1. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show what he could do as a rookie with the Patriots, but that certainly hasn’t dissuaded him as the 2015 season nears. According to Garoppolo’s personal quarterbacking guru Jeff Christensen, Garoppolo is ready to attack his second season in the NFL.
“I talked to Bill (Belichick) at the combine, and I asked him how Jimmy was doing,” recalled Christensen in a recent phone call. “He said ‘(Jimmy) looks like a linebacker. He works out like a linebacker. He acts like a linebacker. I really like him a lot, coach. You did a great job with him. Thank you.’ ”
Christensen, who said he’ll work closer with Garoppolo to help fine tune his mechanics shortly before the start of training camp in July, was happy with the performance of his pupil in his first year in the NFL. “He got very few opportunities, but I think he made the most of them,” Christensen said of Garoppolo, who finished 19-for-27 for 182 yards and a touchdown in six games in 2014. “I think he did very well. Over the first two weeks of camp he didn’t look good, but I think over the third and fourth week of the preseason, he made real improvement, and that’s what Bill wants to see. Jimmy is a smart kid who just wants to learn, and he’s well aware of how good a situation he’s in right now.”
2. One more note from Christensen, who has become an acknowledged leader in the field when it comes to developing quarterbacks — he was fascinated to watch the evolution of Tom Brady over the course of the 2014 season, particularly the week between the ghastly loss to Kansas City and the thunderous win over the Bengals that really jump started New England’s Super Bowl season.
“I told Jimmy that after that bad game in Kansas City when you get back, Tom isn’t going to want to talk to you,” recalled Christensen. “You’re going to think he’s going to be in World War 6. He won’t be friendly with you. He won’t talk to you. Stay away from him and let him have his space.’ That’s what happened, he got on a roll, and he stayed that way for the next 13 or so weeks. Tom has that nasty place where he says, ‘This is my job, and don’t any of you writers or coaches or players try and take this thing away from me.’”
3. Our good friend Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders put together a really interesting look at offensive line play last season, and in his research, he discovered an astounding stat: no team in the league had the same starting five offensive linemen for all 16 regular-season games in 2014. It goes without saying that part of that was because of injury, but there was also the issue of players getting benched and shuffled in and out of the lineup over the course of the year because of scheme fit. As all of this relates to New England, there was an interesting debate on “Dennis & Callahan” on Friday morning, where Gary Tanguay argued that center Bryan Stork should get more acknowledgement than he does because of his stabilizing presence on the offensive line. And while it’s true that Stork was able to bring some stability up front, as is the case with most offensive line play, it comes down to how well the five players work together. Skill and technique and approach are obviously all key, but continuity matters when it comes to making a good offensive line, and so it’s no surprise that in 2014, the Patriots’ passing game posted far better numbers in the regular season when it was able to send the five starters out there: Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Stork, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, as opposed to anyone else. The stats are courtesy of Ryan Hannable.
— Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell, Vollmer (7-1 record) — Weeks 5, 8-14: Brady: 214-320 (66.9 percent), 2,433 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 QB rating, 4 sacks.
— Any combination besides above (5-3 record) — Weeks 1-4, 6, 7, 15, 16: Brady: 160-263 (60.8 percent), 1,675 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 89.8 QB rating, 17 sacks.
Aaron’s story is here, and is a terrific and informative read about continuity along the offensive line. Well worth checking out.
4. While teams with new coaches have been back to football since April 6, the Patriots (and the rest of the teams with returning staffs) will open their offseason program this week — the first day they are allowed back in the facility to meet with coaches is Monday. We’ve published this before, but with New England heading back to work this week, it’s worth revisiting the regulations that each team has to abide by when they conduct their offseason programs:
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each club’s official, voluntary nine-week offseason program is conducted in three phases:
Phase 1 consists of the first two weeks of the program with activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only.
Phase 2 consists of the next three weeks of the program. On-field workouts may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a “separates” basis. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted.
Phase 3 consists of the next four weeks of the program. Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or “OTAs.” No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.
Article 22 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that clubs may hold one mandatory minicamp for veteran players. This minicamp must occur during Phase Three of the offseason program.
5. Strange days in San Diego, where there’s talk about the Chargers trading Philip Rivers to Tennessee for the second overall pick. When combined with the ongoing battle regarding a new football stadium for Southern California, it feels like the Chargers are approaching some sort of franchise crossroads. San Diego was one of the most up-and-down teams in the league last year, as they rolled to a 5-1 start while Rivers made his bones as a bonafide MVP candidate. Then came the fall, as the quarterback and team stumbled to a 9-7 finish, a slide that included an astoundingly ugly 37-0 road loss to the Dolphins. There is some familiarity in Tennessee for Rivers, who had Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator in 2013, and he could be catching a Tennessee team that’s on a bit of an upswing. From a Chargers perspective, San Diego is a team that has many of its fundamental elements on the plus-side of 30, including tight end Antonio Gates (35 before the start of the 2015 season) and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (who will turn 34 before the first regular-season snap this year), as well as depth questions at a number of spots including offensive and defensive line, linebacker and running back. If the Chargers do decide to deal Rivers for multiple picks (including the No. 2 selection, which would likely be Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota), it would feel a little like the team deciding to hit the reset button, a big change from where San Diego was midway through the 2014 campaign.
6. A year ago, there were several people around these parts salivating at the thought of a Rob Gronkowski-Jace Amaro tight end combo. But Amaro ended up being taken by the Jets, and maybe in retrospect, it was a wise move on the part of the Patriots to forego the Texas Tech product. In addition to an occasionally sluggish rookie season, he made headlines this week when he took some shots at ex-Jets coach Rex Ryan, saying that the 2014 Jets lacked “accountability.” Ryan fired back this week, saying that Amaro was “full of (expletive)” and promising to remember that comment when the Bills face the Jets in 2015.
“Look, we weren’t perfect, and I never said we were going to be perfect,” Ryan told MMQB when asked about Amaro’s statements. “But that’s a (expletive) b.s. comment. But, hey, he’s happy that he’s got a different coach in place. We’ll see how happy he is when I play against him.”
Regardless of what you think of Rex, from this viewpoint, Amaro’s comments were out of line. For a guy who had spent 15 minutes in the league to make claims like that against a coach who is already out the door isn’t a professional move. (It was also telling that no one left in New York felt the need to publicly echo Amaro’s comments, which might tell you just how he’s viewed in the Jets locker room.) While he’ll probably have better numbers in the New York offense than he did as a rookie, he’s put a big target on his back for at least two games in 2015.
7. Change keeps coming in Pittsburgh, as veteran cornerback Ike Taylor announced this week that he will retire after a 12-year career with the Steelers. This offseason, the Pittsburgh defense has lost longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as well as safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Jason Worilds (retired) and cornerback Brice McCain (free agent). Taylor and Polamalu maintained a tight bond — they came into the league together in 2003, and they will leave together. It was no coincidence, according to Taylor.
“That is how we rock,” he said after making it official. “We came in, we are leaving together. That is my loyalty to that man. I said once Troy does his, I will decide. That is what I owe to Troy.”
Going forward, one of the sure things in the draft is the fact that the Pittsburgh defense, which was so poor defending the pass last year (27th overall), will seek out a corner early on. But overall, it will be interesting to see where the Steelers’ defense goes from here. It had been such a rock-steady cornerstone of the franchise for so long under LeBeau (with veteran pieces like Polamalu). Now, it’s the dawn of a new era in Pittsburgh.
8. Colt Lyerla was one of the more intriguing prospects coming out of Oregon in the spring of 2014 — the 6-foot-5, 246-pound tight end had speed, size and soft hands. But he was also toting plenty of baggage with him along the way, including multiple drug-related suspensions, which ultimately got him kicked out of school and caused a tumble from elite-level status to undrafted free agent. He eventually signed with the Packers, but a lower-body injury ended his 2014 season last summer. He was released with an injury settlement, but two weeks later, he was arrested for a DUI in Oregon, effectively ending his chances of making a roster in 2014. He popped up on the NFL radar again recently when he was seen in a video showing off a 62-inch leap, and on his Twitter feed, he promised “big things to come… #TheResurrection.” Lyerla, who was a teammate of several of the members of the Oregon team that made it to the national championship game this past season, could certainly get another shot at the NFL this time around, and is a name to watch for as personnel moves get made after the draft.
9. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to hint that he’d be open to taking up baseball if his looming contractual situation isn’t remedied to his liking. While it was a good try, and a semi-logical answer to Seattle GM John’s Schenider’s ambiguous statements about the possible future of Wilson with the Seahawks, Wilson’s statement rang hollow — a negotiating ploy that has no earthly possibility of happening. Several folks weighed in on the topic over the course of the week, including Bo Jackson, who said Wilson is fooling himself if he thinks ANYONE can play both baseball and football at a high level at the same time in 2015.
“Twenty-five or 30 years ago when I did it, I’m not trying to say anything negative about other athletes, but the talent pool wasn’t that deep,” Jackson told CSNChicago when asked about Wilson’s gambit. “In this day and age, with all the high-tech training, computer-engineered workouts and the proper food and diet, if you try to concentrate on two sports, I guarantee you’re going to ride the bench in both because the talent is that deep. Stick to whatever sport you’re comfortable with and let everything else go.”
Bottom line? Wilson should stick to football.
10. Speaking of Wilson, teams react to Super Bowl losses in different ways. When the Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, several of them said the following spring they had yet to go back and watch the game, with some players indicating that they had zero interest in going back and revisiting the loss in any form or fashion, even as a potential teaching tool. On the other hand, there’s Wilson. The Seattle quarterback told HBO’s “Real Sports” that he’s watched his ill-fated pass for Ricardo Lockette — the one that was picked off by Malcolm Butler at the end of the game — a “hundred” times since that evening in the desert. Check out a portion of his interview with Bryant Gumbel, which is set to air Tuesday on HBO.