough and has such a nose for the football. He's very strong. Very fast. Good football speed. He'll go early. Doubt he'd be around for the Patriots unless they move up."
2. Kevin Burnett, Tennessee. "More of an outside linebacker, but he would be tough to resist if he's still on the board late in the first round. Don't think the Patriots will go this way, but you never know." Burnett is a shade under 6-3 and about 235 pounds, but he projects to be about 10 pounds heavier in the NFL. Our three guys seemed to be higher on him than others. The consensus around the league is that he's a second- or third-round pick. Our guys seem to think he'll be a better pro than he was a college player. The Patriots have been to his workouts, so they obviously have interest.
3. Odell Thurman, Georgia. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, the junior is a favorite of a lot of teams looking for a playmaker. Question is, will his size shift him to the outside or can he take his lumps with the bigger guys in the middle? Two of our scouts didn't think Thurman could play inside in a 3-4, but one felt he could play any linebacker position because he's so strong and athletic. Our scouts tell us the Patriots have spent some extra time with Thurman. The Patriots like Georgia defenders.
4. Barrett Ruud, Nebraska. A pure middle linebacker, with kind of a Ted Johnson look. He's tough, and a great leader on the field who should be a strong run-stopper at the NFL level. Ruud is a tad over 6-2 and weighs about 245. "Nothing flashy. Just a good, tough football player. Not a great athlete, but not a bad one, either. He can play the `mike' and he'll give you everything he's got. He's going to be a very solid NFL player." Ruud comes from a football family. His father, Tom, was a first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 1975 out of Nebraska.
5. Channing Crowder, Florida. The Patriots have kept their eye on him. "I think the guy they like is Channing Crowder from Florida. He's one of those really athletic guys who can do different things, but he's big enough at almost 6-3, 245, to take the punishment inside. This kid is a player. You can see him being groomed in the inside of that 3-4 and doing a bunch of different things they do with those guys inside. He should be there when they pick, but he's starting to get a lot of attention. A lot of teams love the guy." Crowder has had multiple procedures on both knees, so there may be health concerns. He's the son of former NFL defensive lineman Randy Crowder.
It wasnt all good times for Charlie
Charlie Weis confirmed there was a brief period of turbulence between him and Bill Belichick last spring when the former offensive coordinator had reached a contract impasse with the Patriots. But they smoothed things over quickly, said Weis, who is now head coach at Notre Dame.
"All I'll say is this: Those were anxious times," said Weis. "There was a lot of animosity at that point stemming from that contract. But that situation was dealt with very quickly and Bill and I spent a lot of time on our relationship after that. We put it behind us quickly, and I must admit that our relationship from that point on was the best it ever was during my time with him."
Weis and his agent, Bob Lamonte, were trying to work out an extension that would have bumped Weis from the $500,000 he was earning to a salary of about $1 million.
"For all of the years that I coached under Bill Parcells, we always went to the last year of our contracts," said Weis, "but Bob, who has represented many coaches over the years, never wanted a coach heading into the last year of a contract. So we tried to work out an extension."
Bitterness and frustration ensued.
"It caused a lot of friction," Weis said. "There were some anxious moments. There was a lot of miscommunication, but I'll say this: I never missed one day of work because of it. That's how quickly we were able to resolve it and move on and prepare to win another championship."
Weis insists that his relationship with Belichick remains top-notch and that he left New England on very good terms.
Can someone spare a dime for brother?
He watched as brother Matt Hasselbeck got a huge new deal from the Seahawks (including a $16 million signing bonus), but restricted free agent Tim Hasselbeck is also getting some interest. He was off for a visit with an undisclosed team this weekend. No, it wasn't the Patriots.
Hasselbeck received a low tender of $680,000 from the Redskins, which might help him get a backup job with another team, since there would be no compensation due. It is also in Hasselbeck's favor that he has played a bit, starting three games in 2003.
Hasselbeck lives in New York on the West Side with his wife, Elisabeth (Filarski), of "Survivor" fame and "The View." The couple is expecting their first child any day.
While last season was frustrating for the players and coaches in Washington, Hasselbeck has a lot of admiration for coach Joe Gibbs.
"No matter how bad things were, Gibbs won't let you give up," said Hasselbeck. "I think Joe is always looking for ways to improve the situation for players. He just brought in Bill Musgrave to be our quarterback coach, and even though Musgrave comes from a totally different coaching tree, Joe wants to bring in new ideas and new ways of doing things."
It's not a completion yet
Could there be progress made on Tom Brady's contract extension this week with the Patriots brass at the owners' meetings in Hawaii? One source familiar with the negotiations said late last week, "There's more than a fair amount of work to be done. I think the characterization that it was close a few weeks ago was quite premature, and it was surprising that it was put out there by someone, but I'm not sure that was an accurate characterization at the time. I think it will get done, but it's not that easy, and completing it is going to require a good deal of work." If Brady agrees to what has been proposed, he would likely be one of the top three paid quarterbacks, behind Peyton Manning and Michael Vick.
Let's put it to a vote
The Patriots are going to be active at the owners' meetings, making a proposal to give the Competition Committee and supervisor of officials less power in changing or emphasizing rules without a vote of owners. They weren't pleased last offseason when the Competition Committee made downfield contact an emphasis, without a vote of owners. The Patriots obviously weren't hurt by the rule emphasis, as they won the Super Bowl with a makeshift secondary.
This Light stays on
Not many Patriots players have stayed in the area this offseason, but one who has is left tackle Matt Light, who is making New England his home, though he is from Greenville, Ohio. "We're probably going to spend most of our time here and go back to Ohio once in a while," said Light. "I love it here, which is why I wanted to stay here and sign a long-term deal." Light has held many fund-raisers for his Light Foundation, including one last Friday at the Rack.
Ty Law was back in Boston last week after visiting Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Law's agent, Carl Poston, said the free agent cornerback may make other visits, but the most important thing is getting healthy right now. Poston isn't worried about the market drying up. "Not at all," he said. "There'll be a very healthy market for a player of Ty's caliber and ability. He hasn't lost his ability to play football at a high level. He's just got to get healthy, and we'll take it from there. The money won't dry up out there." Poston said he's been authorized by the Oakland Raiders to make a sign-and-trade deal for his other top-echelon cornerback, Charles Woodson, who received and accepted the Raiders' franchise tender of $10.5 million. Woodson's high number will likely mean he stays in Oakland, but Poston hasn't ruled out a trade developing before the summer.
Too early for him?
Ourlads has the Patriots taking Louisiana State cornerback Corey Webster with their first pick in the draft, but the scouts we talked to feel Webster is a risk there.
A club special
In this week of negative steroid talk, it's nice to see that Patriots defensive lineman Ty Warren and his wife Keisha are holding an Easter egg hunt for kids at the Blue Hills Boys' and Girls' Club Wednesday at 6 p.m. The eggs will contain gifts from Papa Ginos, Dunkin' Donuts,
Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde remain possibilities if the Patriots want a fourth quarterback for training camp. The popular choice would be Flutie, who at 42 would be coming home to finish his career. But the Patriots aren't known for doing things based on popularity. Flutie will be weighing NFL and television opportunities in the weeks to come. The Hamilton Tiger Cats reportedly want him back in the CFL, but that seems unlikely.
Dick Radatz, who died last week, loved watching Brady play, even though Brady went to Michigan and Radatz was a Michigan State graduate (Class of '59). Our conversations always seemed to go back to Brady, and Radatz used to say, "How can someone who went to Michigan be that smart?" Radatz didn't miss many Patriots games that Brady started, and he called him "one of the best quarterbacks I've ever seen." Dick was one of the best closers I ever saw, and more important, The Monster was one of the best people I ever knew.
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.