Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. The Patriots had 65 trips inside the red zone last season, behind only the New Orleans Saints (71) and Minnesota Vikings (69), and they scored only 34 touchdowns for a 52.3 percent conversion rate (13th in the NFL). Bill Belichick wants to see those numbers improve, and that’s where the team’s new look at tight end could help.
2. I enjoyed this piece from Pat Kirwan of NFL.com, which lists 16 players with added pressure to perform in 2010. No Patriots on the list, but the AFC East is well represented. For all the questions the Patriots have at outside linebacker, Kirwan instead focuses on the Miami Dolphins’ major questions at the position.
3. Has any team had more bad breaks in recent weeks than the Carolina Panthers? First, linebacker Thomas Davis tears his ACL in practice then receiver Steve Smith breaks his arm in a flag football game, although Smith isn’t expected to miss any regular-season games.
4. One player I’m anxious to watch in Patriots training camp is veteran running back Fred Taylor. While I still think he can add a lot to a team, I could also envision a scenario in which he is fighting for a roster spot based on numbers at other positions.
5. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, in a chat on the NFL Players Association web site, was asked his opinion on the scariest player in the game today. His answer: Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. “Instant offense,” wrote Hasselbeck, who later added that he hopes to become a general manager of an NFL team after his playing days.
6. Bob Bicknell has landed in Buffalo as the Bills’ tight ends coach. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News penned a nice piece on the Bicknell family last week, with Bob talking about how his father Jack, the longtime Boston College coach, guided him along the way.
7. The two-year contract signed by Patriots inside linebacker Gary Guyton last week includes incentives that could boost the value of the deal in 2010 and 2011 based on his playing time, according to documents filed with the NFL Players Association. Guyton played approximately 84 percent of the snaps in 2009, although the numbers could decline this year with Tyrone McKenzie and Brandon Spikes competing for playing time at the position.
8. The St. Louis Rams don’t garner many positive headlines, but their re-signing of ball-hawking safety O.J. Otogwe was one in which the team deserves credit for playing its hand perfectly. The Rams let Otogwe become a free-agent, and when a significant market didn’t develop for him among other teams, they inked him to a reasonable deal for a player of his caliber.
9. I think inside linebacker Jerod Mayo is primed to have a big year at the heart of the Patriots’ defense. I also see his comfort level rising when it comes to being one of the top leaders of the unit.
10. When thinking about the roster battles ahead in Patriots training camp, one question is how many spots will go to those who are top special teams players but don’t project to make big contributions on offense or defense. Sam Aiken, Matthew Slater, Marques Murrell and Bret Lockett are top players who fall into that category. I think all four would be on the club if making a roster projection today.