The scouting combine administered a new aptitude test this year, which Dimitroff and Pioli had input on, and the biggest goal is to assess what’s inside a player. The results aren’t yet known.
“I haven’t found a test that really measures reactive quickness,” Pioli said at the Sloan Sports Conference at MIT. “Most of these drills are them performing on their own. Then there’s this element of reactive quickness and speed — so much of this game is reaction — and it’s based on seeing, processing, and then moving the feet. And that’s hard to quantify.”
If the Patriots can find a way to do that, they may finally develop a receiver from within.
Chosen ones have not had it covered
Compared to the receiver position, the Patriots have stocked their secondary through the draft like a grocery store before Thanksgiving. But overall, it hasn’t been terrific.
At least there’s some promise there. Two of the picks from last year, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (seventh round) and safety Tavon Wilson (second) certainly have a chance. Dennard might not have a high ceiling, but he looks to be a solid starter. And the Patriots are excited that Wilson could grab a starting role this season and be a mainstay. The ceiling for safety Nate Ebner (sixth round) may only be as a special teams stud — the Matthew Slater of defense — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Devin McCourty, only the second defensive back taken by Belichick in the first round, in 2010, looks to have finally settled in at his true position, safety, after an uneven start to his career at cornerback.
Before that, you could make a convincing case that only safety Eugene Wilson (’03, second round), Asante Samuel (’03, fourth), and James Sanders (’05, fourth) have met or exceeded expectations.
And the Patriots have missed on some decent picks: corner Ras-I Dowling (second), safety Patrick Chung (second), corner Darius Butler (second), corner Terrence Wheatley (second), safety Brandon Meriweather (first), safety Guss Scott (third), and corner Brock Williams (third).
Meriweather, who played in two Pro Bowls (but was only voted in once), is certainly up for debate. But instead of keeping him on the roster for one more season and at basically no cost, the Patriots cut Meriweather heading into the final year of his rookie contract while retaining Sergio Brown, Josh Barrett, and James Ihedigbo. That spoke volumes, as has Meriweather’s lack of production elsewhere since his release.
“Certainly they’ve struggled in the secondary,” said Cosell. “They have drafted a lot of players within the top three rounds. Couldn’t you make the argument that basically none of them have worked out?”
Patriots defensive backs have had a distinct lack of success, for them and other teams. That would seem to take some of the heat off cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, whom many fans — and some Patriots players — grumble about.
“Nah, that’s not it,” said a team source. “The coaches are coaching the players based on what Bill is telling them. If it was the coaching, one of those [released players] would have done something somewhere else. They’ve done nothing.”
Like the receiver position, both cornerback and safety are among the most difficult to project because — unlike the positions closest to the ball on offense and defense — the college and pro games are so different.
“I find the safety position to be the toughest position to evaluate in college,” Cosell said. “There are times that you can go through three or four games and I still feel like I don’t have a feel for safety. Bill Belichick knows a lot more than I do, but I would bet at times you feel like you’re not 100 percent certain. So then you have to do all that other stuff, with interviews and everything else, and at some point that stops because you’re not actually watching a guy play football.
“I think corner is probably tough, too. I think you’re seeing a little more press coverage in college now, so maybe that will help. You used to see very little press coverage. At least you can look at that now. There are a lot more combination routes in the NFL than there are in college. I think it’s more of a mental game. You want your corner to have physical tools, no question, but I think it’s much more of a mental game as much as it is for receivers, quite honestly.”
The Patriots do seem to be synching up their talent and scheme a little better. For years, Belichick’s scheme relied on mostly zone coverage. Samuel, in his prime, was arguably the best zone corner in the league. The past two years, with the rise in accurate quarterback play, the Patriots have played more man concepts. That was a big reason why McCourty stumbled so badly. He was a terrific zone corner in college at Rutgers and as a rookie, but the Patriots switched to more man in 2011 and McCourty wasn’t ready.Continued...