Suspended animation: Brady faces a month in limbo

Suspended animation: Brady faces a month in limbo

Two mid-week football thoughts for you:

-- I'm curious what Tom Brady is going to do during his month's suspension. Seriously. Where's the best place for him to be? Who are the best people for him to be around?

NFL rules stipulate he can't step foot inside Gillette Stadium from Sept. 3 until Oct. 3. He can have no contact with coaches during that time, as well. 

So I wonder: Can he get game film from the team? What about new plays, formations, concepts to the offense? Are the Pats allowed to send him those things? Is he allowed to talk to teammates about them? Is he allowed to talk to teammates at all? Rules say he can't practice with the team, but are players allowed to come to him? Can they play catch with him in his backyard?

Assuming the answer to all of the above is no, just what does Brady do other than DVR the games, sign up for the "All 22'' package and find someone to play catch with?

Should he go practice with a college team (providing that's allowed on the college level)? He can drop in on BC, but it would seem to make more sense to hang out with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Does he bring non-NFL players over to his house, or a nearby field? Wes Welker is looking for work; he'd seem to be a decent partner. Troy Brown has lost a couple (or five) steps, but he could speak the Patriots language. Or does he bring in guys who just got cut from camp? Should he get out of town? Hang out in Brookline? I have no idea. He has to throw to someone, but it probably shouldn't be the gardner. 

And while he can't step into the stadium or be in contact with coaches, he's probably allowed to go to his TB 12 shop at Patriot Place (technically not in the stadium) and work with his trainer Alex Guerrero (technically not on the Pats staff). But given the microscope on him and the Pats, how far does Brady want to push that? 

I have a million questions like this.

-- I have no earthly idea why the NFL needs computer chips inserted in footballs to figure it out, but I'm all for them narrowing the distance between the uprights from its current 18 feet, 6 inches.

Field goals are just too damn easy. In 2015, attempts (from all distances) were good 84.5 percent of the time, the second-highest percentage in league history. Kickers have made over 80 percent of their attempts every season this decade. Three years ago they connected at an 86 percent clip. 

This is not how the game was meant to be played. Soccer-style kickers perfected the motion years ago (like modern golfers, they all pretty much look the same now) and conditions have gotten easier by the day between artificial surfaces, domed stadiums and retractable roofs.

Make it harder on these guys. They have it too easy.

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.