INDIANAPOLIS -- Interviews with NFL head coaches and general managers are underway at the NFL combine, and will continue through Saturday. While the focus for each head coach or GM has largely been tailored to their team, there's been some Patriots-related context to the question and answer sessions thus far, highlighted below.
1. Ireland on closing the gap in the AFC East. The Patriots have dominated the AFC East since 2001, and there are no signs of that run of domination coming to an end in 2013. But if there is a team that might be closest to doing so, it might be the Dolphins, who are high on 2012 first-round pick Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, have a lot of salary-cap space, and five of the first 82 picks in this year's draft. General manager Jeff Ireland said this is the first time the organization has brought everyone -- scouts, coaches et al -- to the combine because he wants all eyes on all players. "Our building is empty," he said, before answering a question on the gap between Miami and New England. "There's a gap, certainly; they've won the division quite a bit. It's a five-game gap right now, wins and losses, so that's where the gap is. We have to close that gap and we plan to do our best job, and put our best foot forward, getting that done this offseason. Whether we can completely close the gap, we have to get back on the field and close the gap on the field. It doesn't make a lot of sense to talk about it right now."
2. Talib trade from Buccaneers perspective. Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano was asked about the in-season trade of cornerback Aqib Talib and a seventh-round draft choice to the Patriots for a fourth-round draft choice, in the context of whether he views the deal any differently now that he has a better feel of the prospects in the draft. Schiano said the main thing he liked about adding the fourth-round pick is the flexibility provides the Buccaneers on draft day. "When you have picks, you have ammunition to do things," he said. Schiano was asked a follow-up on Talib, specific to his experience with him. His response: "I enjoyed coaching him. He did the things we asked. I'm not na´ve that there were some things in his past, but there was nothing more than I said at the time."
3. Baalke learns from Belichick/Parcells. The 49ers came within inches of a Super Bowl victory in 2012, and did so with zero production from their first-round pick, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who failed to register a single catch. In fact, the 49ers' rookie class had modest production on the whole last season, which would lead some to believe that it wasn't a strong class. GM Trent Baalke, in response to a question about the class's 2012 production, referenced a lesson learned from Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. "I think it was Coach Belichick or Coach Parcells years ago [that] said, 'If you're getting a ton of production from and you're having a lot of guys making your team from your draft class, you're probably not in a position to play in the Super Bowl.' So maybe there is something to that."
4. Baalke also shares praise for Moss. Baalke was also asked about free-agent-to-be Randy Moss, sharing high praise for the former Patriot. "Randy's a pro. I can't say enough good things about Randy, and I think if you ask anyone within our organization they would say the same thing. One of the first guys to work every day, one of the last to leave. A guy that takes great care of his body, that is probably one of the smartest football players, if not the smartest football player I've been around."
5. Fox speaks highly of Koppen. Broncos head coach John Fox had nothing but good things to say about another former Patriot, center Dan Koppen, "We were really fortunate, I thought our personnel department did a terrific job at two positions like nothing ever happened. He was a big reason why we were able to get on that run. You kind of had him waiting in the wings, so when J.D. [Walton] got hurt, we didn't drop off a lot. He did a fantastic job and is a guy I know I've got a lot of respect for."