Quick hits: Sanders & Cruz edition

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
11:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Some quick hits from the third day of the NFL combine:

1. James Sanders and his 2011 season with the Falcons. With Atlanta head coach Mike Smith meeting with the press this morning, it was a chance to catch up with him on former Patriots safety James Sanders. The Patriots released Sanders at the end of the 2011 preseason and the Falcons signed him to a one-year deal, with Sanders playing 15 games (6 starts). Said Smith: "James is one of the 17 free agents that we have and he was a very good addition, a solid addition for our secondary with his experience, even though he's a young player [28]. We got him late, he was a guy who joined our football team right before the season started, so there was an acclimation period but when he got the opportunity to play, he played well. He was a stabilizing factor in our secondary. I really like his makeup, his skill set as a guy that can play strong and free safety."

2. Victor Cruz' rise is prevalent at combine. It's been noticeable how the emergence for former UMass receiver Victor Cruz is on the mind of many media members, which in some ways has raised UMass' profile across the country. One example came this morning when Giants general manager Jerry Reese was asked about Cruz. Reese wouldn't take credit for "finding" Cruz, saying that the Giants missed him just like other teams, rating him only as a free agent. "He had a couple redeeming qualities that we liked -- quickness and his hands and how he understood the offense -- but we had him rated just like everybody else," he said. "You get lucky like that sometimes in scouting."

3. When a sub defense becomes base. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland noted that Miami was in sub packages about 70 percent of the time last season, while Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio put New England's number around 65 percent. Falcons coach Mike Smith was asked about the rise in sub packages and how it can almost be considered a base defense for teams at this point. "The game is becoming more of a spacing game, more spread sets, so the nickel back over the last four years for us has actually played more snaps than our third linebacker," he said. "A five-DB set, and even more so now you're seeing six DBs and seven DBs on the field, it does change. One of the things that when [new defensive coordinator] Mike [Nolan] and I talked about him joining our staff is that you have to play to get them to third down. That's when it really becomes fun. You have to get them into those third-down situations and that's when you get into situational football and I think that's where the game is really played." This is the type of high-level football talk you can get at the combine. Good stuff for the NFL junkie.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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