I thought with over a month before training camp, I thought I might muse about things that been peculating in my mind - The first is a result of a combination of a nice article on Scott Pioli and how the Pats build a team, and comment I heard on ESPN that the Ravens, with Steve McNair are a real threat, since they have 15 all pros on their team, and now a top notch QB; that got me thinking. 1.I now understand why the Pats are universally respected, yet consistently underrated, and we shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be surprised, upset, or at odds with any of that, when it occurs. Over the last 2 decades the media has elevated the Ã¢â‚¬Å“superstarÃ¢â‚¬ to prominence and relegated the Ã¢â‚¬Å“teamÃ¢â‚¬ to secondary status. I first noticed it in the 80Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s when the Lakers v Celtics rivalry, was transformed into Magic v Larry. Soon it was all about the superstar and less about the team. Even in football, the ultimate team game, the individual is elevated over the team in our consciousness. So a team with recognizable Ã¢â‚¬Å“all prosÃ¢â‚¬ will always get more notice than a team with almost none. Now that Adam is gone the Pats are left with only 2 Ã¢â‚¬Å“all proÃ¢â‚¬ type players Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Tom Brady & Richard Seymour. (hopefully 3 when Ty signs, but that is a topic for later on) So it is only natural that outsiders and non-fans, would view our chances as speculative compared to those teams with many marquee names on the roster. The more I see how the Pats have managed to drastically improve the overall speed and athleticism of its roster (top to bottom) SINCE 2001, despite drafting at the BOTTOM of each round, and eschewing elite FAs; the more respect I have for the men to put the plan into operation and had the courage to continue to see it though, despite obvious hard choices that continually have to be made. So while we all ponder the Deon Branch resigning or non resigning I think we should understand that the best decision for the TEAM, not the individual or the fans, will be made. BOTTOM LINE Ã¢â‚¬â€œ be prepared for the Pats to always be respected as this coming season unfolds, but understand why they will rarely be among the first teams mentioned as super bowl contenders are talked about. Just be consoled that they will eventually be mentioned down the line, and THEY WILL be contenders this year. 2. I was down at Foxwoods to play some poker and a friend got me a high rollerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ticket to do a meet and greet with Ben Rothlesburger. Well since it included a dinner buffet of fillet mignon, salmon steaks, and many other treats, I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to let my own Patriot bias get in the way of a great mealÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.that was free. There were a lot of Steel Fans in attendance and dinner conversation was great fun. In general they were very proud of their super bowl win, and very knowledgeable over all. I got nothing but respect from them, especially after I pointed out that their great run of wins in the playoffes, DIDNÃ¢â‚¬â„¢T INCLUDE a victory over the Pats Ben, himself, was a very gracious young man who patiently shook hands and posed for pictures and answered plenty of inane questions. I did get a chance later before he left to speak to him. He immediately noticed my Patriots hat as I shook his incredibly large hand. Now, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m 6Ã¢â‚¬â„¢1 225 and he dwarfed me. This is a very large man, my friends. He thanked me when I told him how much I respected his game. But he was very surprised when I told him why. I told him not to get too swell headed because everyone was kissing his ass because he was the super bowl QB I explained that he won MY respect on the worst day of his professional careerÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.and it was true. After playing what could be considered the worst half of football ever played by a playoff QB, in the 2004 AFC Championship game. Big Ben came out in the second half and was one bad coaching decision to getting back to within 7 points. That showed me he had an extreme amount of mental toughness to rebound after such a horrid start, especially in a player so young. I was a HS football coach for a long time, and we often forget that the real measure of a personÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s character is not how he behaves in victory, but how he responds to defeat. For me, Ben answered any question I had about his mental toughness in the second half of that loss. A lot of very good players wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have responded as well. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m almost sorry to say, that I fully expect Rothlesburger to not only recover from his accident, but to learn from it. He will make the Steelers an annual threat to the Pats for the next decadeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.damn it. What was especially nice was later, the casino guy who was running the event came up to me and told me that Ben repeated my conversation to his group. He was impressed. So I asked him if he want to comp me a room for the night. In reply, he asked me what I was playing. I told him poker..... He was still laughing as he walked away Poker players get no respect in casinos 3. Given that I am a charter member of the Patriots Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sunshine optimists clubÃ¢â‚¬, I am very optimistic, as my coming preview will point out. However I have to point out one important caveat. In many areas, the Patriots WILL BE an improved team (IMHO).The problem is that EVERY TEAM, by and large, will also be improved. So just being improved relative to last season, doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t guarantee success. 4. I want it be be clearly stated that I think Deon Branch is an excellent WR. He is the best WR the Pats have for this coming season. I also think that he is currently underpaid. However to pay him as if he were a top 15 WR would be pure folly. For as good a Branch is at what he does; he has limitations. He isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a guy who can get you YAC. He isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to out muscle anyone for a ball. He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the raw speed to stretch a defense. What he DOES do well is accelerate out of his breaks, read defenses and catch the tough pass. IMHO he is worth a lot more than the 1MM dollars that he is scheduled to make this season, but not the 6+MM he is looking for. David Givens was over paid. The Pats shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make the same mistake, just because someone else chose to do so. IMHO, I think the Pats should redo his current contract and give him an extra million or so THIS season, and see what happens over the course of this season. Kind of like what they did with Seymour last year. Show him some good faith, but donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fall into the trap of overpaying one player, especially at a position that I feel is the easiest place to find talent. Besides at the end of this season, Chad Jackson might be ready to be a true #1 5. Pet Peeves - I hope the NFL doesn't become the no touch league. I want to protect the QB as much as the next guy, but merely touch the helmet of a QB should generate a major penalty. These are game changing plays often. - The same goes for pass interference. It used to be that a ball had to be catchable for PI to be even considered. Now days it is worth it to just throw a ball out there and have your WR do a soccer flop and wait for the flag to drop. At worst the NFL should consider having 2 kinds of PI. One where its an automatic 15 yards, and only give point of foul yardage to the most egregious and obvious cases. - I still cringe everytime I see a TD where the ball carrier "crosses the plane". I want to literally see a TOUCH DOWN. I want some part of the body to get in the endzone for the 6 points. Right now its more like a jumping contest. Run/pass the damned ball in there. - I'm pretty much a straight arrow, but I'm getting tired of the media demonizing people for making mistakes that are common place to the rest of us. Like he was smoking dope in college. If that were a reason to bar people from getting a season ticket, I might actually get to see a game. Another one is DUI (for the first time only). I have never been stopped, but there must have been dozens of times where if I had been, I would have not passed the breathalyzer, and I rarely drink. Its one thing to steal or hit a woman, or assault someone or be a DUI multiple times. Its another thing to lump these things in to one group for doing things when we were young that EVERYONE has done. I read where one of the negative things about Ahmed Brooks was he was caught smoking dope in college. It was all I could do not to fall off my chair. "SMOKE DOPE IN COLLEGE" What a shock! As to why he was kicked off the team, that is another story, but I'm sure BB knows exactly why.