Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots, with Field Yates filling in for half of the observations this week. Mike Rodak's half will be posted later Sunday:
1. We shouldn’t make assumptions about positions based solely off of what we see during the OTA phase of the offseason, but it’s worth noting that Rob Ninkovich – a strong side linebacker for much of 2011 – has worked with the defensive line during each of the two OTA’s the media has been able to attend. It could mean a lot of things, including that the team feels it has a surplus of talent at linebacker with Ninkovich in the fold, so they may opt to move him to the defensive line to keep his effectiveness on the field. It might also mean the team is looking to rely more heavily on four man fronts in 2012, where Ninkovich projects to be a better fit on the line than in a 3-4 alignment.
2. One name that remains a topic of conversation amongst Patriots supporters is safety James Ihedigbo, currently a free agent. Ihedigbo had his best season as a pro in 2011, totaling nearly 70 tackles in a primary safety role. The Patriots invested in Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson this offseason, and we saw Will Allen take reps at safety on Thursday. Ihedigbo shouldn’t be discounted as a potential pick-up later in the offseason, but it’s possible that the Patriots – who struggled mightily versus the pass in 2011 – are tilting towards a reliance on safeties with more of a track record of productivity against the pass for 2012. Ihedigbo, a veteran of four seasons who has played 53 games, has just one career pass defensed and no interceptions.
3. The story of the NFL offseason remains the ongoing bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints, one that doesn’t figure to go away for some time. The latest wrinkle in the case involves a report (initially produced by Yahoo! Sports) that details a ledger kept by the Saints to record the payments involved with the program. The NFLPA insists that the league has failed to present evidence of the bounty system, leading to legal action including a defamation lawsuit by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma against the NFL. This report may be the first domino in the public unveiling of evidence that the NFL apparently has to corroborate the existence of the program, something that would not bode well for Vilma and the Saints.
4. When the Patriots announced the addition of several new coaches to their staff this offseason, there was a familiar name in the mix, as Steve Belichick – the eldest son of head coach Bill Belichick – became a coaching assistant. That role typically involves extensive film breakdown, a duty many coaches credit with helping them learn the nuances of the game. Based off of what we have seen in OTA’s, it appears that the younger Belichick will work on the defensive side of the football, specifically with the linebackers (a position his dad has long worked with throughout his coaching career). And although he was not one of the names mentioned in the release, Chris Simms – the son of former Giants QB Phil Simms – looks to be working with the offense, perhaps in a role with the quarterbacks. With 2011 offensive assistant George Godsey taking over as tight ends coach, Simms could be called upon to take over some of his vacated duties.
5. With news that Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas may sit out the 2012-2013 NHL season, we are reminded of the difficult predicament sports franchises face with valuable contributors in the latter stages of their careers. Although the sense is guard Brian Waters will return to the Patriots for a second season, he’s one of a number of NFL veterans who appear to be at the point of their career where returning to the field is a decision to make each offseason. The Patriots have been able to sustain a balance between acquiring talent for the future while continuing to win on the field. As has been discussed here on the blog, the absence of Waters and fellow starter Logan Mankins (ACL surgery) from OTA’s continues to afford younger players, such as undrafted free agent Jeremiah Warren, the opportunity to see additional reps during the on-field workouts.