Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Given the importance of quarterbacks, and with clubs currently operating with a 90-man roster limit, it makes sense that 27 of the league's 32 teams are carrying four signal-callers on their roster at this time. The Patriots are in the minority with just Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett and Mike Kafka. Why just three? Part of it is probably that the coaching staff wants Brady and Mallett to take most of the repetitions anyway, leaving a scarcity of opportunity for Kafka, let alone a fourth-stringer. I also think it's a reflection of the Patriots' viewpoint that Brady, who turns 36 in August, has shown no signs of decline in terms of arm strength. And another part of it is likely tied to the feeling that there just isn't a worthy candidate. After all, the Patriots kept four on the 53-man roster back in 2000 when they felt a No. 4 option named Tom Brady was worth keeping around in hopes he might develop. That one worked out pretty nicely.
1b. The other NFL teams with just three quarterbacks on the roster: Browns, Colts, Bears and Seahawks.
2. For only the second time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as Patriots head coach, every coordinator/position coach has returned from the previous season. Furthermore, every coach will be working in the same position as they did in 2012. Remember all the talk about how losing coaches like Romeo Crennel (2005), Charlie Weis (2005), Eric Mangini (2006) and Josh McDaniels (2009), among others, put additional strain on Belichick in those post-Super Bowl championship years? This is the opposite. Now we'll see how much the continuity, plus the addition of Brian Daboll as a coaching assistant with an apparent focus on the offensive line, produces winning results. The only other year Belichick had every coach return was 2003 (John Hufnagel was added as a quarterbacks coach that year).
3. This is the time of year, post-draft, when scouting staffs are often restructured and changes are made. Along those lines, Dave Ziegler is joining the Patriots after previously serving as a pro scout with the Broncos, where his combination of football acumen and work ethic had him on the rise (coaches on the current staff were said to be impressed with his presentations to them on opponents they were preparing to face). Ziegler was initially hired by the Broncos when Josh McDaniels was their head coach as the two had a connection going back to their days at John Carroll University (along with current Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio). He was inducted to the John Carroll Hall of Fame in 2010.
4. When the Patriots visit the Bills in the season-opener on Sept. 8, it will be interesting to see if defensive end Mark Anderson is in the starting spot that Buffalo envisioned for him when signing him as a free agent last year. Anderson, who revived his career with the Patriots in 2011 before landing a four-year contract with the Bills that included $8 million in his first season (signing bonus plus salary), underwent two surgeries last season after injuring his knee in Week 5 and he still wasn't at 100 percent in the team's organized team activities that concluded last week. Perhaps with this in mind, the Bills traded for defensive end Jerry Hughes, a 2010 first-round pick of the Colts who didn't meet expectations in Indianapolis, earlier this offseason. Hughes has been getting plenty of repetitions while Anderson works his way back into form, and the Bills hope a switch to Mike Pettine's hybrid scheme brings out the best in him.
5. The 49ers made a notable hire in bringing Eric Mangini aboard as a senior offensive consultant, in part because Mangini came up mostly through the assistant ranks on the defensive side, and the 49ers apparently plan to tap his knowledge on how opposing defenses might scheme against them. Mangini has been out of the NFL since being fired as Browns coach after the 2010 season, and sometimes seeing things from the outside-looking-in can lead to a new perspective. One could make a case that one of the worst things to happen to him was getting hired as Browns coach in 2009 right after being fired as Jets coach, because a step back could have helped him better assess where things went wrong in New York. Mangini has had two years away to digest it all and this looks like a smart move for him to align with a strong organization and position himself for a coordinator-type job in 2014.
6. With all due respect to Drew Rosenhaus, who has built an empire of sorts in the player agent business, his thoughts that Rob Gronkowski's pending back surgery is not a big deal overlooks one key point: Part of the reason Gronkowski can't definitively say he'll be ready for the 2013 opener is because of an infection that unexpectedly surfaced after his second forearm surgery, which changed the course of his offseason. Gronkowski, like any player going in for surgery, now faces the same risk when he heads in to the operating room for his back. The surgery itself might be routine, but as Gronkowski has discovered over the last five months, any surgery is significant because of the risks involved.
7. Organized team activities are voluntary, but I've taken note of the differing reactions in various cities regarding some players' absences. For example, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer opined on cornerback Cary Williams' absence and wrote "So much was made of how the Eagles signed team-first free agents this offseason. Williams' actions suggest anything but." Meanwhile, the defending champion Ravens had some big-name players not present at OTAs last week, a group including Terrell Suggs, Marshal Yanda, Haloti Ngata and Vonta Leach, and it didn't seem to generate as passionate of a reaction. With the Giants, coach Tom Coughlin was passionate about receiver Hakeem Nicks' absence, sharing his opinion that he should be there. The underlying question: Does not attending voluntary OTAs show a lack of commitment to the team? Our take: Each situation has different dynamics so they have to be judged individually; in the case of Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, for example, it doesn't look good for him when he's the only player on the 90-man roster to stay away.
8. When the Patriots had free-agent defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis in for a workout last week, it served as a reminder of the team's trade with the Saints in the first round of the 2008 draft. That was the year the Patriots entered with the seventh overall pick, which they acquired from the 49ers the prior year, and traded it to the Saints along with a fifth-round pick in exchange for the No. 10 overall pick and a third-rounder. The Saints used the seventh overall pick on Ellis (6-1, 307), who wasn't viewed as a prototype fit for the 3-4 defense New England was running at the time. Meanwhile, the Patriots nailed their pick with linebacker Jerod Mayo, so five years later, it's safe to say that the Patriots got the better part of the first-round swap. But Patriots third-round pick Shawn Crable was a disappointment while the Saints used the fifth-rounder from New England on guard Carl Nicks, now one of the best players at his position in the NFL. So the trade ultimately worked out for both teams, even though it wasn't the way either of them probably planned.
9. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made an unexpected comparison last week when sharing some of his initial thoughts of working with receiver Wes Welker. Manning said Welker reminds him of running back Marshall Faulk, which traces back to the one season Manning played with Faulk in Indianapolis, in terms of his knowledge and understanding of the game. "Marshall Faulk could read coverages like a quarterback back there in the backfield and Wes has great knowledge for defenses, which I think has been a huge weapon for him in his successful career." Word out of Denver is that Manning and Welker have stayed after practice for extra work to continue the important process of building a connection.
10. The torn Achilles injury which led the Patriots to place a waived/injured designation on rookie free-agent receiver T.J. Moe (meaning he can revert to injured reserve if not claimed) was a freak accident that occurred in practice as Moe released off the line of scrimmage with no defender lined up across from him. Moe was one of the team's most notable signings after the draft, in part because he received the highest total of guaranteed money from the club ($30,000), and now he faces a challenging rehabilitation in hopes of challenging for a roster spot in 2014.