ESPNBoston.com’s analysts were on hand to address quite a few different topics during their annual 2013 Pre-Draft Event for season ticket holders at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.


FOXBORO, MA — It’s been a few months since the Patriots saw their season come to an abrupt end at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game, but Saturday saw the first step for fans to start moving toward what should hopefully be a better 2013 season.

The Patriots held their annual 2013 NFL Draft Preview event for season ticket holders on Saturday, which was presented by ESPNBoston.com and it saw quite a turnout. ¬†According to team spokesperson Stacey James about 1,000 people were on hand for Saturday’s free event, marking the first time since that disappointing afternoon in January that so many of those fans headed back to the stadium.

That day they left disheartened with a lot of uncertainty after watching the Ravens celebrate a Conference title.  After yesterday they hopefully left with a little more optimism about how their team will fare this season.

For those who were there, it was quite an experience.  Fans were treated to a terrific assortment of food in the club area of the stadium, as well as a chance to truly enjoy the home of their favorite team.  The team opened up the field and you could see families throwing the football down at field level with their children as they got to experience running around on the same turf that Tom Brady and company will be returning to in the months ahead.

Left tackle Nate Solder was on hand signing autographs during Saturday’s event at Gillette Stadium.

When they came back inside, they were also able to meet one of the players as Patriots offensive lineman Nate Solder was on hand shaking hands with fans and signing autographs. ¬†You could see a lot of smiles being exchanged as fans each got their turn to meet the guy who protects Brady’s blindside, and the veteran also had his picture taken with many of them.

They also had a chance to take their picture with “Pat the Patriot” and the New England cheerleaders, with many big smiles seen from children who met the Patriots’ mascot.

Later in the day fans packed the chairs around a stage set up for a panel featuring ESPNBoston.com members Mike Reiss, Trevor Matich and of course, fan favorite, Tedy Bruschi.

Bruschi drew a huge amount of applause when he was announced, as well as a standing ovation. ¬†Hosting the panel was ESPN’s “NFL Live” host Trey Wingo, who after the cheers died down joked with Bruschi about the fact the former linebacker was wearing “Ravens Purple” for his dress shirt. Bruschi very aptly replied any similarities with the Ravens from his attire were “offset” by the fact he was wearing his Super Bowl ring.

After the panel was introduced, a video recapping the 2012 season was played. ¬†The best moment of that segment was the replay of the Marc Sanchez “butt fumble”, which caused the fans on hand to erupt with laughter.

They then settled in to hear what the ESPNBoston.com analysts thought about the upcoming draft, as well as the team’s outlook for the 2013 season. ¬†It lasted about 90 minutes, and it was an extremely interesting breakdown that saw the majority of people on hand stay for the entire program.

Here’s a quick rundown of what was discussed:

- How much longer will the Brady/Belichick tenure last? After the panel was asked about how many more years Brady and Bill Belichick will be together here in New England, there were some interesting points made. ¬†Reiss pointed out that Brady is under contract for the next five seasons and while it would be nice to see him still performing at a high level at the end of it, it’s tough in this league for players to maintain their play at that age and that their skills sometimes drop off quickly. ¬†When asked about his thoughts on Brady Bruschi said he feels that this contract would be the “max” we’re going to get out of New England’s signal-caller. ¬†The former linebacker explained he was just trying to be realistic, having known himself how tough it is to deal with the daily rigors of the game.

- Interesting admission by Bruschi – Speaking of which, one of the most interesting parts of that discussion was Bruschi pointing out one of the moments he realized he was no longer himself prior to his decision to retire. ¬†He mentioned that it came while he was viewing a “splice of film” where he watched himself perform during a drill during the 2009¬†training camp that was similar to one he had also done back in 2004. ¬†After watching the two Bruschi said of the 2004 version of himself, “Man, that guy’s good,” whereas after seeing the 2009 footage his thoughts were, “Man, that guy’s slow.”

- What does Mallett’s future hold? – Early in the segment the future of Ryan Mallett came up regarding whether or not he is the future in New England at quarterback. ¬†Bruschi believes that Mallett is a valuable commodity, but said speaking “realistically” when Brady does call it quits that the window for the Patriots is closed until he can prove he can open it back up. ¬†One interesting note from this discussion came from¬†Matich, who felt that if he’s still here Mallett is wise to sign another contract in New England because when Brady does eventually step away, he’d be inheriting quite a program. ¬†Matich also pointed out that Mallett needs to focus on Brady’s leadership skills, which he feels have been a strength and a big key to their success. ¬†He talked about the fact that despite all the personnel turnover, even though they haven’t always had the most talent, Brady always demands the best from the guys around him and it’s one of the reasons this team has remained so successful. ¬†Reiss made a good point when he said that when the time does finally come to transition away from Brady, Belichick will know exactly how to handle it.

- Belichick Mic’d up – Speaking of Belichick, they played a video of the Patriots coach “mic’d up” during the Indianapolis game last season and it contained some great moments. ¬†In one clip Belichick was seen talking to former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri before the game where he told him he believed the former Patriots kicker would be in the Hall of Fame and that he hoped “he’s invited” to the ceremony. ¬† In another clip you could see him working with the defense and pointing out the fact the Colts were running away from Vince Wilfork and telling them his plans to counter what the Colts were doing. ¬†However, one of the best moments that got the fans’ attention came on Alfonzo Dennard’s interception return where you could see Belichick shouting “Go! Go!” while waving his arm on the sideline. ¬†That drew some smiles and some laughter from everyone in the room who got to see the normally reserved coach get animated during that big play.

- More insight from Bruschi – Bruschi also gave some insight into how Belichick tells the players to handle things in the media on a weekly basis, telling them “this week we’re just going to spray on the perfume,” while on other weeks he would say, “No, don’t spray on the perfume, what I want you to do, is unscrew the top and pour on the whole bottle. ¬†Make them feel good about themselves before we go out there and play.” ¬†Great stuff.

- Wide Receiver Position Discussed – One of the biggest discussions clearly centered around the wide receiver position, which obviously saw the loss of Wes Welker this offseason, who signed in Denver. ¬† Heading into this year’s draft Reiss brought up the 2002 draft where they selected Deion Branch and David Givens and felt that although they haven’t had much luck recently, they’ll need to try and take another similar shot like that this time around. ¬†Bruschi, meanwhile, felt that their biggest problem with receivers has simply been the fact it’s been tough to find guys who are mentally able to do what they need them to. He pointed out that the Patriots change what they do offensively almost week-by-week and that’s why so many players have struggled in recent years. ¬†Matich also mentioned that losing Welker means they lose all the reps he and Brady have had over the years where they more or less knew what “the other was thinking”, and that will be tough to replace.

- On the acquisition of Adrian Wilson – The topic of new acquisition Adrian Wilson was discussed and one word Reiss used to describe Wilson was “toughness”, although Reiss went on to mention that he wasn’t sure if the safety would be a starter in the base defense. ¬†Regardless of how much he plays, Reiss feels Wilson brings that key ingredient that this team has been lacking in recent years. ¬†Bruschi mentioned that Wilson’s acquisition allows McCourty to stay at safety and focus on what he’s good at, pointing out that it’s tough for a player to transition from one position to another during a game. ¬†He also brought up how important chemistry is in those situations, going all the way back to telling a story of the days of when he remembered Ty Law and Rodney Harrison being able to switch up positions during a game because they knew each other and communicated so well.

- Fact or Fiction: First round trade coming? – During a “Fact or Fiction” segment with the fans, there were a few interesting things that stood out but the vast majority of people felt that the team will indeed trade out of the 1st round to accumulate additional picks. ¬†As far as what the team’s top priority is, most fans seem split in terms of what position they’re going to focus on. ¬†When asked if they felt whether or not the team will focus on cornerback, the majority of fans didn’t think so and overall during the 90-minute discussion there seemed to be no clear winner in terms of which direction the Patriots will go position-wise on draft day.

- Dobson grabs everyone’s attention – One of the biggest moments of the afternoon while discussing player possibilities came during the second half of the panel discussion when the topic of receivers was being discussed. They started showing footage of Aaron Dobson out of Marshall making some repeatedly ridiculous one-handed catches, and the room quickly erupted and started buzzing after seeing what he could do. That clearly made an impression and you could hear quite a few fans talking about him on their way out after the event.

- Bruschi wants a running back? – Bruschi also made an interesting point where he questioned how surprising it would/wouldn’t be if the Patriots selected a running back. ¬†His reasoning centered around the fact that he’d prefer a big running back back there in lieu of Stevan Ridley, who he felt had some reliability issues carrying the ball.

- Other Topics: Some other things that were discussed included what the “over/under” was on Rob Gronkowski playing 11 games (fans picked the over), over/under on whether or not the Patriots would have more than 5 draft picks (again, fans picked the over), and then finally whether or not Tedy Bruschi would get in during his first year of eligibility into the Patriots Hall of Fame. ¬†That question drew a huge reaction from everyone there, with cheers and applause breaking out in adoration of a guy who was clearly the heart and soul of the team and obviously deserves to be in. ¬†If he’s not inducted, it appears the vast majority of fans certainly won’t be happy about it.

During a final Q&A between the fans and the panel, it appears that the vast majority of fans have quite a few different positions on their wish list. ¬†From a pass rushing defensive lineman to whether or not they’ll select “the Honey Badger” in the second round, there were plenty of ideas tossed out and there is definitely plenty of interest in terms of what the team will ultimately decide to address heading into this draft.

Either way, there was plenty of energy in the building and Saturday marked the start of fans taking part in the journey toward next season. We’ll find out in just a few weeks who they’ll be cheering for by the time they return to their seats in September when the 2013 regular season kicks off.