Patriots

Game-day HGH testing a sticky proposition

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Game-day HGH testing a sticky proposition

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Noon rolls around in an NFL stadium and players are in the throes of preparation for a 1 o'clock kick. Tape is being affixed. Stomachs are being emptied. Final preparations are being made. And here comes an NFL drug tester with a needle ready to take a tablespoon of blood. The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement includes HGH testing and the only test for that is a blood test. And that will and can be performed on game day. Adolpho Birch, the NFLs senior vice president for the law and labor policy said on Tuesday, "We have historically not been particularly desirous to use game-day testing because of the logistical issues involved much more so than any philosophical issues. In the NFL, game days have a lot of moving parts, so historically, we have adjusted the way we test in order to account for the fact that we do not test on game days.
"But we have now developed a solution that will allow us to do game-day testing in a way that is not overly disruptive to the clubs and respects the game-day process and all of the things going on."In a separate interview, Birch mentioned, "For this test, you need less than a tablespoon of blood."This should be interesting. "Pardon me, Vince? Vince Wilfork? Are those your size 15 cleats I see under the stall wall? When you're done, I need to take some blood. A teaspoon or so. Won't take long."There is some irony in what is going to be a burgeoning point of contention between players and the league. This is thecountry's most violent sport, a three-hour cavalcade of collisions and open wounds. Yet these pregame needles - which the rank-and-file players may not yet know are coming - will be a major annoyance. I think people wanted to get a deal done so badly that it was overlooked, said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. In that sense, players kind of got screwed, for lack of a better word."Screwed first. Needle second. "Theres every possibility that the program will be implemented by the first game of this season because thats what the parties have committed to," said Birch. "Thats what I have every expectation that we will accomplish."While players are currently trying to cram a full offseason of preparation into a five-week period, game-day blood drawing to test for HGH is something that's been lost in the shuffle. It may not be for long.
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.