That was evident even before those numbers were released, as the media was greeted by a lengthy line and check-in process upon arrival at the Faegre Baker Daniels Club inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday, the first day of interviews which included both NFL coaches and general managers as well as the start of the players themselves.
Offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists were first up and they started to trickle in after lunch while the coaches and GMs had already been well into their interviews. The Patriots were one of four teams not scheduled to be represented in Indy, but director of player personnel Nick Caserio met with Patriots Football Weekly and Patriots.com during the afternoon.
Caserio is impressed with the overall depth of the draft and believes there are a bunch of defensive players in particular to keep an eye on.
“Defensively, on the whole, it looks like a good group,” Caserio began. “There’s a good group of safeties, there’s a good group of corners, there’s a good group of linebackers, there’s a good group of defensive linemen – players that are going to play with their hand on the ground. There’s good depth across the draft. As usual the underclassmen are a big part of it with 73 of them declaring. That’s almost 25 percent of the 288 or so that are going to get picked, now not all of them will get drafted.
“There are a lot of good football players and we just have to dig through it and figure out what makes the most sense for your team moving forward.”
The Combine is a big part of that process as it’s an opportunity for teams to sit with players and observe them away from the field. The 15-minute interviews are a key element of the weekend and Caserio enjoys the process.
“You have 15 minutes but it’s really not as much time as you think,” he explained. “Each player there’s something specific you’re trying to gain a little insight on. The underclassmen this is your first exposure to them. You haven’t had a chance to speak with them at an all-star game or talk to them much at all. It’s really your first introduction before you get into some of the deeper stuff, which will continue throughout the next few months leading to the draft.
“It’s a combination of everything. How they handle the question, how they handle the situation. Are they truthful? You might have some information based on your sources. Some handle it better than others but it encompasses everything. Some come in with a notebook, they’re prepared. It’s different because it’s more of a personal interaction. You can see them around coaches and other people and how they handle it. In the end you have to make your best guesstimate as to how they’re going to handle our environment and our situation.”
The Patriots find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory – at least lately – in terms of their draft picks. New England has just five at its disposal – one in each of the first three rounds plus a pair of seventh-rounders. But Caserio said the paucity of picks has no impact on the weekend’s activities.
“It’s really more from a numbers standpoint,” he said. “You still do the same thing in terms of you go through and evaluate the players as you normally would. Right now we have five picks. Could that change? Possibly. But that’s where we are right now. We take the draft as it comes and things fall into place. You continue to move forward and build the team accordingly.”
Coming off a Super Bowl loss earlier this month, 49ers GM Trent Baalke was asked a number of personnel related questions, including one about his team reaching the big game without much of a contribution from the 2012 draft class.
In answering that question, Baalke referenced either the current or a former Patriots head coach – he wasn’t exactly sure – but either way it was Bill.
“I think it was coach [Bill] Belichick or coach [Bill] Parcells years ago who said, ‘If you’re getting a ton of production and you’re having a lot of guys make the team from your draft class, you’re probably not in a position to play in a Super Bowl.’ So maybe there is something to that.”
Baalke also was asked about the advent of the read option in the NFL, something that San Francisco helped key with the decision to change to Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The read option offense has already been a popular topic of discussion at the Combine.
“It’s stresses the defense,” Baalke said of the value and growth of the read option in the NFL. “The more that person can do, the more stress it puts on. But Peyton Manning puts a lot of stress on the defense too.”
Many Patriots fans have been excited this spring by the rumor/possibility of the team could acquiring Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin. The former Florida star was reportedly a target of Belichick in the draft before Minnesota swooped in to take the versatile pass catcher before New England had its chance.
The idea floating around now is that Belichick would finally get his Gator and Harvin would bring a new, athletic element to the Patriots offense. The problem, at least according to Vikings GM Rick Spielman, is that Harvin isn’t available.
“We have no intent to trade Percy Harvin,” Spielman told the media at the Combine after joking that he thought he might actually make it through his press conference without a question about his controversial receiver.
Harvin is in the final year of his rookie contract in Minnesota. Depending on whom you believe he would like a trade either because he’s unhappy with his role in the Vikings offense or because he wants a lucrative long term contract extension.
Regardless of what Harvin may or may not want, Spielman says a trade isn’t in the cards. Of course, he could also be looking to keep Harvin’s trade value high rather than let the rest of the league know he’s on the trading block.
Luke, I am your brother
The Patriots used a sixth-round pick on Hawaii long snapper Jake Ingram back in 2009. Four years later, New England and the rest of the NFL has a chance to add another member of the famous snapping Ingram family.
Luke Ingram, also out of Hawaii, is the only long snapper who was invited to this year’s Combine. After walking on at the school as a defensive end, the younger Ingram took to long snapping to help improve his status on the team. A year later he earned a scholarship for his skill, and now has a chance to follow his brother to the NFL.
“We kind of taught each other, we both kind of learned at the same time,” Luke Ingram said of the unique family skill. “Jake walked on to UH and played outside linebacker. The long snapper at the time broke his hand. Jake jumped out of stretching one day to learn how to snap because he didn’t want to stretch. Meanwhile I was a freshman in high school. We kind of picked it up at the same time to tell you the truth. We kind of taught each other. We gave each other a lot of tips throughout our years of snapping. But he’s definitely been a bit influential part of my career.”
Jake Ingram lasted a year and a half in New England, and is currently a free agent having bounced around to a handful teams after being cut by the Patriots. Watching what his brother went through, Luke Ingram is well aware of the unique and tenuous nature that is life as an NFL long snapper.
“You mentally prepare yourself,” he said of the tough reality of the job. “It’s not just one game or one practice. Being a long snapper is the difference of one play. There definitely is no chance at redemption. But that’s just kind of what you go into when you accept a job being a long snapper. It kind of just comes with it. There is not much glory. But hey, it’s a job and you get paid for it. You still help your team win. I think it’s a great position. If you can play 10 years and nobody knows your name you know you did your job. That’s how long snapping is and that’s hopefully what I’ll be able to do.”
In fact the younger Ingram, who said he’s already met with the Patriots among a handful of other teams, says the pressure of the long snapping job is what he likes most about it. “I kind of think that’s one of those things that kept me in the job. You only getting six plays or so a game. I don’t find that feeling anywhere else, kind of that adrenaline and pressure, which I enjoy.”
First-year Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman spoke at the Combine and it was clear where he grew up. The Boston native grew up in Mattapan and his distinct Boston accent was noticeable during his address.
“I didn’t move out of there until I got my first job in teaching,” said Gettleman, who also went to school locally at Springfield College. “When I was a kid, the first teams I ever saw play on TV were the Giants and the Cleveland Browns. Those were the two teams you got in the late-’50s. I was young enough so when the Patriots showed up in 1960, I jumped over and became a Patriots fan.”
According to ESPNBoston.com, the Patriots will receive the lower of Tampa Bay’s seventh-round picks (20th in the round) as part of the