Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. The NFL’s rotating schedule format will continue in 2014, and the teams in the AFC East will play every team in the AFC West and NFC Norths. The “home” and “away” already have been determined for the Patriots and here is what it looks like for 2014:
AFC North team that finishes in same place in standings
AFC South team that finishes in same place in standings
Every year, a few matchups jump to the top of the list, and a trip to historic Lambeau Field always rates highly. So does a cross-country trip to San Diego, where Patriots fans always seem to have a notable presence. Another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady duel at Gillette Stadium, including a return trip for Wes Welker, looks like a top home date in '14.
2. Injuries to Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (dislocated hip, out for the year), Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin (torn ACL), Jets cornerback Aaron Berry (torn ACL) and Chargers linebacker Jonas Mouton (torn ACL) early in training camp -- coupled with Saturday’s scare in which Browns offensive lineman Ryan Miller was transported to the hospital after sustaining a concussion that initially seemed like it might be more serious -- served as yet another reminder of how fragile things are for every player and team. Scary stuff. And we’re only a few days into training camp.
3. If the NFL ultimately suspends Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard at the start of the regular season for his arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence, the Patriots wouldn’t have to count him on their 53-man roster. So in a twist that can benefit teams when a player gets suspended, the Patriots essentially would get to keep one more player than they would have otherwise (we saw that in 2008 when Kevin Faulk was suspended for the season opener). One thought on who that player could potentially be: Tim Tebow.
4. Watching Tebow in practice the last two days, it brought back recollections of something Bill Belichick said a while back when it came to quarterbacks with a knack for running. If I recall, the idea was that there is a necessary commitment teams must make if they go with a running quarterback, because the offense essentially has to be built around that quarterback. The issue is what if that quarterback gets injured? Do you have a No. 2 who can do the same thing? If you don’t, the offense essentially has to be rebuilt. Applying the same line of thinking to Tebow in New England, part of what makes the fit so unusual is that the system Tom Brady runs doesn’t seem to play to Tebow’s strengths. Tebow isn’t at his best as a pocket passer (which best defines Brady and top backup Ryan Mallett), but instead, when he’s on the move. So I’m starting to buy the line of thinking that Tebow’s greatest value to the team might come as a scout-team quarterback, if he ultimately sticks.
5. Former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson was reporting from San Diego’s training camp for NFL Network on Saturday and when the topic was rookie linebacker Manti Te’o, Tomlinson looked toward New England. “[He] reminds me a lot of Tedy Bruschi,” Tomlinson said. “Tedy Bruschi wasn’t the most athletic linebacker in the NFL when we played, but I tell you what, he made a lot of plays [and a] Pro Bowl because he was just so smart. He knew exactly what to do and he was a leader on the football field. Manti Te’o has those kind of qualities.” While time will tell if the comparison is a good one, consider this: In his final season with the Patriots, Bruschi was listed at 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds. The Chargers are listing Te’o at 6-1 and 241 pounds. Pretty close in that regard.
6. With Elvis Dumervil no longer in Denver because of a contract snafu and Von Miller potentially facing a four-game suspension, the Broncos could face quite a hit. I was thinking that would be the equivalent, from an importance standpoint, of the Patriots being without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
7. Good line from Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians when asked how he might use free-agent signee John Abraham. His response: “The first time I think they’re going to pass.” The 35-year-old Abraham was one of the top pass-rushers on the open market before the Cardinals signed him to a reported two-year, $6 million deal, and one of his free-agent visits was to New England. Just a guess, the Patriots’ interest in Abraham was likely as a nickel rusher and $3 million per year was out of their market for that role, especially with top pick Jamie Collins a candidate to rush off the edge.
8. A rule change to note given the Patriots’ traditional use of the physically unable to perform list: Players who start the regular season on PUP now have a window from the conclusion of the sixth regular-season weekend to the conclusion of the 11th regular-season weekend to start practicing. It used to be from the sixth week to the ninth week. The Patriots naturally hope they won’t need the PUP list this year, with tight end Rob Gronkowski a potential candidate, but it’s also been a vehicle in which Belichick has built depth on to his roster.
9. From the New England college football file: First-year Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s ties to the University of New Hampshire were reflected in Saturday’s signing of receiver David Ball. When Ball was catching 58 touchdown passes at UNH, he overlapped with Kelly. He’s now 29 and hasn’t been on the NFL radar for a few years (he entered the league as a free agent in 2007 but didn’t stick) as he toiled in the Canadian Football League and played indoor football for the Pittsburgh Power. His ties with Kelly have reignited his NFL hopes.
10. Hard to believe this is the Patriots’ 11th straight year holding training camp at Gillette Stadium. Seems like yesterday we were heading down to Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., and spending a few late nights at Parente’s. I sort of miss those days and seeing players buzzing by in their golf carts. Must be getting older.