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Patriots.com News Blitz - 4/26/06

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that the Patriots have shown an interest in USC strong safety Darnell Bing, who is considered the hardest-hitting defensive back available in the draft. The Patriots have met with Bing twice, once when the Trojans held their pro day on April 2, and again last week when they brought him to Foxborough for a visit. The 6-foot-2-inch, 227-pound All-American is perhaps the biggest, hardest-hitting defensive back available.

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe also writes that while running back Reggie Bush and tight end Vernon Davis are praised for their spectacular athleticism, NFL coaches recognize the importance of finding players to stop the unstoppable. Texas safety Michael Huff is one such player who has found his stock rising quickly and is now projected to be a top-10 pick. The team that drafts Huff could move him to cornerback to get the best use of his physical skills. The Longhorns left Huff at safety to take advantage of his mental aptitude for the game. The team planned to move him outside after the departure of Nathan Vasher, a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears last season, but found his versatility at safety too valuable.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots could not have picked a better year to need a linebacker. The 2006 draft is full of them, and recent history suggests teams miss on linebackers, particularly atop the draft, less frequently than at any other position. Just consider last year's draftees alone, led by Defensive Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman of the Chargers and Seahawks All-Pro Lofa Tatupu. Cincinnati's Odell Thurman and Dallas' DeMarcus Ware joined them as four of the five finalists for rookie of the year. In fact, five of the last six defensive rookies of the year have been linebackers. And of the 17 drafted in the first round since 2000, all but three are starters and most are impact players. This year is no exception. "I would say there are more guys this year at the linebacker position," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "For us, there's probably more linebackers than we've had the last couple of years. I would say there's more depth in that group than we've seen the last few years."

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that there was a time not too long ago when the Patriots could go into the draft owning the advantage of being different. In many cases, their "kind of guy" truly belonged to them. Not anymore. Now, as many as 10 teams are drafting to fill a 3-4 defensive scheme, and the coaching ranks have become littered with "Belichick guys." Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. Nick Saban in Miami. Eric Mangini with the Jets. Throw in Raiders defensive coordinator (and former Belichick assistant) Rob Ryan in Oakland and Bill Parcells in Dallas, and you have at least a handful of teams drawing from the same scouting manual as the one drawn up by Belichick and Pats personnel guru Scott Pioli. The worst part: All of those teams are picking ahead of the Pats this weekend.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal profiles Memphis kicker Steve Grotkowski. Leading up to the NFL Draft, Curran will profile a player at a "need" position for the Patriots each day. New England has 11 picks in the draft, six in the first four rounds. The Pats' first-round pick is the 21st overall.

Mark Farinella of the Sun Chronicle writes that the Patriots have seemingly always been in the search for a top-rated cornerback and safety in the high rounds. With that in mind, and with the knowledge that the safety corps was one of the most active areas of offseason acquisition for the Patriots, it's still unclear whether Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli will see the need to spend the 21st overall selection in this year's draft, which begins Saturday, on either a corner or a safety. But there's reason to believe that, given the talent available, they may be willing to shore up a position group that has struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons.

Glen Farley of The Enterprise writes that the Patriots hold 11 picks in this weekend's NFL draft, including seven of the top 118 choices when they could address their most pressing needs, which, in no particular order, are at linebacker, in the secondary, at wide receiver, running back and a post-Adam Vinatieri place-kicker. The Pats are scheduled to make four picks on Saturday, when the first three rounds of the draft are conducted, and another seven on Sunday, when the draft wraps up with the final four rounds. Though they pick at 21 in the first round, Bill Belichick expressed the possibility that they may not stand pat and now have the flexibility to move up if they so choose. "From 21, you're not going to be able to get into the top 10," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick conceded, "but you could move up a couple of spots. Then, from that point on, you would have pretty good flexibility if you wanted to move forward, if you wanted to package picks together. And that's a little bit different from the kind of situation heading into last year's draft. We know from our draft history, we're not afraid to trade, moving up, moving down, or like we did last year, just sit there and take them when our turn comes up. There's no way to predict (what's going to happen). It's good to have the flexibility to do it, but there's really no way to predict it."

Tim Weisberg of the Standard-Times writes that Some departed players - Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri and David Givens, for example - will have an impact on who the Patriots select in this weekend's NFL Draft. But one current player might also have a direct influence on who they choose. After last year's injury-plagued season kept running back Corey Dillon off the field and at odds with the media, how he responds to the 2005 campaign will decide whether the Patriots need an impact back right away or can look to develop one over the next few years. While a healthier Dillon will almost certainly be better than last season, it's no secret that he's entering the home stretch of his career. Sooner rather than later, the Patriots will need to acquire some youth in the backfield, and with 11 picks this weekend, now might be the time. But if they're going to draft the featured back of the future, it's going to take a high selection in a draft that isn't exactly running over with rushing talent.

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes. Reiss also offers his latest Patriots mailbag.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.

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