- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON TO INDIANAPOLIS -- Setting the agenda from a Patriots perspective for the NFL combine, with media access beginning Thursday:
Patriots voices -- who's talking? Coaches and executives from various NFL teams visit the media center during the combine, holding news conferences to speak about their club and the draft. Bill Belichick's appearance in 2009, for example, was notable to many because it's not something he usually does. Two years ago, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio spoke with New England reporters as a group at the combine. Last year, there was no such gathering, which meant former Patriots staffers like Scott Pioli (Chiefs GM) and Thomas Dimitroff (Falcons GM) were peppered with Patriots questions. The expectation is that Caserio will spend some time with the New England press, possibly as early as Thursday afternoon. We'll also keep tabs on other clubs' personnel and how what they say could affect the Patriots.
Agent meeting on Friday -- focus on Welker. Another big part of the combine is the annual NFL Players Association agents meeting. It is commonplace to have a bunch of reporters standing outside the meeting room in the convention center, as they are waiting to talk to agents about some of their clients and free agents. From a Patriots perspective, David Dunn figures to be a popular presence as he serves as Wes Welker's agent. Last year, this was the time when Logan Mankins' agent, Frank Bauer, shared fiery remarks about Mankins' future with the club, calling the Patriots' handling of Mankins a "travesty."
Thursday's media interviews -- specialists, OL and TE. We'll be looking at things primarily through a Patriots lens, with a plan to focus mostly on the interior offensive linemen. Wisconsin's Peter Konz, one of the draft's top-rated centers and a projected late first-rounder, is someone I'm interested in hearing from. The Patriots' top two centers (Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly) are scheduled for unrestricted free agency, with reserves Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald both returning. In addition, this will be a chance to get to know some of the in-line blocking tight ends to potentially complement Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez -- similar to the team's pick of Lee Smith (5th round, Marshall) last year.
Friday's media interviews -- quarterbacks, running backs, receivers. This figures to be the day that generates the biggest buzz from a national perspective because of the quarterbacks. The Patriots are well stocked there with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer (restricted free agent) and Ryan Mallett, so the plan is to lock on the receivers. Arkansas' Joe Adams, who is projected as a second- or third-round pick, is one player I want to make sure to hear. He strikes me as a solid possibility for the Patriots. Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu, a bigger target who has been linked to the Patriots in some mock drafts, is also on my radar, among others.
Saturday's media interviews -- defensive line, linebackers. The Patriots look to be in good shape with their inside-the-tackles linebackers (Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Jeff Tarpinian), but anything else in the front seven could be in play with one of their top draft choices. It's always good business to draft and develop defensive linemen, so we'll look hard at that group as well as some of the defensive end/outside linebacker types (e.g. Illinois' Whitney Mercilus). A lot of these players have media training entering these sessions, so some of their answers are programmed. Simply watching to see how they handle the moment can sometimes be as telling as what they say.
Sunday's media interviews -- cornerbacks, safeties. I rate safety as one of the Patriots' top needs and Alabama's Mark Barron is the top-rated player at the position. Barron won't work out at the combine (hernia), but if he's there for interviews, he will be a top target from this perspective. Also, one has to figure that Bill Belichick could add another layer to the cornerback depth chart in the draft to complement Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and Sterling Moore -- the top four corners currently under contract for 2012 -- so we'll keep our eyes open for those who look and sound like they could fit in New England.
Local players won't be overlooked. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is the top-rated New England prospect scheduled to attend the combine. Last year, BC linebacker Mark Herzlich stole the show from a media perspective with a captivating news conference. A linebacker-needy team like the Eagles (picking 15th in the first round) figures to closely watch Kuechly.
YOUR TURN: What do you want to hear from the NFL combine? While these are some of my ideas, I'm interested to hear yours, and open to pulling a Tom Brady-like adjustment at the line of scrimmage ("Omaha! Omaha!"). Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.