FOXBORO -- Julian Edelman has dealt with change before.A quarterback at Kent State, he came out of college understanding his talent under center probably wouldn't translate to the NFL."I still threw the ball, but I know that I'm vertically challenged for the prototypical quarterback," he said Wednesday with a smile.So the 5-foot-10 Edelman hooked up with former Akron QB Charlie Frye before the draft and started working as a wide receiver.Nothing sensational there. NFL history is littered with examples of college quarterbacks turning into pro receivers, going back to Marlin Briscoe. It's not impossible to find success stories."You have a slight advantage in the transition in that you know what the quarterback is thinking, you know his point of view," Gene Washington, Stanford quarterback-turned-four-time All Pro receiver, told NFL.com columnist Thomas George. "A lot of receivers think if they just get open, that's it. But they don't see the game from the quarterback's eyes. Good receivers think like quarterbacks think."What about the guy who has to switch positions a second time? The former QB who suddenly finds himself a former wideout? That's the change Edelman's been working through since November 13. As the Patriots move toward the playoffs, he gears up as a one of their top-five defensive backs.Opportunity for identity crisis: check."It's just foreign," Edelman said of the switch. "I've never done it. I'm doing everything backwards, whether it's physical or whether I'm looking at things on the chalkboard. I'm so used to seeing things the other way."New England isn't totally nuts.First of all, the defense needed help. Even at full-strength -- a rare status this season -- the unit surrenders a copious amount of yardage.Second, there's The Troy Brown Experiment. As Edelman's defensive snaps began to pile up -- from garbage time in the slot against the Jets, to spying Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster, to steamrolling Vince Young on a right-side corner-blitz -- comparisons to Brown began to surface. Both fell down on the receiving depth chart as the Patriots offense expanded; both were pressed into service because of an injury-depleted, struggling corps of "D" backs; both had success as punt returners; both paid returns when moved to defense.But there's a key difference between Brown and Edelman.Brown was made a cornerback in 2004 -- 12 years into his career. His receiving sun had already risen, hitting its apex in 2001 with 101 catches for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns, and begun to set. Despite 97 catches for 890 yards the following year, nothing would again compare. And Brown made peace with it."When I did it, I was an older player and we had plenty of guys in place -- David Patten, David Givens and Deion Branch -- so we had enough receivers," he said. "I still played receiver, but I got banged up that year and didn't play as much as I would have liked to."In discussing the move, Brown is comfortable in retrospect. Edelman -- in just his third season -- is still laboring to find his place. You'd imagine NFL purgatory could wreak havoc on a man's mind."I think you have to have thick skin and you have to have common sense," said Brown. "If Edelman, even if he thought he was better than Wes Welker -- and it doesn't hurt to think that way -- looking at the production he's put up, it's kind of hard to argue that case."Edelman had 4 catches for 34 yards at season's close. It's a drop from last season's 7 receptions for 86 yards and a nosedive off of 2009's numbers (37 for 359). Back then, in Edelman's rookie year, the knee-jerk comparisons were to Welker; some saw boundless potential in his explosiveness.Welker used Week 17 to cap off a career-best 1,569 yards on 122 catches this season. Edelman compiled 41 straight snaps at defensive back against the Bills.Is his passion for receiving, for offense, slipping away as his field time does? Edelman doesn't deny the hope his number will be called when Tom Brady has the ball. But he's not foolish -- he sees the same situation you do."Of course you want to play receiver," he said, looking off to a locker room wall. "But how can you complain when you've got Aaron Hernandez doing great, you've got Rob Gronkowski's record-setting year, you've got Wes Welker being Wes Welker, Deion Branch -- MVP of the 2004 Super Bowl -- and Chad Ochocinco, who's done his part?"Hence the question if Edelman's best role for the Patriots is on defense. For 2011, the answer is yes. The future, as it goes, is harder to figure out. Why would a team choose a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-defensive back over a pure DB coming up in the draft? Edelman is NFL-tested. He's gone against pro talent and not been burned.When he replaced Nate Jones at nickel against the Bills, New England was down 21-0.The team needed help; Edelman took the challenge to task.He finished with five tackles and the Patriots didn't surrender another point. Nobody's saying the win rests on his shoulders, but both reporters and fans are talking about his tackles."I'm glad I have everyone fooled here. You guys think I know what I'm doing," he said with a sideways smile. "Have I been surprised at any success? No, because I'm just trying to play football."The desire to just play football -- to not be handcuffed to one position -- it's what helped Troy Brown adjust. It's a motive Bill Belichick knows how to manipulate. And it might be the mentality that helps Julian Edelman find his way.
FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East.
There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.
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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works.
Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10.
On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.
Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.
Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.
But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?
It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.
The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.
Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.
Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?