If you're anything like me, you're to the point where counting down the days to football season has turned into counting down the hours. And counting down the minutes, too.
Carly Simon put it so well in her 1971 album Anticipation, and the hit song of the same name:
It's making me late
It's keeping me waiting
Yes, the impending football season is keeping us all waiting, made even more exasperating this off-season thanks to the off-field shenanigans known as "Deflategate." Let's add to the impatience with being a defending champ – there's an anxiousness to return to the field to prove yourself worthy of past accomplishments, especially in light of the controversy that has enveloped us all.
When you add to the mix having to make some major replacements, especially within a defensive lineup that won a championship last season, well, everyone gets a little antsy to get going...and rightfully so. Anyone in a competitive environment with a successful resume knows success starts at the top. Leadership helps drive that competitive fire through to completion, and should the beginning be a little bumpy?
That leadership can help smooth the road, and salve the wounds suffered along the way.
It's why Julian Edelman's recent comments about his quarterback and Rodney Harrison's just-out thoughts on his former QB Tom Brady are worth noting. A current leader and a former leader, speaking about THE leader in the Patriots' locker room, add to the anticipation of this season like throwing gasoline on a fire.
"He's fired up, we'll say that," Edelman told ESPN while taking part in a clinic this past week at Reading (MA) Memorial High School. "You don't want a mad Tom Brady, and he's a little ticked off.
"It's what you've been training for," Edelman added. "It's going to be an exciting time to get out there and see the fellas, you haven't seen them in a while and shape your team." His apparent anxiousness to return may only be surpassed by the bluntness of former Patriot all-pro safety Harrison, who has rarely – if ever – held back on his emotions.
"This (Deflategate) is the best thing that could have happened to Tom Brady," Harrison told Sports Illustrated's MMQB.com last week. "This will rejuvenate him. The rest of the league better look out. This year, he's going to make everybody pay for what's happened."
The last time the Patriots were involved in an alleged scandal, the team came out of the gate and promptly laid waste to the rest of the NFL with the first-ever 16-0 regular season; the performance followed the Spygate story in 2007 as you may recall. But even that historical season didn't end with the ultimate prize, and we're mindful of the changeover in the roster from last year to this year.
It's good there's fuel for the fire, but there's still some work to be done to keep the fire burning. The chip on the shoulder seems to be firmly in place at the start, however, embedded in the minds of players past and present.
And tomorrow we might not be together
I'm no prophet; I don't know nature's way
So I'll try to see into your eyes right now
And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days.
Sing it, Carly. Somehow, the words fit here. Just don't keep us waiting too much longer.
Super Bowl champion and 2014 Patriots captain Dan Connolly has decided to retire. We look back on his prolific 10-year career in the NFL.
Connolly calls it a career
Veteran offensive lineman and former captain Dan Connolly has decided to hang up his cleats after an eight-year career, appearing in 89 games with 71 starts as a member of the Patriots. If anyone epitomized versatility in that front five – something the coaching staff has consistently strived for – it's Connolly.
The man whose job and well-being he had to protect, Tom Brady, took to Facebook to praise his friend and now-former teammate and kick-returner:
"Congrats to return specialist Dan Connolly on a fantastic career! Thank you for always having my back and being a great leader for our team. You'll be missed bud. Good luck!"
Fans will no doubt recall a Connolly shining moment, when he scooped up a kickoff against Green Bay in 2010 and returned it 71 yards to set up a touchdown. Memorable, yes. But perhaps more noteworthy was his durability and versatility, moving up and down the offensive line when injury, illness and other personnel moves dictated his switching spots.
"Dan Connolly exemplified everything our program requires of players," Bill Belichick said in a statement after Connolly's announcement. "He was tough and dependable, smart and team oriented and his work ethic ensured he improved on an annual basis to reach his potential.
"From where his career began as a developmental player to where it finished as a team leader and champion, Dan Connolly was a player I was proud to coach."
We were equally proud to watch, too. It should be noted Connolly is seven years Brady's junior, and he steps aside at age 32 on the heels of winning a Super Bowl. He also had four documented concussions during his career, the last occurring in 2014. With his family and his future to consider, Connolly's choice is a safe one, and probably a smart one.
Who's left? Who can help?
With a week to go before training camp gets started, it's worth noting there may still be a free agent or two out there with enough ability to help with the rebuild on the defensive side of the ball.
Best guess? Camp will kick off without much movement, but as players begin competing for spots and injuries become a factor, here are two names to keep in mind – if these players haven't signed elsewhere:
Tarell Brown, cornerback – we mentioned Brown earlier in the off-season, and as of this moment he's still looking for a place to land. The Patriots have reportedly had Brown in for at least a couple of visits, and may be set to start the process of replacing last year's starters (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner) with players they currently have on the roster. Brown would, at the very least, provide experience (7 years in San Francisco, 1 in Oakland) in nickel situations.
Red Bryant, defensive end – primarily with Jacksonville and with Seattle last season, Bryant has a solid reputation as a run-stopper. If the Patriots' front isn't up to the early tasks, Bryant could warrant a look. The line, however, is most in need of players to pressure and collapse a QB's pocket.
To that end, speaking of ends, former (New York) Giant pain-in-the-* Osi Umenyiora is also available should the situation warrant, and he could be had potentially for a one-year, veteran minimum deal with incentives. That is, if the Patriots decide – as they've done in the past – if you can't beat 'em up, sign 'em up.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is beginning his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster