FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots brass felt Cedric Cobbs had come a long way since he was sentenced to 20 hours of community service and six months' probation, and fined $700 for driving under the influence of drugs in August 2002.
"I know I had some issues in the past, but I got over it a long time ago," Cobbs said via conference call yesterday after the Patriots selected the Arkansas running back in the fourth round. "I didn't think there was anything I did in the past that would affect me, but I know it can hurt me. But I'm looking forward to the future and hoping I can do something great for the New England Patriots."
There was a time when the Patriots wouldn't touch a player with baggage, but as owner Robert Kraft has said in the past, he's more than willing to give a player a second chance (witness newly acquired Corey Dillon). Apparently, coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli are willing to do the same.
Belichick emphasized there was no change in team philosophy on the character matter, but added, "We're ready to bring them on the Patriots team and we're really going to evaluate them on a moving-forward basis."
Cobbs, the 128th selection overall, pointed out the difference between the Cobbs of today and the Cobbs of a couple of years ago: "Well, I'm more grown up now. I have responsibilities. I have a fiancee, I have a child, and I have another child on the way. I now have to take care of my business or else I'm going to be out on the streets."
Cobbs, the first Razorback drafted by the Patriots since 1977 (Gerald Skinner), was considered good value by team brass. At 6 feet, 223 pounds, he described himself as someone "like Fred Taylor, somewhat Jamal Lewis, and way in the past, someone like Bo Jackson or Earl Campbell. Hopefully, I can reach those goals and dreams I've always had in life to be one of the best backs in the league."
Belichick was quite impressed with Cobbs's running style and college career, and pointed to the Alabama game last season in which he ran for 198 yards on 36 carries and "carried the team on his back."
With their first pick on the second day, the Patriots took North Carolina free safety Dexter Reid at No. 113. They also selected Florida State wide receiver P.K. Sam in the fifth round (164th overall) and Christian Morton of Illinois, a former secondary mate of Eugene Wilson, in the seventh (233d).
Belichick considered Reid one of the most productive players in college football. "I think he had close to 500 tackles at North Carolina," said Belichick. "He had a ton of production in the passing game, running game, special teams. Smart guy . . . kind of quarterbacks their defense. He runs well. I think that helps. A highly productive player, a guy who is athletic and physical and who has played well in the ACC."
Considered a hard hitter, Reid said he's taken bits and pieces from his favorite players over the years and folded them into his game. "I love Ronnie Lott. I love Steve Atwater. I look at them as a tactician and do what they do."
Sam, the 6-3 1/2, 210-pound receiver from Florida State, came out after his junior season to avoid the pitfalls of his troubled college program. The Patriots wanted to draft a big receiver. He caught 50 passes for a 14.7-yard average in his only season as a starter.
"I was going to come out [early] pretty much no matter what," said Sam, whose initials stand for Phillip Kenwood. "There are a lot of things going on down here [in Tallahassee]. I would rather take this chance than come back and get hurt. I was going to leave no matter what. I thought I was going to go earlier than I did, but it's something I have to live with. I don't regret it."
Asked for specifics, Sam said, "The offense is struggling. There are a lot of complicated things that we keep in the Florida State family that we really don't share. It was definitely time for me to go."
Belichick described Sam as a receiver who has "size and speed and good ability to run after the catch. Catches the ball well, but he's really an effective runner who can make people miss. He's played a number of positions, outside and in the slot."
Morton, taken 233d overall, was noticed by the Patriots when they scouted Wilson. Morton lost his job as a junior, an experience, he said, "helped me grow. At first, it was a real big blow to me . . . I never hung my head low. Whatever opportunity I had, I took advantage of."
The 6- 1/4, 184-pounder said he was looking forward to having Wilson help him along in his rookie season.