In no particular order, here are 10 things we learned this week about the Patriots and the NFL:
1. University of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter told Sirius XM on Saturday that he’s worked out for two teams -- the Patriots and the Dolphins. Streeter is a 6-foot-5, 212-pounder who is something of a raw, one-year wonder. After two fairly unremarkable seasons with the Canes, he led Miami in receptions (46), receiving yards (811) and touchdowns (eight) as a junior. Despite the big numbers, throughout the pre-draft process, few prospects have been as polarizing as Streeter, with Bill Parcells calling him one of his favorites -- he says the UM pass catcher is worthy of a second-round pick, and is one of the five best receivers in the draft -- while Mike Mayock of the NFL Network is not nearly as high on him. (Mayock ripped him on a South Florida radio show, but has since softened his stance, saying he’s more of a fourth-round pick.)
2. One more name that has been connected to the Patriots late in the pre-draft process has been Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin, who has visited Foxboro, according to Anthony Slater of the Daily O’Collegian. A right knee injury kept him out of the combine, but the 6-foot-1, 207-pounder is considered one of the better safety prospects in this draft. He has good coverage skills, but is considered below average against the run. Some believe him to be a second- or third-round possibility.
3. Alfonzo Dennard hasn’t been connected to the Patriots, but the cornerback out of Nebraska probably didn’t do himself any favors over the weekend when he was arrested and accused of punching a police officer. Projected by some to go as early as the second round, Dennard could drop a round or two because of what happened. With that in mind, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio addressed questions about how the team deals with prospects who might have character questions. “You have to try to figure out what’s real and what’s not given whatever the background may be. There are other avenues you can explore in addition to face-to-face and it’s important to have the right information because I think there’s a lot of times there’s misinformation out there,” he said Thursday. “In the end you have to use your judgment, gut instinct and trust that you have all the accurate information, you feel good enough about whatever that is. You can have a conversation with a kid where you call them on something and they lie to your face. Then, you have to figure out what’s right, what’s wrong.”
4. Of the three free-agent running backs who visited the Patriots this week -- Ryan Grant, Tim Hightower and Joseph Addai -- the best fit is probably Grant. The former undrafted free agent is considered a high-character individual who is still has something left in the tank at the age of 29. However, Grant might not be completely done with the Packers: Green Bay has reportedly told Grant (an unrestricted free agent) they are interested in having him back, especially after a strong finish to the 2011 season, but the Packers apparently aren’t moving fast enough for Grant. (For what it's worth, this story notes that Grant was running much better at the end of the season: In his last five games, he carried 50 times for 276 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He also caught eight passes for 179 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown on a screen pass.) This is speculation, but if things with Grant fall into a holding pattern, pay close attention to what Green Bay does in the draft -- if they go after a running back with one of their 12 picks, Grant might be more inclined to sign with someone else.
5. Nate Solder -- who was the Patriots’ Rookie of the Year last season, as far as we were concerned -- is now rid of the rookie label. When he was asked if he was being treated any differently during the offseason workouts because he’s no longer a rookie, he said he still senses some of that “new guy” attitude, at least until the rookie class rolls in. “I’m still the new guy. I don’t have the experience,” he said. “But I feel like I have some respect of some of the guys. We’ve had some tough games together, and I’ve been a part of that with them. ... [But] when [the rookies] come in, it’s our job to bring them into the system. For me, what little I have learned, I can just help them learn that same [stuff] -- like where the field is.” Last offseason, after the draft, Solder received a call from veteran offensive lineman Logan Mankins welcoming him to the franchise. He doesn’t know if he’ll be placing a call to any rookies this April, however. “I definitely see Logan as a great leader, and that did mean a lot to me. I’ll do what’s appropriate,” he said. “I don’t know exactly if that’s my duty on this team, but whatever is my role, I’ll definitely play it.”
6. While several other players have confessed to not being able to go back and watch the Super Bowl loss to the Giants quite yet (and others had to be prodded to do so by a parent), both Solder and linebacker Jerod Mayo said this week they’ve now been able to set aside the emotion that went with the defeat, and can now watch the game with a critical eye. “[I watched it to] just to break down film like you do every other game, just to see where we went wrong,’ said Mayo, who said he’s now seen it a couple of times. “But at the same time, I’m passed that, and just working to get back to that point next year.” As for Solder, he said it was tough, because it was such an emotional game. “For me, there were a lot of emotions in that game. It was a very high-energy game. Not to get too caught up on it, because it’s in the past, but it was good to go back and just — as you would any game — evaluate it objectively: what you did good, what you did bad, what you can improve on.”
7. New Patriots’ safety Steve Gregory was suspended for four games in 2010 for violating the league policy on performance enhancers, but he was able to return to the lineup in 2011 and set career-highs in starts with 13, to go along with 67 tackles (56 solo), three passes defensed, and an interception. He didn’t see the year as a “bounce back” effort after the four-game suspension. “Not really,” he said. “Last year was good for me; I got to start 13 games, gave me some more experience. The more experience you have in this league, the better you’re going to be. Every game you play, every snap you take, every rep you take only makes you better. And last year definitely made me better as a football player.”
8. Gregory is a safety with some positional versatility, but he has also put in extended time on special teams. While acknowledging that just about everybody in New England is going to play defense at one time or another -- and that was how he “made [his] way in this league” initially, he said he’s coming in expecting to be a starter. “I think any player in this league ... you strive to be a starter in this league. You approach it that way,” he said. “I’ll approach practice, I’ll approach the offseason, I’ll approach everything to be a starter. I think that’s the only way you can go about it. I think every player should go about it that way. The competition on the field will let it stand where it stands.”
9. The Patriots schedule for the rest of the spring and early summer has started to come into focus. Following the draft this week, the team will hold rookie minicamp (times to be determined) on May 11 and May 12. Meanwhile, more organized team activities will be held later in the month of May, with media availability scheduled for May 24, May 31 and June 7. That will be followed by a full team minicamp on June 12, June 13 and June 14. Traditionally, that will be the last time we in the media get to touch base with players and/or coaches before training camp begins in late July.
10. Weekly free-agent update: Of the 17 unrestricted free agents on the Patriots’ radar at the start of free agency, six of them have re-signed with New England (Dan Koppen, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater, Dan Connolly, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White), while four have signed elsewhere (Guyton, Antuwan Molden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Anderson). Six of them have yet to sign (including Kevin Faulk, Shaun Ellis, Gerard Warren, Andre Carter and James Ihedigbo), and one (Wes Welker) has been assigned the franchise tag, and hasn’t yet signed his tender.