In each of the last two offseason’s Bill Belichick has lost his top defensive assistant – Matt Patricia moving on as head coach of the Lions a year ago and Brian Flores taking over as the Dolphins boss this winter.
That adds to a growing list of teams with defensive roots in New England. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel continues to run things on that side of the ball in Houston. Former Houston assistant and New England linebacker Mike Vrabel is the head coach in Tennessee, where he’s assisted by former Patriots coordinator Dean Pees.
This isn’t the first time that Belichick’s defensive assistants have spread across the league. Back in the 2000s similar defensive tree branches spread when Crennel, Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan left the Patriots for jobs elsewhere, including head coaching gigs for Crennel (Cleveland) and Mangini (Jets, Cleveland).
In theory, the spreading Patriots scheme and scouting philosophies could create more competition for similar types of defensive players, both in terms of measurable and skillsets.
But according to Patricia, the offshoots of the New England scheme this time around aren’t quite as a similar as they were a decade earlier.
“It’s something I remember probably in the mid-2000s, kind of the same situation sort of came up, and some of the schemes were the same. I would say there’s probably more of a variance now then there was back then,” Patricia said this week at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. “Some of the schemes were exactly the same. I would say everyone’s kind of learned and shifted a little bit. I would say not as much (competition for players) as what we went through maybe in the mid-2000s. That was definitely a situation there, the mid-2000s, the early 2000s, there were actually kind of two different schemes at that point that were similar, so they were looking for a lot of the same bodies and the same people. I would say it’s a little bit different now.”
Lions GM Bob Quinn – who spent 16 years in the Patriots scouting department before moving on to run Detroit’s front office in 2016 -- admitted the scheme and scouting background that has spread from New England is a consideration, but like his coach downplayed the competition for talent.
“It’s something we kind of talk about, but we really can’t control what they’re evaluating and what they think,” Quinn said during his Combine press conference in Indy. “And I think our system—for Tennessee for example, I’ve watched a lot of them over the course of the last year or so, and even when Mike was in Houston, their defense is actually a lot different than ours. People might kind of put the dots together that it might be similar, but there’s a lot of differences that Coach Pees in Tennessee is doing differently than what Coach (Paul) Pasqualoni is doing in Detroit. The style of players, maybe, but specifically, I think there’s a lot of differences.”
So while it’s always significant speculation for one team to predict the type or specific player another team might pursue, the growing web of Patriots assistants across the NFL does add another interesting layer to the pre-draft process, even if it’s only a very minor factor according to some of Belichick’s former underlings.