Patriots

Belichick stirs it up by drafting Mallett

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Belichick stirs it up by drafting Mallett

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick just doesn't care what the neighbors think.

Or the media. Or his fellow NFL coaches. Or the rest of his football team.

If a player who can help his team has alleged turd tendencies but Belichick can reconcile those with his own expectations, he will hire that player.

Everybody else can deal with it. Or, more specifically, Belichick will deal with it. Everybody else just has to do their job.

Doesn't matter if it's Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, Ted Washington, whoever. The Patriots' program and the latitude Belichick has to run it his way will either keep the player in check or the player will be gone.

Which brings us to Ryan Mallett, the 74th player chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft.The quarterback from Arkansashas been carrying the label of "baddest guy on the board" for months. It's all been very ambiguous.

And he's now a New England Patriot.

Mallett, 22,got arrested for public intoxication in 2009. That's the only documented instance of bad behavior. But the allegations of drug use have been rampant. Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly wrote that Mallett was up-front about his drug use in interviews with team executives. One executive told Nawrocki that Mallett was off his team's board entirely. Paul Burmeister of the NFL Network said earlier this week that Mallett's drug use was "documented."

But on Friday night, Belichick said that the Patriots were "obviously comfortable" with the off-field concerns about Mallett. And the head coach gushed about Mallett's thirst for football knowledge.

"Hes definitely a football guy," said Belichick after the second and third round picking for the Patriots was over. "He's a great kid to talk to, and hes very into football. You cant wear him out; as long as you want to talk about it, hell be there. However many hours it is, hes ready to go watch the film or go talk about a new technique or a route or a read or whatever.

"His father is a football coach. Hes grown up in a football family, which I can definitely relate to," Belichick noted.. "Either you get sick of it or you marry into it and you love it. Its one of the two, and I think hes, like I said, very much a football person. Both his parents are educators and hes a kid thats eager to learn and has a great thirst for knowledge for football and for his position, which there is a lot going on there. I think that hell certainly get an opportunity to receive a lot of knowledge at that position around here, so well see how it all manifests itself."

Warm, right?

But here's the thing. Ryan Mallett will not be on an unlimited leash in New England. The Patriots may have turned into Raiders East in some ways - a place where wayward talents can come and rehab their careers - but "Just Win, Baby" is not their slogan.

It's more of a reform school than a frat house. And the "screws" Belichick employs are his players and coaches.

If one thinks Tom Brady will sit idly by while Mallett screws up training or passing camp reps because he's not prepared, one hasn't heard the NSFW explosions of Brady when things go south on the practice field.

And that goes double for offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.

There will be a time, some moment of agitation, when Belichick reminds Mallett that Mallett has nowhere else to goif the Patriots throw up their hands.

And that's really the most interesting thing about this Patriots program.

Hadthe Bengals - who really could use Mallett, the quarterback with the best arm in the draft - what would the reaction have been? Doomed. Inserted into a chaotic, rudderless, cheap and treadwater program, Mallett wouldn't have gotten the structure to succeed. That would have been the logical assumption.

But the Patriots can select Mallett and it's a stroke of genius because their program is built for whip-cracking and conformity.

On the surface it seems like hypocrisy. It's actually reality.

Look at how the turds have done when they left the Patriots program. Moss, for instance. He helped get two coaches fired in the three short months after he left New England.

(Ironically, Mallett was selected with the third-round pick the Patriots got from Minnesota in exchange for Moss).

Mallett handled a modest grilling from the New England media pretty well on Friday night.

In 2010, it was clear every draft choice was coached to answer any question about past issues - injuries or trouble - with a simple "That's in the past."

Mallett handled questions about the intense scrutiny he faced with reasonable aplomb.

"Its just people talking," he said about focus on his alleged drug use. "Im focusing on getting up to New England and learning as much as I can and getting on the field as quick as I can. Its just something thats behind me. Its in the past and Im looking at the future."

Asked if he was mislabeled, Mallett answered, "Im going to go up there and be the person that I am. Im a people person. I love to be around people. So Im going to go up there and work as hard as I can to get on the field. Mislabeled if thats what you want to call it, fine. I think I was portrayed in a different light than the people that know me and know who I am."

Probed again on whether he has been a drug user, Mallett answered, "All Im saying is thats in the past and Im looking in the future. I dont think that stuffs a problem. There has been a lot of stuff said that is definitely false. But Im looking to the future and looking forward to being a Patriot. ...There are people that say stuff all the time. The only thing I can do is go out and prove them wrong. And thats what I intend on doing."

The Patriots used the 199th pick on Tom Brady in 2000. He had something to prove as well. And he has.

Mallett doesn't just need to prove his doubters and detractors wrong. He has the burden and opportunity to prove Bill Belichick right. A Hall of Fame coach took a chance on him.

What will he do with that chance? It's a powerful motivator.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.