Before the 2007 NFL Combine, before the pro day workouts and before the NFL Draft, the New England Patriots personnel department spent a good deal of time evaluating offensive line prospects. Team scouts, personnel guru Scott Pioli and even offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia flew around the country to personally work out some top-ranked linemen. Instead of using one of the team's top draft picks at a position of need, they ultimately decided to wait until day two before selecting anyone on offense.
Waiting until the later rounds to pick an offensive lineman may be the Patriots' normal draft philosophy, but the players the team worked out supported the idea that New England was interested in upgrading the unit that protects their most valuable asset - Tom Brady.
Finding players who fit their system includes scouting players from all corners of the country, from every level of college ball, and even looking at the supplemental draft. It's also why the Patriots were one of ten teams to meet with Nebraska offensive lineman Chris Patrick who went through his own personal pro day in preparation for the NFL Supplemental Draft yesterday.
After meeting with the Falcons the night before his workout, Patrick mentioned two other teams that showed particular interest, Kansas City and New England. He felt Belichick's team would be a perfect fit for him.
"I'm kind of a sleeper guy, and New England's kind of known for getting sleepers and late-round draft picks and having them do well and getting some success," Patrick told the Journal Star. "Maybe they see something in me they like. I'd love to go there."
Patrick is considered a talented blocker, but he will unlikely be a top pick when the draft is held on July 15th, due to the nature of the system. Not only would teams have to use a draft pick from their 2008 Draft, but also the compensation is added to the team's 2007 salary cap.
Well-known for their ability to find late round sleepers, the Patriots opted to wait until the fifth round of this year's draft before they selected their first offensive lineman, tackle Clint Oldenburg (Colorado State). They added two more linemen in subsequent rounds to build depth and competition. In the sixth round they selected tackle Corey Hilliard (Oklahoma State) and in the seventh they chose guard Mike Elgin (Iowa).
New England is looking to upgrade the roster behind a starting line that has been beset by injuries the past few seasons. Hilliard, who struggled with conditioning in minicamp, spoke about trying to make a roster full of talented players and the competition for roster spots on a team projected to go to the Super Bowl.
"It's evident [the Patriots] are one of the best teams in the league," Hilliard said at the time. "I'm just happy to be here and to try and make the team."
Both Hilliard and Oldenburg were brought in to upgrade depth at the tackle position, an area New England feels it needs to address after injuries forced regular lineup changes during the 2006 campaign. Both saw time at various positions during the team's recent minicamp, but both remained on the sideline during the team's 11-on-11 drills the final day. After seeing what the rookies were able to do in camp, it appears New England may not be completely satisfied with the prospects they have on the roster, and may consider adding another player to the mix.
If Oliver was able to demonstrate the intangibles that the Patriots are looking for, he may find himself working alongside Oldenburg and Hilliard. For now, he just hopes he did enough to make someone call his name.
"Hopefully, I impressed some people today," Patrick said. "I'm not going to be big on numbers, but I think when people watch film, they'll be impressed."