- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Bill Belichick's affinity for Rutgers players has been highlighted in recent weeks; the Patriots have eight former Scarlet Knights on their roster. For NFL context, I was curious whether any other team in the league has as many players from one college on its roster, and there is just one -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just like the Patriots, the Buccaneers -- with former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano in charge -- have eight former Rutgers players. So based on rosters as of Friday at 12 p.m. ET, the Patriots and Buccaneers have 16 of the 31 Rutgers players currently employed in the NFL.
2A. Similar to the Patriots/Rutgers and Buccaneers/Rutgers connections, here are a few other teams that have skewed heavily toward one team: The Bengals have seven Georgia players, and the Bills and Vikings each have six Florida State players. Of course, it's important to note that teams have more spots with a 90-man roster limit, and all that ultimately will count is who winds up on the final 53-man rosters.
2B. With Schiano leaning more on his Rutgers connections, the question is whether other former college coaches who have been hired as NFL head coaches have done the same, and the results are mixed. Chip Kelly (first season) has five Oregon players on the Eagles' roster, Pete Carroll (fourth season) has four Southern Cal players on the Seahawks' roster, and Jim Harbaugh (third season) has just two Stanford players on the 49ers' roster.
3. Cancer survivor Mark Herzlich went undrafted in 2011 after a standout career at Boston College. In last week's organized team activities, he lined up as the Giants' starting middle linebacker. Herzlich, who is competing against Dan Connor and Aaron Curry for a starting role, always seemed to have something special about him, so no one around New England should be surprised at this development.
4. With news that the NFL will move the 2014 draft to May (reportedly between the 8th and 17th of the month), the biggest losers will be rookies and NFL coaches. Already trying to play catch-up as it has been, rookies will now have less time to acclimate to their new teams. And as for already overworked coaches, this could cut into the only time they truly break away for much-needed vacation (usually from mid-June to mid-July) because organized team activities may now stretch into mid-to-late June. For example, the Patriots conclude their on-field work this offseason on June 13 with their mandatory minicamp. Next year, with the draft pushed into May, such an end point might not come until late June/early July.
5. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but two of the more notable absences from voluntary organized team activities over the last two weeks were Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and Bears offensive lineman Gabe Carimi, and both are represented by Gary Uberstine and Eric Kaufman of Premier Sports & Entertainment. Spikes signed on with Uberstine and Kaufman on Jan. 4, making them his third agents in four years in the NFL, which is yet another reflection from this view how Spikes does things a little differently than the norm. The Patriots have had dealings with Uberstine in the past, as past clients included Troy Brown, Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri.
6. Somewhat similar to when Wes Welker tore his ACL in the 2009 regular-season finale, initially putting his availability for the start of 2010 training camp and beyond in question, Bills tight end Scott Chandler has been on the road to recovery after tearing his ACL on Dec. 23. This is especially notable from a Patriots perspective, because the team opens the 2013 season with a road game against the Bills (Sept. 8). And also because Chandler, who began running routes about three weeks ago, has hurt them in the past. His statistics against the Patriots in four games over the last two years: 14 receptions for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 12 of those catches going for first downs. At this time, all signs point to Chandler's being ready for Week 1.
7. Catching up with former Patriots tight end Ben Coates (1991-1999) this past week served as a reminder to one of my favorite Dante Scarnecchia stories. Coates was reflecting on his modest entry into the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice out of little-known Livingstone College and how Scarnecchia traveled to Salisbury, N.C., for a personal workout with him before the draft. In a reflection of how the under-the-radar Coates wasn't entering the NFL from a big-time program, the field in which the workout took place had no lines, but that didn't stop Scarnecchia from returning home with a positive review of Coates. Scarnecchia was Coates' first position coach in New England. "He pushed me, pushed me, pushed me, and being from a small school like that, you don't get a chance to get pushed like that," recalled Coates, who was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2008. "He set the foundation for me."
8. Did You Know: Of the 13 players from UMass currently on NFL rosters, six are with the New York teams -- offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, running back John Griffin and long snapper Travis Tripucka with the Jets, and receiver Victor Cruz, running back Michael Cox and receiver Jeremy Horne with the Giants. The only other team with multiple Minutemen is the Jaguars, who have long snapper Jeremy Cain and rookie free-agent offensive lineman Stephane Milhim.
9. If the price is right, I don't see much downside to the Falcons' potential pursuit of free-agent defensive tackle Richard Seymour, which was reported by FoxSports.com last week. The fit seems perfect, both from what Seymour could provide on the field from an interior presence, and also his experience in big games and a veteran presence in the locker room. The Falcons took another big step last year, winning the first playoff game under coach Mike Smith, and to take the next step, why not add a still-talented player who has been part of that before? It wouldn't have to be in a full-time role. I think defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could find a way to preserve Seymour for the long haul and get the most out of him.
10. Is there anything more anticlimactic than the signing of draft picks, especially those in the second round and beyond? Most of these deals are pretty standard and easy to finalize, so if they aren't done by the start of training camp, that would be the real shocker.
11. Prior to Brian Urlacher's announced retirement last week, I wondered if the Patriots might have explored the possibility of bringing him aboard, sort of similar to what unfolded with Junior Seau in 2006. I had nothing definitive to base the thought around, only that with Brandon Spikes entering the final year of his contract and not attending voluntary workouts, maybe there would be a thought of adding a layer of veteran depth/presence. I think that would have been fun.
12. The 49ers' acquisition of receiver Anquan Boldin looks even better now that No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon in last week's organized team activity. That's a big blow for the 49ers, but similar to the Patriots over the years, I don't think many teams would have the depth options that San Francisco does to potentially help fill the void. If all goes according to plans, 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins (30th overall, Illinois) will emerge as the top replacement. Jenkins (6-0, 214) is one of the more interesting stories based on how things unfolded for him last year; he played in just three games and didn't catch a pass as a rookie, in part because the 49ers didn't need him. Now the pressure will be turned up on him a bit.
13. The Patriots seem to have high hopes for what defensive lineman Armond Armstead can bring to the team in 2013 after signing him following his one season in the Canadian Football League, and some have asked the question if Armstead is considered a rookie since this is his first year in the NFL (he went to the CFL in 2012 after going undrafted because of a medical condition). The answer: Because Armstead played in the CFL, the league and Elias Sports Bureau don't consider him a pure rookie, instead giving him the status of "first-year player." This would seem to rule him out from any rookie of the year candidacy should his play warrant it.
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:1. Bill Belichick's affinity for Rutgers players has been highlighted in recent weeks; the Patriots have eight former Scarlet Knights on their roster.