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Sunday football notes

Finding Patriot material in this Senior circuit

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / January 30, 2011

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Preparations for the April 28-30 NFL draft kicked into high gear with the week of practice at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The game was a mere formality. What really counts is what happens during the first three days of practice.

What follows is a list of the top players at each position who could fit with what the Patriots like to do on either side of the ball.

Think of this as the Patriots’ All-Senior Bowl team.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Nevada (6-4 1/2, 225): The Patriots obviously don’t need any immediate help here, and Brian Hoyer has shown enough promise to keep developing him, but Kaepernick was by far the best quarterback of the week. Very accurate. Needs to improve on the deep ball a bit, but there’s time for that. The Vikings and Dolphins seemed very interested in him, and they should be.

Running back Roy Helu Jr., Nebraska (5-11 1/2, 216): The Patriots could use another every-down running back if Fred Taylor retires as expected, and Helu was the most complete back in Mobile. Has a good burst and ran away from defenders. Also was very sound in his blocking and showed good hands out of the backfield.

Honorable mention: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (5-7 1/2, 199). If the Patriots need another Danny Woodhead, this is their guy, and Hunter is much better at blitz pickup.

Fullback Owen Marecic, Stanford (6- 1/2, 246): The Patriots haven’t had much use for a traditional fullback since Heath Evans left town, and the selection isn’t great. Marecic was the most well-rounded fullback at the Senior Bowl and did everything above average. Good feet.

Tight end Luke Stocker, Tennessee (6-5, 255): This position certainly isn’t high on the Patriots’ list of needs after the drafting of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last year. When it comes time to replace Alge Crumpler, a gifted blocker such as Stocker would fit the bill. An adequate receiver who needs to work on agility drills.

Wide receiver Titus Young, Boise State (5-11 1/2, 174): This is where the Patriots’ needs start — with a big-play deep threat, and Young is that. For most of the week, he was the most explosive receiver on either team and easily got separation. Reminiscent of the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson — even with his questionable attitude. Hands were a little uneven, but he had a good week.

Niles Paul, Nebraska (6-1, 225): A strong and physical receiver in the Larry Fitzgerald mold, but will he run a 4.48 like the Cardinals star? Paul is versatile. Can win the battle on the outside but also in traffic.

Honorable mention: Vincent Brown, San Diego State (5-11, 184): Sneaky-fast and able to put his foot in the ground and cut without losing any speed. May not time well but he knows how to play.

Left offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State (6-5 1/2, 312): Was a bit inconsistent during the week but the skills are there, along with 35-inch arms. Had some memorable battles against Texas A&M speed rusher Von Miller and was not outclassed.

Honorable mention: James Carpenter, Alabama (6-4, 313). Might be the most game-ready of the group because he’s fundamentally sound for this level.

Left offensive guard Danny Watkins, Baylor (6-3 1/2, 312): Probably the best interior lineman in Mobile. Holds his own against bigger and more physical linemen. Shows a nasty disposition on the field and displays explosion when he needs it. Really interesting prospect because he’s 26, having gone the firefighter route in his native Canada before being discovered.

Center Kristofer O’Dowd, Southern Cal (6-4 1/2, 303): Not a great year for centers, and O’Dowd was decent. Needs to hold up better but showed good hand work. Could flourish under the right coach, such as Patriots offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia.

Right offensive guard John Moffitt, Wisconsin (6-4, 314): Displayed some nastiness and loves to compete. Not great in space or as an athlete, so in the Patriots’ system, he’d have to be on the right side. They like guards that can pull on the other side.

Honorable mention: Steve Schilling, Michigan (6-4 1/2, 302). Had his struggles, but the potential is there.

Right offensive tackle Anthony Costanzo, Boston College (6-7, 305): Had his struggles when moved to guard, but was very consistent at tackle and probably could play either side in the NFL. Scouts remarked on his improved footwork since the Eagles’ season concluded.

Honorable mention: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin (6-7, 315). Excelled in the run game, as most Badgers linemen do. Also looked uncomfortable at guard. Wisconsin linemen usually don’t get appreciably better in the pros. They’re solid from the start.

Honorable mention: Nate Solder, Colorado (6-8 1/2, 314). Bends well for a tall player and has solid tools. Needs to add strength.

Right defensive end Christian Ballard, Iowa (6-4, 288): Might be a bit of a stretch for him to play end in the 3-4. More of a one-gap player than two-gap, which the Patriots use. But Ballard is a very good pass rusher and was tough to handle for any of the linemen he went against.

Nose tackle Phil Taylor, Baylor (6-3 1/2, 337): Showed the ability to stand up against double teams and also to split them to apply pressure on the quarterback. Type of guy who could spell Vince Wilfork but also rush the quarterback in sub packages.

Left defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson (6-4, 309): Showed good burst and pass-rush moves but had a tough time finishing plays. Always hustling and seemed to take coaching well.

Outside linebacker Von Miller, Texas A&M (6-2 1/2, 237): Wouldn’t appear to be a fit for a team such as New England that prefers bigger outside linebackers, but he’s an unbelievable athlete and pass rusher who was also good at dropping into coverage. Can carry more weight effectively, and the success of a Clay Matthews shows there’s a place for a player like Miller in any 3-4.

Cameron Jordan, Cal (6-4, 287): Had a terrific week and showed off great athleticism and versatility that will endear him to both 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Several scouts mentioned Adalius Thomas as a comparison. Has a great attitude and would make a top-notch 3-4 outside linebacker who can rush, hold the point, and cover.

Honorable mention: Brooks Reed, Arizona (6-2 1/2, 257). Was an end in college but looked natural standing up. Very solid at the point and showed a good burst in pass rush.

Honorable mention: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (6-4, 255). Jury is still out on whether he can make the transition to standing up. Also had trouble disengaging from blocks.

Inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (6-2, 250): Plays bigger than his size against the run and can also cover. Not the ideal size but a tough player who will be in the league a while.

Mark Herzlich, Boston College (6-3 1/2, 250): Did not show much of the pass rush scouts were looking for but has a future inside if he’s not asked to cover man-to-man. Teams have a lot of concerns about his cancer battle and the two rods he has in his leg. Herzlich will have a long day of medicals at the combine but he has shown the character and determination to battle through anything.

Cornerback Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech (5-10, 185): Did not look good in drills but seemed to always be on point in scrimmages. Battled an ankle injury during the week. Not a first-round talent but could be developed.

Kendric Burney, North Carolina (5-9, 181): Shows great footwork and quickness, and can flip his hips naturally in coverage. Doesn’t appear to make a lot of plays, so that will have to be developed.

Free safety Quinton Carter, Oklahoma (6- 1/2, 211): Earned a spot off his performance in the East-West Shrine Game, so scouts like what they’ve seen. Tends to play a bit high but he’s physical. How he times at the combine will be important.

Strong safety DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (6-0, 213): Showed good instincts coming up in support and can take on tight ends in coverage. Would make an immediate impact on special teams.

Honorable mention: Ahmad Black, Florida (5-9 1/2, 183). Lack of size will cause him to slide down the draft, but Black is just a good football player who will find a way to stick. We all know how Bill Belichick loves former Gators.

Etc.
Team has edge in game of tag Logan Mankins can send talk radio atwitter with the remarks he made last week that he doesn’t believe he’ll receive a contract extension from the Patriots and that he doesn’t want the franchise tag, but the fact is, what Mankins thinks or says really doesn’t matter. The Patriots hold all the cards. And considering that no one knows what the new collective bargaining agreement will look like, it would foolish for the Patriots to rush into a deal. They’re certainly not going to let a 28-year-old guard in his prime just walk away. In all likelihood, they will place the franchise tag on him. It was worth $10.7 million last year, and likely will be a shade lower. At that point, the sides could work toward an extension under a new CBA. That’s how the tag was supposed to work. The Patriots used it that way with kicker Adam Vinatieri in 2002 before he played out the tag and left as a free agent in ’06. They also could trade Mankins, as they did with Tebucky Jones after he was tagged in ’03 and Matt Cassell in ’08. Or they could go the Asante Samuel route. After he held out of training camp in ’07, the Patriots agreed not to tag Samuel again if he played 60 percent of the snaps or they won 12 games. Both conditions were met and Samuel signed with the Eagles as a free agent. In the Mankins case, there are a lot of hard feelings on both sides, especially after the team cut his tender in half for not signing in time last season (again, within its rights). But those all can be washed away with the right deal. Nothing is insurmountable in the NFL when it comes to business. And that’s all this is, regardless of the perceived drama.

The rating game Pro Football Weekly published its “Super 50’’ rankings last week, and there were some interesting results. Coaches and evaluators from around the NFL gave their input, and players were ranked using performance and value to team as the criteria. The Patriots had two players appear in the rankings. Quarterback Tom Brady took the top spot, and inside linebacker Jerod Mayo came in at No. 49. Receiver Wes Welker and nose tackle Vince Wilfork were among the 25 players in the honorable mention category. In the AFC East, the Jets also placed two players in the top 50 (cornerback Darrelle Revis at 13 and center Nick Mangold at 48), as did the Dolphins (linebacker Cameron Wake at 45 and tackle Jake Long at 46). Jets tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson was an honorable mention. The Bills had no players listed. Across the NFL, the Packers and Ravens each placed five players. Aaron Rodgers (second) and Terrell Suggs (22d) were the highest-rated players from Green Bay and Baltimore, respectively. The Colts, Steelers, Bears, Falcons, and Chiefs each had three players. Cassel (47) was the only former Patriot to make the list. Samuel was an honorable mention.

Short yardage There are reports out of Philadelphia and Wisconsin that the Eagles favor Packers safeties coach Darren Perry as their next defensive coordinator. But that doesn’t make complete sense. Perry, while an excellent coach and certainly ready to be a coordinator, doesn’t have any ties to the Eagles. He has coached almost exclusively in the 3-4 under Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh) and Dom Capers (Green Bay). Eagles coach Andy Reid has said the team is sticking with a 4-3, and his hiring of defensive line coach Jim Washburn from the Titans certainly backs that up. That being said, Reid hasn’t always lived up to his word (see: Donovan McNabb, Sean McDermott, Kevin Kolb). If the Eagles are waiting for a Packers assistant, the best fit may be defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who coordinated a 4-3 defense for the Panthers. Trgovac also coached the Eagles’ line from 1995-98 . . . It has taken until the fifth year of Mike McCarthy’s tenure as Packers coach for any of his assistants to generate interest on the coordinator front. Interesting that it is coming from a defensive staff that is only in its second year together, and not the offense, which is McCarthy’s specialty. All of McCarthy’s offensive assistants have been with the team since at least ’06. Only quarterbacks coach Tom Clements has had an interview requested. It was denied because it came from the rival Bears last year . . . Steelers rookie receiver Antonio Brown, who has made a couple of Pittsburgh’s biggest receptions during the playoffs, is the son of Arena Football League legend Eddie “Touchdown’’ Brown, now head coach at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan. The elder Brown was a two-time league MVP and retired with a league-record 303 touchdowns, including nine in one game. Brown was chosen as the league’s No. 1 all-time player when the AFL celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2006.

View from the outside From Aaron Schatz of Boston-based FootballOutsiders.com: Green Bay averaged 10.9 yards this year when using play-action. No other team averaged more than 10 yards. Denver was second at 9.6 yards per play. The Patriots ranked eighth at 8.7. Green Bay’s Super Bowl opponent, Pittsburgh, was 10th at 8.5. The league average was 7.5 yards, compared with 6.3 on all pass plays (including scrambles).

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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