PFW associate editor Kevin Fishbain talked with former Patriots star and current radio color commentator Gino Cappelletti about the new passing era, Devin McCourty and his late teammate, Houston Antwine.
PFW: The Patriots have had four different players start at center and still seem to be struggling to find consistency, but it hasn't seemed to slow down the offense. What have you seen from that position?
Cappelletti: They've been able to find some versatility amongst all their offensive linemen. They have done a great job in that department. The guys are rotating around. It's really up to the coaches to make that decision because of what type of personnel they're going to be putting up with — whether an opponent's strength is on the interior or the edge. They have everyone befuddled. We don't know until we get to the game when we see the lineup how it's going to start.
PFW: The Patriots reportedly locked up Jerod Mayo with a five-year extension. He's the leader of the defense that we don't hear a lot about. What does he mean to that unit?
Cappelletti: He brings that stability and that youthfulness along with some experience in an all-out manner all the time. He's been rock solid since he got here. He's grown. This year has not been his best year because he had to miss a couple of games. At the same time, you go through a season, and having been a receiver, I know there are some guys that never see the ball. There are some games where you're heavily involved. That works out the same way defensively. If he's called upon, he'll give you a top-rate performance. He hasn't been in the minds or the words of the fans or media in terms of seeing a lot from him.
PFW: With Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino's passing record, and Tom Brady not that far behind, what does it say to you about the passing era the NFL is now in?
Cappelletti: The passing game has become quickened. It's all based on timing. And that's why the Patriots were successful this past decade. They were one of the first teams to do it, along with the Rams for a while. The quick setup, quick throw, the receiver is open right away, and a lot of times it takes a defensive back time to recover to get in position to deflect the ball. I think that timing principle and the accuracy that you're seeing with the quarterbacks these days (is a reason for the success). Aaron Rodgers is so accurate even on the run. Moving, he's just as accurate as he is in the pocket. You're finding these guys who bolt out of the pocket are able hit the receivers in stride, and that is the key. If you hit a receiver in stride, that could mean an extra 8-10 yards. It's so important that they do it that way. I think the passing game is more perfected than the running game, which sometimes will take time to move the ball. It's nice to control the ball and wear down the defense. The ideal position is to do both and do it well. There's no question that it has become an air parade.
PFW: It seems as though Devin McCourty is having a sophomore slump and teams are going after him often. What are teams seeing that has them targeting McCourty so much?
Cappelletti: They're going on what they see now. Last year he was impressive, he did a nice job as a rookie, but that's gone and forgotten. They see right now that he is a guy that can be beat with speed and he has difficulty in finding the ball or being able to turn at the right time to find the ball. He runs with the receiver and the quarterbacks are dropping the ball in perfectly. (The quarterback) has to do that as well. He's been giving up some big gainers at some key times, and those are the ones you notice. The 3rd-and-22 or something like that and they send a wideout on a go pattern and they come up with the reception, that's easily noticed.
PFW: You lost one of your teammates this week with the passing on Houston Antwine. What are some of your memories of him as a player and as a person?
Cappelletti: 'Twine was a terrific person. He was a truly outstanding football player. You got to be measured at the time you played and what was out there, and he truly was one of the best in the AFL He had great speed, he was very quick. He would make those moves and then with the slap move and everything like that, he was a master. He plugged a lot of holes. He was a guy that played on every down. He was an everyday player, every-practice player. I don't recall him missing any games, anyway. He didn't miss a lot. He was one of those kinds of guys. He gave it all in games and practices. He was a terrific guy. It has saddened all of us for the way that this ended for him and his family.