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Ask PFW: An end in sight?

Posted Jun 28, 2011

With optimism continuing to be the story in the ongoing labor negotiations, the hope is that we’re getting closer to free agency and football. As such Patriots fans have plenty of questions as they look ahead to the oncoming season. So as both the temperature and CBA talks heat up, sit back and enjoy another edition of Ask PFW!

I’m a BIG fan & a PFW subscriber. What do you think about Matt Patricia's positional coaching switch from linebackers to safeties? What do you believe were Coach Belichick’s reasons for this change?
Ken Fowler

First, thank you for your subscription. Now, we all know that Belichick prefers to promote from within on the coaching staff. We’ve seen that time and time again over the years. Therefore after the departure of 2010 safety coach Corwin Brown, Belichick likely looked at his lower level assistants to see who might warrant a promotion. Apparently he settled on Patrick Graham. Graham has been with the Patriots since 2009 as a defensive assistant, spending a lot of time in training camp working with the pass rushers. A defensive lineman at Yale as a player, he coached that position at Richmond. So most of his experience seems to be with the defensive front. I think that made him a solid candidate for the linebacker spot.

In addition to that, Patricia is a well respected rising coaching talent being given a chance to see the defense from a little different perspective at a job the team has struggled to fill in recent years in the back end. I think it will help Patricia, help the safeties, help the defense as a whole and was the best way for Belichick to fill out his staff without bringing someone in from the outside. We’ll see how it plays out. My guess is that it rounds out quite well and you could see it lead to Patricia getting the defensive coordinator title in the very near future.
Andy Hart


Hey guys, I was wondering why everyone thinks we need an OLB? In my opinion I feel the need is for a quality DE, one that can put pressure on the QB and draw double teams. That would allow the OLBs we currently have to have better results, kinda like when we had (a healthy) Richard Seymour. Also, why do you feel that Guyton hasn't been moved outside? With his speed it makes sense to me. While I'm somewhat satisfied with this year’s draft I think this was the year to trade up for quality. One RB would have been enough (Ridley) then a FA pickup like DeAngelo Williams would have done the trick. Instead BB trades for what will be a late round 1st pick next year, that he will trade for a 2nd and 4th round selection. This strategy is getting old, we need players not picks. Finally, what is your opinion of Ray Edwards from the Vikes? I don’t know much about him, would he be a good pickup if available? Thanks guys, I look forward to reading more PFW.GO PATS!!!!!
Russell Obremski

I agree with the general sentiment that the Patriots need more help at outside linebacker. I don’t think there is a proven, consistent, productive player at that position at this point. Tully Banta-Cain has proven to be a good situational and rotational guy. Jermaine Cunningham had a solid rookie season and has potential, but is nowhere near an impact player at this point. Rob Ninkovich continues to improve, but has a ways to go. Eric Moore was a nice story last year, but there may be a reason he was out of the league and playing in the UFL. There is simply not a lot in the group to feel overly confident about right now, at what just happens to be one of the key spots in a 3-4 defense.

Would some help at end be nice? Sure. An All-Pro like Seymour would clearly give the front a boost. But to me there is enough talent on the line with the likes of Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Marcus Stroud, Mike Wright and a slew of other now experienced options to get by with. Not sure the same can be said at OLB, where cornerback Kyle Arrington got some pass rush reps in 2010 for a group that remains very much the same heading toward this fall. I also don’t think Guyton has the size and power to play on the edge with any regularity. He is a speedy athlete who can contribute on sub downs, but that’s about it. I think he’d get crushed trying to set the edge. As for the running backs and the draft strategy, if the young backs can play you’ve solidified the backfield for years to come with two diverse talents who’ll be very much cost effective. Williams will be looking for some money and has had his injury issues.

As for always trading down or out, I’ll admit I get frustrated as well. You may remember that I was championing long before the draft for the Patriots to trade up and get an impact pass rusher like Robert Quinn. Alas, it didn’t happen. But it’s hard to argue with Belichick’s success. Ray Edwards has the size for the OLB spot. He also has the Purdue pedigree that seems to work for the position. And he’s proven himself a pretty consistent pass rusher over the four seasons, of course playing with Jared Allen helps. Edwards should be a free agent in the new CBA, but he’s played only end with the Vikings. He’s a good athlete who took up boxing during the lockout, but I’m not sure he’d be the ideal OLB candidate for the Patriots as he’s unproven at the position but will be looking for some pretty good money. But at the right price I’d take a shot. Wow, that email had a lot of questions in a run-on form. Hope I stepped up to the plate with a lot of answers in a run-on form!
Andy Hart


During the draft, when so many were surprised that the Patriots didn't address the pass-rush need in the first couple of rounds, Coach Belichick basically said in his interview that he was happy with the guys on the current roster. Of course, he didn't mention any names, and he could have meant a few players (or units). We're left to speculate that he meant all -- or one -- of the following: that he expects a big 2nd-year jump out of Jermaine Cunningham. He expects Mike Wright to improve (and stay healthy). He has high expectations of Eric Moore (who looked great in limited time). He thinks Ty Warren will return to form. Or he expects major improvement/contributions from Stroud, Deaderick, Guyton, Ninkovich, Fletcher or Banta-Cain. Plenty of potential in the front 7, but no guarantees (other than Wilfork and Mayo). Could you rank what you think are Coach Belichick’s top few reasons for optimism that the Pats D will do a better job pressuring QBs and getting off the field on third down in 2011?
Keith Fitzgerald

Wow, you’re asking me to get inside Belichick’s mind! Quite a challenge, and one I’m pretty sure I’m not up to. But I will try. My guess is that Belichick has some high hopes for Cunningham in his second season. Though the rookie lacked many plays last season, he did play a lot at a tough spot and didn’t embarrass himself. That should mean good things for a big Year 2 jump that so many people promote so often in these parts. My guess is that he also thinks that both Ninkovich and Moore can be competitive at the position with the chance that one of them will develop into a starting-caliber talent.

Let’s remember Mike Vrabel wasn’t an immediate star in the NFL, so give this duo a chance. Wright will also certainly help the pass rush if he can return from a reportedly severe concussion. And Ty Warren should have a positive impact on the overall front in his return to health. Will all these guys work out for the better in 2011? Probably not, but if at least a couple make big positive strides it should benefit the defense as a whole. Of course, I’d still rather have added an impact pass rusher to the roster. But that milk has spilt, so I’ll dry my tears and move on.
Andy Hart


When and if the NFL has a 2011 season, who do you guys see the Patriots trading and signing? We appear to be solid with the TEs and RBs. WRs and OLB still seem to be a big question mark.
Brent B.

I don’t expect the Patriots to be huge players in free agency at whatever point that window opens. I think the team has a lot of good young talent, but more importantly trying to rush a high-price free agent into the mix with no offseason to speak of might be a recipe for disaster. There also doesn’t seem to be the perfect OLB pass rush option out there this time around, as was the supposed case with Adalius Thomas back in 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team go after an outside receiver and a veteran lower level outside linebacker. For the latter Matt Roth is a name we’ve been throwing around at PFW for years. He has the size for the spot and plenty of experience in the 3-4, including under Eric Mangini in Cleveland. Taking a shot at a guy like Roth, still sort of a developing talent, is probably more likely than New England opening the check book for a big money option.
Andy Hart


Who will be our nickel back, Ras-I or Chung? Chung showed good signs but clearly we need to stop three receivers in today’s league. I think it will give Ras-I valuable experience and keep two (good) safeties over the top. Thanks.
Jackson Perry

That nickel job may be one of the better and more interesting competitions of training camp. New England doesn’t seem to have an ideal candidate at this point, other than maybe Jonathan Wilhite, and his stock seems to have fallen mightily over the last year or so. Ras-I Dowling has little to no experience on the inside. He also has the size that’s more typical of the outside. The same would be said for Leigh Bodden. Guys like Darius Butler, Kyle Arrington and Wilhite have more typical size for the inside and maybe a little more quickness needed for the spot. But you’d assume the Patriots hope that Dowling, Bodden and Devin McCourty end up as the team’s top three corners and ideally you’d have all three on the field when you need them most in passing situations. As such the nickel job will be one to keep a keen eye on this August. (Cross fingers!)
Andy Hart


Hey, I feel over the past couple years Wes Welker has not got the respect he deserves do you have any idea why that might be?
Rusty Evans

Welker has garnered All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, but I know what you mean. His numbers are off the charts and record setting, yet he’s not seen as one of the truly elite receivers in the game. Part of that is his size and the fact that he place in the slot, more of a possession type game than a big-play game. He also played in Randy Moss’ shadow for three-plus seasons. Many believed Welker’s success was simply a by-product of Moss being on the field and “taking the top off the defense.” On some level that may be true, but Welker showed last year that he can put up numbers without Moss, even while coming back from a major knee injury. Conversely, Moss wasn’t able to prove the same thing without Welker and Tom Brady. Welker’s size and style of play may never lend themselves to big plays, huge numbers in terms of yards and TDs or into the adoration of the national media/fans. But he’s been a key productive cog in the New England offense for each of his four seasons with the team and everyone in Patriots Nation knows that – no one more than Brady.
Andy Hart


Since there are those two big players (Larry Fitzgerald and DeMarcus Ware) that you guys want what trades do you think it would take to get one of them? Which would be more likely? And would you do it if you were BB or would the price be too great?
Jacob Mattson

I don’t see any way that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys would trade Ware. So we can forget about that one. The Cardinals probably aren’t going to trade Fitzgerald, but there have been some rumblings of that idea over the last year as Arizona struggles at the quarterback position. You’d have to think any deal for Fitzgerald would start with a first-round pick and go from there, probably adding a couple more picks and maybe a player. It would be a lot to pay, but it might just be worth it for a relatively young, durable, very productive receiver with seemingly no baggage of any kind who is also under contract. It might still be too great a price to pay, but I’d like to think Belichick would at least consider it if it were an option.
Andy Hart


In your laundry list of greatest numbers in team history how do you leave # 4 off the list? Without Adam Vinatieri the Patriots arguably would still be without a Super Bowl Championship. That alone should put # 4 on the list.
Jim Ricard

Vinatieri was in the running for a spot and was debated a bit by the PFW staff. But in the end numbers with multiple good or great players and jerseys with one elite player simply pushed No. 4 out of the top 10. There is certainly an argument to be made for your side considering some believe that he will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day.
Andy Hart


Do you think once the labor situation is resolved the Patriots will target a Chad Johnson or a Sidney Rice, or do you think they're going to try and develop Tate and Price to be the guys?
Jeff Courtois

I think there is a better chance New England will go after Johnson (Ochocinco) if he becomes available. Rice is a young, dynamic receiver who could be one of the more highly sought after free agents on the market. Some think he is a Moss-like playmaker, even coming off a hip injury last year. I don’t think Belichick will be looking to overpay for him. Johnson will be cheaper and may be more inclined to come to New England to play for Belichick. But I also think the team will look to develop its young receivers, especially Price. I really like Price’s skills and think he could surprise a lot of people and maybe even be a star in the making after a red shirt rookie season. We’ll see.
Andy Hart


As a sixteen-year-old fan from Connecticut, I am intrigued to hear how you think the Patriots are going to fill the much need OLB position? Do you see them looking to sign a deal with any FAs once that opens up? Money is a big issue I understand but what impact player can they sign that is in our budget? Or do you think Bill is going to let Jermaine Cunningham adapt and take up the role they have needed since Richard Seymour was traded?
Phil Drach

As much as I might want to see it, I don’t expect a huge splash coming at the OLB spot. What you see is probably what you get, aside from a few mid- or lower-level signings. I think the guys the Patriots have are going to get a chance to develop and make some plays, including Cunningham. But I think you have him misconstrued. If he develops as planned he’ll be more a Mike Vrabel or Willie McGinest than a Seymour. Seymour was much bigger and a true defensive lineman. New England will continue to look to fill the Seymour role, but it won’t be with Cunningham but rather with Marcus Stroud and others.
Andy Hart


Hey, I know for the draft Belichick grades every player and tries to get the right value for his picks, but I'm wondering how that value is determined. Is it based mainly on talent and potential, or are there many other factors that play a large role such as team need, how a player can match up against divisional teams, etc? And how do they add in the intangibles? I can't imagine Belichick just having a "feeling" for the right guy, it seems like he would want a calculated decision on everything.
Mike Howlett

Players are indeed given a number grade in the scouting process. Those grades come from each scout that does a report on the player and are then average together and combined for a final overall grade. In those grades everything is included from physical makeup and style of play to football IQ and work ethic. It’s all part of the final grade. I’m sure feeling plays some role in the process – like the one Belichick had after sitting down and watching film with McCourty two years ago – but it’s generally a much more analytical process than that.
Andy Hart


Hey guys, I have a comment and would like your opinion on Donovan McNabb. I think that coaching plays a huge role in this. Mike Shanahan is very overrated, take away John Elway and what would he have. Before anyone says the same about Coach Belichick and Tom Brady I might remind you that Coach went 11-5 without Tom Brady and really should have gone to the playoffs. I think that the Redskins have been toxic for McNabb and he would do very well in Arizona with Larry Fitzgerald. Just wondering what you guys thought. Thanks and keep up the good work. GO PATS!
Jerry Bourget

I’ve always thought Shanahan – who I like to call Tanahan – was overrated. But I also have always thought McNabb was pretty overrated. I think he benefited greatly from very good coaching in Philly under Andy Reid. He’s a very good athlete and a pretty good quarterback. But he’s not in the elite class that many have wanted to put him in over the years, he’s just not. Would he put up some numbers and win some games in Arizona? Sure. Is he a guy they should build around and try to win a Super Bowl with before he’s done? I don’t think so. Of course I also wouldn’t have put the future of my franchise in Shanahan’s well-tanned hands. I don’t think he’s good enough to be making personnel decisions by any means. But what do I know? When I earn a billion bucks maybe I can make those decisions some day. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that day to come.
Andy Hart


Do you think Devin McCourty is a shutdown corner? To me he is and I feel Ras-I Dowling is going to win the other starting job for us. He’ll be able to learn a lot from Devin McCourty. Our defense is going to be better. Pat Chung progressing quickly, the front 7 is getting better and Ty Warren’s back.
Doodie Doodie

While McCourty had a great rookie season filled with huge plays for the Patriots, I would not dub him a shutdown corner just yet. Of course there aren’t too many shutdown corners not named Revis. McCourty showed great ability on the deep ball and outside throws last year. Now he must prove he can cover some of the underneath stuff and the in-cuts with the same kind of elite results. If he can improve there and continue to effortlessly run stride for stride with receivers deep down the field then he’ll truly be among the top couple corners in the game. As for Dowling, I will be a little surprised if he beats out Bodden for the starting job. I think Bodden is a very good starting corner with NFL experience. We’ll see how the battle plays out in the preseason, but Bodden would certainly be a pretty expensive backup if he doesn’t win his starting job back after missing last season to injury.
Andy Hart


Hi guys, I'm atriots fan from Brazil and my question is really simple, what do you think about Mark Herzlich in the Pats? Why not give him a chance like we gave to BJGE!!!!!
Lucas Carvalho

After seeing Herzlich at the Combine last February I would certainly give him a chance. He has the size to play in the 3-4. He was once one of the elite playmakers in college football and a top prospect. Maybe he’ll never regain all his speed and athleticism. But maybe he will. Either way he’ll work as hard as anyone and seems to be the type of guy that any team would want in its locker room. All that said, I’m not sure how much interest the Patriots will have in Herzlich. Wherever he ends up I will certainly be rooting for him. By the way, did you know that according to Wikipedia his full name is Sandon Mark Herzlich Jr.?
Andy Hart


It's not uncommon for tackles to move inside and prolong their careers. We have two starting tackles that have seen their replacements drafted. Is it possible that either Light or Kaczur take a starting guard spot and provide depth at tackle. Multitasking could justify big contracts on game day. If Mankins walks we will need both.
Jay Hill

I think there is a better chance you could be seeing Kaczur play guard than there is for Light. I think Light still has value as a starting tackle in the league and will probably be paid as such by some team. Kaczur, on the other hand, was being groomed for the guard spot to fill in for Mankins last training camp. Unfortunately he quickly went down with a back injury that cost him the entire season. There were reports earlier this offseason that the former starting right tackle could end up as a cap casualty, but if that doesn’t happen he could end up competing for a starting guard spot and, as you said, serve as an insurance option at tackle. Light, in my mind, will be playing tackle either in New England or somewhere else unless he simply wants to give the hometown discount to the Patriots to finish out his career where it started. I don’t really see that happening.
Andy Hart


Eric Moore has the size to set the edge and the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield. Why would Roth be a better alternative? I assume neither can drop into coverage well. Is it that Roth is a much better tackler or Moore is unproven outside? How much hope do we have for Moore to develop?
Jay Hill

I’ve fallen into the habit of posting back-to-back emails from the same person in the last few mailbags. So I figured I’d keep the streak going. Moore is a guy who’s played primarily end in the NFL, while Roth has played primarily outside linebacker. So he has more experience filling the varied duties of the position. Roth has also remained in the NFL, while Moore ended up in the UFL. Not saying that means a ton, but a lot of teams did pass on him. Moore looked good at the end of last season as a pass rusher and he’ll likely be asked to expand on the role moving forward. We’ll see if he can do that or if he was simply a guy who took advantage of a situation to make a few plays. Either way, I’d like to see a veteran like Roth added to the mix. To me there simply aren’t enough NFL bodies at the OLB spot to make me feel confident right now.
Andy Hart


How do the undrafted rookie signings work? Do the rookies consider multiple offers or is it first come-first served? Who are the undrafted rookies you believe the Patriots should and/or will target? Thanks for the great work and filling my hunger for football in the drought they call "The Lockout!"
Thomas Burns

Undrafted rookies can field offers from any team and then choose who to sign with. Sometimes it’s based simply on bonus money (relatively small figures), but more often it’s about the situation and where the player feels he best has a chance to make the team. As for guys the Patriots might have an interest in, I’ll throw a few names out there. Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged should be a very good special teamer with a chance to become a backup safety. Southern Arkansas’ Cedric Thornton is a big, athletic defensive lineman who is raw but seems to have some ability. As I said earlier, I’d give Herzlich a shot. I’d also like to see a guy like undersized Kentucky back Derrick Locke, although there probably isn’t a spot for him in New England. Oregon defensive lineman Brandon Bair has the frame to put on weight and become a 3-4 end prospect. Nebraska’s Pierre Allen might make a nice developmental sub rusher from the defensive line, while Cincinnati’s Armon Binns was very productive even if he doesn’t ooze NFL measurables. I’d take a chance on any of these names, but that’s not to say the Patriots would and they have a pretty good record with undrafted free agents over the years.
Andy Hart


With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen here do you think Woodhead will have less carries?
Nick Petist

I think Woodhead will be given every chance to retain his role as the primary third-down/change-of-pace back. But if he can’t make the plays he did a year ago or if defenses catch up to his style of play, then it will likely be Vereen who gets some of those opportunities as he has more that type of skill set than Ridley does. Regardless, New England will continue to use the committee approach that it has in recent years. That means going with the best option for a given week and sticking with the hot hand on occasion. Last year in terms of playmaking the hot hand belonged to Woodhead. If he keeps that momentum rolling he’ll continue to get plenty of touches.
Andy Hart


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