Quick-hit thoughts around NFL, Patriots

August, 31, 2014
8/31/14
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
  • After years of doing so, the Patriots altered course and scrapped the idea of giving members of the rookie class creative haircuts. They were usually given before the team's annual kickoff dinner in front of donors and sponsors and were a tradition of sorts. A Patriots leader was asked about the change and indicated that it was made after everything that unfolded last year in Miami with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. This reminded us of Bill Belichick's remarks last year when he was asked about making sure hazing doesn't get out of control on his teams.

  • It's been interesting learning about new Patriots tight end Tim Wright, who wasn't invited to the NFL combine in 2013, went undrafted, didn't have notable production at Rutgers and was viewed by some as a "tweener" who was too slow to play receiver (timed around 4.65 in the 40) but wasn't big enough to play tight end. So, in a one-year span, how did he go from an undesirable commodity without a position to a significant piece in a trade for a six-time Pro Bowl guard like Logan Mankins? Wright's intelligence and work ethic is a big part of it, and credit also goes to former Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano for switching him from receiver to tight end to maximize his assets. Here's another thing I learned about Wright: While he's listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds on the roster, he's actually closer to 230, which has helped him be more competitive in blocking situations. The added weight obviously hasn't compromised his quickness and smoothness in getting out of his breaks as he's still growing into the position.

  • From a shock value perspective, last Tuesday's trade of Mankins to the Buccaneers was similar to the 2009 trade that sent Richard Seymour to the Raiders. From the eerie coincidence department: When Seymour departed town, it was Mankins who purchased his home.

  • With the Patriots welcoming the Raiders to town Sept. 21 for their home opener, recent developments with Oakland's quarterback situation bear watching. Veteran Matt Schaub has been slowed by an elbow injury, opening the door for second-round draft choice Derek Carr, who played well in Thursday's preseason finale against Seattle and is now presumably a candidate to start the regular-season opener on the road against the New York Jets. If it's close, why not go with Carr?

  • The Patriots kept 10 offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster, which is on the high side compared to the NFL average. The only other clubs to keep 10 were the Dolphins, Colts, Giants, Buccaneers and Panthers. Nine clubs went with just eight offensive linemen, while the remaining 17 teams stayed with nine. So when considering where the Patriots might trim if they are looking to add players to the roster in the coming days, that looks like a target spot; someone like second-year blocker Chris Barker might not be in the clear for a roster spot.

    Sam
  • For those wondering if the Patriots might consider a claim on Michael Sam, the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft who was waived Saturday by the Rams, I don't see it. The Patriots are well stocked at their end-of-the-line spots, which is where Sam would fit in their scheme. They could use a little more depth with linebackers who play off the line, with special teams considerations in mind, and that's why a player like former Saints linebacker Kevin Reddick is a more likely target for consideration -- on the roster or practice squad. Reddick was one of 12 players in for tryouts over the last day or so.

  • The Patriots are currently without a long snapper after waiving incumbent Danny Aiken on Saturday. It's a mildly surprising move because they don't have another one on the roster unless they plan to tap veteran Rob Ninkovich in the role. That's unlikely. Keep an eye on former 49ers snapper Kevin McDermott, who was waived Saturday, as a potential top candidate.

  • Former Boston College kicker Nate Freese, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Lions, won a training camp competition with undrafted Giorgio Tavecchio. Now he hopes to follow in the footsteps of two franchise greats in Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson, who won the job as rookies in 1980 and 1992, respectively, and went on to have terrific careers with the franchise. Freese's regular-season debut comes under a bright spotlight -- on ESPN's “Monday Night Football” at home against the Giants.

    Mallett
  • I wonder how much Bill Belichick is factoring in a potential 2016 compensatory draft choice when considering Ryan Mallett's standing on the roster. Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season, and he'll almost certainly sign elsewhere, a move that will count in the Patriots' favor in the compensatory pick formula. So while Jimmy Garoppolo looks ready to assume the No. 2 role this year, and releasing Mallett would open up a spot elsewhere on the roster, I could also envision Belichick seeing two-layered value in keeping Mallett: The importance of the position itself as we see other clubs struggle to fill depth charts (e.g. Buffalo) and those future draft considerations.

  • The Patriots haven't kept three quarterbacks on their roster since 2011, preferring to go with just two, while using the roster spot on another position player who is more likely to help on game day. They weren't alone, as it seemed like a growing number of clubs were content with just two. But one thing that stood out to me when scanning initial 53-man rosters across the NFL on Saturday was what seemed like a larger-than-usual number of teams choosing to add a third layer at quarterback this year. I counted 19 clubs with three quarterbacks on their initial rosters, which included every team in the NFC North. One theory is that with a deep rookie class of quarterbacks this year, there is more willingness for development at the position.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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