Patriots Find Diamonds In The Rough

<p>Unlike their counterparts from Philadelphia who seem to relish the spotlight, life is business as usual for the New England Patriots cast of characters. Previously labeled as malcontents or players with issues, they have gone to work, put their noses to the grindstone and performed week-in week-out with nary a peep in the news. They may not be flamboyant, but they get the job done.</p><p>Chris Goodhue takes a look at a couple of these players to see why they're succeeding as Patriots.</p>

PHOTO: New England Patriots RB Corey Dillon celebrates a touchdown. The Patriots won 21-7 vs the San Fransisco 49ers in Foxboro Jan 2, 2005 (AP Photo/Winslow)

Patriots Find Diamonds in the Rough
By Chris Goodhue, Site Contributor

The story line for Corey Dillon in the season of 2004 reads almost exactly like the Rodney Harrison of 2003. It goes as follows: a tremendously talented player toiling in obscurity with a bad rap comes to a team that shuns distractions and the players that bring them. Rodney Harrison arrived in Foxboro as the most fined player in NFL history. Dillon arrived in a trade after continuous spats with Cincinnati management. Although previously labeled as “bad guys”, both players have been extremely instrumental in the Patriots’ chemistry and success.

In Harrison’s case, leaving San Diego was more of an issue of whether or not he could still play in the eyes of Chargers Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer. He was written off by Marty as being too slow and on the downside of his career. He was cut as a salary cap casualty in January of 2003. Sounds a lot like the Dan Duquette-Roger Clemens saga. Now let’s never speak of that again. Rodney reflected on the situation during Wednesday’s Patriots press conference. “I think any time that someone doubts you, your ultimate goal is to prove them wrong. The way that you do that is by taking care of business on the field. I’ve put a lot of hard work into it. I’ve put in so many hours and sacrificed so much to be in a position to make plays throughout the year. I’ve just been very blessed.”

Rodney has certainly done more than prove them wrong. He’s filled the shoes of defensive captain Lawyer Milloy. He’s earned the respect of his teammates and emerged as a team leader. He has not compromised his style of play regardless of league fines or rule changes. Most of all, he’s picked off Peyton Manning in the end zone twice in two playoff games vs. the Colts.

For the majority of his career, Corey Dillon was known as the best player on the worst franchise. The Bengals all-time leading rusher was never shy to criticize management for not being committed to winning. Can you really blame him? To date the Bengals have the longest playoff drought of any team at 15 years and counting. He usually wasn’t alone…so many players were slamming the front office that the team imposed a “loyalty clause” in many of their contracts which allowed the Bengals to recoup signing bonus money for being critical of the organization publicly.

Dillon was traded to the Patriots for a second round pick in April 2004 after losing his job to Rudi Johnson. From day one, he’s had a good relationship with his teammates and management. “When I came in, they welcomed me with open arms,” said Dillon during Wednesday’s media session. “Since training camp, everything’s been going pretty good. I play with a great bunch of guys, great coaches and a great owner. As soon as I got here they said, ‘Corey, we’re really not concerned about what happened in Cincinnati. Just as long as you get here and be positive and work hard, you’ll be fine.’ And that’s what I did.”

Corey unquestionably has worked hard. He gained a career high 1635 yards this season and ran over the Colts with 144 yards in his first ever playoff game. He no longer has to worry about defenses bringing 8 or even 9 men in the box to stop him. It’s the perfect situation for all parties involved, Dillon is bringing his passion to a team that is reaping the benefits of a high-end rusher, and the Patriots are showing Corey they care about nothing but winning. “The mentality of this team is ‘win or die.’ Every time we step out there everybody is concerned about going out there and winning the game. They’re not concerned about individual statistics. They’re willing to go out there and give 110% and help the team win.”

While teams like the Raiders have long prided themselves on bringing in players with checkered pasts, it is the Patriots who have the uncanny knack for finding out what each player is really about. What a former scout, or coach says about an individual has no bearing on the decisions that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli make. It’s fairly obvious they can find winners, and the job will get easier if teams keep deciding to jettison them.

Chris Goodhue has been a leading fantasy football and baseball expert since 1999. He can usually be found at a local Boston area sports bar settling arguments of sports history, but in case you can't find him out there, send your questions and feedback to cgoodhue in the Insider Forums

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