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Ask PFW: Counting down to camp

Posted Jul 16, 2013

Training camp at Gillette Stadium is less than two weeks away, and football-starved Patriots fans have plenty of questions to fill out this fun-in-the-sun, mid-July edition of Ask PFW!

With Dennard being arrested and could possibly be cut or miss playing time, could we see McCourty come back to the corner position? I think he had more picks as a CB and was utilized better as one. Or does Dowling go to the opposite side to fill in for Dennard. I know if Dowling can stay healthy he is a great athlete and sticks to receivers very, very well.
Casey Goddard

Assuming that Dennard will be released, who do you think will be his replacement? If Ras-I Dowling stays healthy, do you think he will be the new starter?
Michael LaRocco

Clearly Dennard’s immediate and long-term future with the Patriots are very much in question at this point. Given that he already has court dates scheduled, he’s almost certainly going to miss time in training camp. Depending on what the court decides in terms of him violating his probation, he could miss more time in camp or to start the season. He may also receive an NFL suspension. Or he could be released. Clearly the most obvious fill-in or replacement is Dowling. He’s started at corner for the team in the past when healthy. He’ll likely get the chance to win that job again in Dennard’s absence, however long that turns out to be. The problem is I’m not sold on Dowling as a starting cornerback. I have concerns about his lack of fluidity and am not sure how well he “sticks to receivers.” I don’t, however, think that McCourty is destined for a move back to corner at this point. Given how poorly he played that position over the last year-plus, and that the team seems to like him at safety, I think he’ll be given every chance to stay at safety. Now, if things reach an emergency level at cornerback, then surely McCourty would be an option. But right now I think Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan and others will be turned to for competition and depth at the cornerback spot opposite Aqib Talib.
Andy Hart

Patriots have taken chances on many questionable players, and mostly got positive results except that their luck ran out over the past few years. Why the organization took chances is the question, was it being bold or the result of poor drafting of CB's, Receivers and TEs? And do you believe that - you live by the draft and die by the draft?
Ben K.

First, every team takes chances on some level. Those chances are generally based on value – weighing the relative risk with the potential payoff. Those risks can involve injuries, character concerns or a variety of other issues. And part of the equation is obviously need. So if a team makes mistakes in drafting, free agency and trades, that could increase the inclination to take risks in a search for higher-end talent. On some level Bill Belichick and the Patriots are/were able to take risks on players both in the draft and in trades thanks to reputation, security and past success. As more of those fail to work out, that may give the team reason to reassess some of its decision making, something that owner Robert Kraft has already acknowledged. In the end, though, I do believe that most teams live and die by the draft. It’s the foundation and bloodline of any successful franchise. Now, as the Patriots have proven over the years, that can be supplemented via trades and free agency (see Wes Welker and Randy Moss). But the better a team does on draft weekend the more success it will have and the easier the rest of its team-building decisions will be. That’s a simple fact.
Andy Hart

With all the questions regarding this year’s passing game why not take a chance and bring in Austin Collie? I know he's available because of health concerns but when healthy he's shown great potential. They could probably get him cheap and if he stays healthy wouldn't he make a bigger impact than say Tim Tebow?
Eric Malley

Hey Guys, I noticed that Austin Collie is still available. Is he someone you would consider bringing in on a low cost deal to back up Amendola? I know he's had problems with concussions, but Danny isn't the healthiest receiver either. Thanks.
Monty B.

I very much agree that Collie would have far more potential to have a positive impact than Tebow. But the bigger issue is his concussion history. In this era of concussion awareness, debate and litigation, that’s almost like bearing a scarlet letter. Collie wants to play and the Patriots certainly have a need at the position. But for a team that’s seemingly been burned by taking risks on players at a record rate of late, I’m not sure it’s an easy decision to bring in a guy with Collie’s head issues at this point even if the need for his potential production is quite obvious. That’s not to mention his history of knee injuries. Health is his biggest concern and that’s apparently scared off the Patriots and the rest of the NFL to this point. And his injuries are in no way comparable to Amendola’s. We’re learning more that head injuries are in a different area all their own.
Andy Hart

Do you see the Patriots go after free agent WR? Honestly I see the Pats offense looking bad in preseason with no good WR on the team. I also predict Amendola will be a one-and-done with the Pats like [Brandon] Lloyd and [Chad] Johnson.
Zach Flowers

I won’t be surprised if the Patriots continue to look to add to the wide receiver depth chart, as I agree that the work-in-progress passing attack has a long ways to go. But I’d be totally stunned if Amendola wasn’t a big part of that attack if healthy and even more shocked if he only lasted one season in New England. He’s not the aging, over-the-hill, questionable personality that both Lloyd and Johnson were when joining the Patriots. Amendola’s best years (yes, assuming he can stay healthy) should be head of him. He was given a pretty big-money deal to join up with Brady. He’s expected to replace Wes Welker in the slot. He should be in Foxborough for years to come.
Andy Hart

Recently, I've been thinking of the running back battle on the Patriots and I got to thinking about LeGarrette Blount and I was thinking of the possibility of Blount becoming a fullback to lead the way for the likes of Ridley and Vereen. Do you think that this would be something Belichick would try out and do you even think this strategy could play out? I think it could be an interesting option as a way to utilize a starting-caliber running back as an option in the run game with his size. Thanks for taking my question.
Christian Johnson

We know that Belichick considers every possible option in terms of utilizing his personnel and that he’s not afraid to move guys around and experiment. At 6-0, 250 Blount has the obvious size to be a fullback. But he’s been primarily a ball carrier for his career in the NFL and in college. It’s not always easy for guys to transition into the blocking role. It’s also not a role that’s been used all that often in New England in recent years. That versatility could very well help Blount in a bid to make the roster, as would special teams work, but in the end I still think his best shot to make the team would be as a primary, big-bodied backup to Ridley. Tampa Bay reportedly thought of moving Blount to fullback but didn’t think it would work based on his limited ability to catch the football, something that’s often asked of fulltime fullbacks.
Andy Hart

With the number of players that have been in trouble with the law lately, it had me thinking, has any team every tried to put a clause into players contract giving the team the ability to recoup a portion of the signing bonus if a player is involved with a crime and the team subsequently releases the player.
Patrick Connolly

All contracts include some sort of language relative to off-field behavior, conduct and morals. And guys with a history of problems often have more than the traditional clauses in their deals to protect the teams. It’s part of the CBA.
Andy Hart

Is there any news about the Patriots hiring Dallas Clark? It would be awesome to see him play with Brady!! Another Clark/Peyton type of year!!
Bonnie Beorkrem

Hey PFW I'm Nate and I was wondering if the Pats would be bringing in another tight end like Dallas Clark?
Nate Smith

I do think the team will look into adding another tight end, and will probably sign one prior to the start of camp. New England has three open roster spots right now and a guy like Clark would make the most sense to me, although David Thomas would be another viable option. Clark was very much a Hernandez-like option for Manning and the Colts and even with his fading skills and aging body might be the most likely to replicate what Hernandez was expected to do for the Patriots in body if not in production. There is certainly no one on the roster right now in the Hernandez mold, although the team could just decide to take the offense in a different direction.
Andy Hart

What is the chance that Jermaine Cunningham makes the roster? Have the Pats secured enough depth to release him or will he be a disappointment yet again in 2013-2014?
Dave Rodgers

I’d say that Cunningham has slightly better than a 50/50 chance to make the roster. There is no question he’s been a major disappointment as a second-round pick, both in terms of production and a suspension last season. That said, there isn’t a ton of depth at the defensive end spot. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are starters. After that there are a lot of questions and competition. Signing of a veteran like John Abraham would change that a bit. Right now, I think that Jake Bequette’s status might be most directly related to Cunningham’s. Bequette was a healthy scratch for virtually all of last season as a third-round rookie. If he’s not ready to take the field in 2013, then I think Cunningham may stick around for pure need.
Andy Hart

As a fan (and a parent) of the game I am very concerned with the events over the last several weeks regarding players conduct off the field. For most players it starts before High School and College, but both College and the NFL can make the most significant change, if they want to. It is time for the NFL (including the Patriots) to create a new set of guidelines for drafting or accepting players into the league. For example, a college player testing positive for drugs CANNOT be drafted for certain period of time. Acceptable behavior and conduct MUST be priority number one. I know $$$ talk, thus I am very disappointed that this will probably not happen. My question is what are the chances of meaningful change and getting better football players, but more importantly better citizens and setting a better tone for younger players of the game. I appreciate the consideration and sharing PFW thoughts with fans and others. This is much more important than scoring a touchdown, everybody wins! Thank you.
Kevin Coffey

While I don’t know how dramatic the changes will be in terms of dealing with players with off-field issues, you can be sure it’s a topic that’s being discussed at the team and league level. There could be changes to invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine for such reasons. Player conduct (and the conduct of any NFL employees) has been a major issue for the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell in recent years. That will continue and even increase moving forward.
Andy Hart

Assuming both Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount make the 53 man roster who do you see getting more playing time?
Adam Bailey

At this point I think Leon Washington is a lock to make the roster as a primary kick returner. That means he’ll be active for games and as Belichick often notes, when guys are active for special teams it leads to more playing time in other areas. I could see Washington getting reps in the backfield as well as a rotation. While Blount might have a chance at rotational reps, if he makes the roster at all I think it will be as Ridley’s backup. That could means games where he’s inactive as he has less special teams value. So I’d say that Washington will have more playing time and more of an impact this season.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, just to start off I love what you guys do. Anyways, do you guys think Aaron Dobson could be "the receiver of the future"? He's got the size, the weight, and I have heard a lot about his soft hands. Could he be a legit threat this year for the Pats and how has he been doing in camp and OTA's? Thanks.
Kirk von Kreisler

Dobson certainly has the potential to be a receiver of the future, and he may need to be given the current state of the position in New England. He made some plays in OTAs, but then finished the spring injured. Staying healthy will be very important for him to get off to a good start in his career and have a chance to contribute early on. I had concerns about his ability to create separation at Marshall and continue to think that might be an issue. Beyond that, he seems to have all the skills to be a versatile receiving option.
Andy Hart

Do you think the Pats will bring in any veteran wide receivers due to the drama of Hernandez? Such as Deion Branch, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss? Thanks.
Peter Pham

Of the three you mentioned, the only guy I think they’d consider is Branch. All three are well past their primes and could very well be done in terms of being contributors in the NFL. Branch is the perfect fit with the team and Brady, so he might get a chance to compete. But I have to think if they add a veteran receiver, and they could, it will come from somewhere outside that list of options.
Andy Hart

Out of all the undrafted free agents that the Patriots signed, who do you think has the best chance of making the team?
Drew Mac

The obvious and most publicized choice would be tight end Zach Sudfeld. He showed soft hands in spring practice and given the uncertainty at the position there might be room for him to win a job. But I’m going to go look at the defensive tackle position and say that either Cory Grissom or Joe Vellano makes the team. I think there is a lack of depth at defensive tackle and the team has shown frequently over the years that low picks or undrafted types can latch on there. I haven’t seen enough of either player to pick one at this point, but I do know that some thought very highly of Grissom as an undrafted signing after the draft.
Andy Hart

Why does everyone assume that Tebow cannot play the position of quarterback? We haven't seen him in game time as a QB since he has worked on the footwork. I'm not saying that he is an elite QB or ever will be but he an get the job done if given a chance. Nor am I wanting him to replace Tom Brady. Let him challenge [Ryan] Mallett and if he plays better let him have at least one preseason game to see how he performs. Do you think Bill Belichick would waste team time on a player if he didn't think he has potential or perhaps he's a bad judge of a player. At least give him a benefit of a doubt.
Thomas Roper

I’ve seen Tebow play quarterback in college and the NFL – he can’t play the position. We’ve been told over the years numerous times that he’s fixed his footwork or delivery. He hasn’t. Maybe Belichick and Josh McDaniels have a development play for Tebow or a scheme as to how to use him. I just don’t think he’ll ever be a competent NFL passer. Sorry. He can’t throw accurately. He’s not great learning the playbook or making his reads. It’s just won’t work.
Andy Hart

At what point do the Patriots look to the heir to Tom Brady? Hopefully No. 12 will give us another 5 top years, but do we wait till then to draft a guy, or would you trade up in an early draft for a good prospect and let him learn from Brady’s tutelage?
Alex Marr

This has been one of the great questions in New England in recent years. People have brought it up in regards to guys like Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Tebow. None of those guys is the answer. And Brady adds to the difficulty of the question by showing no signs of slowing down at this point. Really the answer is all about opportunity and value. If the right guy comes along – a good fit for the system – then you have to consider going to get him at any point moving forward. That could be a trade. That could be in the middle of the draft. Heck, maybe it’s a Packers-like first-round pick. Brady continues to look great, but the end is drawing more near by the day.
Andy Hart

Do you see Chandler Jones & Donte Hightower making a 2nd year leap?
Michael Taylor

I think there is a chance that Jones has a very good second season. He was impressive a year ago until the long season and an ankle injury caught up with him. His first year production is similar to what guys like J.J. Watt and Jason Pierre Paul had prior to huge year-two jumps. I think Jones knows what’s expected of him and I’m intrigued to see how he handles the pressure. I’m not as convinced that Hightower is ready to be a big impact guy. I was a little disappointed in his rookie year, although he dealt with a hamstring injury. He’s a guy who’s supposed to be a versatile option on all three downs. I’ll need to see more impact type plays before I’m ready to anoint him a core member of the defense. I will say that if the Patriots defense is going to make big strides this fall, a lot of it will have to do with Jones and to a lesser extent Hightower.
Andy Hart

Since Shane Vereen showed some flashes of brilliance lining up outside, should the Pats consider him as a temporary fix at receiver and use Tebow as their third down back.
Martin Soria

No. Vereen’s value as a receiving threat and versatile option would be lost in a role at receiver, where he’d be matched up against cornerbacks and his skills would not translate very well. Tebow has never shown the ability to catch the football – at any level – so why do we assume he’d be a productive third-down back. NFL? He probably wouldn’t.
Andy Hart

Who will be the leading receiver this year? What do you think the depth chart for the WRs will look like ? Any chance Hobson or Boyce make an immediate impact this year? Thanks
Justin Palmieri, CT

I can feel pretty confident saying that Amendola is atop the depth chart and likely to lead the Patriots in receptions. Beyond that, I’m not confident in anything at the position. I think one of the rookies could very well end up the No. 2 receiver, probably Dobson if he can get and stay healthy. But Boyce may have to contribute as well. Julian Edelman will be in the mix, especially given his role as punt returner. But he’s never been able to stay healthy or contribute consistently. Michael Jenkins has a solid veteran reputation as a potential possession type, but I thought he looked awful catching the ball (or, more accurately dropping it) this spring. The receiving corps is a major work in progress. I can’t tell you how that’s going to play out right now and I do think that Belichick or McDaniels could either.
Andy Hart

Not so much a question as a comment. Patriots (who have always been a top 5 favorite team of mine) has just jumped to #1 or #2 BECAUSE of signing Tim Tebow - one of my top favorite QB's. I believe the Patriots are fast becoming this decade's Cowboys or Packers - you know, our ALL AMERICAN Team!
Cindy Stephenson

The power of the Tim Tebow phenomenon. All I can say is Wow!
Andy Hart

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