Thursday, November 19, 2009

Former QBs thriving as WRs for Patriots

Julian Edelman doesn't mind talking trash with Isaiah Stanback.

"We've talked the experience of playing quarterback," Edelman said, "and we have that little competitive edge: 'I can throw the ball better than you."

But while the Patriots' two former quarterbacks have different roles at wide receiver -- Edelman is more of an inside receiver while Stanback is more of an outside guy -- both have the similar advantage of having seen the field from the perspective of the passer.

"(Stanback) has a better than average feel for how to come open, when to come open on certain routes and what the quarterback’s looking at," Belichick said. (He was asked specifically about Stanback, but he could have just as easily have been talking about Edelman.) "For anybody that’s played quarterback, you know it doesn’t really help you for a receiver to come open when either you can’t or you’re not ready to throw them him the ball. ...

"On the other hand, it’s better if a receiver is open when you are ready to throw regardless if it’s the exact route that you’re trying to run. Maybe it’s a little bit shorter, maybe it’s a little bit wider, maybe it’s not perfect -- but if he’s open at the right time, that’s a lot better than being open at the wrong time. There’s a sense of timing and spacing that an instinctive player at both of those positions understands and does."

Edelman, for his part, brushed off the idea that he was a more instinctive wide receiver because he'd played quarterback in college.

"It helps, but this isn't college," Edelman said. "This is a different level. I'm still learning every day. I have a lot to learn."

He's doing just fine so far.

The touchdown pass he caught in the second quarter against Indianapolis, in fact, might be the best evidence of those instincts. Edelman lined up in the slot and ran a route that took him toward the sideline -- but when Robert Mathis beat right tackle Nick Kaczur to get some pressure on Tom Brady, Edelman broke out his route and did whatever he could to get open for his quarterback.

Here's what the initial routes looked like for the Patriots' four wide receivers on the field:

When Mathis got into the backfield, though, Edelman cut back away from the sideline and sprinted back toward the middle of the field, a yard or two deep in the end zone. It almost certainly was not where he was supposed to be based on the way the play was designed -- but it was exactly where he was supposed to be based on what his quarterback needed:

Stanback actually broke off his route first and made the same sprint across the middle. Brady, though, still was shaking off Mathis and wasn't yet ready to throw. But when both Colts' safeties went with Stanback, anticipating a pass to him, and that left Edelman with an opening on the left side of the field.

It was just the way you'd expect two quarterbacks to play wide receiver -- getting open any way they could.

Edelman and Stanback weren't the only two wide receivers to break off their routes to get open, of course. Wes Welker initially cut to the outside but drifted back into the middle of the field, finding a seam six or seven yards past the line of scrimmage.

The ability of Welker to find gaps in the defense fits naturally with the instincts of Edelman and Stanback to get open. The Patriots didn't have that in Week 2 against the Jets, and it'll help Brady immensely to have two instinctive slot receivers when the Jets throw their blitzes at him.

"It's great to play with Wes Welker," Edelman said. "Just watching him every day in practice and seeing him in the game, a lot of the (defensive) guys go to him, and it opens you up because he's such a huge part of our offense."

And Edelman, who drew comparisons to Welker before he ever took the field for the Patriots, has mad sure to pick up everything he can from one of the NFL's most productive receivers.

"Little things, like how he practices -- watching a guy go 100 miles an hour every time in practice so he can be used to going that fast," Edelman said. "How he recognizes the defense. How he runs a route a certain way here and there -- and how he runs it differently the next time. Things like that are how you get better because you're learning new stuff, and you're seeing him do different things."

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