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Patriots.com News Blitz - 4/28/06

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that finding the right mix of brain and brawn in a QB is still a tough call to make in the draft. Typically it is easy to recognize unintelligent play from a quarterback. Often, intelligent play goes unnoticed. There isn't a question on the Wonderlic test that helps determine whether a player is smart enough to recognize when his teammates need an emotional boost. And there are no psychological tests that allow a player to demonstrate the ability to provide it at the right time. Similarly, there are no exams you can give a quarterback to judge if he'll know when to throw high, when to throw wide, when to tuck and run, or when to throw the ball away. Or one to give you a clue if he'll remember to do the right thing when it is time. Smart quarterbacks seem to know when to do what needs to be done, and that knowledge isn't discernible from answers on a Scantron sheet. Some say conventional testing is all but worthless in that sense, and that is why NFL draft history is fraught with mistakes made on quarterbacks.

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe also writes that with six of the first 118 selections in this weekend's draft, the Patriots expect to fill some needs. Remember the talk that the Patriots were well stocked entering the 2005 NFL draft? Turns out, the majority of the free agent pickups were busts, and the draft was again important. The Patriots went into last year's draft thinking they might come away with one starter. By season's end they had three -- offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs. With the 21st pick of tomorrow's first round (assuming the team doesn't make a trade), the Patriots are expected to come away with a sure starter. And with the 20th pick of the second round (52d overall), the Patriots could very well come away with a second starter. The question is which positions will they elect to fill first.

Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe writes that tomorrow, the hoopla maelstrom churned by the ESPN empire kicks into high gear, as the draft that the sports conglomerate has hyped for months finally takes place at New York's Radio City Music Hall. For ESPN, the two-day event has become a batting-practice meatball, one that marries football's unparalleled popularity with the company's numerous platforms, turning the NFL draft into its annual home run. While the Bristol, Conn., behemoth continues its charge toward a sporting-world takeover that Pinky and the Brain would admire, NFL Network will go head-to-head with ESPN to provide live draft coverage, making 2006 the first time two networks will cover the event.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that at least four Patriots should watch tomorrow's draft closely, because they may be looking at their replacements. It's a fact of life for anyone who makes a living in the NFL, but particularly for a quartet of Pats who didn't meet expectations in 2005 and now have no guarantees for playing time in 2006. Blame injury, inexperience or underachievement, but their struggles created needs. If Asante Samuel had played better in 2005, would cornerback be such a priority? If Monty Beisel had been able to handle the middle, would the Patriots be in the market for a top-tier linebacker? If Bethel Johnson had realized even one-tenth of his potential, would the team be so short at wide receiver? And if Corey Dillon had delivered his typical performance, would the Pats be auditioning running backs?

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that with 11 picks, the Pats have the flexibility to move up in the first round of this weekend's NFL draft, and multiple reports have indicated they are intending to do so. The other option is to stand pat, trade down, or even swap out until next spring. So what do you want? I'll take what's behind door No. 2. The more picks Belichick and Pioli have, regardless of the round, the more good players the Pats are going to end up with. Plain and simple.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that rookie kickers have it tough enough, what with the pressure to produce, no margin for error and an abundance of unemployed veterans who can try out at a moment's notice. To these stresses, the Patriots' next kicker can add replacing a legend. Following Adam Vinatieri isn't going to be easy for anybody, let alone an untested collegian. But there's a chance the Patriots will open the season with a rookie working the most thankless job in America. They're likely choosing from four names to battle veteran Martin Gramatica in camp - Ohio State's Josh Huston, Missouri State's Jonathan Scifres, Memphis' Stephen Gostkowski and Virginia's Connor Hughes. Pats special teams coach Brad Seely has worked out all four prospects. "We'll draft players at any position we think can be competitive for a spot on this roster," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I think there are good players at the specialist positions. At what point that becomes attractive, who knows?"

Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal writes that after four years starring for Boston College, NFL scouts are left with a troubling question when evaluating the pro skills of Providence native Will Blackmon. Quite simply, is the former Hendricken star a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none? Is Blackmon an NFL cornerback, a big-time athlete who uses his 4.46 speed in the 40-yard dash and his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame to both stay with receivers and make bone-jarring hits? Is he an NFL wide receiver, someone who can make game-breaking plays with his mix of size, speed and shiftiness? Or is he an NFL-quality kick returner who all but specialized in pulling off show-stopping runs as a college star? These are the questions NFL general managers and scouts have about Blackmon just one day before the league's draft kicks off tomorrow. Unlike virtually every other player in the country, there is no consensus on Blackmon. Some teams like him as a receiver. The majority peg him as a cornerback. Everyone wants to see what he can do with the ball in his hands on kicks.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that in a normal NFL Draft, teams by now have a grip on who will be on the board when their pick comes. A team like the Patriots -- drafting at No. 21 tomorrow -- can recall the draft tendencies of teams ahead of them, eyeball those teams' needs and at least narrow the list of names a little bit. But this is not a normal draft. Too many players have injury histories, incomplete resumes and prickly personalities at the top of this draft. And all those questions about all those players make for uncertainty in NFL front offices.

Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger writes that the early part of 2005 was a shameful time for the Pats. With linebacker Tedy Bruschi still recovering from his offseason stroke, and knee injuries sidelining strong safety Rodney Harrison (for the season) and defensive end Richard Seymour (for four games), first-year coordinator Eric Mangini's D was a joke, ranking as low as 31st in yards surrendered and 30th in points allowed. Had that continued, the Patriots would have hit the offseason in full crisis mode. Luckily, Bruschi and Seymour returned, linebacker Mike Vrabel switched positions (outside to inside), and order was restored. In fact, the Pats played as well as they ever have down the stretch, allowing only 125 total rushing yards in December and giving up only 10 total points in a three-game span against the Jets, Bills and Bucs. Linebackers coach Dean Pees takes over for Mangini (now head coach of the Jets), giving the Patriots two new coordinators. Josh McDaniels belatedly was promoted to fill the vacancy on the offensive side. As is the case on offense, the Patriots' defense has one huge hole to fill (at linebacker, where Willie McGinest fled to the Browns in free agency) and one big question mark to answer (at safety, with Harrison). That's the bad news. The good news: The draft has been kind to this side of the ball, netting five starters over the last three years.

Mark Farinella of the Sun Chronicle writes that the Patriots picked a bad time to need a good wide receiver. With David Givens, Andre' Davis and Tim Dwight all having flown the coop through free agency in the past two months, the Patriots are desperately shorthanded at a position that used to be a great strength. Unfortunately, many of the best receivers in the college game over the past few years have already made it to the pros, having declared themselves available as underclassmen and been snapped up eagerly by teams looking to send their passing games in a vertical direction. Fortunately, the Patriots don't need a No. 1 receiver from this year's draft, which takes place Saturday and Sunday. That position is ably manned by Deion Branch, although it would behoove the Patriots to lock up the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX to a long-term agreement before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. But with the need for a reliable No. 2 receiver, and no certainty that free-agent pickup Reche Caldwell will be the answer, the Patriots could be looking beyond their first-round pick (No. 21) for help.

Over the last month, Tom Curran of the Providence Journal has profiled a number of players in this year's draft. The players profiled had three things in common: 1) they figured to be on the board when the Pats drafted, 2) be at a position of need (Jay Cutler is there) and, 3) have some kind of redeeming value for the Patriots. We didn't profile every possibility (wide receiver Chad Jackson and inside linebacker Abdul Hodge are two guys we never got to). Today, Curran stacks the players profiled. Based on research on the players, conversations with agents, scouts and coaches and a knowledge of the Patriots' system gleaned from having covered them throughout the Bill Belichick-Scott Pioli Era, Curran lists how they're rating the group that has been looked at.

Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger writes that Over the last three drafts the New England Patriots have added only one "skill position" player who has amounted to anything - tight end Benjamin Watson, the second of their two first-round picks in 2004. The jury is still out on quarterback Matt Cassel, a seventh-rounder last year, and swings and misses on tight end Andy Stokes (seventh round) in 2005, running back Cedric Cobbs (fourth round) and receiver P.K. Sam (fifth round) in 2004 and receiver Bethel Johnson (second round) and quarterback Kliff Kingsbury (sixth round) in 2003 have not come back to haunt them yet. The stakes are a little higher this year. The Patriots enter this weekend's draft with a gaping hole at receiver after losing David Givens in free agency. And there is a major question mark at running back, where Corey Dillon's disastrous 2005 campaign has clouded his future. On a lighter note, they could also use a third tight end.

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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