Panthers do homework on Newton, plus 10 draft things I've learned

Publish date:

More about that, and about the Masters, later in the column. There's some football to get to, and some significant football information with the draft just over two weeks out. We'll begin with the growing evidence that the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton are about to strike a long-term relationship.


A very interesting package was shipped from Brenham, Texas, to Charlotte late Friday.

Four game tapes of 2009 Blinn (Texas) College football games, with Cam Newton quarterbacking, were packed off to the Carolina Panthers.

"They wanted to see a little more tape,'' the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach of that junior college team, Ronny Feldman, told me Friday night. "Of all the teams looking at him here, Carolina's been the big one. They called me twice this week.''

I talked to Carolina GM Marty Hurney the other day, and though he didn't give me a clue about who the Panthers plan to pick with the first overall choice ("We've got time,'' Hurney said, "and maybe our list changes before the first round begins''), it's beginning to look a lot like Newton. More and more, the Panthers seem to be getting comfortable with the idea of choosing a player with only 284 major-college passes ... in some part because of the year he spent righting his football and personal life at a junior college, Blinn, 45 minutes outside Houston.

The Panthers haven't seen Blinn tape yet, and it will probably be the last tape they watch before finalizing their decision on Newton. But it's a sign they're pretty far down the road on him if they're going to look at how Newton played in what's probably the equivalent of a good Division I-AA football season. Blinn won the National Junior College Athletic Association championship in Newton's year there. Most of the kids on the team are 18 or 19, stopping off for a year or two on the way to -- they hope -- better things.

In his year under Feldman, Newton played in what's close to the kind of "Pistol'' offense run at Nevada. In the Pistol, the quarterback stands about halfway back to where a passer would take a snap in the shotgun -- maybe four yards instead of the deeper seven -- giving him the ball faster and allowing him to make decisions quicker while still being able to analyze the defense before the snap. Junior college football is often discounted totally, like it never happened, like it would have been better for Newton (in this case) to have sat for another mostly inactive year at Florida behind Tim Tebow, playing only in garbage time. How good is the quality of football? Inconsistent, depending on the weekly opponent; Newton's team rolled up 83 points on Cisco (Texas) Junior College. Four skill players from that 2009 team ended up at Auburn, Houston, Texas Tech and Southern Miss.

But the Blinn year's a mystery, the missing year in Newton's life to a lot of people, including some in the NFL. Feldman said about 10 teams "have been through here'' looking for information on Newton, as NFL teams should seek given the quarterback's questionable background (possession of a stolen laptop, accusations of cheating in class) at Florida. For the record, Newton started all 12 Blinn games, completing 61 percent of his passes in an offense strange to him, with 22 touchdown passes and five interceptions. He averaged nine rushes per game and ran for 655 yards and 16 touchdowns. But more than football, NFL teams want to know what Newton was like in the year (January through December 2009) after he left Florida and before he went to Auburn.

One thing he wasn't was phony, said Feldman, who's livid about the impression that Newton's a fake. "I heard somebody on the radio the other day talk about his fake smile and how he's not genuine. That guy is full of s--- with a capital 'S.' He doesn't know Cam!

"I was with him day after day, side by side, for a year," added Feldman, now Blinn's head coach. "I can't say enough good things about him. He's a yes-sir, no-sir kid, 100 percent trustworthy, with a strong passion to compete at anything. What a strong, strong leader.

"The first day here [in the offseason] they were all lifting, going after it hard. When it was over, they all thought it was done. But Cam, who doesn't even know these guys yet, says, 'I'm gonna be out there throwing if anyone wants to come.' Five or six go out. The next day, 10 or 15 are out with him. He comes in and says to me, 'Coach, you got five or six pass plays from our playbook you could draw up? We're going out there and we want to run some of our plays.' I said, "Wooooooo.' Then, later in the week, I see him out there running the stadium stairs, and a couple days later, he's got a bunch of guys out there with him. A natural leader, a strong, strong leader. Charismatic.

"And he just played great for us after the first two or three weeks. He was rusty at first. But then he showed he could do whatever he wanted. The last game, our championship game against Fort Scott [Kansas], we're down 18 [actually 16] in the third quarter, and he hurts his shoulder in the first half, and he can't really throw it in the second half. But he plays the option and brings us back and we win it.''

Feldman's a trip, a longtime coach in Texas who talks like Bum Phillips. Very opinionated about Newton and what's he's been through this offseason. Very sure he's never seen anyone like him in 28 years of coaching football.

"A few times,'' he said, "I'd be sitting in my office late, watching tape, trying to figure out what we'd do in the game that week. He'd call and say, 'What are you doing? Can I come up and watch with you?' And he'd come up and we'd go over things. He just loved it. The best way I can say it with Cam about football is, he's just ate up with it.''

I asked Feldman if Newton ever had the kind of problems at Blinn that he had at Florida. Absolutely not, he said. And the quarterback who said he wanted to be an entertainer and an icon as well as a great player ... Feldman never saw that guy. So Blinn becomes a piece of the puzzle that would lead Carolina to do what many now think is very likely -- pick Newton first overall in the draft.

In the past three autumns, Newton has been in three football towns in the deep south and southwest: Gainesville, Brenham and Auburn. All three places -- Florida negatively, Blinn positively and Auburn famously -- will play a part in where he gets picked 17 days from now. I hope you have a little better feel of Newton's little-known year now.


Three questions with Marty Hurney -- and you'll need to know his answers.

When I covered the New York Giants for Newsday in the mid-'80s, Hurney was a dogged Redskins beat man for the Washington Times. He got close to GM Bobby Beathard doing that, and the rest is history. What the man who will make the call on the first overall pick thinks:

Me: What advice do you think Bobby Beathard would give you about the first pick in the draft right now?

Hurney: "He'd say, 'When you make a decision, don't go back. You can't be afraid of making the wrong decision.' And you can't. If you are, you haven't done your homework.''

Me: How much pressure do you feel, having the number one pick in a year when there's no slam-dunk top pick? They all have some questions marks.

Hurney: "I'm not sure there are a lot of years when there's a slam-dunk top pick. It's easy to look back and say someone was a slam dunk. Was Sam Bradford really a lock last year, or did St. Louis need to spend a lot of time looking into him before the draft? I don't accept that this is a really different year in terms of a guy right now being a slam dunk, or there not being one.''

Me: If you take a quarterback, what does that do to Jimmy Clausen?

Hurney: "We believe Jimmy Clausen will be a good quarterback in this league. Because quarterback is such an impactful position, if you go over the candidates and there's someone at the top who can be an impact player, you've got to consider him. That's the responsibility we have -- who can be the most impactful player we can take there?''


Ten things I learned about the draft in the past few days.

1. Detroit really likes Da'Quan Bowers, bad knee and all, and could take him at 13.

2. One of the team doctors who recommended taking Bowers off its draft board (because of the health of his surgically repaired knee) suggested that he might need microfracture surgery.

3. Dallas does love 20-year-old USC tackle Tyron Smith and is seriously considering taking him at nine.

4. The Titans are torn between overpicking a quarterback at eight and being scared one of the quarterbacks they like won't be there when they pick again, at 39.

5. More and more teams seem to think TCU quarterback Andy Dalton has the "it factor'' he'll need to overcome modest size and an average arm.

6. It feels like Blaine Gabbert is fading. I keep thinking the Bengals might give him a parachute at number four.

7. The defensive line will be the dominant position group in the first round. "Minimum 13 defensive linemen in the first round,'' said ESPN's Todd McShay. "It's the strength of this draft, and it matches so many teams' needs.''

8. Why so much homework on questionable character guys in this draft? According to one prominent scout, "It's almost like someone's sending us a message this close to the draft, with the things that have happened to Aqib Talib [a suspect in a Texas shooting], Dez Bryant [unchecked, unpaid-for addiction to jewelry] and Chris Cook [suspected of brandishing a handgun at a man]. All those guys were top prospects, and it just makes us more skittish to take the questionable guys.''

9. Buffalo is a black hole of draft information. Von Miller's the odds-on-favorite there at number three.

10. Patrick Peterson may be the best cornerback in the draft, but he's not without a weakness. One team with a cornerback need (actually, what team doesn't have a cornerback need?) tells me Peterson's just an above-average "off'' corner because he has average turn-and-run ability. He'd be a better press corner because of his physicality.


The Patriots should come out of the draft with an extra 2012 first-round pick, unless I'm getting lied to a lot.

Last year, I thought the 33rd overall pick would generate heavy action in trade (as did the Rams, who held the first pick in the second round). The theory was that because the NFL took a 20-hour break after round one, teams would have all day Friday before round two kicked off to get desperate for a player they had rated as a first-rounder. But then the Rams really liked tackle Rodger Saffold of Indiana, and never really got much action on the pick because there wasn't a player teams felt they had to have. This year, I think that changes. New England has the 33rd pick (by way of the Panthers, who dealt it to acquire a Patriots' third-rounder last year so they could take Armanti Edwards). The way I read the draft right now, there could be as many as eight teams among the first 17 picks in the second round that will want a quarterback, and perhaps only three QBs left worth taking high in the second round.

The Patriots couldn't be in a better spot. There could be three second-round-caliber passers (Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick) available after day one, and a fourth if Ryan Mallett gets past Seattle at 25. Of course, teams could also trade up to the late first round too. New England is in prime position there, also, with the 28th overall choice.

On the universal draft-pick trade chart, invented a generation ago to standardize what value teams assign to each pick (though it's not gospel; some teams barely glance at it), the 28th pick is worth 660 points, and the 33rd pick worth 580 points. Teams trading for a pick in the following draft usually ascribe a choice one round higher to be fair. (Thus the Patriots' deal of a 2010 third-rounder for Carolina's second-rounder in 2011. Sometimes teams get lucky; New England moved up, as it turns out, 57 slots by making that deal a year ago.)

But the Patriots could successfully argue -- I believe -- that the 33rd pick is worth more than a 2012 first-rounder this year. The primary reason is they could have more than one bidder for the pick, because of the paucity of quarterback prospects and the need of more than one team by the time round one ends. Let's say the 49ers are desperate to move up for Dalton. The 49ers, picking 45th, might have to slip the Patriots extra value beyond what the trade chart says to move those 12 slots. Perhaps a first-rounder in 2012 and, say, a third- or fourth- this year. If they don't do it, some other team might.

Actually, starting around pick 26 in the first round, several teams are in good position to trade down. Baltimore (26th overall) may be willing to deal down for an extra three, and the Ravens could still take a cornerback with low-first, high-second-round value. Chicago (29) and the Jets (30) might be willing to trade down too.

Whatever happens, I think there will be a quarterback market at the end of day one, and I think the Patriots are positioned perfectly to take advantage of it. Will there ever be a year New England's won't be in position to control a draft? It's amazing the job Bill Belichick's done in consistently giving the Pats an edge there.


Why anyone who likes sports should make sure to go to the Masters.

Not long ago, I wrote out a bucket list of the sports events I'd like to attend before I die. One was the Masters, and I agreed that if I could make it, I'd try to take along the two big golf fans in the family who'd never been, my brother-in-law Bob and his 86-year-old golf-nut father, Jack. Lucky for us, Mark Scott, a VP of VIP Sports Marketing, which handles lots of Masters events, is a big MMQB fan (I always knew this column would come in handy for something), and he e-mailed to offer the three of us access to the final round this year. It didn't take long for us to say yes.

Scott's group sets up shop in a cabin across the street from the course, and we had a marvelous time Sunday. Can't thank him enough, in fact. And though, as I wrote at the top of this column, I'm angry about Tara Sullivan getting barred from interviewing McIlroy (Masters officials apologized to her Sunday and said it was an accident), I'm going to give you a few observations about the day on the course.

We went as fans only. Though I spent the last hour on the Westwood One radio tower on the 18th hole because I saw my NFL radio co-host Bob Papa there and he invited me up to watch from on high, the experience was just what the thousands who make pilgrimages here go through. We did what fans at the tournament do --set up our $29 chairs to reserve a spot somewhere, then used the rest of the day to walk around to see different parts of the course. That's one of the good traditions here. You set your chairs up in a spot, put your name on them and leave them, and that's your spot for the rest of the day.

We set the three chairs at a shady spot where Amen Corner turns on the par-five 13th hole. But how lucky were we? This was a day of drama, and because the course is not overrun with people -- it's crowded, but not oppressive -- we could move around and follow the storylines and leaders pretty well until about the last hour of the day, when crowds left the earlier holes to follow the last few twosomes. "It just doesn't seem like the same thing I've seen on TV,'' Jack said to his son Bob at one point.

"It's more beautiful than we see on TV,'' Bob said. "Just walking out here, seeing the 12th and 13th holes that I've seen on TV all my life, the creek, Hogan's Bridge ... just seeing all that makes it so fantastic.''

We all thought there was a little Fenway/Wrigley to Augusta. Maybe more than a little. I loved how no electronic stuff is allowed on the course. It's wonderful to not be tempted to look at your Blackberry every six minutes. Liberating. And it's great to not find yourself staring up at some big screen with instant scoring and video. The scoreboards around the course are operated manually, like the left-field scoreboard at Fenway Park, and when there's no way of following what's going on two holes away other than to wait for the scoreboard to change ... well, it generated the kind of noise Sunday that made Jack say that maybe hearing the roar of the crowd live was the highlight of the day for him; he'd heard it for years on TV, and now he was experiencing it live.

No one in the crowd knew what was going on elsewhere on the course because they couldn't monitor the game on radio or Blackberry. So the reaction to the news, which almost seemed withheld, was explosive. There were three kinds of roars: a Tiger roar, an enthusiastic wailing that would erupt quickly and be the loudest; a roar of sympathy, like the "OOOOOaaaaaaahhhhh'' that greeted the posting of a triple bogey for crowd favorite Rory McIlroy on 10; and a roar of appreciation ("Ohhh-aaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!'') when, for example, a fourth consecutive birdie, on 15, for the rallying Geoff Ogilvy was posted on the 18th green.

It's crazy to think a hand-operated scoreboard can be riveting, but imagine you're watching eight men in the last 10 holes either lead the tournament or be tied for the lead ... and imagine you've got time to look around and look at the sky and talk to the stranger next to you because there's lots of time to kill in golf, and you know that in the lulls in shot-taking everywhere on the course, you're going to be transfixed to see who's in the lead and who's close down the stretch.

Last Masters note: I know next to nothing about tournament history, but I do know that there can't have been many Masters rounds over the years with as much clutch shot-making as Sunday's fourth round. Charl Schwartzel finished the tournament with four straight birdies in the face of major pressure. "One of the most thrilling finishes to a Masters ever,'' Papa said on the radio. What do I know? But it sure seemed momentous to me, watching it up close.

My take on labor.

The other day, United States District Court Judge Susan Nelson, overseeing this new case from St. Paul, Minn., told the players and owners, "It seems to me that both sides are at risk. And this is a very good time for you to come back to the table.'' In fact, according to Adam Schefter on Sunday, she ordered them to talk ... but we just don't know yet if it'll be overseen by the federal court in Minnesota or a mediator in Washington, D.C. The players want the former, the owners the latter.

I just want to remind you (and I hope someone from each side reads this) just how close the two sides were when talks broke off a month ago this afternoon. The players said they'd never support an 18-game regular season, and the owners said in the next five years, there'd never be an 18-game season without player approval. Despite lots of rhetoric since, it'd be easy for the players to put it in stone that the 18-game slate is off the table for the term of this deal.

The other non-money things on the table that day -- an additional five weeks off during the offseason for players, third-party arbitration for drug and steroid appeals, a legitimate salary floor of 90 percent of the cap over three years, a cloudy but encouraging lifetime health-care proposal for all vested veterans going forward -- were either all the way or close to what each side could live with.

Now for the money. The league's last offer was a four-year cap proposal of $141 million to $161 million per team, with no chance for players to make more if the league exceeds current revenue projections. The players were asking for $151 million to $161 million over the four years, with a percentage of all extra revenue over the league's revenue projections. In year one, that's a negotiating gap of $320 million plus a percentage of excess profits; in year four, that's a gap of zero, plus a percentage of excess profits. Now, the league would likely see a major increase in year four, that being the first year of the next TV contract with the networks, cable outlets and satellite. In my opinion, that's a hard negotiation. But it's a negotiation certainly worth having.

I'll leave you with a tale of two jurists, two decades apart.

Before there was a system of real free agency in place in the NFL, United States District Court Judge David Doty, overseeing the case from Minneapolis, told the players and owners if they didn't reach an agreement on the issues, he would impose one that neither side would like and one side would find highly onerous. That led to both sides agreeing to players being free after four seasons if their contracts had expired, with one franchise-player exception per team, and a hard salary cap.

Now Judge Nelson is saying both sides are at risk and telling them to get back to the table.

There are differences between now and 1993, though. The players liked what they heard from Nelson last Wednesday and seem to feel good about taking the chance she'll force the owners to end the lockout. The players are not motivated to give an inch in CBA talks. And the owners, as I reported a couple of weeks ago, have a line-in-the-sand point they won't budge on. That's their desire to not have a federal judge be the referee in any future labor disputes that come with officiating the next CBA, the way Doty did with the last CBA over 18 years. So they don't want to let the federal courts officiate a settlement in this case, for fear that the same system would remain in place, a system they felt was tilted toward the players.

My guess is there won't be any real discussions toward a settlement until Nelson rules, and until the loser in that ruling appeals it to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that three-judge appeals panel rules. There is risk for both sides in that happening, but I don't see either side being motivated to throw out an olive branch now.

By the way, I'm glad to see the two sides practicing what Judge Nelson has ordered -- public silence, in effect. Nothing good came of the tit-for-tat Twitter and Internet games the players and league were playing during mediation in Washington, and since then.

"Being in the top of the draft and having to fulfill a quarterback need, that worries me. Cam Newton has incredible physical tools, and he could be a great player. I like [Blaine] Gabbert. I don't think he's going to be a bust. But there's no Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan in this draft. There's no quarterback who, after you draft him, you're going to sleep easy at night.''-- ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay to me Friday.

"This is really a matter which should be resolved, in my view.''-- U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson, addressing owners and players in a Minnesota courtroom Wednesday.

You think?

"At a time when you're struggling to pay your bills and meet your responsibilities, the least we can do is meet our responsibilities to produce a budget. That's not too much to ask for. That's what the American people expect of us. That's what they deserve. You want everybody to act like adults, quit playing games, realize that it's not just my way or the highway."-- President Barack Obama, after Republicans and Democrats agreed to cut $38-billion from the federal budget in time to avert a shutdown of federal facilities late Friday night.

Am I crazy, or is that something Roger Goodell should be saying right about now, after some contentious meetings with De Smith?

"Tell us about yourself.''-- U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff, interviewing juror John Mara in Manhattan.

According to Larry Neumeister of the Associated Press, Mara replied thusly: "I am the president, CEO of the New York Giants, for the ball team, and have been so employed for the last 21 years.''

Though Mara asked to be released if he's needed at the talks between players and owners, or if NFL Draft needs with the Giants become urgent, the judge told him he could serve for now.

Mara is an alternate juror on an international drug case in Manhattan. The case seems fascinating. It's about Liberia claiming that a South American drug-trafficking organization was trying to bribe Liberian officials to allow a drug superhighway to run through the African country, making it easier for South American drugs to reach Africa, Europe and the United States.

Neumeister reports the case will last about three weeks, and that Mara has been taking notes and been quite attentive in watching the events of the first four days of trial. If the trial ends on schedule, it would be finished in time for Mara to sit in the Giants' draft room beginning April 28.

Robert Quinn, the highly regarded defensive end from North Carolina, is proving to be a tough study for many teams. He hasn't played football in 16 months, having been suspended for taking improper benefits at North Carolina and being banned for the entire 2010 season. He had a benign brain tumor in high school. Those two elements would make it tough enough. Add this one: He fattened up his sack totals -- 11 in 13 games -- against some weak sisters.

Quinn's game-by-game sack results:

Of his 11 sacks, six came in two games against ACC doormats, two more against NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams with losing records, and three against Bowl Subdivision winning teams.

If you pick Quinn -- and Cleveland, at number six, may do so -- he'll be a perfect metaphor for the 2011 draft: High picks in the first round almost all come with a risk.

You've got Mel. Well, at least you'll have Mel in the mailbox this week if you ordered Mel Kiper's draft guide, which is being mailed today. The tidbits from the 33rd book that I found interesting:

• He has Gabbert and Newton 13-14 on his overall draft board.

• He ranks defensive tackles Muhammad Wilkerson and Corey Liuget ahead of Newton.

• Mallett is Kiper's 71st-rated player.

• He loves Ricky Stanzi, the Iowa quarterback, ranking him over Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick.

Do you know what silence sounds like? The chirping of cardinals at the Masters.

I found this to be true three or four times during the final round of the Masters: When Tiger Woods lined up a putt, it got very quiet -- maybe a cough or two and some whispering. When Woods got over the putt and set his feet and was five seconds out from hitting the ball, it got a little quieter, but you still might hear the crinkling of a wrapper. But in the second or two before he hits it, there is absolute silence, except for what nature provides as its soundtrack. Amazing how silent 10,000 people can fall when a big player is about to putt. I was taken aback by the human silence, and just how silent it was.

"At this point Newton a big man with a power arm, and limited QB skills. Accuracy a major concern. Poor mechanics. No sense of anticipation.

"More Newton: A steep learning curve (like Gabbert) re: NFL pass game. Must be taught pocket skills. How he's initially used critical.''--@gregcosell, NFL Films video-dissector and "NFL Matchup'' producer, after watching Auburn video of quarterback Cam Newton.

"Headed back to pittsburgh.... would be shocked if i wasnt in a dallas uniform nxt year! The draft is april 28th so we will see.... ''--@mikepouncey, Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, Wednesday afternoon.

Dallas picks ninth. Would Dallas dare pick an interior offensive lineman ninth overall? I can hear you all now -- No! The value's not there for a guard or center at nine overall! Let me ask you this. If you knew he'd be a premier interior lineman, either at guard or center, would that change your mind?

Last year, the 8-9-10 picks were Rolando McClain (eight, Oakland), C.J. Spiller (nine, Buffalo) and Tyson Alualu (10, Jacksonville). Maurkice Pouncey went 18th, to Pittsburgh. I'd argue Maurkice Pouncey was the rookie who had the third-most impact last year, behind Ndamukong Suh and Sam Bradford. He certainly was a better rookie -- starting from the third day of training camp at center and making the Pro Bowl -- than McClain, Spiller or Alualu. Maybe those three will pass Pittsburgh's Pouncey, but clearly the Steelers got an excellent player at 18.

Particularly in a draft with few absolutely sure things, I'd never rip the Cowboys for picking a guard-center ninth overall -- if they were convinced he'd upgrade the line from day one as a starter better than one of the available tackles.

"Oh and congratulations charl schwartzel!! Great player and even better guy! Very happy for him and his family!''

--@McIlroyRory, Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, who entered the final round of the Masters in the lead, only to shoot seven-over on the back nine and lose.

1. I think I couldn't agree more with Ben Roethlisberger. In his interview with Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger said he wished he could have thrown downfield more than the Steelers did. I kept looking at Pittsburgh late in the year, when rookie burner Antonio Brown got to know the offense and was the kind of outside receiver who could be bookended with Mike Wallace to seriously stretch the defense, and wondered why the Steelers didn't do more of it. Wallace needs to be more of a weapon than he was in 2010. It's simple. That has to happen for this offense to reach its potential.

2. I think I'd be concerned about Joe Flacco's future with the Ravens. Not worried that the organization can't smooth things over with him, because it can be done. But Flacco is obviously the team's quarterback of the future, and he wasn't happy that Jim Zorn got canned as quarterback coach, and he wasn't happy the team didn't redo his contract into a long-term deal in February. Not saying this is real trouble. Just saying Cam Cameron might have to do some minor surgery on their relationship whenever this labor thing gets solved.

3. I think this New York Times analysis on how the budget battle was bridged should be essential reading for players and owners today.

4. I think this is my question to those who elect the classes of the Basketball Hall of Fame -- with the clear preface that I do not know the process the way I know the process in football: How can there be 16 players from one franchise in a 25-year period (16 Celtics played at least three seasons with the team between 1960 and 1984) in the Hall?

Satch Sanders was elected as a contributor last week, meaning the Celtics, in essence, had three complete generations of starting teams put in the Hall. There are 22 starters in football, five in basketball. The Steelers, the team of the '70s, have 10 players in Canton. Look at the Hall of Famers from the Celtics in mid-dynasty in the early '60s: Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Frank Ramsey, Bill Russell, Tom Sanders. I realize Sanders is in there because of his contributions to basketball, but seven guys from one era of basketball, regardless how good it was? I don't see it.

5. I think this draft season's must-see TV comes April 21, one week before the draft. You'll hear Jon Gruden analyze his top quarterback guys in the draft in this column next week. But you'll need to see this: "SportsCenter Special: Gruden's QB Camp'' on April 21 at 7 p.m., one week before draft night. Gruden sits down and film-watches and works out five of the top prospects: Jake Locker (Washington), Andy Dalton (TCU), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Cam Newton (Auburn), and Blaine Gabbert (Missouri). Last year, his give-and-take with Tim Tebow was priceless. Looking forward to his acerbic self next week.

6. I think we've got one very special addition to the Lockout Breakfast with Matt Light on April 26 at the Liberty Hotel in Boston (7:30-9:30 a.m.): his fellow Patriot offensive lineman, Logan Mankins, who should have quite a lot of interesting things to say that morning. I'm going to be hosting the event, and I'll give you a draft preview for the NFL; Mike Reiss of will be there to give you a rundown of the Patriots' prospects in the draft.

The event benefits the Matt Light Foundation, which tries to save the lives of at-risk high-school kids in danger of becoming statistics. Light, the Patriots' player representative to the NFL Players Association, and Mankins will give you their view of the labor deal. Or non-deal, which is likely to be the case still by then. Mankins will be interesting because he's not only a free-agent, as is Light, but also one of the 10 named plaintiffs in the antitrust suit against the league, and he hasn't been heard from yet.

Come one, come all. It's $250 for breakfast, autographs, photos ... and my wisdom. For tickets, go here, or email Margrette Mondillo at

7. I think no matter who the Cowboys take in the first round of the draft, Doug Free is the left tackle of 2011 -- and he could stay that way. The pick of a tackle wouldn't be about Free being unsatisfactory, but about there not being a right tackle of the future on the roster.

8. I think you'll want to read my Tuesday column about Adrian Clayborn, the defensive end from Iowa. There's some good debate about whether damage done at childbirth will have much to do with where he gets picked. Talked to him the other day. Sounds like a good kid, and those in Iowa City will tell you he was the leader of that defense for more than just the last year.

9. I think there's likely to be a change in the Thursday night announcer lineup for NFL Network games this fall, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Mayock, one of the fastest-rising stars in the analyst business, get involved in the booth. Don't know if that means Joe Theismann or Matt Millen would be out, or moved, or have to slide over one seat. I just hear the NFLNet's looking. And who wouldn't look at Mayock?

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Will Ferrell subbing for Steve Carell on The Office, eh? Not saying it can't work, but there's something about Ferrell running in the buff down the middle of the street in that college town that I cannot get out of my mind. Not a pleasant view.

b. I feel for Rory McIlroy. Imagine having the worst nine of your pro career on the biggest nine of your pro career.

c. Very friendly people at Augusta National, by and large. Very happy to be there. Met a man from Minnesota who won a trip to the Masters, and he was beaming about it.

d. The grounds. Prettier than a postcard, and there aren't many places you can say that about.

e. Respectable tuna fish sandwich on wheat bread for $1.50 at the Masters. They raised the sandwich prices 50 cents this year. I didn't hear any griping.

f. I'll tell you what was stunning about watching Phil Hughes for the Yankees Friday: The Red Sox, in an awful slump, swung and missed at one pitch among 47 Hughes threw in two innings. I have great admiration for Hughes' fastball and his overall ability, but who kidnapped him, and who was the impostor on the mound Friday afternoon?

g. I won't be giving any going-away kisses to Manny Ramirez, if that's what you're looking for here.

h. Coffeenerdness: Not to say the 144 miles between Atlanta and Augusta are not very well-populated, but let me just say it's a very, very good thing we stopped at a Starbucks before dawn Sunday to get a latte on the outskirts of Atlanta, because we didn't see another one until we got to the land of the green jacket.

i. Beernerdness: At the Red Sox opener Friday, I had this choice: Bud Light, Heineken, Wachusett Green Monsta Ale and Shock Top Raspberry Wheat. Having had the first three (some in Monsta-rous volume), I tried the Raspberry. I've become a guinea pig for fruit beers -- at least trying them -- and this one I'd say was above average. The raspberry flavor was slightly much, but the cloudy brew was very smooth, and for a ballpark beer, quite good.

j. A good deed is about to be done and you might want to get involved. A little New England girl named Quinn Dickert has leukemia, and dad Kevin Dickert and some friends will gather at Gillette Stadium June 5 to shave their heads to raise money and awareness for oncology patients at Children's Hospital in Boston. For information, go to and look for the link entitled "Kids cancer buzz-off.''

k. Finally congratulations to good friend Doug Green and fiance Tatiana on their impending nuptials. For those who don't know, Doug is a former NFL PR man who, desperate for a home for his very young golden retriever Bailey a decade ago because his job working for Daniel Snyder in Washington didn't exactly give him a lot of down time with the pup, asked me if our family would take him. Suckers that we are, we took Bailey. And almost 11 years later, we couldn't be happier. Good luck, Doug and Tatiana.