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Ask PFW: Camp competition heats up

Posted Aug 12, 2014

As public viewing of Patriots training camp practices come to a close this week, the competitive battles at a number of positions is just one of the many topics discussed in this week's edition of Ask PFW.

Hi, a few questions about the CB position... Is Browner a lock to start when he's back, or might Dennard or Ryan run with the job? If Dennard or Ryan does play well, how much of Browner's contract is guaranteed? Could he be cut? Is it possible Asante Samuel is brought in as a cheaper option?
Shawn M.

I am one of the few who doesn’t think that Browner is a lock to be a starter. He obviously is going to miss the first four weeks to suspension. I don’t think he’s been great this summer. He’s a massive physical presence who is going to deal with penalties, as he did in the preseason opener. I still think that Dennard will fight to keep his starting job at whatever time he’s cleared for full practice action. Ryan has struggled a bit this summer. The second-year player has earned reps in the slot and even at safety. He looks like a versatile backup at this point. From what I can see, Browner’s only guaranteed $1 million. He’ll add another $500k if he makes the 53-man roster. That’s not crazy money, but enough to ensure he’s going to be around this season. And even if he’s not a starter he could be a valuable rotational/matchup option. Of course he’s never worked as a backup in his NFL career. I don’t really see the Patriots making a run at Samuel, that’s water under the bridge. I’m also not sure he’d be a cheaper option at this point and might not fit as well with what they want to do on defense this season.
Andy Hart

We have 4 Jameses, 4 Chrises, and 4 Steves. We even have 3 Brandons but we only have 1 "TOM". In fact around the entire NFL (at quarterback) there is only 1 "TOM" !!! Why? (as if I don't already know!)
Richard Corrente

Because there is only one Tom! Obviously.
Andy Hart

Hello from KSA huge Patriots fan from far away and love everything about PFW thank you guys now that Alex Boone is reportedly on the trade block I really believe that coach BB MUST get him, it’s just not fair that Manning has all these great weapons plus absolute protection and Tom has neither. He was on pressure way too much last season. Coach should give Tom the protection he needs since his targets are less than mediocre. TB doesn't need great weapons (he's that good) but he sure does need some protection. The defense has improved but without an elite O-line coach BB is basically not giving TB a chance! So what are the chances that BB could seriously go after Alex Boone? Thank you!
Sal Gaither

I just can’t see Belichick investing even more resources into the offensive line. While there have clearly been some issues in protection, especially early last season, the team has put a lot into building the offensive line. You have a $50 million Pro Bowl guard. You have a first-round left tackle who is going to be almost an $8 million player a year from now. You have a second-round right tackle making very good money and another interior guy who’s one of the top 10 cap numbers on the team. The line should be better and probably needs to be better if the offense and Brady are going to be at their best this fall. But I can’t see Belichick trading to add another high-priced guard who’s looking for a big raise. It just doesn’t seem to make sense in the overall structure of the team.
Andy Hart

The Pats have depth at corner back. Why can't they make a trade to secure an NFL ready tight-end?
Paul Soares

Rarely are teams able to pull off need-for-need trades in the NFL, and it’s even more difficult at this late point in the team-building process. And while I agree that the Patriots have good depth at cornerback, it does come with some asterisks. Brandon Browner will miss the first four games to suspension. Alfonzo Dennard has yet to take full-team, full-contact reps this summer. And Logan Ryan has struggled a bit in his second NFL training camp. So it may not be quite as deep right now, or to start the year, as it appears. I also think everyone is counting on the cornerback depth as a major strength for the team over the long haul of the season and don’t get the feeling the team wants to weaken that. Clearly finding another tight end may be an issue. But there are probably better ways to go about it than dealing off a cornerback. I don’t think that type of trade for a tight end is too likely.
Andy Hart

If a guy [stinks] in training camp and practice, like drops balls, or gives up a sack, gets torched for a TD, but then in a game totally kills it, like has an amazing game, which has more weight for the coaches in deciding whether the guy earns a roster spot on the team or is promoted/demoted, the performance in-game, or what they see in training camp? Because Mallett, in camp, seemed better than Garoppolo, but then in-game, he was clearly outplayed…same for Logan Ryan. Great in camp, but had a poor game. Which is more important for the coaches? Can you [stink] at training camp but then make the team if you score TDs in the preseason? Thanks for all you guys do.
Heber Guerarra

This is an interesting question and really only the coaches could answer it. It’s a balance. I would say it’s hard to overlook two or three dozen practices in light of just a couple preseason games. But I also think that when we say that a guy stinks in practice or shines in a game, the coaches see much more than those simple assessments. I also would say that a part of it revolves around where a guy is in his development. That’s certainly the case comparing a fourth-year player like Mallett and a rookie like Garoppolo. The bottom line is that assessing talent is very much an inexact science. In fact I’d say it’s not really a science at all. I think it’s more of an art that takes into account gut feelings, past comparables and a variety of other factors.
Andy Hart

After Thursday's game I know your inbox will be filled with questions about Brian Tyms and Malcolm Butler, so here's one more. Seeing as how Brandon Browner & Brian Tyms are suspended for the 4 games of the season, do you see them sticking around if they keep up this level of play, I know the Pats won't have to risk releasing Tyms and try getting him on the practice squad because of his suspension he won't count against the 53 man roster, thoughts?
Clarens Jarbath

In my opinion, you can’t compare Mallett and Garoppolo's performances in the preseason opener. Mallett was trying to run the offense, making his reads and check downs. In contrast, Garoppolo was, for all intents and purposes, playing in a glorified Junior college game with no game plan, just going out there and doing what he could. Also, Mallett hasn't played a full game in almost 4 years, just preseason quarters where Garoppolo has just come from college where he was a 4-year starter. I say give Mallett time, in the next game, to get in there and settle down. Let him play into the 4th Qtr and get some confidence. Garoppolo is our #3, he'll get his chance, for now it should be Ryan's job! My question is, do you guys think he'll get cut in August?
Gary Abrams

I don’t think either quarterback will be cut this summer, although I do leave it as the slightest of possibilities. I understand what you’re arguing, but I don’t make as many excuses for Mallett as you do. And it’s not simply based on the one game in Washington. I just haven’t seen him develop enough over four years in New England. He still lacks accuracy and is slow on his reads at times. He still is tall and has a strong arm. I think he actually has better pocket awareness now, but I don’t see him as a true NFL starter or even long-term backup at this point. Garoppolo still has a lot to prove and needs to make major strides in his practice production. But Garoppolo is the future. Brady is the present. I just don’t see where Mallett really fits in. And if he needed to play a couple games this season I don’t think I’d have a good feeling that the Patriots would win those games unless they came against really poor competition.
Andy Hart

What are the chances of Jonas Gray making the roster? How is camp going for him?
James Clark

In theory Gray should have a shot at the roster as a big-bodied backup. But he hasn’t done much in camp, or in limited preseason action, to earn a spot. There is still a long way to go in August action, but right now I doubt very much that he’ll be on the team. I will say, though, he has some really big arms. For whatever that’s worth.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. Nice job you do for us. Sorry for my poor American language, my question concerns the management of injuries of Aaron Dobson. This guy has a problem with his feet since for more than 6 months. And he is still out. 6 months! It's incredible. I cannot understand why he was not under the knife end of January to be already back for a long time. Poor management from medical staff. Your opinion?
Ludovic Boisseau

While I certainly can understand your frustration, I don’t have nearly the venom toward the situation. It’s really unfortunate that Dobson has basically missed the entirety of his first full offseason in New England. The expectations for his “year two jump” may need to be lowered a bit. But I’m not a doctor – where have I heard that before? – and don’t really feel the need to criticize the way the situation was handled. Rest was the first attempt to heal in the injury and that apparently didn’t work. So surgery was the next option and that was delayed some by trying the rest route. We all know that these injuries can vary from player to player and it’s not always a simple answer. Again, it’s an unfortunate situation but I think the team and Dobson will just try to make the best of it.
Andy Hart

Do you think Travis Hawkins has a chance to make the team?
Arthur Martin

Chance? Yes. Likely? Probably not. Hawkins is an interesting, speedy safety who has also gotten reps as a kickoff returner. The competition is pretty fierce and deep in the defensive backfield, so if Hawkins wins a job out of camp it will likely have to come as a special teams weapon. If that doesn’t happen, he certainly seems destined for the practice squad.
Andy Hart

I keep reading how Brandon Browner keeps getting beat off the line... He is too physical and will get penalties... Am I the only one who sees this guy as a strong safety? At 6'4" 220 lbs he is size-wise like Rodney Harrison and his ex-teammate Cam Chancellor, and probably faster than either.
Markis Lamore

Could we see Brandon Browner at safety? A lot of people have talked about Logan Ryan there, but given how he grew as a corner towards the end of last season, and Browner’s struggles getting beaten on the line, I'd much rather see Browner try safety. He has the size and physicality to play in the box and the run next to Devin McCourty, and if Malcolm Butler can keep up his July play (big if, Zach Sudfeld taught me not to get too excited by summer plays) along with Ryan and Dennard, there should be enough depth to accommodate the Browner move, and potentially solve a problem position for the Patriots.
Alex Marr

The second Browner signed with the Patriots people began to theorize that he could move to safety. Given the team’s seeming need at that spot and his size, it makes sense on paper. But Browner has said he’s never played a single snap of safety in his life and it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to happen. Heck, he’s never done anything in the NFL other than start games at right cornerback. I haven’t seen him take a single rep at safety this summer. Ryan and Kyle Arrington have, though. I won’t rule it out and we know Belichick loves to move his players around, but it doesn’t seem that Browner is destine for any time at safety at this point.
Andy Hart

Hey guys. Just had a question, do you think that you are being a little too hard on Justin Jones when the preseason has not even started. I mean come on let’s wait and see and if he sucks like Sudfeld. Thanks. OK. From the Pats fan up north.
Laurent Koziak
Ontario

Since Belichick and the Patriots waived Jones just a few days after this email was sent, I think the reports from the media at camp were vindicated. Jones had a huge frame and was intriguing on paper. He just never did much on the field to warrant the intrigue.
Andy Hart

By all accounts, the Patriots impressed and gassed the Washington defense with the up-tempo offense. Is that something they've been practicing against Patriots defense to help with conditioning, or is that something you're not allowed to talk about?!
David Beckett

The Patriots always run a lot of up-tempo offense, including in team action in practice. Almost every day ends with some two-minute, hurry-up action. There is no question that New England dominated the Redskins with a lot of success coming in no-huddle and up-temp work. Brady has always been good in that mode and it often gives opposing defenses a lot of trouble. My guess is that is even more true in August on the practice field.
Andy Hart

I was wondering how the "injury" list worked when it comes to cut down time? Here in a few weeks cuts will be taking place and rosters will be set at 53 plus practice squad. How many players could actually be placed on season IR lists instead of trying to sneak them on the practice squad like Gallon for instance? Does the NFL look at how legit the injuries are?
Norm Gifford

Teams can put as many players as they want on injured reserve, although those guys all count toward the team’s salary cap. Each player must be put there with an actual injury, but teams could probably find an actual injury of some sort with almost every player who’s made it through training camp and preseason action. Only one player can be put on the IR with a designation to return, though. And if guys are on IR they are not allowed to practice during the season, unlike guys on the practice squad. They can only rehab and take part in meetings, but not work with the team on the practice field.
Andy Hart

Hey guys-How Florida State missed out recruiting Roy Finch out of High School is perplexing isn't it [The Seminoles were in his back yard ] ??! Anyhow- from what you've seen of Finch so far, does he make the final cut and if so at what position?...Thanx.
Becki Nelson
San Antonio,Texas

Is there any chance that Roy Finch might make the roster over Brandon Bolden? Perhaps as a Punt or Kick Returner? Finch is a very intriguing young player.
Cory Kopanski

Finch has had his moments in practice this summer. He flashes athleticism and quickness. He’s been given chances as a returner and that’s probably where he’ll have to make the roster. He had a couple fumbles in the preseason opener and that’s going to be a problem if he’s going to be a surprise athlete to make the mix and then maybe get some offensive reps down the road. Right now I’d say Finch is doubtful to make the roster as a really undersized playmaker.
Andy Hart

How are the rookie OLs doing in camp, in particular the Center from FL St? Do you see any chance of any of them getting significant playing time, or is it too early to tell?
Larry Logue

Stork struggled this spring and early this summer with too many penalty laps and some bad snaps. Then he missed the rest of the most recent practices with an unknown injury. I thought initially he had a chance to compete for the starting center job as a rookie. I no longer think that’s the case. Now I think his best case scenario will be as a backup or could even end up on IR. Fleming seems to be a pure right tackle with backup potential as a rookie and a developmental future. I don’t see him playing very early on. And Halapio has gotten a lot of reps at guard this summer. I would also put him as a potential backup as a rookie, but again not likely to play much without injury.
Andy Hart

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