Stop us if you’ve heard this one before — NFL Security got a little suspicious at a Patriots-Jets game.
The league’s security conducted a pregame sweep of the visitors’ locker room for electronic bugs at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 25, and also questioned during the game two Patriots game-day employees who were wearing headsets on the sideline, multiple league sources confirmed to the Globe on Friday.
The sources said NFL Security did not find anything in the locker room sweep, and did not find anything suspicious with the two employees after questioning them on the sideline during the second half. One of the employees works full time with the team and was producing the in-stadium entertainment; the other employee is a local resident and game-day employee who was holding spare batteries and monitoring the communication system between the officials on the field and in the booth upstairs. The matter was closed by the league.
The locker room sweep and employee questioning were unrelated, sources said, and were not initiated by the Jets. New York radio host and former quarterback Boomer Esiason said early Friday on his show that the Jets had requested the locker room be swept for bugs.
Two sources said that each NFL stadium is randomly swept for electronics by NFL Security at least once per season, with the league checking out the visitors’ locker room, the officials’ locker room, testing the visiting team’s headsets to make sure they work properly, and so on.
An NFL spokesman stated that the Jets did not ask for the pregame sweep, and confirmed a random electronics testing program.
“No such request was made by the Jets,” spokesman Brian McCarthy said on Twitter. “We have for years conducted regular & random checks. We do not get into details of specific games.”
Jets-Patriots games are no stranger to investigations, of course. In a Week 1 game at the former Meadowlands Stadium in 2007, the Jets informed NFL Security that the Patriots were videotaping the game from an improper area, leading to the scandal that became Spygate.
Since then, the Patriots have been accused many times of chicanery and gamesmanship at Gillette Stadium, with opposing coaches complaining about faulty headsets and former Colts coach Tony Dungy saying that he used to sweep the visiting locker room for bugs at Gillette. None of the accusations have been proven.
Stork adds depth at center
Sometime, perhaps very soon, the Patriots might need to address a nice problem to have: Which one of their two talented centers will receive the bulk of the playing time?
Bryan Stork, who made 13 starts last year as a rookie after being drafted in the fourth round, is eligible to play in his first game of the season when the Patriots next take the field, Nov. 8 against Washington. He’s missed the first seven games with a concussion, which landed him on the injured list with a designation to return. He returned to practice last week.
In Stork’s place, undrafted rookie David Andrews has stepped in and performed remarkably well. He’s the only Patriot who has played every snap on offense this season, one constant on the offensive line. Left tackle Nate Solder was lost for the season, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has moved to left tackle, and injuries have sidelined Ryan Wendell, Shaq Mason, and Tre’ Jackson, who suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s 36-7 home win over the Dolphins.
Stork is the incumbent at center, but Andrews has been invaluable there. When both are healthy to play, who will?
“Those things will sort themselves out,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “We never really go into it with a specific design. What we’d like to try to do is give everybody the opportunity to work in whatever roles that they can, and hopefully we’re playing the best five guys out there as many plays as we can, understanding that there may be times where six or seven guys deserve to play because they’re playing at a competitive level and they’ve earned the right to do that. I don’t think this will be any different.”
Both Andrews and Stork have played exclusively at center in the NFL. Andrews was strictly a center in high school and college, while Stork saw minimal duty at guard at Florida State. With Mason and Jackson — rookies, like Andrews — getting starts this season at left and right guard, would the Patriots consider moving either Stork or Andrews there, if it improves the overall quality of the offensive line?
“They’ve both played the same position to this point. Could somebody play something else? Maybe. They haven’t. I’m not saying they couldn’t, but we haven’t really seen it yet,” coach Bill Belichick said. “The first thing for Stork is getting back on the field, get him practicing. We took a step there last week, and hopefully physically he can be ready to go, or more ready. We’ll just have to see how it all works out.”
Big on ball protection
The Patriots know how to limit giveaways and create a high turnover advantage. They had just 10 turnovers in 2010, and are on pace for even fewer this season — three through seven games.
Still, despite a turnover ratio of plus-7, Belichick said the team’s ball security can improve.
“I think the numbers have been pretty good. We haven’t lost the ball a lot. I think our ball security could still be better, though,” Belichick said. “We have too many plays where I don’t know if it’s secure enough. Hopefully it is, but I don’t know. I think we’ve got to keep working on it.”
One area of concern for Belichick: The number of penalties the Patriots have been called for. They were penalized eight times against the Dolphins, upping the season total to 51. “If we keep having them, eventually it’s going to catch up to us. I can tell you that from experience,” he said. “You might get by with it. Just like turning the ball over, you might get away with it for a game or two, but eventually it’s going to cost you.” . . . Rookie cornerback Justin Coleman made his first start Thursday and tied for second on the team with five tackles.