Smoke screens are nothing new to the Patriots -- or any other team in the NFL -- which is why pre draft visits and workouts can have more than one meaning. Some workouts are to get a look at players the team would likely select at the appropriate time in the Draft. Others are done to add a bit of confusion for any team trying to guess what the Patriots are trying to do.
|Mike Jenkins (4) knocks a pass away from Elon wide receiver Terrill Hudins |
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
With teams allowed to host up to 30 players for visits to the team facilities, on campus workouts are the preferred method of obtaining information that others are not privy to. One such workout happened a little over a week ago when Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took a trip to workout University of South Florida's Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. There was little smoke surrounding the workout, as Jenkins is at the top of many Draft boards around the league. With the seventh pick in the Draft, the Patriots are in the perfect position to select the 6-foot, 200-pound defender if they want to.
Widely considered a top three talent available in the Draft, Jenkins has the size, speed and skills to become an impact player in his rookie season. Jenkins' teammate Williams, although not ranked quite as well, is still a talented athlete who can fill a need if the Patriots want to add another defensive back later in the Draft.
Patriots Insider confirmed Belichick's visit with USFNation.com's Larry Weisbaum. According to Weisbaum, both Jenkins and Williams spent time taking turns working out for New England's head coach.
"They spent about an hour watching film, and then Belichick would [test] them on their coverage assignments on each play," wrote Weisbaum via email. "After that the two corners and the Patriot coach worked out on the field for about an hour. They alternated covering each other with Belichick throwing during one-on ones, and also worked on ball skills, back peddling, and other drills using the tackling dummies."
The two former Bulls appreciated meeting with the Patriots head coach.
"It was awesome working out with coach Belichick," said Jenkins. "It was just me and Trae going one on one and in a personal work-out, it doesn't get much better then that. It was a great experience, and I think I did very well and improved my stock even more."
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Williams, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound ballhawk for the Bulls, concurred with Jenkins.
"It was real nice, doing a private work-out with a head coach like Belichick," said Williams. "I think I did real well, and the coach said he really enjoyed working out with the two of us, and after watching film, it was good to watch us go in person."
In addition to meeting with Belichick, the pair met with Patriots' secondary coach and special assistant Dom Capers last Friday according to Weisbaum. The additional meeting is a clear indication that the Patriots are serious about the pair of Big East defenders. Capers joined the Patriots this offseason as the secondary coach, but his vast experience running defenses, combined with his two stints as head coach (Carolina and Houston), give him unique insight into which defenders would fit a defensive scheme like the one New England runs.
Insider Scouting Report
Weisbaum shared his thoughts on the two defenders. After watching them perform in good times and in bad, he knows the positives and negatives of both players.
What more can I say about Jenkins that most scouts haven't already said? He's truly a special player, with great ball skills with speed to burn. He can be a lock down corner, and with his body type, can be very physical as well. Throughout his career at USF he has been left alone on an island and has shut down the best receivers to line up opposite him. Early in his career I thought his hands were suspect, but much of that has changed the last two seasons. I attribute that to his fantastic work ethic and dedication to consistently improving every aspect of his game. Another display of his versatile talent is when he took his first kick-off return 100 yards for a score against Cincinnati, and finished the game by setting a USF single game record with 192 kickoff return yards against the Bearcats.
Trae Williams -
Trae was a perfect compliment to Jenkins for the Bulls. He may not have the physical attribute or the speed, but makes up for it with game savvy, and phenomenal play making ability, and a knack for finding the ball. Over the last two years he has led all D-I players with 13 interceptions, with seven in '06 & six in '07, and his last three interceptions for pick sixes. Not as physical off the line but has great coverage ability, instincts, and plays much faster then he's clocked at. He also seems to always be in the right place at the right time and makes big plays when needed. His biggest improvement this season  has been his tackling, which has steadily increased every year.
South Florida's Trae Williams (21, center) comes down with an interception intended for Rutgers wide receiver Tim Brown during the second quarter of an NCAA football game Friday night Sept. 29, 2006 in Tampa, Fla. Also defending on the play is South Florida's Mike Jenkins. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
How do these two compare to other defensive backs?
Former NFL Scout Tom Marino believes Jenkins is the best corner available in the Draft. Ranked with a "D" grade - the mark saved for players who are expected to become "Champions" at the next level. Jenkins is the rare breed of talent that comes along once in a blue moon: the Ty Law, Champ Bailey type of players who are expected to do great things in the pros for a long time.
Marino's scouting notes confirm the top draft ranking he's been given.
"A shutdown corner with adequate size and outstanding quickness. Has race horse speed, a very smooth compact [player], explosive hips and the ability to stick his foot in the ground and close [on] the ball" Marino calls Jenkins a "special player" and a "potential lottery selection."
Marino ranks Troy's Leodis McKelvin and Kansas' Aqib Talib slightly behind Jenkins as the No. 2 and No. 3 corners available. However, neither player earns the coveted "D" grade, indicating that they'll be good players at the next level, but don't have the same level of expectation to become exceptional.
With the seventh overall selection, and the Jets or even the Rams expected to take the linebacker the Patriots want ahead of them, Jenkins could very well become the Patriots' next first round draft pick.
For Williams, Marino expects that he'll be selected later in the Draft, possibly in the fifth-through the seventh rounds. Marino believes that Williams can also become a valuable player at the next level.
Marino's Draft notes indicate Williams' ability would suit the Patriots defensive scheme.
"Liked his foot quicks, body control and I felt his hands were outstanding for the position A nickel back and back up corner."
New England is already the odds on favorite to win next year's Super Bowl according to Vegas odds makers. Adding Jekins would resolve the loss of Asante Samuel by giving the Patriots the type of shut down corner they've lacked since Ty Law left. It would be the kind of move that would instantly address half the concerns about the Patriots defense, and solidify their odds to repeat as AFC Champions.
Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995, and is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), Jon has been a guest analyst on Sporting News Radio, ESPN Radio and other outlets around the web, including other publications on the Scout.com network. You can reach Jon in the forums at PatriotsInsider.com or
Must Read: Visit / Workout tracker
Ask Marino: Ask a question to a former NFL Scout