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Thursday, February 24, 2011
Pats-based nuggets from Combine

By Mike Reiss

INDIANAPOLIS -- For those reporting on the NFL, this is the place to be this week.

One hour into the NFL Combine, insight from Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey, St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and Miami Dolphins personnel chief Jeff Ireland has been shared with reporters.

From a Patriots perspective, here were some things that stood out:

Bills thinking quarterback at No. 3? The Patriots have had the Bills' number in winning the last 15 games against them. For the Bills to overcome that, and become a contender in the AFC East, one line of thinking is that they would benefit from a franchise quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick. But is there one? I was interested to hear Gailey, the Bills' coach, say that teams evaluating quarterbacks will be projecting more than years past because the top prospects are coming from so many different style of offenses. Gailey also said he's been in the playoffs with quarterbacks who weren't as solid as current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who he felt was strong until the second to last game of the season, against the Patriots.

Expect to see more C.J. Spiller in 2011. Patriots followers saw how explosive Bills 2010 first-round pick C.J. Spiller can be; his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against New England in Week 3 was the only return the Patriots allowed for a touchdown this season. But Gailey was blunt in saying that Spiller's rookie season "didn't work out like any of us planned." Gailey still envisions Spiller as a "very good to great player" for the Bills and promised to do a better job creating opportunities for him.

Spagnuolo/McDaniels connection explored. When Spagnuolo answered questions from reporters, a big topic of discussion was his work with new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the former Patriots assistant. Also, Patriots fans might recall that when the Rams played the Patriots in the preseason, they lost top receiver Donnie Avery for the season with a knee injury. Spagnuolo said Avery has had a great rehab, and it sounds like Avery is on schedule to be back for 2011. The Patriots don't play the Rams this year.

Ireland likes outside linebackers for 3-4 teams. The Dolphins run a 3-4 defense similar to the Patriots, so it was interesting to hear Miami personnel chief Jeff Ireland note that there is a good group of hybrid prospects who could fit as outside linebackers. "I think there are quite a few guys that would fall into that hybrid group -- outside linebacker/pass-rusher types," he said. "It's a good group." That would seemingly be good news for the Patriots.