January 30, 2015

TAMPERING TRUMPS DEFLATING:

LeGarrette Blount is just the latest turnaround story for Patriots (JOAN NIESEN, Jan. 29, 2015, S[ports Illustrated)

Consider Corey Dillon. In 2003, the running back was a malcontent on a struggling Cincinnati team. He'd been trying to act and talk his way off the Bengals for years, and when he got the chance to be traded to New England before the 2004 season, he was thrilled. The team was coming off a Super Bowl victory, and after a year with the Patriots, Dillon earned his first and only ring without making so much as an off-field ripple. He concedes that being traded to the Patriots saved his career. "Man, it saved everything," he adds.

Then, in 2007, with a past checkered with marijuana use, reckless driving and indecency, Randy Moss joined the Patriots. He, like Dillon, had complained his way off a losing team (the Raiders), and the Patriots were confident that winning would focus the elite receiver. It did: in his first season in New England, Moss set a career high with 23 touchdowns, and his 1,493 receiving yards were more than he'd logged in all but one prior season.

What's probably the most audacious Patriots pickup came in 2012, when the team traded for Aqib Talib while he was serving an Adderall suspension. That wasn't Talib's first offense, either; he'd previously gotten in a fistfight with a teammate in Tampa Bay, been charged with resisting arrest without violence and simple battery, and was accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. (Charges were later dropped.) With the Patriots, though, he evolved into one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks, and his extracurricular activities ceased, or at least ceased to make news.

So when it comes to Blount, there's a precedent. New England has become a safe haven for the ultra-talented, troubled players who dot NFL rosters, which begs the question of why?

"Coach Belichick... always wants to have a tough, smart, physical football team that performs well under pressure," former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson says. "It's a hard place to play. A lot's demanded of you, expected of you. But I think the reason why they've been so successful continually is because they've kept that attitude. It's always onto the next, what can you do tomorrow, because today or yesterday doesn't really matter."

Dillon says he knows Belichick and then-GM Scott Pioli did their homework on him before okaying the trade that brought him to town. When he arrived in New England, it was straight into a meeting with the two men. They asked about his time in Cincinnati, and Dillon explained that his antics were a result of the team's struggles. "That was the end of the conversation," Dillon recalls. "(Belichick) asked me another simple question: 'Can you play for us?' Without a doubt. Done deal."
 
‚ÄčIvan Fears, the longtime running backs coach in New England, has worked with both Dillon and Blount, and he sees a simple answer to the question of how the Patriots pull off these transformations: wins and clear expectations. Belichick -- recent controversy aside -- is known around the NFL for doing things a certain way, for his tight-lipped attitudes toward the media, for his freakish attention to detail, for his insistence on a subjugation of individual to team. With the consistency the team has had ownership- and coaching-wise over the past decade and a half, players can be assured of what they're stepping into.
"If you're going to be here, you know what the program is," Fears says. "You want to be here. You want to stay here. You don't want to stay here? You know how to get out. ... (Players) choose to come to us. They have already made the change by just choosing to come to us. We didn't change. They know what we are. They either come or don't come based on what they want to do with themselves."

When Blount arrived in November, Fears says, he knew what the team was doing, knew what he was buying into. The only nudge the coach felt necessary was a quick reminder of what flies and what doesn't, and that was that. There was never a worry that Blount would do the same thing to New England as he had to Pittsburgh. These are the Patriots, and the Patriots win, and winning is the best kind of babysitter.

Posted by at January 30, 2015 3:24 PM
  

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