First there was the toughness of Ray Perkins, then the fatherly
prodding of Chris Palmer, then the stay-the-course stoicism of
Larry Kennan. Now it's the quiet but precise approach of Ernie
Zampese, who becomes the fourth offensive guru to work with
quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the last four years. "I'm murder on
coaches, huh?" Bledsoe says as he smiles through the perspiration.
Bledsoe is pedaling hard. He's sweating bullets on this hot
morning, pumping the exercise bike after a training-camp
practice in Smithfield, R.I., as he considers what the wave of
coaching changes means to him and his team. Ever since the
all-controlling Bill Parcells jumped ship after the 1996 Super
Bowl season, Bledsoe has been the key to anything this team
accomplishes. There's talk of a hundred other factors that might
determine New England's fate in '98--whether the running game
will be too thin with the departure of free agent Curtis Martin
to the Jets, whether moody franchise wideout Terry Glenn will
come to play, whether a weak secondary can hold up--but what is
most critical to the Pats' chances of winning a third
consecutive AFC East title is how the marriage between Bledsoe
and the well-traveled Zampese works out. After all, it was
Bledsoe who led this team to 4-1 finishes in each of the last
two regular seasons when Martin was either injured or not his
usual spectacular self.
Under Zampese, who becomes the Patriots' offensive coordinator
after four years with the Cowboys, Bledsoe's biggest adjustment
will come in his timing. "The ball will be out quicker now,"
Bledsoe says. "I've got to get the ball in receivers' hands
faster. It's more of a precision offense, and I like it because
you force the defense to commit quicker. It's kind of like the
West Coast offense in the slants and quick reads, but you
maintain a lot of the elements of the regular pro-style offense
too. Having worked on it for a few months, I can see why Ernie's
been so successful. I can't wait to use it in games. I think
it's going to make us, and me, better."
Zampese, however, arrived in New England in a slump. Cowboys
quarterback Troy Aikman might be the league's best
marksman--"He's the most accurate one I've seen," Zampese
says--but in terms of completion percentage (56.4), last year
was his worst since 1989, his rookie season. Blame injuries if
you want, but the feeling among NFC East coaches is that
Zampese's offense became all too predictable.
"Drew will have to speed up," Aikman says. "He can do it. But
everything he's always done is deliberate, and now he'll have to
get it out sooner so he can sync his game with the receivers.
Everything with Ernie is timing. It'll make him a better player.
My first year under Ernie, I think my mechanics improved
"Ernie is a great coach. He was good for me, and I know he'll be
good for Drew. His offense is proven. We won three Super Bowls
Zampese, who returns to the AFC for the first time since he was
the Chargers' offensive coordinator from 1983 to '86, welcomes
the change of scenery. "It's something new and fresh," he says.
"It'll be fun going against a new division and a new conference.
We still have to find a running back, though."
Right. Aikman wouldn't have won those three Super Bowls without
Emmitt Smith. The Patriots didn't have a viable backup last year
when Martin was sidelined in December with various injuries,
forcing them to go with untested first-year men Derrick Cullors
and Sedrick Shaw in the playoffs. First-round draft pick Robert
Edwards looked like the real deal early in training camp. He's a
5'11", 218-pound bull with the shake to get away from outside
linebackers. But he was slowed at Georgia by a broken foot and
ankle sprains, and he'll have to prove he's durable.
If the running game fails, Bledsoe must get big production from
Glenn, who vows he's up to the challenge after an injury-plagued
1997 season. Glenn was a more frequent participant in off-season
workouts than he had been the previous summer, and that--along
with Zampese's offense--may help him put to rest the notion that
he's too fragile to be a bona fide NFL star.
"I've been in a lot of offenses, and I think this one's going to
be a real nice one," says Glenn. "Last year I think I got caught
up in all the hype of trying to beat my rookie season [of 90
catches]. This year I'm not thinking numbers. All I'm thinking
about is being my best on the next play."
If Bledsoe and Zampese can get on the same page, chances are that
Glenn and the Patriots will play into January. --P.K.
COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG MELVIN/SPORTSCHROME PROVING GROUND After a sophomore slump, Glenn is determined to silence the critics who question his durability. [Terry Glenn in game]
B/W PHOTO: TOBEY SANFORD Rutledge [Rod Rutledge]
Sept. 7 at Denver (Mon.)
27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 4 at New Orleans
11 KANSAS CITY
19 N.Y. JETS (Mon.)
25 at Miami
Nov. 1 at Indianapolis
15 at Buffalo
23 MIAMI (Mon.)
Dec. 6 at Pittsburgh
13 at St. Louis
20 SAN FRANCISCO
27 at N.Y. Jets
1997 Record 10-6 (1st in AFC East) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 26/7/15; defense 5/23/19
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 11 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .504 Games against playoff teams: 6
Looking Out for No. 1
Highly touted rookies Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf could learn a
thing or two from Drew Bledsoe, who was the most recent
quarterback before Manning to be chosen No. 1 in the NFL draft.
Bledsoe has started more games in his first five seasons than
any other quarterback in league history; below is a look at how
the stats from his first five years compare with those of the
other quarterbacks who were top selections since 1967 (the year
the NFL and AFL held their first combined draft).
Years Games Att. Comp. Yds. TDs Int. Rtg. Playoff W-L
1993-97 75 2,901 1,624 18,348 108 88 74.9 3-3
1990-94 65 2,056 1,196 13,285 64 64 74.9 --
1989-93 68 1,920 1,191 13,627 69 66 81.0 6-0
1975-79 50 1,260 627 8,129 47 75 58.1 1-1
1983-87 68 2,158 1,168 14,835 85 77 74.1 4-3
1971-75 61 1,503 729 9,932 62 87 59.7 --
1970-74 51 1,227 589 7,524 48 81 53.2 4-2
By drafting Alabama tight end Rod Rutledge, the Patriots weren't
trying to light a fire under Ben Coates. Rather, they hope to
use Rutledge to occasionally spell Coates, who looked worn down
in the playoffs (four receptions in two games).... Why should
the Pats be nervous that Dave Wohlabaugh is one of the NFL's
best young centers? He will be an unrestricted free agent after
the season, and because the Jets hoisted the market value of
centers by paying $3.4 million a year to lure Kevin Mawae from
Seattle, the Pats could be in for a bidding war if they don't
sign Wohlabaugh to a long-term deal by season's end.... Coaches
were concerned about the development of rookie wideout Tony
Simmons, because he played in a run-oriented offense at
Wisconsin. But Simmons's crisp routes and soft hands have
surprised everyone in camp.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Pete Carroll
Second season with Patriots (16-16 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Drew Bledsoe 4[PVR*] 522 att. 314 comp. 60.2%
3,706 yds. 28 TDs 15int. 87.7 rtg.
RB Robert Edwards (R)[N] 88[PVR*] 142 att. 830 yds.
5.8 avg. 17 rec. 172yds. 10.1 avg. 13 TDs
FB Tony Carter[N] 338[PVR*] 9 att. 56 yds. 6.2
avg. 24 rec. 152 yds. 6.3avg. 0 TDs
RB Sedrick Shaw** 165[PVR*] 204 att. 1,003 yds. 4.9
avg. 13 rec. 78yds. 6.0 avg. 9 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Terry Glenn 30[PVR*] 27 rec. 431 yds. 2 TDs
WR Shawn Jefferson 148[PVR*] 54 rec. 841 yds. 2 TDs
WR Troy Brown 216[PVR*] 41 rec. 607 yds. 6 TDs
TE Ben Coates 56[PVR*] 66 rec. 737 yds. 8 TDs
K Adam Vinatieri 39[PVR*] 40/40 XPs 25/29 FGs 115 pts.
PR Troy Brown 216[PVR*] 24 ret. 8.4 avg. 0 TDs
KR Derrick Cullors 347[PVR*] 15 ret. 25.7 avg. 1 TD
LT Bruce Armstrong 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Max Lane 6'6" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Dave Wohlabaugh 6'3" 292 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RG Todd Rucci 6'5" 296 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Zefross Moss 6'6" 325 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LE Ferric Collons 15 tackles 1 sack
LT Mark Wheeler 36 tackles 4 sacks
RT Henry Thomas 69 tackles 7 sacks
RE Willie McGinest 35 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Todd Collins 99 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
MLB Ted Johnson 127 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Chris Slade 88 tackles 9 sacks
CB Ty Law 77 tackles 3 int.
SS Lawyer Milloy 112 tackles 3 int.
FS Willie Clay 95 tackles 6 int.
CB Tebucky Jones(R)[N] 72 tackles 4 int.
P Tom Tupa 78 punts 45.8 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)
**1996 college statistics