Part of what makes the NFL draft so popular is projecting possibilities for various teams, and how a player might change a team's outlook. The Patriots' scheduled meeting with West Virginia quarterback Pat White this week at Gillette Stadium highlights that theme.
If the Patriots do indeed draft White, the potential for offensive innovation is off-the-charts intriguing.
White, one of the greatest winners in college football over the last four years, wouldn't threaten Tom Brady's standing as the No. 1 signal-caller. In fact, he might be hard-pressed to beat out Kevin O'Connell as No. 2.
But as a third quarterback who could line up at receiver and also return punts and kickoffs, White is one of this year's most compelling prospects (he's projected as high as a second-round pick).
His story has a bit of a Doug Flutie-like twist to it.
White led West Virginia to victories in four straight bowl games, becoming the first starting quarterback in NCAA history to do so. He also rushed for an NCAA quarterback-record 4,480 yards, set the Big East record for touchdowns (103), and rewrote the West Virginia record book by completing 64.8 percent of his passes.
As he's set to enter the NFL, the only thing seemingly holding the cool-under-pressure White back is this: 6 feet 0 inches, 197 pounds.
Like Flutie, he doesn't have the prototype size NFL teams seek in a quarterback. The worry is that he might have difficulty seeing passing lanes and throwing over mammoth offensive linemen. That's why teams are also projecting him as a receiver and punt returner, or considering a "Wildcat" package specifically for him.
White is scheduled to be in town tomorrow and Tuesday, according to league sources. The Patriots have also worked him out privately.
These are standard steps, although clubs are allowed only 30 visits at their facility with out-of-town prospects before the draft, so an in-stadium meeting is usually looked at as a sign that the team is strongly considering the prospect.
So if the Patriots do draft White . . .
"Look, he's not going to beat out Tom Brady," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, who has self-serving reasons to pump White up, but whose excitement seems genuine. "But put him in a football game - at quarterback at times, in the slot, or catching punts or kickoffs - and do you know what electricity this kid will bring to the huddle? Do you know what this guy will do to opposing defensive coordinators?
"He'll change coverages in the NFL. That dropping off, soft cover-2, quarters stuff they do, they're going to have to bring some extra people to keep this boy in the pocket. They won't blitz him, I'll tell you that much. And they better be able to tackle him."
Stewart said he's already had this conversation with Bill Belichick, with whom he has a strong link. When Stewart was an assistant coach at the Naval Academy, he developed a strong connection with Belichick's late father, Steve, a fixture with Navy football.
"Steve Belichick is one of my heroes. Everything I learned about special teams and the punting game came from him, so I know the Belichick bloodlines and I know what kind of brains Bill Belichick has," Stewart said. "Bill Belichick knows exactly what he'd do with someone like Patrick White. He finds a way to put the ball in the hands of a winner.
"The Bill Belichicks, Mike Tomlins, Bill Parcellses, those guys that know winners - winners, not 750-page playbooks - find places to put them. That's what I've told the NFL guys. You want him to be a slot? He'll drive defenses nuts. He could also be a force with the Wildcat."
Stewart said White has been clocked as low as 4.3 in the 40-yard dash when he was at 188 pounds. As part of the buildup to the draft, however, White took the advice of NFL personnel and bulked up to around 202, and that slowed him to a 4.5.
That White would be advised to bulk up illustrates another concern teams might have: Can he absorb the physical pounding that comes in the NFL?
Stewart gets animated when the subject is broached.
"You hear people say that he'll get hit in the NFL, and I say bull, quarterbacks slide when they run," said Stewart. "I don't see quarterbacks getting hit when they run, only when they're in the pocket.
"That's the thing that irritates me - the people that don't coach, don't know the game, say that.
"The kid can play. He's a winner. The game doesn't have to be that hard. You put the ball in a football player's hands and away they go."
Where it all goes with White - and whether that road leads to New England - promises to be one of the draft's most compelling story lines.
Primed for schedule release
The complete NFL schedule will be unveiled Tuesday at 7 p.m., with the league moving its announcement to prime time and turning it into a TV event. Clubs already know what teams they are playing and where they are playing, it's just a matter of finding out when.
With some assistance from longtime NFL defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell, now retired and living on the Cape, here are some key schedule-based considerations from the perspective of coaches and players:
1. Focusing on early opponents. Because things change so much on a weekly basis in the NFL, teams don't get too far ahead of themselves in offseason preparations.
2. Factoring in when a team faces new coaches and coordinators. If a team is facing an opponent with a new coach early in the season, offseason preparations will include going back and looking at his work with his previous team.
3. Identifying the off week and short weeks. A bye week that comes in the middle of the season is preferred. Also, short weeks from playing on Monday night are a consideration because preparation that week will be condensed.
4. Division games. Because they have added importance - the division winner gets a playoff berth - it's natural to look at where those games fall.
5. Weather considerations. The Patriots' finale in Buffalo last year is a perfect example of a game that projected to be affected by elements, and certainly was with 30- to 50-mile-per-hour winds.
Hasselbeck throws a few thoughts out there
Four nuggets after speaking with Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck
during last week's minicamp:
On playing for first-year coach Jim Mora after spending his career under Mike Holmgren: "I have nothing but respect for Mike Holmgren and his staff. I feel grateful that I was drafted into his system and was able to learn everything from him. At the same time, at this point in my career, it's very refreshing to get to experience some new things and be exposed to some fresh ideas. We have a new zone-running scheme here. We're going to be a heavy play-action team, which is a lot different from the Mike Holmgren we're-going-to-drop-back-and-pass, and set up the run by throwing the ball. This is very much a run-oriented scheme with heavy play-action and trying to get some explosive gains. It's a welcome change." On the signing of free agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh: "Obviously, I'm very excited, but at the same time it was a situation where I knew I'd probably lose my go-to-guy in Bobby Engram. So I can probably sympathize with Carson Palmer a little bit when he lost T.J.; it's how I felt when we lost Bobby [to the Chiefs]. T.J. is a hard worker. He's been here working out with us. He catches the ball real nice with his hands, and really has a great ability to win one-on-one matchups, which is really what you're looking for in a wide receiver. I think the biggest adjustment is that our equipment guys had to take his cleats that are bright orange and color them our lime green." On his health after missing nine games last season because of his back: "Health is good. That's a question I've been getting for a long time. The truth of it is I got diagnosed during the season last year, getting hurt on the very first drive of the very first preseason game. That's not a good time to get hurt. I came back and was pretty healthy, but got hurt again in the New York Giants game [Oct. 5]. It was just a situation, from that game on Thanksgiving [when the injury recurred], I knew I probably wasn't going to make it back during the season. But I'm good to go now. I've been good to go all of 2009, so I'm excited. It's a real test for me because Jim Mora is running a very, very intense camp with a lot of tempo. We're on the field for an hour, 45 [minutes] and it's full-go all the time."
On whether he pays attention to mock drafts and what the Seahawks might do at No. 4: "This year, maybe it's been a little more than normal because with my health people have been talking about the Seahawks potentially taking a quarterback. I've never really been into the draft. I remember as a kid, I used to get the Globe and Will McDonough's mock draft. I used to sit down on Saturday and analyze it. I remember being fired up when the Patriots got Tommy Hodson in the third round [in 1990] because in all the mock drafts he was maybe a first-rounder, probably a second-rounder. We got him in the third and I was like, 'Oh, what a great draft.' After that, I kind of lost interest until it was my turn to get drafted."
First and five
Five quick hits from across the NFL: 1. Didn't take long for Matt Ryan
to establish himself in Atlanta; he has been named a team captain; 2. The Buccaneers were awfully generous to give a lucrative extension to Kellen Winslow
, including approximately $20 million in bonuses/guarantees, given the ongoing concerns with his balky knee; 3. Tough breaks continue for a good guy: Receiver Deion Branch
can't seem to get over the injury bug since arriving in Seattle. He had a knee scope earlier this offseason and sat out the team's minicamp last week; 4. Who knew players still care about more than the name on the back of their jersey? Jason Taylor's
comments about how it would be hard to play for the Jets - because of his past comments that fueled the rivalry between Miami and New York - were refreshing; 5. Hats off to offensive lineman Pete Kendall
, who earned the Good Guy Award from Redskins reporters for 2008.
Hold it right there
The Bills are bracing for another possible holdout from two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters
, who is seeking a contract extension for the second year in a row. Peters didn't show up until days before the 2008 opener, and it appears things are headed down the same road. Teams seeking a top-flight left tackle (Eagles?) might consider making a run at Peters in a trade.
Not one to rave about
With quarterback Kyle Boller
signing with the Rams in free agency, the book is officially closed on his career in Baltimore. Chalk it up as one of the few mistakes made by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome
. Patriots fans might recall that the Patriots traded the 19th overall pick to the Ravens in 2003, and Baltimore selected Boller, who never panned out. The Patriots received a 2004 first-rounder in that deal that turned into Vince Wilfork
, and a 2003 second-rounder that they used in another deal to select defensive back Eugene Wilson
. Six years later, score that deal a win for New England.
Look for owners to use Plaxico Burress's
situation as part of their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. A special master ruled that Burress, despite his run-in with the law, didn't owe the Giants any of the up-front bonus he received. This is one of the top three issues owners have targeted, along with a rookie wage scale and the feeling that the current CBA penalizes them for investing in new stadiums because they are incurring all the risk.
Not much to pick from
Since 1994, the Jets have received a total of five compensatory draft choices, easily an NFL low for teams that have been in existence over that period. Picks are awarded to teams deemed to have a net loss of compensatory free agents from the prior year, and are meant to help restock a roster. So what does this say about the Jets? They appear to be challenged in the team-building process, having trouble knowing when to let players walk, and more likely to rely on the quick fix in free agency. For a comparison, the Ravens have been awarded a league-high 29 compensatory picks over that span.
Not that it's any news flash, but if there was any doubt about how television is driving the financial decisions made by the NFL, consider last week's news that the first round of the draft will start at 4 p.m. this year. Seems like yesterday the draft was starting at noon, but make no mistake, this is all about pushing the event toward prime time in hopes of getting more bang for the buck.
Days in Music City may be numbered Vince Young's
future in Tennessee is on shaky ground, considering his salary cap charges over the next two seasons - around $4.5 million in 2009 and about $14 million in 2010. Young has been supplanted as the starting quarterback by Kerry Collins
, and the Titans also signed veteran Patrick Ramsey
last week. Unless Collins sustains an injury or has a sudden dip in performance, this appears to be Young's final year in the Music City.
Did you know?
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard
, who played last season at around 250 pounds, reported to the team's offseason program at a slimmed-down 232.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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