During the Patriots’ decade-plus run of excellence, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have been present in Foxborough only slightly less often than the musket-toting minutemen in the end zone.
CBS’s top broadcast tandem called six Patriots games last season, including playoff victories over the Broncos and Ravens. So it’s hardly a surprise that Nantz and Simms will be in the booth Sunday when the Patriots open their regular season at Tennessee.
But for Simms, there is always something or someone new with the Patriots to add another element of interest when it comes to calling their games.
“I’m interested to see a lot of things,’’ Simms said. “The preseason, again, has been very vanilla, very safe. The offensive line looked beat-up. That’s a bit of a worrisome thing.
“I think, though, if you say, ‘OK, they were what they were last year, what do you like about this year’s team?’ right away the guy that jumped out in preseason football to me was Chandler Jones.
“The guy was as advertised, and it doesn’t take much for an NFL team to go from wherever they are, whether it’s good to great, just by having one player make a few more plays. He’s got a chance to be that guy.”
Nantz, who is beginning his ninth season with Simms on CBS’s top announcing team, said, “I think the Patriots have only strengthened their team.
“They’re a decisive favorite over everyone else in the division, and what they did with the draft and Brandon Lloyd gives them another dimension. You give them Lloyd, that gives them a vertical presence that they haven’t had since Randy Moss’s great year.”
The Patriots’ passing game was a popular subject among the CBS crew. Shannon Sharpe, the “NFL Today’’ studio analyst who played tight end to such effect that he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was beyond enthusiastic in his assessment of the supreme tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
“First, they are much, much larger than I was,’’ said Sharpe. “Gronkowski weighs only 10 pounds less than Gary Zimmerman, my Hall of Fame tackle in Denver. And he’s out there running downfield.
“Gronkowski, he is a throwback. He’s more a [ Mark] Bavaro type, what I call a bumper-car tight end. He likes to bang into people and get separation that way, where guys like me and Hernandez, we don’t like people touching us. We like to operate in space.
“Both of those guys, on one team, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Who covers them?” Simms said. “Linebackers are too slow, safeties are too small. The matchups are horrendous for the defense. “
Scalabrine in mix
Brian Scalabrine, a popular role player for four seasons with the Celtics, including the 2007-08 champions, will have a new role when the NBA season begins.
Scalabrine, who played last season for the Bulls, will join Comcast SportsNet New England as an analyst on Celtics broadcasts, though the deal is not yet finalized, according to industry sources. His decision to turn down an assistant coaching position with the Bulls and join CSNNE was first reported by Yahoo! Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski Thursday.
“Saying no to [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau] was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,’’ Scalabrine told Yahoo.
A free agent, Scalabrine said he wasn’t yet ready to announce his retirement, but that he had “zero opportunities’’ to sign with a team.
Scalabrine has often said he’d prefer broadcasting to coaching once his playing days were done, and he earned good marks for his work as a guest analyst during pregame and postgame programming on CSNNE last spring.
He said he will handle color analysis on 11 games — most likely on road trips when Tommy Heinsohn does not travel — and also take on some studio work. Industry sources confirm his hiring is an addition rather than a replacement, with the legendary Heinsohn and analyst Donny Marshall continuing in their current roles.
Packing a punch
If wanting to slug Glenn Ordway in the mouth were a fireable offense, let’s just say there would have been a lot more paperwork filled out by human resources personnel in the Boston area the past few years. Bobby Valentine’s choice of words when asked by Ordway whether he’d “checked out” on the season — during a tense but compelling interview with Ordway and Michael Holley Wednesday on WEEI — was poor, even though he punctuated his response with a weird laugh that suggested a half-hearted joke. Even Ordway himself said Valentine didn’t deserve to lose his job for the comment. But what great radio it was. Ordway’s strengths as an interviewer were on display — he got the habitually obtuse Valentine to elaborate on his answers — while the congenial Holley didn’t shy away from challenging questions for the seething manager, either. The only gripe with the interview here? That it didn’t go on longer . . . Channel 4 and the Boston Athletic Association announced Thursday that they have extended their partnership to broadcast the Boston Marathon through 2016, which will mark the 120th running of the race.