[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="330756"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]The focal point of a football team usually revolves around the play of the quarterback, right?
The NFL is a QB-driven league. Pro Football is a game built around the abilities of the man under center. Rules and regulations (written and otherwise) all seem to circle back to the play of the quarterback. So, if the QB is throwing the football downfield, which he must do with a certain level of acumen and accuracy in order to be successful, would it be much of a stretch to say – from a defensive point of view – that the secondary is a focal point on the other side of the ball?
That would be my argument. Outside of the play of the man under center, the guys targeted by the QB as he throws to his receivers are always under the gun – and if cornerbacks and safeties have any success at all, you've got a chance to be pretty good. Last season, with bigger, physical and ostensibly more talented players in the secondary, the Patriots were Super Bowl-championship good.
This season? Well, there's a long way to go before the first meaningful game is played. That's probably a good thing, because it's easy to make the argument no secondary in the NFL was turned upside-down more than New England's in this off-season. Gone are erstwhile starters Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner via free agency; one-time starters Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard also were summarily dismissed from the roster. With so much of today's play focused on the passing game, cornerbacks have suddenly gone from being a team strength straight to the endangered list.
Check out our favorite photos from the Patriots organized team activity on Friday, May 29, 2015 at Gillette Stadium.
The focal point of this New England team, with much respect to Tom Brady, should be on trying to stop or slow down the guys trying to play like he does. Opposing QB's lined up on the Patriots' schedule may be licking their fingers in anticipation of finding their targets open where previously, there weren't many.
"I'd be lying if I came out here and told you we were gonna be great," safety Devin McCourty said to ESPN.com in April. Unlike his backfield mates from last season, he did re-sign with the Patriots in the off-season. "Same thing last year -- when we all got together, we didn't know what to expect. We gotta put the work in now.
"You wouldn't know everything going on outside of what's in this building," McCourty added last week, as OTA's began. "Everyone is focused on getting better, every day guys come in here, Coach Belichick has a list of stuff we need to get done in practice and it doesn't change.
"Guys are so focused on the little things," McCourty continued, "and trying to get better that we really don't have time to focus on other stuff and that continues year in and year out."
Other stuff, of course, referring to the scrutiny you, me, and the rest of the pro football world are putting on the Patriots' secondary at the present time. Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain have an almost-impossible task of living up to expectations created by last season's success.
McCourty is right. He and his teammates in the defensive backfield can't take the time to focus on "the other stuff," lest they pay less attention to all those bullets soon being fired their way. If the Patriots are to contend in the organization's Drive for Five, McCourty and Company in the secondary – whoever it is joining him back there – will need to shut out the noise and focus on simply making plays.
"I'm used to turnover," McCourty said. "I feel like since I've been here I've played with numerous different guys on the field and it's just another year getting back, getting the group together and trying to unite as a total unit continuing into the season.
"All other 31 teams go through some type of turnover," he added. "Secondary, teams have new quarterbacks, new coaches, it's just the way the league works...it doesn't motivate me more, everyone's motivation out here is just to try to win."
That's as good a focal point as there is right now, for any player on this roster.
Respect the game, respect the broadcast booth
It doesn't seem to matter much, while playing the game, if a guy actually liked to talk to the media or not. Or whether he was considered well-spoken or not.
Or if he was even considered to be a nice guy, or not.
This week in Mount Laurel, NJ, at the headquarters of NFL Films, 24 current and former players are learning how to be likeable enough. At least enough to possibly earn a living as a football broadcaster, as the league's 9th annual broadcasting boot camp takes place. The four-day camp includes instructors from the major TV networks, as well as Sirius/XM and Westwood One Radio, who are all on the lookout for knowledgeable – if not likeable – former players to enhance their pro and college game presentations.
Among the list of ex-players hoping to find work as an analyst, commentator and/or opinion-maker are one-time Patriots' Adalius Thomas and Tank Williams. Also on the student list are sometimes controversial and outspoken guys like Braylon Edwards and Ben Tate, as well as lesser-known players such as Eric Bakhtiari, Greg Camarillo and George Wrightster.
"Broadcasting is a competitive field to break into," NFL vice-president of engagement Charles Way told the Baltimore Sun. "We're thrilled that this program has assisted so many players with achieving their career goals."
If instructors like CBS' James Brown, ESPN's Ron Jaworski and Fox studio host Curt Menefee can actually help these ex-players become effective communicators, more power to them. But, as a broadcast instructor myself (at Emerson College in Boston), I'd like to add that one of the best lessons learned by any player, active or retired, is to treat the media with respect. TV, radio and print reporters have a job to do, just like they do. Treat others the way they'd like to be treated.
Athletes don't have to be nice guys, although one can certainly argue it would help. All that matters these days is that people listen to what they say, or watch what they do, or read what they write, whether they're a good guy or not. Having street cred as an athlete can be a great start to a new career, but if a guy was a malcontent with the media or a trouble-maker on or off the field as a player, shouldn't it be hard for anyone to take a new start seriously as a broadcaster?
The true start comes by respecting those in the media that began before they did – professionals putting years of effort into their craft just as athletes did while playing football. Learn to play their game, too, and it might be possible to actually stick around this game for a while.
It's not just a one-man game, is it?
Yes, as mentioned earlier...pro football is a QB's game. Elite players under center can elevate mediocre locker rooms into exceptional ones. But even the best quarterbacks know they have to possess great talent around them – guys to throw to, hand the ball off to and protect them from an oncoming pass rush – in order to win the Big One.
It stands to reason a team like the Patriots, coming off of a Super Bowl win, would have a few of these players around a quarterback like Tom Brady, right? Not enough of them, according to one ex-player and talent evaluator in particular.
NFL Network and NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, who has also written for Sports Illustrated, recently rated what he thought were the 10 most-talented rosters in the league, minus the QB position. Seattle, Buffalo, Denver, New York (Jets), Dallas, Kansas City, Miami, Green Bay, Philadelphia and Minnesota all made his Top 10.
Nowhere to be found are the reigning Super Bowl champs. Note the presence of New England's three AFC East Division rivals on this list, of which only the Dolphins (2008, 2000) and the Jets (2002) can clam division titles in the last 15 years. The Bills haven't won the AFC East in 20 years. And I'm sure they all have plenty of talent – because they do. That's not the point.
Either TB12 will again be dragging his teammates along for the ride in Superman-like fashion, or Brooks has made a rather egregious error in judgment. That gets to the point. We're either witnessing an era for the ages in a single player's ability to carry a middling team to championship heights over substantial odds, or we'll witness the fall from the mountain top of what's left over from a championship-winning season, coming up well short of an intended, familiar goal.
The actual answer will arrive somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, as most answers usually do. However, Brooks' boasts should at least make things interesting internally – especially when it comes to tacking potential items up on the bulletin board in a certain Gillette Stadium locker room.
*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