Wednesday, February 20, 2013 Updated: February 21, 8:36 AM ET
Divining the Pats' combine approach
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
Bill Belichick's offseason focus shifts from golf back to football. What will he be looking for this week?
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2013 NFL combine officially kicks off Thursday, and the New England Patriots, as always, will be well-represented. Coach Bill Belichick leads the team's contingent, as this is an important piece of the overall scouting puzzle.
Here is a preview-type snapshot of what is to unfold at the 32nd annual combine, where more than 300 invited prospects are expected to attend:
1. Setting the media schedule.
On Thursday, media members will interview offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists. The offensive line class is considered deep this year, and if starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer departs in free agency, it could be an area the Patriots look toward in the draft (perhaps Alabama's D.J. Fluker, should he be available late in the first round).
On Friday, it's quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers meeting the media. Of the group, receivers figure to be of highest interest, and it's a class in which the value looks to be in the second- to fifth-round range. So we'll dig deep a bit there.
On Saturday, it's defensive linemen and linebackers meeting reporters, while defensive backs take center stage on Sunday. So for those hoping the Patriots focus on defense -- six of their seven picks last year came on that side of the ball -- the weekend will be big.
As for how it works, prospects are brought into the media center, where several hundreds of reporters work. The prospects either step up to a podium or sit at a roundtable that reporters gather around to ask their questions, which provides a limited snapshot to get a feel for the player.
One recent memory that stands out: Running back Shane Vereen, one of the Patriots' 2011 second-round draft picks, was excellent in this setting.
2. Patriots media availability.
In past years, the Patriots have made Belichick or a personnel staffer such as Nick Caserio available to local reporters at the combine. This is consistent with what the majority of NFL teams do at the combine, as it is viewed as an acknowledgement of the media's role in publicizing the league and helping their business continue to grow.
There is no word at this time on when/if any Patriots media availability would be, as the Patriots, Ravens, Redskins, Titans and Saints are the lone clubs not to schedule an open-to-all-reporters media session as of Wednesday evening, according to the NFL. From a league perspective, news conferences with various head coaches and personnel men begin Thursday at 10 a.m. ET and continue into Saturday.
This is a nice opportunity to hear from some of the coaches and general managers around the NFL, which often adds league-wide context to some Patriots-specific issues.
3. Agents and the status of negotiations.
The National Football League Players Association holds an annual meeting with its player representatives at the combine, which creates a situation in which reporters often wait outside the meeting room in hopes of ascertaining information regarding the free-agent status of players.
From a Patriots viewpoint, someone like Todd France, who represents cornerback Aqib Talib, could provide insight on where things stand from a negotiating standpoint.
For the second year in a row, agent David Dunn figures to be a target, as he represents receiver Wes Welker. Ben Dogra of CAA represents offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Others who could draw attention from a New England perspective are Drew Rosenhaus (for offensive lineman Donald Thomas), Chris Gittings (for running back Danny Woodhead) and Richard Kopelman/Sean Stellato of KLASS Sports (for cornerback Kyle Arrington), among others.
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Sources for a small handful of Patriots free-agents-to-be have indicated in recent days that there haven't been overly active contract talks at this time. That can always change at the combine, as team executives and agents are in the same location. It is commonplace to see coaches/executives and agents meeting in the various hotel lobbies, coffee shops and restaurants in the city.
4. Placing value on interviews and medical information.
Coaches and executives often make the point that one of the most valuable aspects of the combine is player interviews and updating medical information.
Along these lines, Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill will be in town and his work will be some of the most important for the team over the next few days. Coming away from here with accurate medical information is crucial as part of the scouting process.
As for player interviews, they are generally 15 minutes and take place at the end of the day in team suites at local hotels. It is always difficult to gauge the true character of a player in 15 minutes, but a team like the Patriots might have a specific goal in mind, such as putting a prospect up on the whiteboard and asking him to dissect some X's and O's.
Another aspect of the combine is the Wonderlic intelligence test. Quarterback Tom Brady reportedly scored a 33 at the 2000 combine, which rates favorably to those at his position over the years.
5. And then there are on-field workouts.
On-field workouts start on Saturday and, as noted by draft analysts such as Todd McShay and Mike Mayock, a big part of this process for receivers and defensive backs is how well they run. Teams want as accurate a measure of true speed as possible, and this is the place to get it.
By the time the combine is over, there will be the annual "risers" and "fallers" based on those workouts, with Memphis defensive lineman Dontari Poe a good example of a riser from last season.
Tight end Benjamin Watson, a first-round draft choice of the Patriots in 2004, is one prospect who seemed to move up the draft board based on combine-like testing.