INDIANAPOLIS -- When Kevin Gilbride was offensive coordinator with the Houston Oilers in the early 1990s, he employed a lot of three- and four-receivers sets. Those formations were seen as radical and flawed at the time, but they have become standard in today's pass-happy NFL. Gilbride, now the Giants' offensive coordinator, talked about the trend at Media Day today.
"I think that’s a good thing and I’m proud of it," said Gilbride, who spent time as the Bills' coordinator in the early 2000s. "At one time (with the Oilers), it (four-receiver base offensive sets) was considered gimmicky. Now you see everyone going to three and four receivers. It’s almost standard operating procedure now. I think the fact that people are willing to be open, spread out and take advantage of athletic mismatches is something that we were doing 23 years ago.”
Gilbride was asked if the Oilers' Red Gun died too soon before coming into vogue years later.
“That offense at the time seemed to receive undue criticism. It seemed that no matter what you did, that people would find reason to criticize. If we turned the ball over that week, people would say, ‘See, that’s a high-risk offense.’ Then maybe you wouldn’t turn the ball over for the next six weeks but you would score too quickly and they’d say, ‘See, you put your defense on the field too much.’
"So it was always one thing or another. I think the only thing that would have dispelled that would have been to win in the postseason, and we (Oilers) didn’t win in the postseason. But if you looked at the team success and the offensive success, it’s hard to argue with what was taking place. I think we were the first team to use those formations consistently in the league. When I first got to Houston in 1989, (then Head Coach) Jerry Glanville called it the Red Gun and it was only a portion of what we did. When Jack Pardee became the head coach, he went exclusively in that direction, and we were ranked first or second in the league in offense every year, and we went to the playoffs every year.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- As expected, Rob Gronkowski did not participate in New England's practice here on Monday. Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed that during his half-hour press conference late this afternoon. Belichick also said he had the Pats practice in full pads, which came as a bit of a surprise to the media who cover the team on a regular basis.
"We felt like it would be the best way for us to prepare for the game," said Belichick, who was 35 minutes late for the media session because of the longer practice.
The Pats arrived in Indy on Sunday, a day earlier than the Giants. Belichick felt it was important to have a regular week of practice, starting with Monday. "We're creatures of habit," said offensive guard Logan Mankins. "So we like to have everything going the same way every week. We don't want any interruptions, so that's very important to us, and I think Bill did a very good job of scheduling."
Gronkowki suffered a high ankle sprain when he was tackled by Baltimore's Bernard Pollard in the AFC title game a week ago. The Amherst native walked off the Pats' team plane with a protective boot on his left ankle. He is listed as questionable and expected to play on Sunday.
Belichick answered several questions about his days as an assistant coach under Bill Parcells with the Giants. He and current Giants head coach Tom Coughlin worked on the same staff. Belichick, in addition to his role as defensive coordinator, coached defensive backs at one point. Coughlin coached the receivers, so they worked hand in hand together a lot in practice.
"As an assistant coach, it was the best relationship I ever had with a counterpart in that way," Belichick said. "I wish every assistant coach had that relationship."
Belichick seemed amused that practicing in full pads this early was a big deal. He said he learned under Parcells that players had a lot more to give, both physically and mentally, than they might think. He said those teams practiced hard and it paid off in the big games -- including Super Bowl XXV.
"The way we ran the ball against Buffalo in that game, it started out in practice that week," Belichick said
The St. Bonaventure men's basketball team needed overtime to win on the road last night against Rhode Island, the only winless team in Atlantic 10 league play. But a win is a win, and suddenly the Bonnies are tied for first in a tightly packed A-10 race. Bona is in a five-way tie for first at 4-2 with St. Louis, Dayton, UMass and LaSalle. Temple, the highest A-10 team in the RPIs at No. 16, is a half-game back at 3-2. Five other teams have three losses.
That means 11 teams are within a game of first in the A-10, which actually has 13 teams (the Atlantic Baker's Dozen?). The Bonnies are only eighth among A-10 teams in the power rankings, however. A home loss to Arkansas State drags down their rating. Too bad they lost close games to Illinois and North Carolina State. The Bonnies host Richmond on Saturday, then play a huge road game at St. Louis, which is currently 16-4 overall.
Meanwhile, the Bona women are ranked 27th in the AP poll and are 28th in the RPIs. They're 19-2 overall and 6-0 in the A-10. The Bonnies' two losses were to teams rated higher in the women's RPIs -- No. 7 Delaware and No. 15 Villanova. Barring a total collapse, Bona should make the NCAA Tournament. They'll have a strong case as an at-large if they don't win the A-10 tourney. No Western New York women's team has ever gotten an at-large berth. Only one team, Canisius, has gone as a conference champ.
First of all, I don't agree with Tim Thomas's political position. The Bruins' goaltender comes across like some Tea Party zealot when he claims that the "Federal government has grown out of control." It's easy and simplistic to blame government for all our woes nowadays. The national discussion should rise above that sort of rhetoric, which has turned the Republican primary race into an embarrassment.
But I applaud Thomas for having the guts to boycott the White House ceremony to honor the Bruins for last year's Stanley Cup victory. It's rare and refreshing nowadays for an athlete to take any kind of political stand. Either they're worried about alienating their precious sponsors, or too disengaged from politics to form any sort of opinion that might offend or enlighten anyone. College athletes, who might be expected to have an occasional contrary thought, are equally disappointing.
There was a time when famous athletes felt compelled to take a stand. Muhammad Ali refused induction into the military during the Vietnam war. He was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title. Basketball great Bill Russell -- like Thomas a Boston player -- supported the Civil Rights movement and participated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 March on Washington.
I'm a Barack Obama supporter. But I also support Thomas, one of two Americans on the Bruins, in his decision to use his fame to voice his objections to his country's government. Thomas said his protest wasn't directed at a particular party. His critics have called it a selfish move. One writer said it undermined the team chemistry that helped Boston to its Cup run last season. That's ridiculous. It's not selfish to step out of the crowd and make an unpopular stand. It's courageous.
Thomas' teammates should respect him even more for taking a strong, independent stand. In fact, I'd like to think President Obama admired him for it, too.
If Sabres fans are desperate for anything positive, they have this to ponder: In their last four games, the Sabres have lost by five goals, four goals, three goals and two goals, in that order. So maybe Lindy Ruff's message is finally getting through. At this rate, they'll win a game sometime soon.
I'm predicting a one-goal loss on Tuesday night in New Jersey.
As planned, I'm moving up the chat to Wednesday -- and back an hour. Tim Graham and I will do a video session at 2 p.m. today from The News. I'll pick up the print-only version shortly after we finish, probably around 3. Talk to you then. Who do you like in the conference championship games?
Buddy Nix tends to be pretty honest in his rare meetings with the media. Maybe that's why he doesn't do it that often. Re-reading the transcript of last Monday's season-ending press conference, I was again struck by one of his more candid responses, when asked how much importance he puts on re-signing tight end Scott Chandler:
"If we can keep him at the right price, we will. You look at the guys, and I’m just saying what I said awhile ago, a lot of it’s when they get their opportunity, like C.J. When Chan came here, Stevie Johnson couldn’t get on the field, Ryan Fitzpatrick was a second or third thought at quarterback…Scott Chandler going into this year caught one ball in his career, one. [San Diego] drafted him in 2007, so I guess my point is those guys are probably more productive and more important to us than they may be to somebody else. I don’t know that. They [players] may want to find out. If they do and it’s more and they get what they want, more power to them. But I’m just saying that a lot of times that grass looks a lot greener but it may not be."
Nix echoes what I've been saying about Stevie Johnson lately: That Johnson's production the past two years has been a result of getting an opportunity on a team with few viable receiving weapons. He's produced like a No. 1 receiver here, but he was targeted much more often than he would have been on a team with more weapons.
As it pertains to free agency, Nix seems to be saying that Chandler and Johnson will be overvalued in free agency because they were major offensive targets by default. As Nix said, they might not be that productive elsewhere. If someone wants to pay them like elite receivers at their positions, so be it. But it sounds to me as if the Bills do not intend to pay them elite money. Chandler scored six TDs, tied for seventh among NFL tight ends. But he's not worth anything close to top tight end money.
Nix wouldn't touch the question about giving Stevie a franchise tag. That would be around $9.5 million. I don't think there's any chance they'll pay him that much for one year.