NFL Nation: Nick Caserio
Surprised to hear defensive line as depth spot. Asked for the defining characteristic of the overall draft, Caserio cited the record number of underclassmen (nearly 100) and pinpointed receiver, running back and defensive line as spots with good depth. The inclusion of defensive line was a bit of an outlier compared to what we've heard from most media analysts. Defensive end, in particular, has been cited by many as one of the lighter positions in the draft, but Caserio and the Patriots might see it differently. "I'd say there's a deep group of defensive linemen that are different types of players," he said.
Rookies mostly to fill out the roster. Caserio noted there are 65 players on the roster, leaving 25 additional spots to fill. "A large bulk of those will probably come next week, and a few weeks moving forward, as well," he said of the draft and undrafted free agency. The team has eight draft choices, so this sets the expectation for a large class of undrafted players, a crop that might be more talented than the norm because of the depth of the draft.
Team well-positioned to compete today. Unlike last year, when the Patriots had a noticeable absence at the receiver spot and almost telegraphed their intentions, the club looks better-positioned this year to go in a number of different directions. "If you look at our team, where we are today, if we had to go out there and play a game, we feel like we could field a competitive team," Caserio said, adding that it creates flexibility to pick the best players regardless of position.
Strategy will unfold on draft day. Caserio said the club's strategy will evolve as the draft does. "I don't think there is a set formula going into it, how we're going to approach it," he said. If there was a set formula, Caserio wouldn't share it in this forum, anyway.
Perspective on Boston Marathon, scouting staff and Patriots Hall of Fame. Caserio opened his news conference with remarks about the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, while saluting members of the organization who ran this year for charity. He also cited the work of director of college scouting Jon Robinson and his staff and then congratulated the three finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame -- cornerbacks Raymond Clayborn and Ty Law and coach Bill Parcells -- while adding this about Law: "He probably thinks he can go out there and cover people, knowing him and his mentality and his competitive nature."
We won’t be far behind them, as ESPNBoston.com is scheduled to touch down in Indy Wednesday evening.
With the event looming, here’s the rundown of what we’re hoping to learn this year.
1. Who measures up? Ultimately, the combine is known most for the physical testing and drills that will take place from the 22nd to the 25th. We’ll keep a close eye on standout performers, players who struggle, fast risers, fast fallers, and anything else in between. The combine is just a part of the process in evaluating draft prospects, but it can provide extremely important information. One area that the New England Patriots were able to reinforce about top choice Jamie Collins last year was his explosiveness. He set the record for best broad jump in combine history at 11 feet 7 inches.
3. Offseason update. Teams are not required to, but nearly every NFL team provides either its head coach or general manager for a question-and-answer period in the media room during the combine. The Patriots announced that they won't be talking, but in case that changes, it’ll be interesting to hear what either Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio say about the team’s current state.
4. League-wide Patriots perception. Even if Belichick and Caserio don't speak, we’ll pick the brain of the available personnel for their take on areas that the Patriots can improve upon and other franchise-related thoughts.
5. Game of tag? Speaking of franchise, the combine falls in the middle of the current franchise-tag window, and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on any possible movement on that front, both for the Patriots and around the league.
6. Quarterback crop. Quarterback obviously isn’t a top need for the Patriots, though Ryan Mallett does enter the final year of his contract this season. But the position typically headlines the event, with several prominent prospects this year. We’ll look forward to hearing from some of the top players such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and also to see which players opt to throw at the combine.
7. Other notable prospects. During last year’s combine, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o drew what some believed was the largest audience for a player interview in combine history. There are prospects this year who are expected to draw robust crowds, with Manziel and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam topping the list. Sam recently announced he is gay.
8. Players with local ties. We'll aim to track down some of the local area players, as there is a host of combine invitees from New England schools, as well as four players who hail from Massachusetts.
9. Expecting the unexpected. You never know what is going to happen at the combine, which is one reason it’s a particularly unique event. On our way to Lucas Oil Stadium during the first day of the event last year, team ESPNBoston.com crossed paths with former Patriots long-snapper Lonie Paxton, who was in town to promote a product line. We’re counting on more of the same unexpectedness this year.
MIAMI -- There is something terribly wrong with the Miami Dolphins. Their process of finding someone -- anyone -- to become their next general manager should open some eyes within the organization that something internally must change.
After a long and arduous process, the Dolphins hired Dennis Hickey on Sunday to become their next general manager. Hickey replaces the embattled Jeff Ireland, who parted ways with the team after six seasons.
But today is not about Hickey as much as it is about the Dolphins’ questionable internal structure. This is not a media creation. Multiple candidates legitimately ran away from the chance to be GM of the Dolphins. It’s clear that people around the NFL are not buying how Miami wants to run its franchise.
In the past 24 hours, Nick Caserio of the New England Patriots and Lake Dawson of the Tennessee Titans, in order, were offered the job and turned it down for smaller roles with their current teams. Ray Farmer of the Cleveland Browns, an early favorite, took his name out of consideration Thursday night when he was closing in on the gig. At least four other high-profile candidates declined the opportunity for an interview to even hear what the Dolphins have to say.
Many didn’t believe the job the Dolphins were offering was a true GM position. Hickey has no power beyond the 53-man roster. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross didn’t want the GM to be above coach Joe Philbin and vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte. All three will start on equal footing and answer directly to the owner, which can create an atmosphere where factions develop and sniping can occur. That’s pretty much the story of Miami’s 2013 season between Ireland, Philbin and Aponte.
But Hickey is willing to take the plunge and must mesh with Philbin and Aponte. The Dolphins may try to put a good face on the situation and say Hickey was their top choice all along. Yet it’s clear Hickey was not Miami’s first, second or third choice. Hickey probably wasn’t in the top seven when Miami’s brass created its initial list. But he was the first person willing to take the job.
On paper, the Dolphins’ GM position should have been a quality opening.
The Dolphins are not a rebuilding project. This is an 8-8 team with a promising young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, four Pro Bowlers and solid cap room entering the offseason. A few good roster improvements here and there and Miami could be in playoff contention in 2014.
But the internal workings and behind-the-scenes drama in Miami made its GM position significantly less attractive. The Dolphins must look in the mirror, re-examine themselves and figure out if this is the smartest way to do business moving forward.
But according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Miami has moved on to interview New England Patriots Director of Pro Personnel Nick Caserio. Although Caserio doesn’t have final say, he works closely with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
The biggest thing this tells me is the Dolphins are not satisfied with their current list of finalists. Miami recently paired down its list to Farmer, who backed out, Dennis Hickey of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami assistant GM Brian Gaine. It’s not a deep or impressive list, and it appears the Dolphins may be willing to wait to see if there are bigger names out there.
Caserio is now the biggest name in this group. But you have to wonder if he would leave a stable job in New England as Belichick’s right-hand man for Miami. The Dolphins told prior candidates that the GM is not the boss over coach Joe Philbin or vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte. All three would be on equal footing.
It's unknown if Miami would be willing to change that way of thinking to lure Caserio. The Dolphins don’t have a lot of time left to figure out this GM situation with the NFL scouting combine looming (Feb. 19-25).
Cap Status: The Bills do not have a ton of cap space compared to last year. But they have some flexibility and can still make a run at several players. Buffalo recently re-signed cornerback Leodis McKelvin and placed the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd, and those contracts will somewhat limit what the team can do this week. The Bills were among the biggest players in free agency in 2012 and spent a large chunk of their cap on $100 million defensive end Mario Williams.
Strategy: The Bills are very much a team in transition. They have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and potentially a new quarterback. Buffalo most likely will not look to free agency to find another quarterback. The Bills already have two veterans on the roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding a drafted rookie to the group makes more sense. Expect Buffalo to use its free-agent dollars at linebacker and wide receiver. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is installing a 3-4 scheme in Buffalo that relies heavily on solid, tough linebacker play. The Bills were 31st in run defense last year and the linebackers were pushed around too often. Buffalo also needs a No. 2 receiver to pair with Steve Johnson. The Bills let receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones walk in free agency and lack depth at the position. Buffalo continues to negotiate with starting guard Andy Levitre, but he could get interest from several teams in free agency and create a bidding war.
Cap Status: The Dolphins have the most cap room in the AFC East. They began the offseason with more than $40 million available. However, recent signings of three in-house players -- receiver Brian Hartline, quarterback Matt Moore and defensive tackle Randy Starks -- have reduced that number.
Strategy: Miami still has plenty of room to make a splash this week. The Dolphins are the favorite to land former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who could command about $12 million per season. The speedy Wallace could be the missing piece to a Dolphins passing game ranked 26th in the NFL last season. Miami also needs to address its situation at cornerback, tight end, safety and left tackle. The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long. That leaves a big hole to fill at left tackle. The Dolphins could play 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin on the left side if they cannot find a better option in free agency. No. 1 cornerback and free agent Sean Smith also could leave Miami, which would create another major hole. Keep in mind the Dolphins also have nine draft picks, including five in the first three rounds. Whatever holes they cannot plug in free agency will be addressed in April's draft.
Cap Status: The Patriots are in decent shape. Quarterback Tom Brady recently provided a big assist by signing a three-year, $27 million contract extension. The move reportedly freed up an additional $15 million in cap room over the next two years to keep New England in position to contend.
Strategy: The Patriots will not be the biggest players in free agency, but they have enough room to go after a few desired targets. Definitely keep an eye on New England's secondary. The Patriots need help at both cornerback and safety. They have already been linked to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has a desire to stay with a contender. Belichick has an immense respect for Reed and the way he plays the game. New England also must address its in-house free agents, such as receiver Wes Welker, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and corner Aqib Talib. The Patriots do not get sentimental with their own players and are not afraid to let them test the market. New England runs the risk of losing all three players. But the Patriots refuse to overpay and are prepared to go to Plan B and Plan C for each scenario.* The Patriots do not have a general manager by title, but Belichick has the final say on all personnel matters in New England. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio shares some of the GM duties with Belichick.
Cap Status: The Jets have a very tight cap. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum significantly mismanaged the roster the past couple of seasons by overpaying veterans and poorly restructuring contracts. This is the year the Jets pay for those mistakes.
Strategy: The Jets have a lot of needs but few resources to work with. The team already cut veterans Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Eric Smith just to get under the cap. New York is not expected to re-sign Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene and starting tight end Dustin Keller because they will be too expensive. Idzik says he will field a competitive team in his first year, but that's an extremely tough task. The Jets have no choice but to look for bargain-bin options in free agency. New York's biggest needs are on offense. The Jets need help at quarterback but can afford only cheap options like David Garrard. They also need to add talented skill players at wide receiver, tight end and running back to support the quarterback. Don't expect the Jets to make much noise in free agency. New York's best option to improve this year is through the draft.
They’ve been to two of the past five Super Bowls, including the most recent one. They’ve been in five of the previous 11 Super Bowls and won three in four years from 2001 to 2004.
For teams looking to become consistent AFC powers, the Patriots are the target. One of those teams, the Houston Texans, is heading to New England for "Monday Night Football."
No matter the result, the Texans will still have at least a one-game lead for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This could be an AFC Championship Game preview.
Can the Texans overtake the Patriots?
"I think they can," one AFC executive said. "They have the talent, they have the consistency of scheme on both sides of the ball to do it. The wild card is their health, particularly on defense."
"That's going to be a tough one," said Rosevelt Colvin, who played six of his 10 NFL seasons as linebacker with the Patriots and spent a training camp with the Texans. "Patriots are the closest thing to consistency you will find in this era of NFL ball. Two big reasons: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady."
New England’s coach and quarterback have the skins on the wall and the credibility that come with them. That doesn’t mean someone new can’t break through, though only three other teams have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl since the Patriots came to prominence: Oakland once, Indianapolis twice and Pittsburgh three times.
Are the Texans poised to break through?
"Everybody would like to do what they’ve done over a long period of time," Texans coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters. "This league’s about consistency. I think I learned a lot about that in my time in San Francisco and Denver. Doing things right all the time.
"We’re trying to become a very consistent organization here and put a consistent product on the field week in and week out and do things the right way. We’re very young in the process, but we have a lot of respect for what they do."
One major similarity: Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Texans owner Bob McNair are widely regarded as two of the best owners in the NFL. They are willing to spend to make things first-class, and they back their coaches.
Let’s look at some other ways the Texans are similar to the Patriots and some ways they are different:
They drafted two high-quality tight ends when they saw Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez available and shifted their offense to be predominantly two-tight. When both missed time because of injury -- Gronkowski won't play Monday -- they easily shifted to three-wide. They’ve been a 3-4 team. They’ve been a 4-3 team.
Belichick adapts to what he has and the circumstances.
The Texans don’t morph.
They’ve updated and improved Kubiak’s offensive system since he took over in 2006, but the principles are the same. The zone-blocking line cuts defenders down, and the back is asked to make one cut and go. They run a ton of play-action and ask quarterback Matt Schaub to roll out and run bootlegs off that. It’s not a common scheme, which makes it a bit tougher for defenses to handle.
Defensively, they struggled to find an identity until they brought in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. As leader of the defense, he installed his brand of 3-4 and stamped the Texans with a personality they had been lacking. Now they are locked into a defensive system that same way they are locked in on offense.
They are both top-eight rushing teams, but running is less important to New England because its passing game is more straight drop-back and shotgun while the Texans rely on far more play-action.
Leadership: Belichick is the team’s authority, although while the Patriots came to prominence much was made of how he worked in tandem with Scott Pioli in the front office. If they didn’t agree on a player, they would move on to the next one.
Pioli left to become the general manager in Kansas City in 2009. Belichick remains the powerful agenda-setter, but he has resources when he wants them -- including director of player personnel Nick Caserio and senior football adviser Floyd Reese.
Although the Texans have always stayed mum publicly about who has final say, Kubiak was hired first and general manager Rick Smith joined him. League insiders see the Texans as a coach-steered franchise. Kubiak and Smith have an excellent relationship and get good input from front-office personnel, coordinators and assistants.
Kubiak and Belichick have vastly different public personalities. Belichick is gruff and controlling. Kubiak is personable and agreeable.
Belichick wields more power, but the setups for both coaches in their organizations are comparable.
Depth: Belichick once lost Brady in the Patriots opener. He plugged in Matt Cassel and won 11 games.
Overall, New England has done exceedingly well plugging reserves in when needed and getting sufficient production. The Patriots also move guys around with success. We’ve seen them play receiver Troy Brown at corner. Currently, Devin McCourty can line up at cornerback or safety.
Although veterans generally want to stay in their winning atmosphere, the Patriots have not been sentimental about keeping guys. If a player gets too old or too expensive, they’ll let him walk.
The Texans went to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates playing because starter Schaub and backup Matt Leinart both got hurt. Outside linebacker Mario Williams was out after five games, and receiver Andre Johnson missed nine. Houston showed off its depth in overcoming the absences.
The team let Williams leave as a free agent, traded inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans and released right tackle Eric Winston in the offseason while fitting other pieces under the cap. They got Schaub and left tackle Duane Brown locked up with long-term contracts before the season kicked off.
Houston is showing off its depth again this season. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing went down after five games, and Tim Dobbins has played well in his place. Brooks Reed missed last week and will be out a few more, and the team has first-rounder Whitney Mercilus to insert into a shuffled linebacker corps.
"Keeping the talent pool full of younger guys that can run that system is key, as well as coaching consistency," Colvin said. "They have a good mix right now."
Veteran free agent Robert Gallery retired over the weekend. So did Matt Light. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) is on the physically unable to perform list, and fellow guard Brian Waters' playing status is still to be determined. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also is dealing with a back injury, leaving Solder as one of the few starting and healthy linemen from February's Super Bowl team.
Solder entered the offseason as a young, budding left tackle. Now, he's being relied upon in training camp as though he's one of the veterans.
Solder has one of the most important responsibilities on the team protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. But you wouldn’t know it from Solder's mentality. He is calm and low key. Solder says he's taken this important second season day by day, which is exactly how the Patriots like their players to think.
All indications are that Solder has been the most consistent lineman in training camp. Part of it is due to injuries to veterans. But the second-year tackle also is meeting -- and perhaps exceeding -- expectations as a 2011 first-round pick.
"We thought Nate was a good football player when we drafted him,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. "He’s come in and had a decent first year. And the most important thing with any player is you try to improve on a day-to-day basis and become a more consistent player."
Solder isn't backing down in training camp. He got into a big scuffle in practice last week with Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. When we asked about it Monday, Solder chuckled and said, "We're moving on."
Solder has a lot to look forward to. It began the day Light announced his retirement. That catapulted Solder into the starting left tackle role full time in just his second season. The Patriots are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and Solder has a big responsibility in that.
"My reaction [to Light retiring] was it's time for me to get better and work harder," Solder said. "I want to contribute to this team anyway I can. I feel blessed with my opportunities here and it’s worked out phenomenally. But it's up to me to really step up and play well."
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
This will be the second draft for general manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Chan Gailey. Vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak is back for his 11th draft. Bills founder Ralph Wilson has been known to get involved on draft day, but Gailey recently said he hasn't seen the Hall of Fame owner meddle. "He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."
For the first time since general manager Jeff Ireland joined the club in 2008, he will run the show without Bill Parcells watching over his shoulder. Parcells stepped away from the Dolphins a few days before the 2010 season opener, leaving his hand-picked GM at the controls. Head coach Tony Sparano also would appear to have a bigger voice with his contract extension. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made the move to make amends after an embarrassing flirtation with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is entering his 12th draft with New England. He remains in control of every personnel move and hasn't missed without Scott Pioli, who departed for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Belichick receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. The Patriots' draft room must be a sight to behold. On the first two days of last year's draft, they made a series of trades in which they acquired 10 picks (including a 2011 second-rounder) with an average value of the 69th pick and peddled eight picks with an average value of the 85th pick. So these minds somehow accumulated more picks and higher in the order.
New York Jets
General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan enter their third draft together. Top college scout Joey Clinkscales is highly respected in the business, but Ryan has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris.
Here is Thursday's media schedule for AFC East coaches and executives here at the NFL scouting combine.
My intention is to post bullet points shortly after each news conference and then follow up later with more in-depth blogs on the most interesting issues raised.
- 10 a.m.: Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey
- 10:45 a.m.: Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland
- 3:30 p.m.: New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan
- 3:45 p.m.: New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum
Bills general manager Buddy Nix is expected to talk to reporters Thursday in a less formal setting.
Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano will not speak at all during the combine.
The New England Patriots have told the NFL they will not make head coach Bill Belichick or player personnel director Nick Caserio available to the media. But two years ago, Belichick made an impromptu appearance on the podium.
That's right, the Indianapolis Colts will meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for an eighth straight season. The NFL's greatest ongoing interdivisional rivalry showcases two of the great organizations of this generation and renews the discussion about Peyton Manning's stats versus Tom Brady's championships.
We've decided to rekindle the debate, but before you throw your head back and groan in anticipation of the clichés, hold your horseshoes.
The purpose of this debate is to eliminate Manning and Brady and look into the future.
Which team has the better long-range outlook once Manning and Brady move on?
For the purpose of this discussion, we've set the target for 2015 -- one year beyond the length of Brady's latest contract extension -- to examine which team has the better infrastructure to cope with life minus its iconic quarterback.
Tim Graham: Time to get after it, Paul. But no weapons this time, please. I've just recently completed the physical therapy from our last debate.
Paul Kuharsky: Well, this back-and-forth will be less physically taxing, and since there is so much forecasting, you may actually be able to put your Jedi training to use.
Graham: Get this debate started we shall, hmmm?
Kuharsky: So what do the Colts and Patriots have now that's going to be a big factor for them in five years?
Hughes is still unproven, but it's early and Colts president Bill Polian saw the potential for him to ultimately replace a Dwight Freeney or a Robert Mathis.
Others who may still be staples when Manning is gone: receiver Austin Collie, linebacker Pat Angerer, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Brody Eldridge and punter Pat McAfee. Can that group be the core of a team that continues to win? I wish I could offer a solid yes or no instead of a tepid maybe.
Beyond that, we've got five drafts to consider, right? And Polian regularly finds undrafted gems. I don't doubt the Colts will have talent. But they'll need new Freeney-, Dallas Clark- and Reggie Wayne-caliber stars, plus the replacement quarterback.
Graham: Patriots overlord Bill Belichick has drawn deserved criticism for his draft failures. He has swung and missed at his share of Terrence Wheatleys and Kevin O'Connells and Chad Jacksons in the early rounds.
But when you accumulate as many picks as the Patriots have and have elite football minds evaluating the talent, those bad decisions are going to even out eventually. The Patriots appear to be warming up when it comes to successful drafting.
They don't have as many second- and third-year contributors, but inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was defensive rookie of the year in 2008. Among the sophomores are starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who also handle return duties.
Without question, there will be a drop-off at quarterback when Brady retires, but the Patriots are loaded with core youth.
Kuharsky: The Colts may draft better, but they also draft less. Polian's not the draft pick wheeler-and-dealer Belichick is. Are those the guys who will be lining up the Manning and Brady successors?
It's a quarterback-driven league, and teams minus Manning and Brady will have major voids. We've got to talk about the replacements for the iconic quarterbacks, but it's hard to offer much conjecture on what kind of guy that will be without talking about who will be finding him.
Polian is 67 years old, and the last time I asked him about any sort of plan for retirement he gave me a head tilt and an uncomfortable expression.
Graham: I've noticed a lot of people do that around you.
Kuharsky: If things are neat and tidy, the suspicion is he and Manning -- the guy he hit the jackpot with when he picked him over Ryan Leaf -- will exit together. The next generation is waiting in the wings. Chris Polian is Indianapolis' vice president and general manager.
Graham: I don't know how long Belichick plans to coach, but even if he were to get tired of the week-to-week grind of getting his boys ready to play, it's fathomable he'll stick around to run the operation, handpicking his successor and overseeing football operations.
It would be silly to give Belichick more than a smidgen of credit for drafting Brady in the sixth round a decade ago. If Belichick truly knew what Brady was capable of, the Patriots wouldn't have passed on him until the 199th pick. So it's not like Belichick will simply wait until Brady's on the verge of retirement and automatically snag a replacement.
Kuharsky: True. But they knew more than everybody else when they finally did take him.
Graham: Belichick trusted his scout, and they unearthed a gem.
I believe Belichick's support staff is stronger than Polian's. Senior adviser Floyd Reese oversaw the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans' drafts when they picked Steve McNair and Vince Young. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, like a lot of Belichick's sidekicks over the years, will develop the tools to run his own show someday.
Kuharsky: I don't know that Belichick's got better support. It's just more well known and visible support.
Graham: And a high-profile owner who is willing to trust his front office, will spend money and doesn't dare meddle. That's another key component to New England's success over the past decade.
Kuharsky: Moving onto the replacement quarterback himself, Curtis Painter is Manning's current backup. But based on his work in a couple of regular-season games the team didn't care about winning at the end of last season and some preseason work, most people aren't forecasting anything special from him. And that would amount to quite a lengthy apprenticeship anyway.
Graham: You wouldn't think the Patriots have Brady's successor on the roster either. Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore with virtually no experience so far. But you never can tell how these guys will develop while working alongside Brady for a few years. This is the team that identified Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who hadn't started a game since high school, as its top backup for 2008. He ended up going 11-5 when Brady blew out his knee.
Kuharsky: The Colts will need a guy for a super-tough replacement job. It would be awfully difficult for them to land in a Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Michael Vick for Donovan McNabb replacement situation.
After hitting a grand slam with the No. 1 pick in 1998, odds would suggest that it will be tough for them to line up with the right guy at the right pick at the right time. The way they build, odds are Manning's heir will be a guy who plays a full college career. So he's a college freshman or a high-school senior right now, depending on their plan for easing him in.
Graham: The Colts and Patriots finish too high in the standings every year and don't get to pick until the 20s. That will make it nearly impossible to snag some golden-armed top prospect in their assigned draft positions. But the Patriots frequently go into drafts with other teams' picks -- and an abundance of them. They often have copious draft assets to move up if they want to. Or maybe the Patriots will obtain that big-ticket pick waaaaay in advance. A year ago, Belichick traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round selection. That's the kind of creative investing that could pay off with a high-quality quarterback prospect down the road.
Kuharsky: It will definitely be more difficult for the Colts to get to the top of a draft to get a premier guy. And there may need to be a post-Manning down-cycle for the team to get up there and find the guy. Scribes in Indianapolis often wonder aloud what happens to the Colts' crazed support if they turn into a 5-11 rebuilding project. The rest of the AFC South certainly hopes that's how it works, and that the division is a lot more wide open once Manning's not in it.
And while we're forecasting five years out, I have two questions: Will Manning still be a deadpanning TV commercial superstar? And will Brady have had a haircut?
Graham: There's one unwavering prediction I can make about hair, Paul, but it's not about Brady's.
One kicker, one punter. No need to bring anybody else to training camp.
It used to be common for teams to have extra kickers even if they knew who would win the jobs. Competition kept the regulars sharp and made sure their legs didn't get worn out by special-teams drills.
But none of the four AFC East teams has brought in another kicker, and only one has two punters on its 80-man roster.
Steve Weatherford and T.J. Conley are taking turns at punter for the New York Jets. Their kicker, Nick Folk, might be the most disturbing case of all, but he's alone on the depth chart.
The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots have their two swinging legs, and they're sticking to them in camp.
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said Tuesday some teams don't want to waste a spot on the 80-man camp roster.
"It's probably a combination of just managing the roster," Caserio said, "keeping that roster spot available in the event that there is another position player or somebody else out there that you want to add to your club."
If a kicker or punter is occupying a spot, then there's less room to accommodate a banged-up player or a more important position where competition is needed. There also are cases like unsigned guard Logan Mankins, who hasn't reported to camp but is on the roster.
But the Patriots have seen some shakiness in camp the past couple of days. Stephen Gostkowski, an All-Pro kicker two seasons ago, appears to have a hook in his attempts lately and has been missing more than his fair share. Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko has a booming leg, but has shown he's erratic. Every third or fourth punt looks like a wobbler or a shank.
I asked Caserio about extra legs in camp keeping the regulars honest.
"They have to go out there and perform," Caserio said. "We're going to evaluate it on a day-to-day basis, and if there is a point in time where we say 'OK, we feel we need to have somebody else in here or bring somebody else into the mix,' then we'll go ahead and do that.
"Nobody is guaranteed anything. Obviously, their performance is going to speak volumes about whatever position they play. We evaluate that like we do any position on a day-to-day basis and we will continue to do that."
He missed Monday's practice, too, for undisclosed reasons.
Holt also might be looking in from afar when it comes to New England's final roster.
Holt seems to rank sixth -- at best.
"However many we feel is best for the club," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio replied when I asked how many receiver slots were available. "We've kept five. We've kept seven. It all depends."
Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are back. Brandon Tate was a third-round draft choice last year. Injuries wiped out most of Tate's rookie season, but he has elicited praise from Tom Brady over the offseason. Taylor Price was a third-round pick in April.
Those are five receivers right there. When you consider keeping a sixth or seventh, he better add something beyond his listed position. Sam Aiken, for example, made 11 tackles and forced a fumble on special teams last year.
"You look at your club and you figure out the offensive or defensive component and then a special teams component," Caserio said. "The receivers are competing with the secondary players or the linebackers for a particular spot. We talk about 'the more you can do,' and that's important."
Holt doesn't play special teams, but the seven-time Pro Bowler can add leadership and be a mentor for the young receivers. Whether that's enough to make the cut is the issue.
The Patriots tried to make it work with faded veteran Joey Galloway last year, but cut him a few weeks into the season because it was a disaster. Holt's coming off career-lows with 51 receptions and 722 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"He's got a lot of experience," said Caserio, a former receivers coach for the Patriots. "He hasn't been out there for a few days, but he's smart. He's a very instinctive receiver. He has good hands. He's a good route runner. When he's been out there, when he's had his opportunities, he's made some plays.
"I think his value comes into play off the field as well. He does a nice job working with our younger receivers. Torry's been a really productive player in this league. He's done things on the field that are good and behind the scenes, some of the things that you don't see, I think he's been invaluable from that perspective."
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: The decision-makers.
Several key members of the Bills' front office will be in unfamiliar roles for the draft. Rookie general manager Buddy Nix has been a consigliere for decades, but he has never overseen a draft. Assistant general manager Doug Whaley will be in Buffalo's war room for the first time after handling pro personnel for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chan Gailey hasn't gone into a draft as the head coach for 11 years. The most prominent holdover is vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak. The Bills fired pro personnel chief John Guy after last season.
This will be the third Dolphins draft for football operations boss Bill Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano. There's little doubt whose voice is most authoritative in the command center. Parcells handpicked Ireland and Sparano. Each is beholden to him. But that doesn't mean they're "yes" men. One of the qualities Parcells values most from his support staff is the ability to proffer a dissenting opinion. With that in mind, it's interesting Miami's director of college scouting is Chris Grier, son of former Patriots and Texans executive Bobby Grier. Parcells eventually left the Patriots after a disagreement with Bobby Grier about drafting receiver Terry Glenn. Parcells didn't want Glenn. Grier did. Patriots owner Robert Kraft sided with Grier, instigating Parcells' infamous "buy the groceries" lament.
New England Patriots
Patriots overlord Bill Belichick is entering his second draft without right-hand man Scott Pioli, who is now running the show in Kansas City. Belichick manages every personnel move within the organization. He receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese (the former Tennessee Titans general manager) and director of player personnel Nick Caserio, but Belichick has the first, second and final say. We've already noted Kraft reserves the right to get involved. But he won't go against a coach who has brought him three Lombardi trophies.
New York Jets
Parcells protégé Mike Tannenbaum is entering his fifth draft as general manager and his second with Rex Ryan. The opinionated coach has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris. Tannenbaum and Ryan lean on top college scout Joey Clinkscales, who interviewed to be Dolphins general manager before Ireland got the gig.
The New England Patriots' player personnel director occasionally leaned on the cash machine while discussing Vince Wilfork's contract status, negotiations with unrestricted free agents and ramifications of an uncapped year.
Caserio didn't deliver much news, but he spoke at length about issues facing the Patriots. And you have to admire the man's ability to speak into a microphone for 20 minutes and not reveal anything.
He did say the Patriots will be operating within a self-imposed budget during an uncapped season. But who knows how fat that budget will be? The Patriots are one of the league's wealthier clubs.
"In terms of our process, we go through the same process this year as we did in years past," Caserio said. "We have a budget in place like we do every year. It doesn't really change for us in terms of what we do in terms of spending and player acquisition.
"As far as what the situation is moving forward, I mean, I don't have a crystal ball. You don't have a crystal ball. We're operating under the terms that we have in place and that haven't really changed all that much since I've been here."
For effect, Caserio could've whipped an ATM card from his back pocket, swiped it through the machine and got Julius Peppers' agent on the phone to ask how much he should withdraw. Unfortunately for the gathered reporters, Caserio declined to give us a story.
He also declined to give any meaningful updates on negotiations with Wilfork for a long-term deal, only saying "the communication has been good. It's been ongoing." He declined to put a timetable on when a contract might be finalized.
Caserio touched on New England's other unrestricted free agents and how much communication there's been from him or senior advisor Floyd Reese. Their UFA group most notably includes running back Kevin Faulk, outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess and cornerback Leigh Bodden.
"I think you have levels of communication with all your free agents," Caserio said. "You are at different stages. Obviously, all the agents are here [at the combine]. So I would say there is continuous communication amongst all parties. Obviously once we get into free agency [March 5], it goes a little bit further."
On the recent re-signing of receiver David Patten, Caserio said the Patriots aren't living in the past.
"David has been great for us," Caserio said. "He’s great off the field. He has an unquestionable work ethic. So we want competitive, tough-minded, hungry football players looking for an opportunity, and I think David Patten kind of falls into that category.
"He has to come and earn his role on the team. Here is an opportunity for him, and whatever he makes of it, that’s entirely up to him, but we’re certainly happy to have him."
|Bill Belichick made a number of unpopular moves as Cleveland's head coach while compiling a 37-45 record there.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Cleveland Browns fans loathed Bill Belichick.
Nick Caserio grew up a Browns fan in suburban Cleveland. And while I'm not calling Caserio a liar, let me just say I completely understand why he would choose to be diplomatic when asked what his impressions were of Belichick back then.
Caserio now works for Belichick as the New England Patriots director of player personnel.
"I was a Browns fan growing up," Caserio said this week on a conference call. "I wouldn’t really say that I had formed an impression of Bill. I know that they went -- I can't think of whenever that year was -- they went 11-5 and ended up making the playoffs. Obviously some things happened, whether it was the following year when the organization kind of ...
"I mean, I wouldn't be able to comment on anything directly as far as my impression of Bill. I just knew that the team was successful and they won games and they went to the playoffs. So that's probably about the extent of it from my perspective."
Actually, Belichick went 37-45 with the Browns and won a single playoff game.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Josh McDaniels credits Belichick as having the biggest influence on his success.|
McDaniels and Caserio were at John Carroll during Belichick's tenure in Cleveland. When the Browns hired Belichick in 1991, he was 38 years old, the youngest coach in the NFL.
McDaniels is the 34-year-old rookie head coach of the surprising Denver Broncos. He will match wits with his mentor on Sunday afternoon, when the Patriots visit Invesco Field at Mile High for a noteworthy AFC game.
The Broncos overcame substantial offseason turbulence to start the season 4-0. Their offense has choked out only 79 points, but their defense has allowed a league-low 26.
In McDaniels' eight years as a Patriots assistant, perhaps Belichick imparted a lesson or two about how to establish credibility quickly in a locker room occupied with players from your generation and, in some cases, older.
In finding anecdotes to drive home a point, Belichick could find plenty of material to draw from. There were some wonderful examples to follow, but there were plenty of mistakes to avoid repeating.
"Anytime you go into a new situation," Belichick said on a conference call this week, "everybody has to establish [and] gain the respect of the other people that are on the new team."
Belichick declined to give specifics about what sort of philosophical guidance he imparted to McDaniels. But Belichick said once it became apparent to him McDaniels was destined to be an NFL head coach -- after calling the plays for a team that darn near ran the table in 2007 -- they often discussed the responsibilities that go with being a head coach.
"We both asked questions, exchanged information and talked very freely about it," Belichick said. "There were a lot of things that came up when we talked for hours and hours about that stuff, going both ways, so it was good."
McDaniels, preferring to speak in generalities, is similarly guarded when asked how Belichick has mentored him.
"Bill's helped me out in many different ways in terms of my knowledge about the game, in terms of my understanding of some of the things you need to do as an organization to be successful," McDaniels said. "He’s helped me out in personal areas of my life.
"I've had a lot of conversations with him, some of which I'll definitely keep to myself in private. But, he's been the biggest influence on my success and I will always be indebted to him."
One would have to assume McDaniels asked Belichick about Cleveland and the pressure of accepting that first head-coaching gig at an age when many men still are trying to figure out what to do with their lives.
McDaniels and Caserio, both considered among the league's brightest football minds, certainly were mature and savvy enough to develop an outsider's opinion of Belichick's methods in Cleveland.
Is it unfathomable to picture Caserio and McDaniels shooting each other quizzical glances while watching the Browns on a TV in the college dining hall?
In his 2007 book "The GM,'' former Browns executive Ernie Accorsi recounted a conversation he had with Belichick right after he took the Patriots job. Belichick told him "I really screwed up that thing up in Cleveland, Ernie.''
Belichick's moves were a public relations catastrophe. He made unpopular personnel moves such as benching beloved quarterback Bernie Kosar and felt he owed no one outside the organization an explanation. Belichick honked off his players. Receiver Reggie Langhorne demanded to be traded.
It was almost as though "How to Make Enemies and Alienate People" was Belichick's operations manual.
Somebody might want to check with the Denver public library to see if McDaniels borrowed that book after he was hired.
When word got out McDaniels had pursued a trade for Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel, the city practically revolted. Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler was so insulted he forced his way off the team. Star receiver Brandon Marshall tried to do the same.
But McDaniels, with four players on his roster his age or older, managed to gain his team's trust despite the turmoil.
"Age is never a big thing for me, whether it was the head coach of Cleveland or any of those assistant jobs," said Belichick, who was only 23 his first season on Ted Marchibroda's 1975 Baltimore Colts staff. "It was more about doing the job.
"The players feel like, as a coach, you can help them, and you know what you're talking about, and you can tell them things that'll make them better and help prepare them because they want to prepare. They want do well, and they want to improve.
"If you can show them you can do that, then they respect you. If you don't -- I’m not saying they're disrespectful -- but they don't listen carefully. They're not as attentive because I don't think they feel like they are getting information or the assistance that they're looking for and what they've been used to getting in the past."