Patriots

Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots

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Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots

Before I make the following point, I'd like to make one thing clear to my sensitive readers: I do not believe the Denver Broncos are better than Patriots. I do not believe they have “passed'' the Pats. Please, Patriots fans, when New England goes into Denver and wins on Dec. 18 and/or the Pats beat them again in the playoffs, save your emails and calls. Don't get your panties in a bunch. You're still the best.

However, as we assess the pathetic state of brainpower across the NFL, the Broncos are one of only a few teams that deserve mention alongside the Pats. Perhaps they're the only one.  As their recent handling of their quarterback situation shows, especially from a coaching standpoint, Gary Kubiak and John Elway have proven they know what they're doing -- and how many teams in the league can you say that about?

In Denver, Brock Osweiler actually looked like a quarterback with a future. In Houston, he barely looks like he belongs in the league. That's about coaching, scheme and culture. It seems that somewhere between the silly letterman jackets in Houston and his second crack in Denver, Kubiak got a clue. Last year, he managed Osweiler to a 5-2 record before sitting him and somehow winning a Super Bowl behind the noodle-armed Peyton Manning. This year, he has another marginal talent, Trevor Siemian, off to a 5-1 start in his first season under center.

There are many NFL coaches who didn't hit their stride until their second job, and you have to wonder if Kubiak falls in this camp. I actually saw him put down his playsheet with his offense on the field the other night and thought, maybe he's starting to get it. He looked more like a head coach and just a little less like an offensive coordinator. 

Either way, Kubiak has displayed an excellent touch with a string of mediocre quarterbacks. And from the original decision to shut down Manning, to the insertion of Osweiler, to the reinstatement of Manning, and then the ultimate handing of the job to Siemian, he and Elway have pushed all the right buttons. If Paxton Lynch turns into a player down the road, look out.

Of course, Kubiak hasn't had much to do with his defense, which has been the domain of Elway, the architect, and to a lesser extent, Wade Phillips, the coordinator. Elway remains one of the few executives to build a championship team largely through free agency, and some of his moves have been so cold-hearted, so debated at the time, that only Bill Belichick could relate.

Who else fires a coach who led you to four division titles and a Super Bowl berth (John Fox), and then follows that up with a title? Who else lets go of BOTH quarterbacks who led you to a title and follows that up with a division lead?

It's moves like those that led ESPN to display a stat montage late in the game on Monday depicting Elway as ``the Don.'' (Wonder where they got that idea from?). Think about it.  Who else in the league -- what coach, executive or owner -- gets that kind of ``mastermind'' treatment? I don't think anyone else deserves it other than Belichick and, in second place, Elway. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore would be a distant third; or perhaps Pete Carroll and John Schneider in Seattle deserve mention.

Regardless, as the ESPN graphic showed, the Broncos' record since Elway took over in 2011 is now 63-24, second in the league over that time only to the Pats (67-20). Denver is also one of just four teams to make the playoffs every year during his tenure (the Packers, Pats and Bengals are the others). Like the Pats and Seahawks, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. And like the Pats, he has won his division five straight years.  

Perhaps that all comes to an end this year, and it sure looks like Denver will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to earning home field over the Pats come December. But for now, in a league where there are no equals to Belichick, it's almost refreshing (to me, anyway) to consider someone who at least belongs in the conversation. 

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN New England.

 

Protoypical Patriots: What they want on the O-line - Smart, tough, athletic

Protoypical Patriots: What they want on the O-line - Smart, tough, athletic

Before the Super Bowl, Dante Scarnecchia spoke to a small group of reporters and laid out exactly what the Patriots look for in their offensive linemen.

"We covet three things when we look for offensive linemen," Scarnecchia said. "They have to be smart, they have to be tough, and they have to be athletic enough."

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:

While there's certainly more to it than that, those are the basics. Check those off the list, and you'll have a chance. Someone like Cole Croston -- an undrafted rookie out of Iowa -- was able to spend the entirety of the 2017 season on the active roster with the Patriots because he met New England's criteria. 

The Patriots have a clear need for depth at offensive tackle after Nate Solder signed with the Giants, but are there players who can come in to be an immediate stopgap on the edge? If so, who are they? And if not, which developmental prospects could be fits?

Here are some names to keep in mind on draft weekend. These "prototypes" have what the Patriots typically look for in terms of size and athleticism up front:

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE
MIKE McGLINCHEY, NOTRE DAME, 6-8, 309


I've been told by evaluators that when it comes to this class of tackles, McGlinchey might be the only one who is truly ready for regular work in the NFL. That doesn't mean others can't develop into starters -- and do so quickly. But it sounds like McGlinchey is already there, particularly in the running game. He has the requisite size that the Patriots look for. Though he's not one of the top athletes in the class (his 28.5-inch vertical is a little under what the Patriots often like), he seems athletic enough (his broad jump, for instance, was 105 inches, which meets New England's criteria). That he comes from a pro-style blocking scheme could also make him a quick fit. Scarnecchia attended McGlinchey's pro day.  

KOLTON MILLER, UCLA, 6-9, 305


Length. Athleticism. Experience in a varied offense. Miller seems to have just about everything the Patriots look for. There seem to be some technique issues that Scarnecchia will have to work with to get Miller ready to go, but he's physically impressive. His 40 time (4.95 seconds) is more than quick enough. Same goes for his 31.5-inch vertical and his 121-inch broad jump. The jumps are significant because they show explosiveness, which for linemen -- who have to operate with force in tight spaces and explode out of their stances in pass protection -- is important. Miller told me at the combine he was scheduled to meet with New England. 

CONNOR WILLIAMS, TEXAS, 6-5, 296 


Williams has been deemed a guard by some because his size isn't necessarily ideal to play on the outside. And if he were drafted by the Patriots to play tackle, he'd be on the smaller side. But at 6-5 he's about the same height as Matt Light, and his arms (33 inches) are just a hair shorter than Sebastian Vollmer's (33 1/4). Athletically, he hits every standard. His 40 (almost five seconds flat) and jumps (34-inch vertical, 112-inch broad jump) were all very good. Belichick has a good relationship with Texas coach Tom Herman, and Williams reportedly paid the Patriots a visit during the pre-draft process. 

BRIAN O'NEILL, PITT, 6-7, 297 


O'Neill, like Miller, is another athletic prospect who will need some time. The former tight end is a little light compared to players the Patriots have drafted in the past. (Even Tony Garcia, whose knock against him was that he was light, weighed 302 pounds at the combine last year.) But athletically there are some eye-popping traits. He ran a 4.82-second 40-yard dash and had a 7.14-second three-cone drill. His jumps were good but not out-of-this-world (28.5 vertical, 107-inch broad). 

BRADEN SMITH, AUBURN, 6-6, 315


How much does arm length matter? If the answer for the Patriots is "a heckuva lot" then Smith may not be deemed a fit. His arms measured 32 1/4 inches, which would be shortest for any tackle they've ever drafted. Otherwise? He's just about what they're looking for. Trusted player in the SEC. Tough. Good height. Good athlete. He ran a 5.22-second 40, benched 35 reps, jumped 33.5 inches and broad-jumped 113 inches. 

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING
TYRELL CROSBY, OREGON, 6-5, 309
 


Crosby measured in at 6-4 and one-half inch, earning him the "6-5" listing by a hair. And his arm-length (32 1/4 inches) are short. But athletically he's solid -- 30-inch vertical, 105-inch broad jump -- and he's considered to have good toughness. Late on Day 2 could be the right time to pounce if he's available. 

JAMARCO JONES, OHIO STATE, 6-4, 299


Jones is short but his arm length (35 1/8 inches) might make up for what he lacks in height. Athletically he's not outstanding. His 40-yard dash time is slower than what the Patriots typically like (5.5 seconds), and his jumps were nothing to write home about (24-inch vertical, 102-inch broad jump). But the Ohio State connection, where the coaching staff has obvious connections to New England and the offense is relatively balanced, could help him get drafted in the middle rounds. 

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