- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Including strength coaches but not lower-level coaching assistants or football research director Ernie Adams, the Patriots employed a staff of 14 assistant coaches for the 2012 season. Compare that to the 2013 staffs finalized this past week by first-year coaches Chip Kelly (18 with the Eagles, not including lower-level coaching assistants) and Bruce Arians (20 with the Cardinals, not including lower-level coaching assistants) and it highlights how Bill Belichick prefers a smaller coaching staff than the norm. As he's explained in the past, Belichick sometimes sees more voices as a chance for the message to get muddled. It also goes back to his early years in the game, when staffs were closer to half the size they are now.
2. When it comes to defensive coordinators who have drawn up good game plans to slow down the Patriots' offense in recent years, Rob Ryan's name is near the top of the list. That's why Ryan's switch this offseason -- backing out of the Rams' defensive coordinator opening and later becoming Saints defensive coordinator -- was notable here. The Patriots host the Saints next season, but don't face the Rams. Looking back at the two most recent games against Ryan-coordinated defenses, the Patriots lost to the Browns 34-14 in 2010, and squeaked by the Cowboys 20-16 in 2011. Quarterback Tom Brady's final stats in those games: 46-of-77 for 513 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 4 sacks.
3. Usually it's the Patriots who enter the NFL draft with an overflowing number of picks, with analysts noting that the team is one of the "power brokers" of the process. Not so this year as another AFC East team, the Miami Dolphins, holds that distinction. The Dolphins enter the second year of the Joe Philbin head-coaching era with five of the first 82 selections in the draft, and nine picks overall. General manager Jeff Ireland pointed out that the Dolphins were the second-youngest team in the NFL last season, and now they have a nice opportunity to add some more solid pieces this year. The development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will naturally be the key, but things are looking up in South Florida.
4. When it comes to cornerback Aqib Talib potentially re-signing with the Patriots as a free agent, I think there are two primary issues from the team's perspective: performance and projecting how more security/money might change things. My sense is that the Patriots feel good about the first part -- Talib played well for them and seemed to fall in line upon joining the club in the second half of 2012 -- but it's the second part that might be a bit more uncertain. That's why I view this situation as similar to what the Patriots and Randy Moss went through in 2008. Moss was terrific while playing on a one-year deal in 2007, knowing that he was setting himself up for a big contract. But the Patriots also knew that Moss, especially with some more security in the following years, had firecracker-type potential at any time. In the offseason before the 2008 campaign, that was a factor in the Patriots almost losing Moss to the Eagles, who were aggressive in their free-agent pursuit.
5. When veteran Colts beat writer Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star noted that the Colts' top 10 players in 2013 account for just $44 million of the salary cap, it made me think the tables have been turned a bit. The Patriots have long taken pride in that type of financial structure, allowing them to build a roster with a strong middle class. But in 2013, the Patriots are looking much more top-heavy with the salary cap than they usually are, and a big part of that is the trickle-down effect of their decision to restructure quarterback Tom Brady's contract last year, which meant his salary-cap charge alone would be about $22 million in 2013. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, just different than what we've seen in recent years.
6. Following up on a note from last week: With the Saints hiring Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and the Eagles going with Billy Davis this week, that ups the total to 24 new coordinator hires this offseason by my count. Of the group, only six were minorities (three of whom had coordinator positions with other teams last year). This is the primary pipeline to a head-coaching job, and if the league is looking for solutions to strengthen the "Rooney Rule," requiring teams to interview minorities for coordinator positions wouldn't be a bad place to start. The Rams still have an opening at defensive coordinator, and if Mike Singletary gets the job, it could balance out the numbers a bit more. There is a good connection there -- Rams head coach Jeff Fisher coached under Buddy Ryan, who at one time had Singletary as his star linebacker with the Bears.
7. Late last Sunday night, I wondered if the Ravens' Super Bowl victory spotlighted one of the reasons Dean Pees and the Patriots had parted ways after the 2009 season. Pees was lauded for some bold decisions on the Ravens' final red-zone stop -- his all-out blitzes produced the desired result -- so his personal stamp was on the victory/championship. People were talking about Pees' defense, and Pees' clutch calls (Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com is a good example of this). That decisive personal stamp was going to be hard to achieve with the Patriots. In New England, there is a dynamic in play where some will always view it as Bill Belichick's defense, and while Pees never said it himself, I wonder if that was a factor in the sides parting ways after the '09 season.
8. Pretty straightforward stuff from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome on areas he'll be targeting this offseason, with Newsome highlighting the middle of the defense, specifically tackle and inside linebacker. The focus at tackle reflects some disappointment with 2010 second-round pick Terrence Cody of Alabama, which serves as a reminder that while the Ravens are one of the NFL's better drafting clubs, not every pick works out as planned for even the best clubs.
9. Plenty of local ties on Chip Kelly's coaching staff with the Eagles, which includes Jerry Azzinaro (defensive line/assistant head coach), Bob Bicknell (receivers), Bill McGovern (outside linebackers) and Mike Dawson (defensive quality control). Of the group, Dawson's career path jumped off the page. After starring at UMass in the mid-1990s, he worked his way up the coaching ranks, including a six-year stint at New Hampshire (2000-05) alongside Kelly, who was the Wildcats' offensive coordinator at the time. Dawson's most recent coaching position was at Boston College (special teams), a post he left in 2011 to return to his alma mater, North Middlesex (Mass.) High School, as athletic director. The connection to Kelly has Dawson back in the coaching ranks, and in the NFL for the first time. Congratulations to Dawson, a good guy who took no shortcuts to arrive at this point.
10. For those keeping score over the last three days, Bill Belichick and partner Ricky Barnes missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The scorecard looked like this: 66-71-67--minus-5. As Belichick's appearance on the golf course reflected, last week was one in which coaches received some well-earned time off. That should be changing quickly, as preparation for the combine (Feb. 20-26) figures to heat up in the days to come.
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