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Patriots sign three midshipmen, Patspulpit interviews Adam Nettina

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When the New England Patriots signed three Midshipmen from the Naval Academy to contracts, I was curious.  Then today, when Marima put up a FanShot to this article on www.hometownannapolis.com, I was even more curious. Journalist Adam Nettina, someone very familiar with these young men, had dropped by this site to give us his take when there was talk a few weeks back of these young men possibly joining the Patriots.  So I emailed him asking if he'd like to do an interview if things started progressing.  Being an all around cool guy, he said, "Sure."  Before we get to the interview, I want to thank Adam Nettina from GoMids.com and Inthebleachers.net for his time and thoroughness in answering my questions.  Very cool.  For some useful information about these midshipmen, check out these links:

1. We all know the rigors of playing college football in a traditional setting.  Talk to us about the rigors of being a college athlete AND a midshipmen.

As someone who has been neither a Midshipmen nor a college athlete I couldn't even begin to do the balancing act justice by trying to describe how hard it must be. Let's just say it is not for the faint of heart, and use an old (but apt) cliché that football practice is often the easiest part of these young mens' days.

2. It is my understanding that midshipmen, once graduated, jump into military rotation as "payment" for their college education.  However, mids with "special abilities" can be offered the Alternative Service Option, serving two years active duty and six years in the reserves.  How important is Belichick's past experience with the Naval Academy?  Does that give him a better understanding of the committments these young men have to our country?  Do you think Belichick is uniquely qualified to coach these athletes into NFL careers?

That policy was in effect for Army cadets prior to the Caleb Cambell situation a year ago but no longer pertains to Navy Midshipmen. It's somewhat of a grey area and I'll leave it to Annapolis Capital journalist Bill Wagner to discuss, but I will say Belechick's experience with Navy does give him a better understanding of the commitment. Given his father's experience with USNA I would think he is better qualified to coach these young men into NFL careers as well.

3. We can all look up the stats on these young men, but I'm interested in your "gut feel" of them.  Give us your reactions as an uber fan of these guys.

Well first of all I'd call myself more of an objective journalist than an "uber fan," but my feeling is that of the three players the Patriots signed, Kettani has the most upside. You have to understand that this is a guy who is (physically at least) one of the top fullback prospects to come out of college in the last ten years. I mean c'mon. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at 230-pounds last season and he can bench press close to 400 pounds. He's not just a bruiser either, as he has fantastic feet and vision that allow him to navigate the second level of defenses. He's the complete package as a tailback, and if given the opportunity (like Peyton Hillis was given in Denver) he will surprise people with his athleticism. I think Barnes is a guy who has a ton of ability and can stick to an NFL roster. Go ahead and YouTube him - he has made some outstanding catches and really does a good job of using his hands to catch the ball. I don't know if White can stick on an NFL roster but let me tell you he is a guy with outstanding straight line speed who if put into the right situation can take it the distance every time.

4. Given the current Patriots roster, do you perceive these guys making a go at playing time when their military committment allows?

Yes I do. I don't know the specifics of the Patriots roster, but I think Kettani and Barnes in particular have excellent shots at making an NFL roster. I know all three want this opportunity and are going to take advantage of it as best they can, but I'm not sure how Shun's skillset will translate to the NFL. He's going to be more of a ‘project' type of guy and it really depends on how the Patriots are willing to work with him. I'm convinced though that Eric could come in and start for an NFL team from day one as an H-back, although to be honest the guy is much more a tailback in his running style.

5. It appears signing three Navy players in the same year is a record, let alone to the same team!  What could account for this?  Is the Navy program particularly strong this year?  Are more young men choosing service, through the Academy, as an option, therefore a bigger pool of available talent out of High School?

Navy was 8-5 this past season and went to a sixth consecutive bowl game, but I would not call this particular team any stronger than some of the others over that time period. The program has been strong for several years now, and the coaches have recruited very well considering the limitations of a Service Academy. I talked to Navy's head coach recently about whether or not he thought the program was getting more talented players than it was in the past, and he said he thought they were with this next recruiting class because of the economy. But that doesn't necessarily explain why players like Shun White or Eric Kettani get passed up by larger programs. In both of their cases, it was an issue of finding a program which would allow them to play their preferred position (Eric was recruited as a linebacker by several Big East schools while White was recruited as a DB by several bigger schools.) Personally, I believe there are a lot of kids at mid-level and small schools in similar positions throughout the country, and I have hypothesized in the past about how a surplus of FBS caliber talent has caused us to see the rise in so called "small schoolers" on the NFL level. It's all supply and demand, and the fact is that there is more of a supply on guys who can make it to the NFL level than there is of ‘big name' college programs which can offer them scholarships.

6. The Patriots have had HUGE success with diminutive slot receiver, Wes Welker, and Shun White appears to be built from that same mold: small, fast, and wily.  Do you see him as an ideal backup for Wes?

To be honest, not really. Shun is a straight line speed guy (4.36/30) and Wes is more of a guy who uses fantastic quickness underneath to get open and cause separation. Shun also doesn't have the experience running routes that Wes got while at Texas Tech, and does not have as much lateral agility as Wes does. Also, Shun has not had the most consistent hands during his career at Navy, and has at times let the ball come into his body when thrown to. I would say he's more suited to be a kickoff return specialist if anything, although he never broke a kickoff during limited use at Navy. 

7. Kettani appears to be a power running back, putting up some pretty impressive strength numbers.  Because of this, does he strike you as a durable running back?  Does he have blocking skills when called upon to do so?  Does he have good hands if needed as an option?

I think he's about as durable as they come, although I personally know he is still feeling some of the effects from having to carry to load for Navy's offense a year ago. I talked to him about a month ago and he told me he still felt some pain from the season. You have to remember that the fullback takes a beating in the triple option offense; not only is he getting hit when he's carrying the ball, but he's also getting hit on every triple option play while carrying out the fake. 

As far as being a blocker the guy has ability. If you go back and look at the tape from the last two years, you'll see that Navy ran a number of ‘midline' option plays and quarterback follows in which Eric was basically called upon to blow up the middle linebacker in the ‘A' gap. Obviously he didn't plaster everyone he went up against, but I have seen him pancake guys, including the likes of Stanley Arnoux, Scott McKillop, and even Aaron Curry. Blocking in space or out of an ‘Ace' set wasn't something he had to do a lot of, so I'm not sure how quickly he'll pick that up. He has good hands and fantastic athleticism for his size. Remember, Eric is a guy who has really bulked up between 2006 and now. He was about 20 pounds lighter just a couple of years ago, and a good deal faster too. He still has outstanding quickness for his size (he's a legit 4.6 guy with some ‘shake') but I think given the right circumstances he gets down in weight and becomes more of a true tailback. Let me put it to you this way; he's more Peyton Hillis than Kyle Eckel.

8. Barnes seems like the ideal "sideline" receiver: tall and very fast, but at 197 pounds, does he have the strength and bulk to fight of defensive backs?  Are his leg injuries fully healed?

Barnes is fully healed from what I've been able to gather, although Navy fans have heard that line several times before. Honestly the guy was never right before coming into this year, which is a shame because he has freakish speed for his size. I think he'll be able to put on a little weight if asked to, but I've seen him hand-fight with some decent defensive backs and he's done o.k. at his current weight. Don't forget this is a guy who spent a lot of time ‘stalk blocking' at Navy, so he's already very physical to begin with.

A big THANK YOU to Adam Nettina from GoMids.com and Inthebleachers.net for chatting with us about our new Patriots.  With all these guys go through to just be in school AND play football, they gotta be tough as nails and I, for one, can't wait to see what they're capable of.