October 1, 2016

The Merchant of Wingo Square

by Dan Snapp
[email protected]

Nobody says “quash” anymore. A verb meaning “to suppress or extinguish”, it’s been all but stricken from usage. It’s been replaced by “squash”, which sounds more like what “quash” means.

The word “accountability” is pretty well squashed, too.

Once upon a time, those claiming accountability had actions tied to their words. Something went  wrong, somebody stood up, and something got done. It wasn’t always fair, often with some scapegoat sacrificed to protect the higher echelon. But heads most certainly rolled.

Not anymore. Now all you need to be deemed accountable is to say, “I’m accountable.” No penalties, no punishments, no nothing. Say the buck stops at your desk, and we’ll take you at your word and be on our merry way.

On Friday, the Boston Herald’s John Tomase fessed up, admitting his negligent and damaging account of an alleged Super Bowl walk-through tape was skimpy on facts and bereft of journalistic process.

He told us yes, he indeed was accountable, yet he’s not being held to account. He gets to keep his job, keep his Pats beat, and it’s like it never happened. Worse, whichever editors green-lighted the article remain hidden behind Tomase’s skirt – he’s their Pats patsy – and they presumably keep their jobs as well. They get to say, “Oops, our bad,” and that’s the end of it.   

If only it were so easy for the Patriots. They violated a league rule, were investigated, and were punished heavily. So what do they do? They cooperate with the investigation, turn in their tapes and materials, apologize to the team, coaches and fans, and later apologize to the rest of the league. They give an explanation for the practice (an explanation that’s remained consistent to this day), and admit they were wrong.

In return for their cooperation, admission, explanation and apologies, every team achievement is declared tainted, and they’re presumed guilty of any charge speculated in print or on the air, from now ’til the end of Bill Belichick’s tenure.

Now Belichick didn’t comply with what the media really wanted: full explanation to each and every Spygate question, contrition for the way he treated them in the past, and a promise to respond to each text message from here on out. But then Tomase didn’t answer our questions either: not revealing his sources, which editors were involved, and the real reason anonymous third-party hearsay was decreed fit for public consumption. Somehow, he gets a pass.

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, when finally questioned on his Comcast ties and the huge conflict of interest they cast over his Spygate crusade, responded, “I’ve been at this line of work for a long time and no one has ever questioned my integrity.”  No reporter thought to follow up with, “Wait a minute; Yes we have.”

So Specter and Tomase get to say “that’s that” and apparently, that’s that. There’s no that’s that for the Pats.

Tomase’s explanation at times revealed the personal angst involved with running such a story. But it was a baser emotion that ruled that day: they didn’t want to get scooped, so they ran it.

It was a story that the editors simply had to know wasn’t vetted properly: anonymous sources describing the action of other anonymous sources, no physical proof of the tape, nor any description of where the tape went, or how it got there. They ignored their duties even more aggressively than Tomase ignored his. So where are their public explanations? Where’s their accountability?

In the end, Tomase appeals for forgiveness, speaking naively of mending relationships, regaining trust and moving forward. Like Shylock pleading for his life in the “Merchant of Venice”, Tomase is hoping everyone forgets the pound of flesh he tried to extract.

Already, the wagons are circling. Some suggest his explanation is more noble than Belichick’s apology. Others praise the courage he displayed in facing the music. All ignore the fact that his mea culpa came only after all other avenues were exhausted. To borrow a quote from the movie “Quiz Show”, Tomase shouldn’t be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth.

Most damning to the Herald is that they waited until after Matt Walsh’s meeting with the commissioner before coming clean. If Walsh was their source (or source of their source), then either the story wasn’t fully vetted back to Walsh, or Walsh lied. If he wasn’t the source, then they already knew the story was wrong, and were hoping, by some saintly stroke of luck, Walsh would confirm what they were only guessing. Either way, it proves the Herald didn’t give the story its due diligence.

Throughout his explanation, it’s clear Tomase knew the gravity of what he was reporting and that there were repercussions if proven untrue. He stated it was a story he simply couldn’t afford to get wrong. A reporter friend even advised him, “There’s no coming back from this.”

And yet, there he is, back on the beat.

This isn’t a demand for Tomase’s termination; his careless editors should carry the brunt of it. But there should be some price for him as well.

Saying you’re sorry and having to explain yourself, well, that’s a punishment for children. Part of being an adult is facing the consequences of your actions. How else would you be held accountable?

That Was A Close One

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I admit, they almost had me.

I had gone more than three months without writing about You Know What-Gate, choosing instead to amuse myself with talk of the free agent and draft markets, and the question of how in the world the Patriots will be able to come back from blowing a perfect season in the last two minutes of the Super Bowl.

Until this week.

It started (relatively) innocently enough on Tuesday, when former video assistant Matt Walsh finally appeared at the NFL offices to tell the league what he knows about Bill Belichick’s taping practices. As editor of PD (I won a coin flip), I felt we had little choice but to acknowledge the much anticipated event.

So I did, and I’m now here to tell you that I should have left it at that.

I didn’t. One Spygate post led to another to another this week, and before I knew it, I was at full boil. It was as if it was September 10, 2007 all over again.

Just as the Vast Wing Nut Conspiracy had hoped.

Football coaches trying to steal signals from other football coaches isn’t nearly the threat to our sporting lives as is the corrosive element that duplicitously claims to be our advocate. When the objective history of this entire ridiculous episode is finally, mercifully written, it will reveal that the so-called advocates cynically arrived first at their desired conclusion and then worked backwards, not for the public’s good, but for their own.

Now they feign weariness of the whole subject while stoking the flames for further punishment. Further clicks, further eyeballs, further sales, further profits. Until further notice.

Now they presume to define for us what Bill Belichick did to us. Us! We’re victims! He put us on the defensive FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES!

Putting aside the overwrought drama for a minute: on the defensive against what? Well, what sportswriters think, for one.

Isn’t it interesting how this accomplishes the dual purpose of keeping them front and center at a time when consumers are finding fewer and fewer reasons to look their way?

If Spygate dies, a little part of them – their wallet, specifically – dies too.

I can hear it now – “oh, sure, it’s all the media’s fault!”

That seems like a mighty convenient way of excusing them from any responsibility whatsoever.

I can’t do that. Because this week reminded me that only one party in this sordid affair stands to benefit from its extension, and they’ll do anything, say anything, go anywhere to make it so.

They’ll keep their corrupt carousel grinding, hoping you’ll feel compelled to ride, as they lurk within the trojan horses they’ve sent spinning round and round, contemptuously leveraging the public’s notion of a Fourth Estate to mask the reality of their craven entitlements.

So this is where Patriots Daily gets off.

None of us came to this game and this team because of a reporter or a columnist. My mother and father brought me, and I bet yours did too. Or your brother or sister or uncle or cousin. Or your friends. They brought you, not to listen to self-serving pontification but to watch football, a gloriously interesting game, especially with repeated viewing. They brought you not to assume a faux dispassionate arms length pose to conceal selfish resentments, but for you to make the same emotional connection they had made, with a team that by its very geography had come to represent something in all of them.

Along the way, you may have discovered that the reporter and columnist could be a helpful guide as you learned more about this experience. And it is indeed affirming to know that a precious few still exist, and they continue to provide that service for a fair and honorable price. Good morning, Mike Reiss, Shalise Manza Young, Karen Guregian, Doug Flynn, Eric McHugh, Chris Price, and you others who still value honesty and integrity in your work, and who by your actions humbly acknowledge and respect the responsibilities your public positions still bear.

As to your less-admirable colleagues, the miserable squirrels who number their co-workers reputations in the mounting body count brought about by their avaricious scramble for every last remaining nut, two words.

Be gone.

At least here, on these pages. And hopefully, in your homes, your cars, your pc’s. Give their words and their deeds the weight they deserve, which is to say none. Show them every bit as much respect as they’re showing you. Which is to say none.
 
To do otherwise would be to invite further abuse. There’s only one way to end Spygate.

By not taking their bait.   

So I’ll try to do that here, by turning my attention permanently away from the sideshow and back towards the real show. In fairness, I’ve had the floor plenty over the last week, and if one of our writers finds they have a parting shot at this cruel carnival, it’s only right that I give them their chance.

But once that’s over, we’re moving on. On to what brought us here in the first place. Professional football, and our local team.

I’m having this conversation with you now to make sure that you hold me, and all the rest of us, accountable for doing just that.

ESPN Pulls Easterbrook Meltdown, But Not Fast Enough

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Once again a bottom-feeding sports desk has played hide the sausage with an incendiary hatchet job on Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

An alert reader (thanks Steve) tipped us to this ESPN Page Two five-star nutty by Gregg Easterbook, which calls for Belichick’s suspension for life from the NFL.

Easterbrook, a first-class weirdo who is apparently under the mistaken belief that Belichick is Jewish, has spent the better part of the last nine months comparing a football coach to the Devil. Now, just as his pet conspiracy theories evaporate one by one around his pointy little head, he decides to crank up the rhetoric.

Thing is, the story has disappeared. Go ahead. See if you can find it. The NFL page? Don’t see it. Page Two? Nope, not there either.

Imagine what kind of sick f**k you’d have to be to write a column that even ESPN can’t stand behind?

Don’t worry, Gregg. We saved a copy.

EDIT (8:08 pm) – It appears ESPN doesn’t have any trouble standing behind the column after all. Now the column being touted on Fearless Leader’s main page, with the plea for Commissioner Roger Goodell to “publish the guilty party” and bring Spygate to a close.

Funny that the free lunch gang is so quick to write off a half-million dollar fine when it’s coming out of somebody’s else wallet.

So, if I understand this correctly, unless Goodell suspends Belichick, preferrably for life, then Gregg Easterbrook and ESPN will see to it that Spygate never ends.

I think there’s a word for that.

It’s ain’t journalism.

Eye on Belichick

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

“…it’s embarrassing, it’s absurd…”

Yeah, it’s that, all right. Bill Belichick was talking about Matt Walsh, but he could just as well have been tying a bow on this whole episode.

Because it has been nothing but absurdity since last September, and now we have the tight-lipped coaching legend making a surprise appearance on CBS News with Katie Couric last night.

Honestly, I can’t get into a line-by-line on his interview with Armen Keteyian. I’m parsed out, thanks. The details are in the link above (an extended version), and in Mike Reiss’s story this morning

Other than a short clip of Walsh filming a game against Cleveland, I didn’t see or hear anything I didn’t expect. Belichick – certainly with the team’s support – was clearly there to counter Walsh’s assertion to HBO Sports and the New York Times that the coach knew he was breaking a rule and has lied about it since, and he has lied about the extent of his interaction with Walsh.

Belichick fired back, going out of his way to paint Walsh as a puffed up, resume-fudging creep. Like any good TV interviewee, he brought a clip, evidently a director’s cut of the Cleveland tape Walsh produced in New York on Tuesday. This version focuses not on Butch Davis’s staff but on the former “third video assistant” behind his tripod, near two or three other guys doing the same thing, in broad daylight, in full view of every person in the stadium.

The clip will now be dissected and refuted and defended like everything else has been, and Belichick will no doubt be called a pathological liar by sunset tonight, if it hasn’t happened already.  He’ll no doubt be slammed for going back at Walsh, and incredibly, someone will accuse him of “dragging out the story”. That should be enough to cause me to have a stroke. Yet on and on it will go, as the calliope drones.

Look. Have we forgotten that ESPN felt liberated enough to paintshop this guy as the Devil Himself not too long ago? That ever happen to you? Ever been attacked from every corner of the 24 hour news cycle nine months running? Ever had so many people so anxious to believe the worst about you that they would accept unchallenged every word of anonymous assistant golf pro and wagon-hitching hanger-on?

Then I don’t think you can say the guy’s out of line in taking his three minutes to respond to the career embellishments of a corner-cutting, finger-pointing nobody. Enough’s enough.

Let the Buyer Beware

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

By now you’ve read John Tomase’s explanation as to how he and the Boston Herald came to accuse the Patriots of cheating to win Super Bowl 36.

To me, it sounds like reckless personal ambition trumped sound judgement and professional responsibility.  Because we now know the whole thing was predicated on the whispers of anonymous people who had no business claiming they knew anything. And a reporter who callously ignored that fundamental truth in the blind, self serving pursuit of being ‘first’.

Which is not the same thing as being ‘best’. You can never be the best when you truly comprehend the power of your words only after they’ve come raining back down on your own head.

For John Tomase, the long road back begins with a vertical climb. On ice.

For his belly-crawling bosses, well, they get to come back to work this morning secure in the knowledge they have a fall guy in place to cover for their own culpability.

The better for them to strike again, as soon as the heat’s off, and as soon as they find their next ‘story’ to root for, their next ‘subject’ to malign, their next voracious reporter oblivious to the concept of a public trust.

The next time they can distract you into debating whether you can trust one of their reporters instead of whether or not you can trust them, those who have the true power of the press.

Ownership of one.

Caveat emptor.

One Thing, John

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I know I just wrote a whole column yesterday telling the Star Trek Convention (Chapter President, here) to get a life when it comes to Spygate, but I just have to share:

John Tomase, the Herald beat reporter who wrote the infamous Walkthrough-Gate story in February that seemed to ruin the Super Bowl for thousands of Patriots fans (for me, it was more Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck), has acknowledged that he screwed up the story in an afternoon post to his The Point After blog.

I just wanted to make one thing clear — I know I screwed up on the Rams taping story and I don’t intend to hide behind today’s apology or an editor’s note. In Friday’s Herald I will explain as clearly as I can where that story went wrong and begin the journey of restoring your trust in my reporting.

I cannot in good conscience demand accountability of the people I cover and then not provide it myself. So it’s coming on Friday. Just be patient.

John

Okay, John, I can be patient. I have to admit that while I’m so tired of this farcical sh**storm, I’m interested in your explanation. And while I’m all for giving you your space, there’s just one thing:

When you are explaining, as clearly as you can, where the story went wrong, can you also explain the story that you wrote just yesterday, which was posted to the Herald website sometime in the late afternoon?

You know the story I’m talking about, John. The one that told readers – in the headline, and in the first paragraph – that Walsh had admitted in his meeting with the Commissioner to spying on the Rams at the walkthrough. That was your lede, and that was the word you used – spying. A conclusion – unless you’ve been talking to your sources again – you couldn’t possibly have reached on the evidence that was presented to anyone who cared enough to listen and watch.

The same story that buried the lead item from yesterday’s sad circus; that Walsh didn’t have any walkthrough tape, didn’t shoot any walkthrough tape, and didn’t know of any walkthrough tape. Odd, in that you had previously asserted that one did exist, which in large part led us to this point, and now the NFL doesn’t have even one person out of 50 interviewed that says that you’re right.

I’d love to link you to the story, John, but it got misplaced, I guess, and replaced with a generally benign piece bedecked with a ‘Case Closed’ header.

See, I’ve been of the opinion all along that you weren’t alone in that Super Bowl Eve story, and while you were no doubt culpable the minute you put your name on a story you now can’t back up, I know enough to know there’s other people involved in deciding what gets printed in the newspaper. Some have no business doing so, save for the checkbook they perch themselves on.

I don’t mind telling you – for the most part, I like your stuff. (Spare me the rejoinders, commenters.) I’ve always believed two newspapers is better than one, three is better than two, and for my part, I don’t mind somebody who might be a little more, oh, skeptical than I might be. It’s healthy. As long as the writer is standing on something other than his own warped predispositions. When that happens, it’s toxic (see: Borges, Ron, or that horrible piece of shit written by Tony Masserotti today. A despicable little man in both stature and deed).

I think you and your bosses were a little predisposed yourselves on Tuesday afternoon, and I think pretty soon after, some or all of you regretted it. The rub is that you scrubbed it and pretended it didn’t happen. But it did, and I saw it, and while you’re explaining, I’d like you to explain how that all came to pass.
 
After all, if you’re really going to restore the trust in your reporting, you’ll also have to explain how you went from hostile yesterday to contrite today.

Because if Tuesday afternoon’s first edition is what we can come to expect from you in the future, John, especially when the chips are down for you personally, you shouldn’t bother with the explanation at all.

And The Band Played On

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Matt Walsh end up as a defense witness yesterday in this Lewis Carroll-esque Trial of the Century?

Yes, there were ticket scalping allegations and suggestions that a player on IR had practiced with the club, but in the end, Walsh confirmed;

  • He didn’t tape the walkthrough, he wasn’t told to tape the walkthrough, he didn’t know anybody who was told to tape the walkthrough, or anybody that did tape the walkthrough, and he hasn’t seen a tape or know anybody who claims to have one;
  • Other than the eight tapes that he produced, which only confirmed what the league already knew, he isn’t aware that the Patriots violated league policy in any other manner;
  • Even the alleged whistleblower said the tapes weren’t used during the games in which they were shot.

Overall, a pretty good day for the Patriots, right? Don’t each of these respond directly to the heart of the charges against the possibly-corrupt three-time champs?

You and I both know it doesn’t work that way.

Not with Red Light Goodell in charge. I tried to listen carefully to the substance of his remarks, which were generally reassuring for Patriots fans, but I couldn’t help but be put off by the swaggering “you wanna watch the tapes again?” after he finally took the stage. Commissioner, the point might have been to dull them with the poorly shot details, but the end result was three and a half hours of live shot speculation, most of which cast the New England Patriots in a most unfavorable light. Thanks for the final kick in the nuts on the way out the door, Rog.

And most especially it doesn’t work that way when it comes to the media, hungry for any chum, never mind chum this choice, to sustain their own existence.

I can only say you have reached a nadir when Rich Eisen, anchor for the friggin’ house network, uses the word “shocking” half a dozen times in a half hour of tape clips, one of which showed a San Diego Chargers cheerleader looking absolutely terrific. The rest showed a group of Cleveland Browns coaches that are no longer employed in the NFL, and Dave Wannstedt. Which is a big deal if you’re playing the University of Pittsburgh this fall. And speaking of Pittsburgh, there was the Steelers too, who will have to explain to me how these tapes relate to their atrocious play on special teams.

In other words, the tapes revealed exactly what the NFL had last September. Shocking!

I swear, it’s only real to these guys when they show the tape on their air. The self-absorption. Shocking!

I didn’t see this, but some message board pals reported that ESPN’s Cris Carter and Mark Schlereth – there to power with their endless hot air the Leader’s Dirigible of Discourse –  were insisting the Patriots used the tapes in the games in which they were shot both before and after Walsh claimed this was not the case. This goes to lend further credence to my theory: we have to start ignoring these people, or we’re going to lose our minds.

I guess that’s what I take away from all ‘this’, whatever you want to call it, the thing which in any name reached its bizarre crescendo with Walsh’s appearance yesterday.

It’s not over, until every last fat lady in Bristol and New York and Los Angeles and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and every other lose-to-the-Patriots city this side of San Diego sings. Which is to say, never. They will always be the Cheat-riots and he will always be Beli-cheat, from the message boards to the editorial boards, even to the stage boards of the goddam house network, evidently.

Particularly if the authors of the varied screeds have been snubbed by Belichick, or lost a playoff game to him. Now, revelations that every person who has ever tried to buy a ticket to the Super Bowl has also been a victim!

It will never be over, not even after fans arm themselves with factsheets to fight off the daily distortions of an instatiable media. It’s a noble effort by these Pats fans, driven to distraction by their team being dragged through the mud in the name of ‘entertainment’ (remember that’s what the ‘E’ in ‘ESPN’ represents), but in the end, it’s futile in a world where unreliable characters like Carter and Schelereth are highly paid to do nothing but fill 24 hours of dead air, every day.

It will never be over, no matter what Matt Walsh or Roger Goodell say. Or the disgraceful Boston Herald, which ended the day by declaring that Walsh had admitted to “spying” (their word) on the Rams walkthrough.

So much for the contrite paper seeking the team’s forgiveness, perhaps sacrificing their poison pen provocatueur at the team’s altar, in exchange for mercy in the courts. Herald, to the Pats: F*** you, as of 4 p.m. this afternoon. 

They changed it later, removing the spy references, but the point was made. It will never be over. It can’t be. It’s the only thing keeping the other side alive.

Sooner we accept that, and realize that to linger any longer with this only invites further exploitation, the better.

That goes for the Pats too, at least the front office kind. After all, their team just blew two straight championships on the last possession. They don’t have something better to do?

Don’t we all?

What a Moment

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Jim Nance was the featured attraction at the first Patriots game I ever attended, on a sun-dappled Sunday a long while ago. I caught him at his apex as a pro football player, the reigning league MVP on his way to a second straight AFL rushing title. The rest of the team wasn’t nearly as accomplished as he was, but the mid-60’s Nance could still control a game anyway.

I’m having trouble thinking of a modern-day comparison. I don’t think players like Nance exist anymore. This was a 240 lb. fullback who was the only rusher in AFL history to top 1,400 yards in a single season. At his peak, Nance strung 100 yard games together like popcorn – he’s still the only Patriots running back to lead the league in rushing two years in a row (66-67). Nance was first and foremost a punishing finisher inside (a ball-control machine and the team’s all-time leading touchdown scorer), but he had the kind of speed and elusiveness that lands a guy on the cover of Sports Illustrated (you could look it up). Even today, no Patriots back has had more 50 yard runs.

Truthfully, the Nance described above appeared just briefly during his seven year career with the Pats. He never again matched the dominance of his 66-67 seasons, when he ran for 2,700 yards in 28 games.

But his brilliance in those nascent days of the team makes him the most worthy recipient of your vote for this year’s inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame.

This year’s vote, which continues through June, presents further opportunity to recognize those men who laid the foundation of the franchise that has since gone on to make NFL history. There can be no question that these are in fact the golden years of the Patriots, but how can we truly understand and appreciate their true significance without knowing – and honoring – from whence they came?

I expect that Ben Coates, the prolific tight end of the mid-90’s, will receive support that is certainly due him, as his feats are the freshest in our minds. No one would argue that Coates shouldn’t walk among the best Patriots ever. Only that Nance should go first, before our fading memories leave him behind forever.

I saw Nance a second and final time on a blisteringly hot and hazy Saturday some two decades later, at an open scrimmage between the Washington Redskins and Dick McPherson’s Patriots. The Patriots were at perhaps the lowest point in their existence, horrible on the field and even worse off it. More and more fans turned their backs, leaving the old Foxboro Stadium as an empty, ugly, gray bowl. They were like the proverbial tree, falling in the forest yet not making a sound. So as they began anew under the enthusiastic McPherson, they opened up the gates to anyone who wanted to show, if only to see Joe Gibbs and the ‘Skins, who would go on to win the Super Bowl.

Inside waited a number of current and former players, rallied to support the wounded franchise that they still viewed, by their actions that day, with pride. They welcomed fans, signed autographs, touted the team and generally lent goodwill at a time when it was needed most, and noticed the least.

Among them was Nance, fending off the heat under one of those floppy terrycloth hats. He didn’t seem a well man, still showing the disabling effects of a heart attack and stroke he had suffered nearly a decade before.

It just so happened this this time, it my son’s first time at a (sort of) football game. It struck me how once again, it was Jim Nance commanding our attention. Well, mine, anyway, and so I said, “Andy, you should go ask that man for his autograph. He used to be a great player when I was your age.” I was already thinking of what a kick my dad would get out of that when we got home.

Nance couldn’t have been more warm and gentle and great, with all of us who gathered around him. Even as the ravages of time and fate were weakening him, Nance lent a credible and dignified presence to a place and time where those things were in short supply, just as he had as a young man.

He was dead less than a year later, just 49 years old.

Now, one of the most successful sports franchises in America builds a football shrine just a few feet from where we beleagured few stood that day. A shrine that now will preserve some of the greatest moments in league history, and the litany of name and faces and teams most responsible for them. Much of it will be dedicated to men whose deeds are so recent we can still recall them, step for step. Good. They should be celebrated, and savored.

So too should be the grandest exploits of those who came before them, and who, even in the most unremarkable times, laid the bedrock on which this new shrine will stand.

Put the great Jim Nance in the Patriots Fall of Fame, where he undeniably belongs.

We Can Rebuild It

 by Chris Warner
[email protected]

Outside of my cynical outer shell, I am essentially a sentimental creature. I love stories with happy endings for underdogs. I still consider myself president of the unofficial Bam Childress Fan Club (aka “The Bamwagon”), even though he’s gone to the Eagles.

Coach Bill Belichick has taught Patriots fans that sentimentality will get you a biscuit and a pat on the head, but not much more. From Bernie Kosar to Drew Bledsoe to Lawyer Milloy, the coach has eschewed fan favorites to build what he considered a better team.

So, how does New England improve this year? On the negative side, they can’t do any better than 16-0; on the positive, we all know what 16-0 got them last season. In 2008, look for the team to take some chances. Time to rebuild with youth, get better as the season progresses and gain momentum going into the playoffs. Hey, it beats peaking in November at Buffalo.

Hence, some measured (and somewhat unfounded) predictions of where the Pats will make changes, keeping a consistent theme of youth.

Quarterback – The ballad of Tom Brady continues. I like to think of it as a happy, heroic song with many verses yet to be written.

Rookie to watch: Kevin O’Connell. A standout leader on a bad college team.

Replacing: Matt Cassel. More than any other position in football, the role of backup quarterback resembles that of an understudy. If the star goes down, you take the stage and all eyes look to you. Maybe Cassel’s big, it’s the pictures that got small.

(Okay, I’ll make you a deal: no more “Sunset Boulevard” references if you promise to bookmark Patriots Daily. Do it now before I change my mind.)

Running Back – Let’s match the player with his prototype: Laurence Maroney, starting RB; Sammy Morris, backup RB; Kevin Faulk, third-down RB; Heath Evans, utility RB (not quite any of the previous three, but a solid contributor).

Rookies to watch: Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Kenny Cattouse. Green-Ellis runs with power up the middle. Cattouse has great quickness. I’m teetering near my “Patrick Cobbs will make the team!” debacle of 2006, but they need a smaller, quicker RB to backup Faulk. I think Cattouse makes it. (Check this morning to see if I’m already wrong.)

Replacing: Right now, Kyle Eckel is a between-the-tackles-type runner who backs up at least two other between-the-tackles-type runners. Green-Ellis also fits that description. Shouldn’t the most prolific passing team in history get a backup receiving RB? Hello? Is this thing on?

Wide Receiver – Except for Donte Stallworth, the main gang returns: Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney. Chad Jackson gets his last chance to make Belichick look like the savvy dealmaker we thought he was when he traded up in round two in 2006 to get him (and by “we,” you know I mean “I”).

Rookie to watch: Matt Slater. He’s fast and he can return kicks. I know so little about him that I’m beginning to suspect a witness protection program at work here.

Replacing: Just as Jackson will get every chance to show what he can do, so shall Slater. He’d have to do something awful – like get videotaped taunting puppies – in order to have the front office fail to justify his selection in the fifth. Slater may take Troy Brown’s roster spot, although he will never take the same spot in our hearts (see the sentimentality?). If New England keeps only six receivers, say goodbye to free agent special teamer Sam Aiken.

Tight End – Do you think Benjamin Watson and David Thomas talk a lot while they’re in the trainers’ room? And if so, do you think they discuss their myriad injuries, or do they ignore them and, for example, list movies they both want to see?

Rookies to watch: Jonathan Stupar caught 40 passes last year at Virginia. Tyson DeVree caught 37 for Colorado. Both arrived last week as undrafted rookies. Thomas needs a backup and either Stupar or DeVree could fill that role. Stupar has a slight advantage as he seemed to stand out more in camp.

Replacing: Not sure where free agent Marcus Pollard fits. If they need a blocker, I see keeping Stephen Spach for a lot less cash. Most of the other TEs on the roster fill the pass-catching role.

Offensive Line – For a while after his last performance, I nicknamed Matt Light “Matt Darkness-Shall-Reign-Over-All-That-Is-Good,” but I’m over it. The starting o-line will stay intact. Maybe this year they’ll excel all the way through, instead of deciding at the Super Bowl to SMEAR FILTH ALL OVER MY DREAMS.

(Deepgreenforest, coolbluelake; deepgreenforest, coolbluelake. There. Better.)

Rookie to watch: Ryan Wendell, the center out of Fresno State, has the reported technique to become a developmental player. Early reviews of Josh Coffman haven’t been as positive, skills-wise.

Replacing: No one that I can tell. Unless the 6-7 Coffman puts on another 40 pounds (a feat he accomplished in college), Ryan O’Callaghan doesn’t have much to worry about.

Defensive End – If Richard Seymour can get back to his old self, he, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green make a ferocious rotation (Actually, they were still pretty awesome with the 2007 version of Seymour). Hang on, Mike Wright fans: he’s listed as a nose tackle below.

Rookie to watch: Casey Tyler. He’s got the proverbial motor of overachieving 3-4 defensive ends (much like Wright does). Would at least contribute as a strong practice squad player.

Replacing: I don’t see anyone. LeKevin Smith is better suited at end than tackle but has too much flexibility for the Pats to let him go (hope I haven’t jinxed him). The Patriots’ defensive line is like a T.V. makeup department: when they don’t do their jobs, it all goes ugly in a hurry.

Nose Tackle – Vince Wilfork plays mountain in the middle, with Wright spelling him for some passing downs. Wilfork has become one of the best in the game and has that certain je na sais quois of 3-4 nose tackles. Actually, no mystery here: he’s huge, quick and strong.

Rookie to watch: Henry Smith comes from Warren’s alma mater (Texas A&M), but that seems to be the only comparison thus far.

Replacing: As great as it would be to give some of Wilfork’s early downs to a younger player, those are some huge shoes to fill. Quick and strong shoes, too.

Inside Linebacker – Welcome back, Tedy Bruschi. Hope you get some help with Victor Hobson aboard. (Hey, you know what I just realized? The Patriots’ linebackers were old last year. Surprised no one said anything about that.)

Rookies to watch: Jerod Mayo, Bo Ruud. Despite dealing with the inevitable condiment jokes, Mayo appears to be the right find. He’s a heavy-hitting, intense player who should see lots of playing time. In other words, they won’t go light on the Mayo. (Ha! See? No one can resist!) Ruud, at 234 pounds, seems out of position in the middle but took reps there during mini-camp.

Replacing: I assume that Junior Seau shall continue to enjoy surfing. Eric Alexander hasn’t seen significant playing time since he started the 2006 AFC Championship (go figure). If someone can explain why Mayo shouldn’t be a part of the ILB rotation from day one, I’ll listen. (Then I’ll scoff. Fair warning.)

Outside Linebacker – Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel make the type of bookends you want to see in Gillette. Pierre Woods has been a strong special teams player but hasn’t made strides on defense that some expected (again, by “some,” I mean “I”).

Rookies to watch: Shawn Crable, Vince Redd. We’re looking at two tall, rangy athletes with experience in hoops (Crable in high school, Redd briefly at Virginia). Though New England’s defense is only slightly less difficult to figure out than cold fusion, each player’s versatility should accelerate the process.

Replacing: Woods and Ruud may not find their happy-ever-after in Foxboro. Crable could get the Wolverine welcome over Woods. Redd’s build and experience in a similar 3-4 college system mean that a UDFA will make the roster over sixth-rounder Ruud (look forward to the headline “Ruud Awakening”).

Cornerback – This position has seen more shifts than a hospital intern. Asante Samuel and Randall Gay left. Free agents Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders arrived. Ellis Hobbs remains, along with practice-squad member Antwain Spann and second-year player Mike Richardson. Hmm. My chest hurts.

Rookies to watch: Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, whom I shall officially nickname The Dubs (you read it here first, people). Small and fast, like rabbits but with better awareness, we hope. Of course, as rookies they’ll get burned – it’s only a matter of how badly, how often, and how quickly they learn.

Replacing: Wheatley and Wilhite (I won’t really call them “The Dubs” – it’s a little too skater-speak for me. But please, feel free to do so at home) will take over for Spann and Sanders. At over six feet tall, Sanders no longer belongs in Foxboro. They actually have signs outside the locker room that say, “You must be this short to play corner.” Richardson could stick around because he’s another young, quick guy whom the coaches seemed to like last year before his arm injury.

Safety – At free safety, James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather make up a strong duo. While Meriweather has been rumored to take over cornerback duties, the rookies will allow him time to develop at safety. Tank Williams will step in to relieve Rodney Harrison, who’s approaching his fiftieth birthday (I’m not exaggerating as much as I’d like to be).

Rookies to watch: They signed Mark Dillard (La. Tech) to a contract, but it’s tough to make a dent in the above rotation. Other than that, it’s possible that Slater will take the defensive side of the ball. Shoot, they’ll try Slater out at option QB to make sure he sees time on the field.

Replacing: Eugene Wilson signed with Tampa Bay (or, as I like to call it, Massachusetts South. You snowbirds know what I’m saying). The description of Willie Andrews as “blazing” refers to more than his speed after his February charge for marijuana possession. They’ll miss his special teams prowess, but the Patriots have paid a lot of attention to getting those types of players this off-season. Speak of the devil…

Special Teams – Longsnapper Lonnie Paxton and kicker Stephen Gostkowski have little rookie competition as yet (although TE Stupar reportedly snapped the ball over the weekend). The battle for punter has been ongoing for over two seasons now, with a virtual posse passing through Gillette. Incumbent Chris Hanson will face off against free agent Scott Player.

Rookies to watch: Mike Dragosavich had a successful tryout over the weekend, booming his punts inside the practice bubble. Out of 158 career attempts at North Dakota State, he had 47 over 50 yards and 61 inside the 20.

Replacing: Belichick and Co. want youth. Player is 38 and Hanson is 31. The situation looks solid for so-called Drago. Besides, any specialist with a nickname that involves “Rocky IV” is fine with me.

Here’s to a younger team with the leeway to rebuild. All the way to the Super Bowl.

(Deepgreenforest, coolbluelake. There. Better.)