FOXBORO — Bill Belichick walked into the room Saturday night and sounded like a football man happy with the way his team added depth to a team coming off a Super Bowl title. In all, the Patriots selected seven defensive players (only one cornerback), three offensive players (all on Saturday) and a special teams player with their 11 picks over three days.
“That’s another draft in the books. It was kind of a big day for us,” Belichick said. “We were pretty involved all the way through each round ‘ either picking or moving or whatever in the round. So, doing a lot of activity. I feel like things got off to a good start with [Trey] Flowers; real productive player at Arkansas. [He] played mainly on the edge, a little bit inside. But a young player that I think has got a lot of good football in front of him; a lot of great qualities in terms of leadership, toughness, those kind of things. Then [we] took the two guards, probably pretty contrasting styles. Of course Tre’ [Jackson] played in a pro-type offense with [Jameis] Winston, the quarterbacking and all the things he did at Florida State, whereas Shaq [Mason] played in an offense that was obviously very run-oriented and did a lot of run blocking. [He’s a] aggressive, very athletic player.
“So, those are two guys that will come in and compete with us from different backgrounds that will have to learn our system and merge together. But Tre’ played next to [Bryan] Stork for most of Bryan’s career down there at Florida State, so they know each other well. Then we took Joe [Cardona], long snapper. That was obviously kind of a need pick based on our situation. Then [we] kept it going with Matt Wells, linebacker, fast linebacker or safety. He kind of played the Sam linebacker for Mississippi State. A lot of what he did was kind of defensive back related, particularly when they faced spread offenses and that kind of thing ‘ [he’s] somewhere between a linebacker and a safety, but runs very well. [He was a] productive player for them on defense and the kicking game; three-and-a-half year starter or whatever it was. [A.J.] Derby is a guy that’s really only played the position ‘ tight end ‘ for a year. [He] was at Iowa, transferred, went to junior college, had a very productive year at quarterback there, whatever it was, 3,000 yards passing or something like that, went to Arkansas to compete at quarterback and was a one-year player at tight end, so I think he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him. He’s transitioning from kind of the linebacker-quarterback high school deal to quarterback to tight end. I think he’s a tight end. He thinks he’s a tight end.
“In the meantime, he’s got a lot of playing experience, just not at the position that he’ll be playing for us. Darryl Roberts, a multi-year starter down at Marshall. [He’s] a guy that has good size, fast, played primarily on the perimeter down there. Good player though, very good role on the team in terms of leadership and so forth. Then Xzavier Dickson, a three-year starter at Alabama, real good program. [He’s] done similar things to maybe we talked about [Geneo] Grissom a little bit yesterday. He’s played a lot of outsider linebacker [and] defensive end, and in the kicking game. Obviously been in a good program, been well coached. He’s played against a lot of good people and he’s done well at Alabama. [We’ll] put all those guys into the mix and try to start getting them oriented this weekend and see how it all shakes out from there. That gave us a pretty full roster.”
While several college players announced their signing free agent deals with the Patriots on Twitter, Belichick said the team and personnel director Nick Caserio will wait a couple of days before making it official. After taking 11 players, the Patriots’ roster stands at 86, leaving only four spots open to reach the maximum 90 allowed in the offseason.
“We’ll sign probably somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen or so free agent. We’ll see how that all turns out,” Belichick said. “Nick and his staff are working and finishing up on that. We’ll get the exact number here whenever all that comes together, it might be a day or so. But that kind of completes the initial part of our roster here. We’ll keep working through the team-building process, as we always do. [We] saw several players come on to our roster halfway through the season or thereabouts last year. There’s a long way to go on that. I think this is just a step, a significant step in the process, but certainly not the final one. We’ll take what we have and work with it and move forward and if we can upgrade it or improve it or change it along the way as we see necessary along the way, then we’ll look at those options. I just don’t think in any way this is a final roster. It’s not even close to it. That’s it for me.”
Here are other highlights from Belichick’s final draft press conference on Saturday:
Q: There was also the trade you made with the Packers. What was the thinking to move down 19 spots there? What did you like about that?
BB: That we added an extra player. So, it would have been [Roberts].
Q: Was that so you wouldn’t have to compete to sign him as an undrafted free agent? Was that the thought process?
BB: Well, that’s why we took Joe Cardona.
Q: But the extra pick was toward the end of the draft. There’s still value in being able to draft a guy.
BB: Yeah, sure. Yeah, absolutely. But we felt like we would be able to ‘ we took Joe at 147 or traded down to , I forget the numbers, but whatever it was, we felt like we would be able to draft him at a later number in the fifth round and just add another player. You never know how that pick is going to turn out. Maybe you draft somebody, maybe you trade it, maybe you use it to move up somewhere else [if] you see somebody. You know, when you’re moving back to 247, you’re not doing it because there’s a guy there that you can’t live without. If you feel that way about, then you take him earlier than that. It just gives you added currency to either select the player, or use it in some other way.
Q: What do you know about Joe Cardona’s availability?
BB: We’ll work through the process. There are some things that are out of our control, but whatever it is, we’ll work with it. It’s not the first time we’ve had a guy from a service academy and went through some version of this process. So we’ll see how it goes.
Q: You mentioned he was a need pick. If he has a commitment to fulfill, then the need will still be open.
BB: Well, [if] the player got hurt. That’s football. We’ll see how it goes. If he can’t play this year, then he plays next year. If he can’t play that year, then he’ll play the year after. He’s a good player. [We] felt like he was the best long snapper in the draft. So, we have his rights. Whenever he plays hopefully he’ll be able to contribute and play well. Whenever that is, we’ll see. I don’t know.
Q: It strikes me that a lot of the players you took can do multiple things and you’ll find out how they look when they get here. It’s not like they have predetermined things they’ll do. Has it always been that way?
BB: Yeah, I think you always bring them in and see what they do. We haven’t had them in this program. It’s a different level of competition. It’s a different structure than any of them have been in before. We’ll see how they react to it and how they perform in our system relative to some other ones.
Q: I should say it’s more ambiguous with some of the guys where they’ll play. You don’t know if Shaq will play center or guard. It’s not like you know where they’ll play.
BB: I think the players that we take we have an idea of what we think they’ll do for our team. Each guy has a specific, ‘Here’s what we think he’ll do.’ Now, what he actually does or not, we can’t forecast that with 100 percent accuracy. But I’d say that’s the way it is with everybody. Draft anybody you want, but until you actually get them into your system and start working with them and see how their skills transfer to what you’re doing, I don’t think you really know until you actually start doing it. Even if the guy has played in the league for 10 years, I don’t know that you know that. We brought Randy Moss in here, I didn’t know what it was like working with Randy Moss until we worked with Randy Moss. He had some great skills. He had some things that we’re different maybe than what ‘ we just didn’t know. I don’t think ‘ we have a plan what we think they are, but we’ll see how it turns out. I don’t know.
Q: Going into the draft, did you think the edge rusher spot was deep in this draft?
BB: I’d say there were a number of players at that position or had those kind of skills. But I think that the players that we took that would fall into that category also bring other things to the table, whether it’s the ability to play off the line or the ability to be a rusher not off the edge, or at least they’ve done it. Again, we’ll see how they do. I don’t know how it will turn out, but at least they’ve done some of those things: either rushed inside, played off the ball, played in coverage. I don’t think it’s just one thing.
Q: Do you like the versatility that you’ve added?
BB: Again, I don’t know. Look, there’s a lot to be said for being able to do something really well. I’m not against that in any way. Maybe some of the guys that have done several things do one thing great and that’s what their role is. That’s great too, but we’ll see.
Q: You mentioned Joe Cardona was a need pick. Obviously there’s a Navy connection. I’m just wondering how much that helps his profile in the eyes of the team. You said he was the best long snapper in the combine.
BB: Look, I’m not trying to evaluate the rest of the draft. He was the only guy that went to the combine, so if that’s a measure ‘ which I’m not saying it is ‘
Q: How much did where he went to school help him as opposed to if he was at another school?
BB: Joe Judge worked out ‘ we evaluate all the players that we think can help us at every position: snappers, punters, kickers, every other position. If we think a guy can come in and help us and play for us, then we’re interested in him. It doesn’t make any difference where he’s from. We’ve drafted snappers before, we’ve drafted punters before, we’ve drafted kickers before. I’ve drafted all those positions. If you feel like the player is worthy of it, then ‘ it’s not like you can have depth at those positions. You can’t have three snappers. Somebody has to have that job. If you feel like the guy can do it and you the take him then hopefully he’ll be able to do it.
Q: We saw Dante Scarnecchia pop up at a bunch of pro days this spring. What kind of impact did he have in the pre-draft evaluation process and this weekend?
BB: Given the way our season went this year, the length of it and the offseason schedule and so forth, he was able to help us out and go do a few things for us in the draft process that were very helpful. He did a great job. He obviously has a lot of experience with our system, a lot of experience with players that are on our roster for comparison sake, players that we’ve drafted or evaluated in the past. So we kind of asked him to help us out in a situation where we were kind of, I’d say a little bit from a personnel standpoint, a little bit behind the curve there. He was available and he did a great job.
Q: When you’re scouting or evaluating players, is part of the process envisioning what role they’ll have on special teams?
BB: It’s envisioning what role they have on your team in every sense of the word role. How they would play on offense, defense, special teams, kind of how they would fit on to your team, how they would fit in the weight room, in the meeting room, in every place they are, what they need. I’d say every player needs something ‘ usually a lot more than one thing ‘ and whether or not you feel like as an organization you can give that player what he needs, whether that’s scheme or a certain type of training or whatever it is. So, yeah, all that is a part of it. Just trying to figure all that out: how he fits with you in small areas, very specific areas, and then in relation to the big picture. When you have a team, you have to manage all the aspects of your team. There’s the financial aspect and the salary cap we have to manage, an age [aspect] and there’s a transitional aspect to our team. I mean, there’s going to be turnover; that’s the business we’re in. Understanding where that turnover could occur, it’s all part of the management. So yeah, everything. We try to ‘ I’m not saying we do a great job of it or do it perfect or anything, but we definitely take it into consideration, talk about it and try to do the best we can with it. Sometimes you can have control over it; sometimes you have to give something up to get something else. Maybe it solves one or two problems, but leaves something else that’s maybe not quite the way you want it but it’s the best you can do.
Q: A.J. Derby mentioned his dad was in camp with you.
BB: That shows you how old I am. That’s a sad commentary. Yeah, we talked about that when he came in.
Q: Do you remember his dad?
BB: You know, he wasn’t there a long time.
Q: At Florida State, it was a lot of Tre’ Jackson at right guard. Was there anything with him playing the left side and is that a different transition? I know you’ve talked in the past about right tackle-left tackle; some guys can do it and some guys can’t. Matt Light was a guy that was more comfortable at left. Have you seen Tre’ play left guard and is that a different transition?
BB: Not much. If I have, it hasn’t been much. I think even in the Senior Bowl he played right guard. Yeah, I think I’m [remembering] him at right guard. It’s got to be in the high 90 percent at right guard. That’s always an interesting question. Some players ‘ we’ve talked about this before ‘some players, right side, left side, it doesn’t even matter. The next guy ‘ right side, left side, and he feels his footwork is backwards or the odd-even numbering or the wording, whatever it is, and they are a lot better at one spot than trying to flip back and forth. I’ve coached hundreds of players and some guys it’s seamless and other guys it’s monumental and there’s some in between, so we’ll just have to see. But he’s played that one spot for a long time, so I think until he actually did it, I don’t even know if he could answer that question. But there’s certainly a different stance, different footwork ‘ you’re just seeing the game a little bit differently. But that’s tackles, guards ‘ you know, I think tackle is a little bit different because of the type of player that plays on the offensive left compared to the offensive right. Not that you don’t eventually see them all, but there’s kind of a difference there. But inside it’s more consistent, but again, the footwork is different. Yeah, we’ll have to see. Same thing with Mason too, though ‘ they both played right guard. He played right guard at Georgia Tech.
Q: He was just right guard?
BB: Yeah. Well, at least the last couple years. Maybe back in ‘11 or whatever, but I mean he’s basically played that side too.
Q: How difficult is it for a guy like Shaq who comes from a system that’s not exactly a pro-style in college? Is it tough to project how he will be able to perform?
BB: I think every player is going to have a big adjustment. The thing I’ll say about Shaq is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech. Just relative to Tre’, I would say it probably wasn’t as big of an adjustment for him. With Shaq it was. But I thought in a few days he showed tremendous technique progress in that. But I mean look, Steve Neal, talk about adjustment. The guy went from not even knowing where the field was to starting at guard in a year and a half. It’s not that kind of adjustment. And this guy is a football player and from a run blocking standpoint, I’d say he’s probably ahead of every other player in the draft. Unless there was another one from Georgia Southern or Georgia Tech or whatever, but this guy ran blocked in one game more than some teams did all season. So I’d say he’s ahead in the run blocking, behind in the pass blocking. There may be other players that are in a two-point stance pass-block 50 times a game that in all honestly don’t run block very well. He’s kind of the flip of that which is a little bit unusual but it is what it is.
Trey Flowers chases down an opposing quarterback. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — The more you can do, the more you can do for us.
When it comes to player acquisition, it’s one of the fundamental principles of the Patriots organization, and that philosophy was on full display over the weekend at Gillette Stadium, as the franchise went out and appeared to specifically go after guys who could end up filling multiple roles on the field.
Almost all of the players who were picked up by New England — particularly those who were scooped up over Day 3 of the draft on Saturday — have a skill set that would seem to lend itself to more than one position.
On offense, sixth-round pick A.J. Derby (Arkansas) has experience as a tight end and quarterback, while Georgia Tech offensive lineman Shaq Mason (taken in the fourth round) has played both guard spots, and practiced and played center while at the Senior Bowl.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end/outside linebacker Trey Flowers (a fourth-rounder out of Arkansas) can connect on multiple levels as a pass rusher and as someone who has an ability to drop into coverage — likewise third-round tweener hybrid Geneo Grissom (who also worked out at tight end for a stretch at his pro day at Oklahoma). And safety Jordan Richards, a second-rounder out of Stanford, was advertised as a defensive back who could do multiple things.
“I’ll play any position on the field — I’ll play punter if I have to,” said Grissom when asked by reporters where he might prefer to play. “I’ve kind of been through the ringer at OU, played multiple positions, d-end, tight end, and linebacker. It’s just one of those things that I’ve been blessed with a very athletic body and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
“There were calling me a tweener, linebacker, edge rusher, defensive end,” Flowers said of the labels that were slapped on him throughout the pre-draft process. “I’m just glad that I can show that versatility and just be open to any type of scheme whether it’s 4-3, 3-4, whether it’s standing up or hand in the dirt, I’m open to anything. I’m just glad I put that out on tape.”
Admittedly, some of this is true with every rookie across the league, and we’re just looking at things through a New England prism. But while Patriots coach Bill Belichick ultimately has some sort of clear-cut vision in mind for these players right now, right now, these are players will show up in Foxboro this week without a strictly defined position. How they do with the opportunities they’ve been given will ultimately determine the level of their involvement and where they’ll be deployed on the football field.
“I think the players that we take we have an idea of what we think they’ll do for our team. Each guy has a specific, “Here’s what we think he’ll do. Now, what he actually does or not, we can’t forecast that with 100 percent accuracy. But I’d say that’s the way it is with everybody.
“Draft anybody you want, but until you actually get them into your system and start working with them and see how their skills transfer to what you’re doing, I don’t think you really know until you actually start doing it,” he added. “Look, there’s a lot to be said for being able to do something really well. I’m not against that in any way. Maybe some of the guys that have done several things do one thing great and that’s what their role is. That’s great too, but we’ll see.”
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Harper played in 35 games over the course of his career with the Golden Bears and ranks seventh all-time in school history with 163 receptions for 2,030 yards receiving. In addition, his 13 touchdown catches is good for 10th in school history. Harper, who entered the draft as an underclassman, started 23 of the 35 games in which he played, and caught at least one pass in 29 straight contests.
According to reports, he was the fourth undrafted player added by New England on Saturday. He joins a group that includes quarterback turned receiver Devin Gardner (Michigan), offensive lineman David Andrews (Georgia) and cornerback Johnny Jean (UAB).
Tight end A.J. Derby was taken in the sixth round by the Patriots. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has been a head coach for 20 years — his first year came in 1991 when he was in charge of the Browns — and has established connections with so many players over the years, it was bound to happen.
While Belichick has coached several second-generation NFL talents over the years — including Matthew Slater and Andre Carter (both of whom were sons of former professional football players), Belichick now has an opportunity to coach the son of someone who once played for him, albeit briefly.
The Patriots coach smiled on Saturday when he was asked about the fact that he coached John Derby briefly when he was with the Browns in the early 1990s. And now, following the selection of Arkansas tight end A.J. Derby, he’ll have the chance to coach his son.
“That shows you how old I am,” Belichick said with a laugh when asked about the father, a linebacker who also played for the Lions. “That’s a sad commentary.
“Yeah, we talked about that when (A.J.) came in (for his pre-draft visit).”
Belichick wouldn’t get into what sort of player the father was, only to say that “he wasn’t (with the Browns) for a long time.” But he was more than willing to expand on the exploits of the son.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder had an interesting journey to the NFL, having started at Iowa before transferring to Coffeyville Community College, and eventually landing with the Razorbacks. After a brief stint at quarterback — as a junior signal-caller, he went 19-for-36 for 178 yards and a touchdown in seven games with Arkansas — he made the move to tight end as a senior and had 303 yards receiving on 22 catches and three touchdowns, including a career-long 54-yard touchdown reception.
“(He’s) is a guy that’s really only played the position — tight end — for a year,” said Belichick of Derby, who was taken in the sixth round (202nd overall) in Saturday’s draft. “(He) was at Iowa, transferred, went to junior college, had a very productive year at quarterback there, whatever it was, 3,000 yards passing or something like that, went to Arkansas to compete at quarterback and was a one-year player at tight end, so I think he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him. He’s transitioning from kind of the linebacker-quarterback high school deal to quarterback to tight end.”
FOXBORO — The Patriots have an agreement with defensive back Jimmy Jean as an undrafted free agent, according to multiple reports.
The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder out of UAB played corner in college, but might end up making the switch to safety in the pros. He started all 12 games for the Blazers last year and ended the season with 42 tackles (32 solo), as well as one pick, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. He was an named honorable mention All Conference USA.
Jean is the third undrafted free agent that has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Patriots. He joined quarterback Devin Gardner of Michigan and center David Andrews at Georgia.
FOXBORO — The Patriots will sign former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner as an underrated free agent and convert him to wide receiver, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 6-foot-4, 216-pounder has been Michigan’s No. 1 quarterback the last few years, and posted a 61 percent completion rate, 6,336 passing yards, with 44 touchdowns and 32 picks over the course of his career with the Wolverines. But it sounds like the Patriots will try and push Gardner down the same road they went with Julian Edelman, who moved from college quarterback to receiver when he joined New England and great success as a result.
For what it’s worth, Gardner does have some receiving background — he had 18 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns as a collegian.
FOXBORO — Shortly after the draft wrapped up Saturday night, Georgia offensive lineman David Andrews tweeted that he had joined the Patriots.
The 6-foot-2, 294-pounder was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, and was an AP second-team All-SEC selection last season. The 22-year-old started in all 13 games for Georgia last season, and played in 50 games in his collegiate career.