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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 7/12/98

Pennant Chase?

Finally!! The end of the off-season officially begins in a matter of days, when the Patriots open training camp on July 19th in Smithfield, R.I. Granted the games are still a ways off, but at least the local sports sections will have something to read about other than Mo Vaughn’s eternal quest for "respect." I may be speaking just for myself here, but once football season starts, the Red Sox take a back seat, no matter how well they are playing. Once Bledsoe connects with Coates, Robert Edwards starts to pound up the middle, and Ted Johnson and company dig themselves in, Mo Vaughn could sign with the Blue Jays after leaving 17 men on base in the playoffs and I could care less. Who says this is a baseball town? Even in New York, where the Yankees are playing better than perhaps any team in history, the talk is still centered on the Jets upcoming 1998 campaign.

Bill who?

Pete Carroll goes into camp in 1998 with something he did not have in 1997, his team. Last season, despite an entirely new coaching staff, and an entirely new philosophy, Pete Carroll took Tuna’s team into training camp, and took Tuna’s team into the 1997 season. It was not until the very end of the season, when Carroll’s defense began playing out-of-their-mind football, when Carroll’s stamp on the team became apparent. Following perhaps the toughest regular season loss in years at home to Pittsburgh, the Patriots won a game no one thought they could in Miami (on Monday Night Football) to clinch the AFC East. Carroll’s Pats, led yet again by the surging play of the defense, then spanked the Dolphins in the wild card game before losing yet another heart breaker to Pittsburgh, 7-6 in Three Rivers Stadium.

This year Carroll and Bobby Grier have continued to try to mold the team in the new philosophy. Carroll wants players on Defense who are young, athletic, and fast. This is somewhat of a drastic departure from what Tuna wanted, which was veterans whose best years were spent playing somewhere else. Seriously, Tuna preferred big, hulking defenders, and favored veterans over younger players. Tuna has continued that philosophy in New York, signing the likes of Pepper Johnson, Keith Byars, and Mike Gisler while handing over all of his draft picks to the Patriots. Tuna even replaced Hugh Douglas with Anthony Pleasant!!??

With additions to the defensive mix such as Tebucky Jones, Greg Spires, and Ron Merkerson, Pete Carroll has the young, hungry, and fast athletes he covets. On the offensive side, the solid but aging fullback position has been replaced by 25 year old Tony Carter and rookie 3rd round pick Chris Floyd. Dave Meggett’s release was also not entirely due to his problems North of the border. He was getting up there in age, had clearly lost a step, and was making a lot of money. Meggett still has a lot to offer an NFL team, but youth and speed once again has taken precedence on the Patriots roster. The Pats will now look to Tony Gaiter, Derrick Cullors and others to take over the punt and kickoff return duties.

Carroll’s strengths lie in his defensive credentials, so Ernie Zampese has been brought in to jump start a should-be potent offense which had a hard time scoring last season, even when Martin was in the lineup. To the 1997 Pats, 3rd and 1 looked more like 3rd and 4. That is inexcusable. Let’s hope Robert Edwards and the 15+ pounds he adds to the position can help change that.

The "Experts" sound off…

The preseason publications are starting to hit the shelves, and many have the Jets and Dolphins poised to compete for the division crown, leaving the Pats a distant third. Even in Las Vegas, a bet on the Pats to win the division has a better return than the same bet on either the Jets or Dolphins.

I’ve got news for you, the "experts" can’t predict who is going to finish where any better than you or I. Why they see the Jets, who last season went 2-6 in the AFC East, and had narrow home wins over Baltimore and Oakland, winning the division for the first time since the AFL/ NFL merger is beyond my comprehension. Sure they now have Curtis Martin, arguably the best back in the division and one of the elite backs in the NFL, but didn’t they have a 1,000-yard rusher last season? Didn’t Murrell gain those 1,000 behind one of the worst O-lines in the game? Signing a center to the most lucrative contract ever for the position and adding a couple of backup guards from the Pats and Bears is NOT going to change things that much.

Glenn Foley? Please. This guy was drafted in the 7th round a few years ago. Even "Draft Genius" Tuna selected QB Jay Walker ahead of Foley in the same 7th round. Foley has come off the bench on a few occasions and sparked the offense, but a couple of rah-rah comebacks does not make you a 16 game NFL starter. Forget the injury bug, even if Foley stays healthy for once, he is a BIGGER question mark than Peyton Manning going into this season. In fact, with Manning now in Indy and Rob Johnson in Buffalo, the Jets have the worst starting QB in the division. What happens when Curtis Martin gets stuffed like he did so many times last year (no knock on Curtis, but it happened)? Is Glenn Foley going to win the game for you?

Plan B is Vinny Testaverde. When the Pats played Baltimore in 1996, then Pats assistant coach Bill Belichick, now with the Jets, told Willie Clay and Lawyer Milloy to simply hold their ground and Vinny would likely throw the ball right to them. Belichick proved to be correct as Vinny threw the ball right to Willie Clay in the endzone for one of the easiest interceptions you will ever see. Neil O’Donnell may have been overpaid, but at least he could take care of the ball. Signings like this are the reason while Bill Parcells, despite his mastery of on the field coaching, was no longer welcome in New England. Unlike Hess, Kraft is not brain dead, and actually cares how his money is spent.

What about the Jets defense? Parcells deserves a ton of credit for getting this bunch of virtual no names (aside from Mo Lewis and Aaron Glenn) to play above their head, but their D is just not that good. Yes they gave up fewer points than the Pats in 1997, but while the Pats were playing Jacksonville and Denver on the road, the Jets were shutting out Tampa Bay in 30 degree wind storms in the Meadowlands. (Tampa Bay is 0-for-the franchise in games played below 42 degrees).

I may be a Pats fan, and perhaps I’m still a little bitter over the Tuna taking off and taking Martin with him, but I for one totally disagree with the notion that the Jets can win this division. Quite to the contrary, as a matter of fact, I’m predicting that the Pats will be holding a top 10 draft pick going into April 1999 courtesy of Leon Hess. Smoke and mirrors won’t work two years in a row.

Fish First?

Now to the Dolphins. Here is where I can at least see an argument. This team is clearly superior to the Jets, pretty much across the board outside of special teams and the running back. Note that running back does NOT equal running game. The delusions of Dan Marino’s demise are premature. Sure he’s not what he use to be, but considering Neil O’Donnell, Vinny Testaverde, Wade Wilson and Steve DeBerg all just signed on with other teams, the Dolphins are very lucky to still have Dan the Man on their roster. He looked bad against the Pats last season, but he had absolutely no time to throw, and the Dolphins could not run the ball. How did Bledsoe look in Tampa Bay under the same scenario?

The Dolphins have added a near Pro Bowler to their offensive line in free agency, and unlike the Jets signings, Donnalley was actually part of a successful running attack last season, helping to pave the way for Eddie George. Speedy WR Yatil Green will make his rookie debut one season late, and 1st round pick John Avery adds an explosive presence to the offense on 3rd downs. The young Defense returns essentially intact with a year’s more experience under their belts. Brock Marion will help to sure up the secondary.

The Pats swept the Dolphins in three games last season, so the division is certainly New England’s to lose, but the Dolphins swept the Jets, leaving Tuna looking up at both the Pats and Dolphins in his chase for the division crown. As for the Bills and Colts, I do look for them to finish with losing records, but something tells me that the Bills could make some serious noise and finish ahead of the Jets. Laugh if you wish, but if Gash, Smith, Thomas, and Rob Johnson can improve that offense a good measure, the Bills will win games. Their D is always tough with Washington and Smith and Speilman, and the Bills always play hard at home.

Play within the AFC East, as with any division in any year, will once again be crucial. The Pats host Miami and New York on Monday nights, and host the Colts on a Sunday night in their home opener September 13th (please Karen get that baby out on time!). The networks sure know these games are big, as do the players and coaches. The regular season is just 8 weeks away now. Just in time to take our minds off the Red Sox as they lose their grip on the wild card spot, and Mo Vaughn heads north to be with Roger and Jose in a fantasy land of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Thanks for reading. By the time I write my next column, camp will be in full swing and I won’t have as much problem thinking of something to write about.