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Patriots are in position

Belichick likes draft possibilities

BILL BELICHICK ‘Hybrid’ players are key BILL BELICHICK
‘Hybrid’ players are key
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 25, 2011

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Though there still may be one or two private workouts to complete — just to do as much homework on a prospect as possible — with the NFL draft starting Thursday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick believes his team is in a good place.

Headed home after another day at Gillette Stadium preparing, Belichick spent a few minutes Saturday night talking about a number of draft topics.

First up, whether he feels the quality and quantity of players at defensive line is as strong as it is widely believed to be this year.

“I think there are a lot of defensive linemen that are going to be drafted high in this draft; a lot in the first round,’’ he said. “I think there will be a lot of guys taken in the first round, high second round.’’

While several schools — Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame among them — have begun using a 3-4 defense, it hasn’t much changed the projecting the Patriots have to do when looking for a player who might fit their front seven.

“Teams that do it, it certainly helps you to see techniques similar to what we play, but for the most part, college defensive ends are going to be outside linebackers [in New England’s 3-4],’’ Belichick said. “You have to project how they’re going to play on their feet. Even if they play some of the same positions, college football, with all of the option offense and quarterback-keeping plays, it’s really a lot different than what we see [in the NFL].’’

Last week on Sirius NFL radio, Belichick said he believes how teams evaluate those “hybrid’’ players will be a key part of the draft.

Before the lockout began March 11, New England was able to add just one player to its roster: veteran Marcus Stroud, who had been released by Buffalo. Since the lockout, teams have been unable to sign free agents, including their own.

As a result, this is the first time the draft will be held before free agency truly opens.

But while it has made things different, it hasn’t altered the Patriots’ approach to the draft.

“I don’t feel like we’ve ever gone in saying, ‘We have to draft this position, draft that position,’ ’’ said Belichick. “It’s definitely a different process and position to have not signed the six or eight free agents from our team [or] another team at this point. I think it makes your roster look a little bit different, but I think draft-wise, you have to get the best players for your team.

“If there’s value there, that’s great, but if you try to force players into positions you end up having to look for the same players the next year. We’ll go through the same process and try to draft the players that we think will help our team the most. But it is different in that free agency hasn’t happened yet.’’

As Belichick and the staff have assembled at Gillette to conduct draft business, there’s one thing that’s been unusual: the building.

“It is quiet,’’ Belichick said. “At this time of year, you’d see guys walking through the door, hear the weights clanging, going and doing individual football things. It’s definitely different that they’re not in that process.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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