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Ask PFW: Rookies, roster, and more

Posted Jun 18, 2013

From Tim Tebow to team nutrition and everything in between, this week's PFW mailbag is as in-depth as it is varied.

Hi guys, first I wanted to say thanks for all the good work. As a Pats fan in Australia, it’s hard to get coverage here and I have come to rely on you for my dose of NFL. With Tim Tebow I see his real value as the QB on the practice squad helping the "D" prepare for the Pistol QB fad. Would Bill risk the circus for the extra exposure he can give the team to Pistol formations? A lot of team look to be making the shift, including the Bills, and we saw what happened when an average Fins team sprung Wildcat on us a few years back. Thanks. Ky Mitchell

This is not a question, just a big thank you to the Patriots for hiring Mr. Tebow. I watched his performance in Denver, but was saddened that the Jets did not use him constructively. You currently have a great and talented quarterback and now you have a great and talented back-up quarterback. I know that the sports media will continue to attack Mr. Tebow no matter how well he plays. I think that the sports media attacked him for his Christian faith. I sincerely hope that he and the Patriots can stand the pressure from the liberal sports media. I live in south Texas but have been a Packer fan since the mid-1950s. My hope for the 2013 season is for the Packers and the Patriots to play in the Super Bowl. Thanks again. David Kaltenbach

How can anyone justify the money and roster position for Tebow, when he is, at best, just practice squad material when we're talking PATRIOT level football? Any positives that Tebow might bring are minor compared to the need to fill positions on both sides of the line. And let us not forget that all the other teams in the NFL, even those desperate for a QB, all passed. Combine this with the "CIRCUS", as it's called, and it seems like three red flags. HELLO...Can you guys please explain it? Thanks, and keep up the great work. Dan M.

What position(s) other than quarterback do you feel Coach Hoodie will put Tebow to maximize his skills? Would you agree with blocking tight end, running back or H-back and/or punt returner? Do you think the PATS will try to improve his throwing skills to make him a better quarterback? Is it true that Tebow cannot read defenses because he is dyslexic? Patricia Conza

Why NOT keep QB Mike Kafka on the team, too? The total roster had room to do so. John Moore

It seems to me there are a number of logical reasons why the Patriots signed Tim Tebow. Let me address the so-called “circus” aspect first.

I don’t see this becoming a problem for the Patriots the way it was in Denver and New York , Tebow’s previous two NFL stops. For one thing, in both places, Tebow was a legitimate contender for the starting job. Kyle Orton and Mark Sanchez will never be confused with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. Tebow is a polarizing figure, to be sure, but add the element of his being a starting QB in the NFL, and you have the ingredients for a media circus.

Here in New England, Tebow won’t have a prayer of being talked about as a starter unless Brady is unable to play for any length of time. That should mitigate any over-the-top media coverage. We saw evidence of this last week, in fact. Tebow’s first day here, he was the big story, naturally. The Patriots trotted him in front of the media to make a statement (he took no questions) and everybody left happy. The next day, there were maybe a quarter of the media in attendance for the second and final day of mini-camp. He was still a story, but the “circus” atmosphere had clearly abated.

As far as the on-field justification for signing Tebow… it’s not uncommon for Bill Belichick to keep just two quarterbacks on his final 53-man roster. Which means, of course, that a player at another position would have to take snaps in the event that Tom Brady and his backup (last season, Ryan Mallett) are unavailable during a game. Belichick and his staff always know who that player would be, but they almost never divulge such information. It’s up to us to speculate. Julian Edelman might’ve been a candidate for emergency QB, given his college history as a quarterback (albeit mostly as a running quarterback in an option offense). However, seeing how he’s not always healthy and active on game days, there had to have been another player designated by the staff for that role.

Edelman is an intriguing player because he is so versatile, having become one of the better punt returners in the NFL and filled in at defensive back – with aplomb – in a pinch. With his smaller size and lack of substantial experience throwing the football, he’s not ideal for the QB position at this level, even in an emergency.

Tebow has taken more than his share of criticism for the way he throws, but there’s no denying he is much more proficient at it than Edelman would be. He’s also a more physically imposing and durable specimen than Edelman (whom the Patriots barely re-signed this offseason, by the way… which should tell you something about what they think of him).

Assuming Tebow is asked to do more than just play quarterback, he agrees to do what’s asked of him, and can perform at a satisfactory level, the Patriots could have an emergency third QB who is more valuable than someone like Edelman. That could be a reason why they let Kafka go. It’s doubtful he could have done anything other than play QB in the NFL, whereas Tebow – in theory – could do more. He is a certainly a much better athlete than most third-string, backup, or even some starters in the NFL.

Could Tebow be a running back/fullback? Possibly. We’ve seen him run the ball well in college and on occasion in the pros. Can he play tight end? Remains to be seen. I’ve never watched him catch a football or throw a block, but I’m curious to see that this summer in training camp, if that’s what the Patriots plan to do with him. As our Aussie mate Ky pointed out above, Tebow would also provide a viable scout team QB whenever New England plays a Pistol offense, but there aren’t a ton of those on the schedule this season.

My gut tells me that Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow in Denver three years ago, was instrumental in making this move happen. McDaniels was head coach at the time, but was fired midway through Tebow’s rookie year, meaning the two never had a full season to work together. Now they’re reunited, and perhaps McDaniels feels like he can finish what he started with this potentially promising project. And if any coach can find a way to bring out the best in a player, it’s Belichick.

The question is, do the Patriots see Tebow as anything more than a quarterback? And if not, what can they do to make Tebow a better QB that his previous two teams were unable to accomplish? Sadly, we’ll have to wait about six more weeks, when training camp opens, before we find out the answers. Erik Scalavino

Do you think that Tebow could be worth keeping purely as a special teams guy? Maybe he could learn to return punts? Gary Abrams

Again, Tebow would have to be willing and able to play special teams. If he is, it would be as a protection guy, not as a returner, I would think. He’s pretty fast for a guy his size, but doesn’t possess the kind of quickness necessary for punt return duty at this level. The aforementioned Edelman does, which is why he has become so proficient at it. Erik Scalavino

Could you give a brief overview of the Pats' nutrition program? Specifically, does every player get a personalized nutrition plan, or just certain guys? Mike Maguire

I would love to, Mike. Unfortunately, like most every other bit of information about this team, Belichick keeps even the nutrition details close to his vest. Here’s what I can tell you, though:

Last year, the team hired a man named Ted Harper and gave him the title of Sports Nutritionist. According to the team’s media guide, Harper’s professional background working with military personnel, U.S. Olympians, and college athletes made him an ideal candidate for the position. At the same, perhaps not coincidentally, the Patriots completely renovated their team cafeteria and made some changes to the daily dietary offerings there and on the team’s charter flights for road games.

Suffice to say, if a player here wanted three square meals a day without having to cook for himself or pay for it, he could do so quite comfortably. And yes, each player has a particular dietary regimen he must follow, depending on his physical needs and position requirements. But exactly what those individual diets are, and how much they differ from one another, is information to which we are not privy. Erik Scalavino

Hello, greetings from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was seeing OTAs and mini-camp observations and I didn't see anything about Logan Ryan. How is he going? Knowing how the rookies are going, what's your grade for the Patriots' draft and offseason? Gustavo Ferreira

Ryan really didn’t do much in spring practices to stand out, either in a good or bad way. Making matters worse, Belichick elected not to put numbers on the players’ jerseys, so we had a difficult time distinguishing who was who out there. Hopefully, that will change come training camp. It’s far too soon to give a grade, so, I’ll have to say ‘Incomplete’ at this point. The practices we watched were without pads, and the team still has two open spots on the roster. If they wind up filling those with, say, a John Abraham-type player, then that will go a long way toward improving the overall grade I’d be willing to give them down the line. Erik Scalavino

As of this writing, there is, at least, one roster opening on the 90 man roster, for the Pats. Is there a reason(s) and any advantages for teams to not have all roster openings filled up, especially during the preseason duration, as much as is possible? John Moore

As I made reference in the previous answer, the Patriots now have 88 players on the active roster, meaning there are two openings. At this time of year, it can be helpful to keep a few spots open in the event that a desirable veteran free agent becomes available, but once training camp starts, it behooves a team to fill up all 90. Injuries pile up quickly, bodies get tired, yet practices must still go on and coaches need players to run drills and execute plays. You can’t have too many people on the field in late July through August. I’m guessing the Patriots still have a few moves they’d like to make before the real practices begin in a month’s time. Erik Scalavino

During the downtime between mini-camp and training camp, players are allowed to work out together on their own; however I believe someone once told me that the coaches cannot take part in this "unofficial" training. Is that correct? George Newell

That is correct. The coaching staff is allowed to give players assignments – a wish-list, if you will – to help them improve in certain areas, but the coaches themselves cannot be in attendance when the players are working out in this early summer period. Erik Scalavino

I haven't heard any talk about Jake Ballard. What is his status? I feel he could help the team when healthy. Jody Treadway

Ballard toughed it out during spring practices, but to be fair, he wasn’t at his best. He was clearly exhibiting a residual limp from his knee surgery and had trouble catching the ball even in individual drills with no defender on him. For his sake, I hope the next several weeks are beneficial for his recovery, but I’m not expecting as much from him going into this season. I thought he’d be completely healed by now, but that’s clearly not the case (if you recall, he injured a knee against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI). Erik Scalavino

What are the chances of TE Jake Ballard making the 53 man roster based on the signing of Tim Tebow? Mackenzie Kirkey

No better or worse than before Tebow was brought on board. The two are mutually exclusive. Even if Tebow gets some action at tight end this summer, Ballard’s roster hopes aren’t hinging on Tebow. They’re entirely reliant on Ballard’s own ability and the health of that damaged knee. Erik Scalavino

Are there any new changes from the CBA taking effect this year? Also, any news on [Aaron] Dobson or [Josh] Boyce's injuries? Jackson Perry

There are always minor changes in the collective bargaining agreement that take effect from season to season (the minimum salary requirements, for instance, for veterans), but nothing that will make a noticeable difference to the average fan. Meanwhile, the last we saw of both rookie receivers, they were in uniform, but working with the medical staff on rehabilitation exercises during practice last week. Neither player looked to be in dire straits, though. I’m expecting to see both at full speed in camp, barring anything unforeseen in these next weeks. Erik Scalavino

Any word on the hold-up on Dobson signing a contract? It's been a couple weeks or so since the rest were signed. Just wondering. How are Dobson and the rest of the WRs beside Amendola doing? Catching passes, not catching them? Running good routes, etc? Is Sudfeld still standing out catching a lot of passes? How about the other TEs? John Osgood

Very good question. I’m a bit surprised the Patriots haven’t finished this deal yet, seeing how all rookie contracts these days are essentially cookie-cutter. But I wouldn’t sweat it. I’d be stunned – absolutely stunned – if Dobson wasn’t signed by the time camp opens. Erik Scalavino

I'm really interested in which undrafted free agent will make the team. I personally think it'll be Sudfeld. Now that Moe is out of the question, who do you think it will be if there is one? Michael LaRocco

Oh, I’m sure there’ll be one. Your interest in this regard is not unfounded. Hardly a year goes by without at least one undrafted rookie making a Bill Belichick Patriots squad. Right now, I’d have to agree with you about Zach Sudfeld, the tight end out of Nevada. Of all the rookies in camp this spring, he stood out in a very good way. And given the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both dealing with injuries that could cut into their practice time (if not the regular season), Sudfeld could find his way onto the 53, at least by default initially. At the very least, I could see him on the practice squad. Erik Scalavino

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