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Ask PFW: Camp observations

Posted Jul 29, 2014

With camp underway in Foxborough, fans are looking for some quick evaluations of the goings on.

Julian Edelman finally got healthy and put it all together. Thank you! So my question is, knowing that Edelman played QB in college, what were his passing numbers like? Think there's a chance they run a few trick/option plays for him and maybe let him throw the ball?
Nick Cabrera

Edelman was not an accomplished passer at Kent State. He was more of a running threat. He completed about 55 percent of his 706 passes and threw more interceptions (31) than touchdowns (30). That said he does have an ability to throw the ball that exceeds most wide receivers and the Patriots often tinker with trick plays – usually when the prying eyes of the media aren't watching. I wouldn't be surprised to see Edelman attempt a pass at some point – they have tried to use him as a passer in the past but thus far he's never actually attempted a throw in his career. Maybe this is the year.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys been a while since I requested your expertise but I got a two part question for you. I know training camp just started and it's still a bit early but can you see a potential star in Kenbrell Thompkins if he stays consistent and on the field? Also with Joel Dreessen being released by Denver can you see the Patriots bringing in the veteran TE to add some experienced depth at the position?
Jeremy Roberts

If Thompkins stays healthy and consistent I think he has a chance to be a contributing player. Does that mean he'll be star? Probably not, but for an undrafted player that's still pretty good. My early impressions of him thus far in camp would be a continuation of what we saw last summer – he's had some real nice moments and others that haven't been as nice. He still seems to struggle with his consistency catching the ball, although he has turned in a number of difficult catches already in camp. If he can maintain some level of consistency and emerge as a player Tom Brady can rely on, perhaps he can establish himself in the receiver rotation. As for Dreessen, I've been waiting for the Patriots to sign a veteran tight end like Dustin Keller for months now and they haven't, so perhaps they are not thinking along the same lines. Dreessen would be a serviceable option as a suitable backup option but nothing more.
Paul Perillo

Do you think there is a real possibility that the Patriots may pick up Kyle Orton off the waiver wire - considering his familiarity with Josh McDaniels and the offense? I think doing so might make Ryan Mallett “non-essential” and more likely to be part of a packaged trade with Houston for everyone's favorite WR named Andre Johnson. Your thoughts?
John Denslow

I think there's virtually no chance the Patriots would pick up another quarterback at this point. Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo are fighting for the backup job and I'm not sure why they would need to add another player into that mix. Mallett is not going to tip the scales of any potential package to pick up Andre Johnson, which is looking less and less possible now that he's reported to camp in Houston. Mallett doesn't have much trade value, so he'll either stick around New England for another year as the backup, or if Garoppolo picks things up quickly and beats him out, then perhaps Mallett will be released. At this point I'd bet on all three remaining with the team.
Paul Perillo

As camp begins, I see more doubt about the number of WRs to be kept on the 53-man roster than ever before. That's not only because of the receiving talent now on the roster; but also because of the KR/PR talent of those players. I have an opinion on how I'd like to see that competition play out, and I'd like your opinion on it. The Patriots have had a great PR in Julian Edelman. But he's so important to the passing game that I would think they'd rather not risk injury to him in the kicking game, if he can be adequately replaced as a PR. At the same time, they have not had a genuine threat in the KR game for years. I believe that adding such a threat would be a significant plus for the team this season. I think that the player who could successfully fill both the PR and KR duties could come from one of three guys now on the roster: RB Roy Finch, WR Josh Boyce or WR Jeremy Gallon. I rule out Finch because I don't see him having much change to contribute as a RB. Ridley, Vereen, White and Develin are, IMO, locks. Bolden and Houston will fight it out for a fifth spot, if the team keeps five. For years, the Patriots special teams ace has been Matthew Slater, one of the best "gunners" in the league. But Slater is a bottom of the barrel talent at his other two positions, WR and KR. All of that leads to my opinion. I believe that the following players are locks at WR: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. In past years, the Patriots have kept six WRs on the 53-man roster. The sixth guy has been Slater for the last 6 years. I think that should change this season, if either Boyce or Gallon has the talent to excel as a PR/KR guy. One of those two should replace Slater, or the Patriots should keep seven WRs this year, with Slater being eight. My reasoning is that both are better than Slater as a WR; and I think that a genuine KR threat is of more value than a very good gunner. Your thoughts?
George Richman

A lot of people like to assume that Slater is not a wide receiver and shouldn't be counted as one. While I'd largely agree considering his limited role as a wideout, he must be counted as a roster spot because he will be part of the team's special teams. So eliminating him doesn't necessarily add a wide receiver. It's possible the team could keep seven WRs plus Slater, but someone would have to go elsewhere. Rather than break down the entire roster to figure this all out, I'll first say that disagree with part of your premise. I don't believe kick returns are any more important than gunners covering punts. Touchbacks are becoming more and more prevalent on kickoffs so teams aren't returning as many each year. In 2013 the Patriots returned 35 punts and 39 kickoffs. Therefore, returners are no more important than the guys that are covering those kicks. The Patriots have kept seven receivers in the past but six seems to be the number more often than not. My guess is your five locks plus Boyce will make the cut this time, but by no means am I comfortable guaranteeing that.
Paul Perillo

I have a couple of questions as training camp has begun. I was wondering how do Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly look in camp coming from their injuries and do you see the Patriots reaching out to Tony Gonzalez at some point should they not find a suitable tight end for a backup and what exactly is the protocol for Gonzalez, who is retired, to come here to New England. I know he stated he would be interested in playing if he thought the team was going to the playoffs. Can they just pick him up say at the end of the season?
Scott Rodriguez

Wilfork has had a good start to camp. Physically he's held up well when participating in the 1-on-1 battles with the offensive linemen. He's been active and involved with the regular defense during full team periods and he looks like he'll go right back to his spot at defensive tackle. We haven't seen nearly as much from Kelly, who missed the first two days of camp on PUP while rehabbing from a torn ACL. He was activated July 26 but didn't do too much early on. He took a pay cut in the offseason and that would make it easier for the Patriots to let him go if they decided to go with younger players up front, but at this point it's too early to make such a determination. Let's wait to see some preseason games and watch those youngsters and see how they respond. As for Gonzalez, I never rule anything out when it comes to Bill Belichick because he's surprised us so many times over the years. But I would be surprised if Gonzalez came out of retirement to play for the Patriots.
Paul Perillo

Will Tommy Kelly play a significant role on defense this year?
Pat Boutique

Like I said earlier, it's too early to tell what Kelly will be this year. He's really yet to take an active part in camp thus far after missing the first two days of practice. For the most part he's been limited to individual drills. With the likes of Dominique Easley (who has yet to practice himself), Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones around as depth at the position, I could easily see a guy like Kelly being let go if he's slow to round back into shape following his torn ACL. But there's so much football to be played between now and the end of August when those decisions need to be made, and a lot can change.
Paul Perillo

I have a couple questions. First, with the draft picks used on the offensive line in the draft, do you see any of the acquisitions starting? Second, do you believe that with the OL draft picks the running game will be better or slightly decline in 2014?
Conor Furu

My personal opinion is that the offensive line will remain intact – at least to open the season. There are some questions along the interior with high-priced veteran guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, as well as center Ryan Wendell, who just re-signed as a free agent. Josh Kline appears to be the guy being groomed as the potential replacement at guard. He's taken reps on both sides. As for the rookies, Bryan Stork would be the most likely candidate to crack the starting lineup if he can beat out Wendell. It's way too soon to tell if the young guys are better run blockers than the veterans but I don't expect any dramatic improvement or decline in the run game from last year assuming there aren't many changes to the group.
Paul Perillo

I have some football 101 questions. I hear the term “scheme” and “concepts” a lot when discussing a team's playbook and approach. What is involved in a scheme? Would you provide some examples of Patriots schemes and how they might be similar and/or different from other team's schemes? Similarly, I hear how the Patriots are a game plan team. What does a game plan look like? What details are included? How would the game plan look against, say the Jets compared to the game plan against the Broncos?
Mark Bucceri

I am by no means a football coach but I'll try my best. These are terms used basically to describe how a team plays. Scheme is really just another word for system and every team has a way it wants to play. For example, the Patriots offensively have used a lot of timing passes that stretch the field horizontally. They use a lot of crossing routes to try to create mismatches in the defense. These would be very basic terms that could be described as their offensive scheme. On defense they've used two-gapping up front, which requires the front seven to be responsible for gaps on either side of them. It's a style they like to employ, i.e. their system. Things can change in that regard from one year to the next, but most coaches like to adhere to core philosophies with regard to how they teach their system. There are dozens of variations of such things, such as man and zone coverages, how they want their players to handle certain situations, techniques they want used, etc. All of that would qualify as a team's system. In terms of game plans, that refers to how a team decides to attack a certain opponent. Some teams simply do what they like to do and they stick with it regardless of opponent. For years Pittsburgh was this kind of team – they ran the same offense and defense against everyone. The Patriots like to change their approach from week to week and cater their play calls toward what they feel would work best against a particular opponent. The Jets have traditionally liked to blitz a lot so a lot of quick passes and screens might be implemented in a game plan against them as opposed to Denver, which is tough to run against but might be more susceptible to some deep in-cuts in the passing game. I understand how basic these examples are, but hopefully they helped answer your questions.
Paul Perillo

In several articles I've read, it seems that Dont'a Hightower is going to stay at OLB this year, with Jerod Mayo in the middle. Since Hightower is a bigger guy, and Mayo is slightly better than Hightower in coverage, wouldn't it make more sense to switch them and make Hightower the MLB? Also, I feel that Kyle Arrington gets too much credit from all of you at PFW. He is often burned in coverage, and not just on the outside. He's extremely overpaid at $4 million salary. I wanted your opinion on this CB depth chart: Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Justin Green. Cutting Arrington or restructuring his contract would be smart business and you could grab another LB via trade.
David Sarro

I feel they really like Mayo's leadership and intelligence in the middle of the defense. He's as prepared a football player as you'll find and the coaches like to take advantage of his communication skills at middle linebacker. I sub situations you'll see Mayo stay on the field to take advantage of his athleticism while Hightower will most likely come off for an extra defensive back. I don't feel we are too easy on Arrington; to the contrary I feel Patriots fans treat him as the cause for all that goes wrong on defense. He is a competitive slot corner who will tackle and play physical. Does that make him a star, or even worth the money they gave him? No, but he's certainly worthy of a roster spot and adds nice depth at corner. I also don't feel the team needs another linebacker at this point, although with an injury or two I might think differently.
Paul Perillo

I love James Develin, but he is so slow. I was wondering if he has improved his speed at all? I would love to see him move over to tight end. Also who is taking kick returns at camp?
Liam Dunne

Develin is by no means a speed burner but he's fast enough to play fullback or tight end. Now, he's not going to threaten a defense deep down the seam like Rob Gronkowski does, but he can get out in the flat and as a serviceable receiver while providing excellent blocking, which makes up about 95 percent of his job responsibilities. As for kick returner, we've seen a lot of Josh Boyce in that department so far. If he can stick on the roster as a receiver I'd expect him to get first crack back deep. Roy Finch, Travis Hawkins and Malcolm Butler have also taken some reps.
Paul Perillo


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