We don't often get to hear directly from Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. The team's head overseer of the scouting departments does, however, make an appearance this time each year in advance of the NFL Draft.
On Wednesday, Caserio entertained reporters' questions for about 20 minutes at Gillette Stadium, and here were the most noteworthy items from PFW's perspective:
1. Comfort and Confidence
Head coach Bill Belichick used to be the one behind the microphone at these pressers, but several years ago, he began letting Caserio take the lead. In those early years, the relatively inexperienced Caserio was noticeably more self-conscious and nervous, falling back frequently on Belichick's tried-and-true phraseology. But starting last year, and certainly continuing this year, there's been a marked change in Caserio. He's clearly more confident and comfortable in his role, is willing to joke around with the media and call reporters by their first names, and is speaking more with his own voice, as opposed to drawing from a Belichick script.
2. Job Security
One reason Caserio might appear more comfortable in his role is because of the long-term contract extension he signed with New England late last year. The past couple of years, Caserio has been mentioned as a popular candidate for front office openings around the league. He even interviewed for the Miami Dolphins GM job and turned down other reported opportunities elsewhere. On Wednesday, he enumerated several reasons why he elected to remain in Foxborough.
"I've been fortunate to be able to be in the same organization for 14 years. I've had a chance to work on a multitude of levels. The Kraft family has been extremely generous to me and my family, and there's no coach in football that I'd rather work alongside than Bill Belichick. I like being here. I like winning. I enjoy my role. I have plenty of responsibility, and I enjoy being part of a winning culture, a winning organization. I feel blessed to be here and to have the opportunity that I have. I'm really grateful, and hopefully we can continue to win some games along the way as well."
It was interesting, too, I thought, that Caserio referred to working "alongside" Belichick as opposed to for or under him. Perhaps it was an innocent enough choice of words, but it was another example of just how much Caserio has grown professionally over the years.
3. CB Situation
With the losses of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, last year's starting corners, in free agency, New England faces major question marks at this position heading into 2015. Malcolm Butler, the 2014 rookie who made the Super Bowl-saving interception in Arizona, could have more of a role going forward, but Caserio wasn't willing to declare him a starter just yet.
"Players that were in the first year of this program and moving into their second year, you want to see them make some progress. It's a long process, we have a long way to go… we'll have a better idea once we get on the field and start working with them."
4. Limited Job Opportunities
Caserio stressed a number of times in his 20-minute Q&A how full the Patriots roster is at the moment, leaving precious little opportunities for any rookies they draft or sign as free agents in the next week or so.
"There's not as many spots as there's been in the past, just from an overall roster standpoint," he began. "I think we're at, like, 73, 74. The roster's a little fuller, so, right now, we have nine picks. We'll see how that goes, if we end up using those nine picks."
5. Trade Winds
Does that previous answer suggest the Patriots might be more willing to use some of their draft choices to move up in next week's draft to get an impact player? Caserio wouldn't say definitely, of course, but offered this response to a direct question about trading the Patriots' 32nd overall pick in the first round.
"Anytime you move up or down, it's really usually player-specific or player-driven. So, if there's players that you graded a certain way or that you valued a certain way relative to other needs, other teams, supply and demand at that position, that can dictate whether you feel it's necessary to move up. Or if you feel like you can get a similar value, a similar player at a lower level and acquire picks, then you can move down. A lot of that, too, is, 'OK, where are you in terms of your overall roster?' We're not talking about infinite numbers of spots, so if you move back, you're going to accumulate picks, maybe you end, if you move back, use those picks to move back up.
"If there's a player in range, then you look at what's around you and look at another team, and you think based on your research, 'OK, they have a need. We've sort of identified this player with that team. OK, maybe this is an opportunity to do it,' then that kind of is that impetus to make that move. If you don't feel that way, you might be able to say, 'Look, if we sit here, we can get one of three or four players."
Furthering his point, Caserio compared this year's draft class to other recent ones, where, he said, there are "8-10 players that everyone has a conviction about" at the top of the first round, and "that 20-45 range, I think you're going to find quality football players within that range." With New England slated to select at 32, they could easily move up or down next Thursday night.
6. Sharing Credit
While Caserio is, in title, head of the pro and college scouting departments, he was quick to thank and credit the many hard-working members of his staff, many of whose names might not be household variety among Patriots fans. In particular, he mentioned Monti Ossenfort (director of college scouting), Nancy Meier (director of scouting administration), and former o-line/assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia, who remains involved with the team on a scouting and evaluation basis, particularly during the pre-draft process.
7. Mayo's Contract
While Caserio was speaking, news broke via Twitter that LB Jerod Mayo has agreed to a restructured deal with the Patriots. A number of media in attendance for Caserio's remarks were tweeting about the news during the press conference, yet no one asked Caserio for his reaction to the news reports. Would've been nice to hear directly from someone in the front office who has knowledge of the situation, or at least have the club on the record about whether or not the report is true.