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Ask PFW: Wondering about Wilfork

Posted Oct 1, 2013

Bad news for the Patriots defense, and how to move on from it, tops this week’s PFW mailbag.

After watching Vince [Wilfork] go down to an Achilles injury, I think there's only one thing to do if the Patriots are looking to still win this year: Throw the bank at Richard Seymour. Sure they can try to plug in [Marcus] Forston and [Joe] Vellano, or hope that [Armond] Armstead is able to come back after week six. Big Sey would be a huge help in pushing us towards a championship this year. We've got the cap space this year. Give him a big one year deal and get him on the line ASAP! Any chance Bill and co can mend fences with him? Josh Howell

With the loss of Vince Wilfork, Do you guys see the Patriots possibly trying to reach Richard Seymour or making a trade for a DT? Tim Adams

Who may replace Wilfork for a few games? And [Tommy] Kelly is up in age to be productive all game long. Can they get Seymour if the price is right? Any other capable back-ups of the practice squad to help D-line? Stan Cohan

No, no, no, a thousand times… no. The Seymour move is not happening. As we’ve discussed several times before in this space, Seymour burned his bridges when he left Foxborough, having said, on multiple occasions, that he has no desire to play for the Patriots ever again. And don’t think for a second that the front office is going to panic and throw ungodly sums of money at a player they once gave a huge payday and then didn’t want to continue paying when he was still relatively young and productive. Richard Seymour is never walking back through the doors at Gillette Stadium. Case closed.

New England will most likely go with what they’ve got, possibly adding a street free agent at some point. Tommy Kelly, rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are on the roster right now, and practice squad holdover Marcus Forston could get a promotion to the 53 very soon. Armstead is intriguing, but still weeks away from even being a consideration due to NFI restrictions, which are similar to PUP.

And keep in mind, when suggesting trades, the Patriots have to give something in return, regardless of who you’re trying to acquire. There isn’t a position deep enough on this team right now that would warrant surrendering a player to get a d-tackle. Nor, I would guess, would Belichick be willing to part with any future draft picks unless the player he was getting in return was young and gifted and entering his prime. Oh, yeah, and inexpensive. Good luck trying to find one of those on the trade market. Erik Scalavino

With Wilfork apparently done for the season, there's a lot of talk about who could fill his shoes, when that answer is obviously no one. My question is how hard would it be at this point to switch to a 3-4, using a Jones-Kelly-Ninkovich three-man front? Or is the depth at LB too weak to even allow that option? Jeff Samanen

With the loss of Big Vince this season, do you see the Patriots going to more of a base 3-4 Defense for the remainder of this year? I know in a 3-4 a player like Wilfork is ideal but I really think Tommy Kelly can hold his own and having Spikes and Mayo in the middle will really help in the run defense. Rian Bednarz

Hate to break it to you, Jeff, but no one on this Earth is irreplaceable. No one. Not even Wilfork at defensive tackle. As we saw against the Falcons, his absence did very little – with the exception of a few plays on one drive – to bolster Atlanta’s rushing attack. New England will miss Wilfork’s massive presence and athleticism, for sure, but the team is not going to make a switch to the 3-4 for a couple of reasons.

First, the personnel on this team aren’t built for that scheme. Chandler Jones, for instance, would not be as effective as an outside linebacker. His true fit is where he is now, at defensive end. Second, and more importantly, Wilfork is a bona fide nose tackle who can also play d-tackle. Very few d-tackles have the skills to play the nose properly. Maybe Tommy Kelly could do it, but this is not time to begin experimenting with defensive personnel. Now is not the time to panic. Though Wilfork will be conspicuous in his absence, the defense will survive his loss. Erik Scalavino

Who is the featured back in New England? It’s been hard to figure who to start in a fantasy league with all the uncertainty between Ridley, Bolden and Blount. Thomas Cantu

Sorry, Thomas, but there is no “featured” back in New England. Hasn’t been, really, since Corey Dillon left town several years ago. The committee approach is the preferred method of attack on the ground on this team. I don’t play fantasy football, but if I were you, I’d try to pick up ball carrier with more reliable playing time than any of the Patriots backs. Erik Scalavino

Aqib Talib reminds me of Deion Sanders in his prime. He was used as a receiver at Kansas and did well. Do you think it could happen here in emergency injury situations? Just thinking outside the box. Randy Hammonds

Before we proceed, let’s get one thing straight: Talib is nowhere near Deion Sanders in his prime. Talib is in his prime now, and just had his best game ever, perhaps, against Atlanta (Sanders’ original club, coincidentally). He may be better than or only equal to Sanders when he was over the hill and playing for the Ravens. That's how good Sanders was. But I like your unconventional thought process about using Talib at wide receiver. It would have to be a really drastic situation, however, for that to happen. Something really, really dire… like every receiver on the roster getting injured in a game.

Talib doesn’t practice on offense (to my knowledge) and would have almost no understanding of the Patriots offense. And given how valuable he is to a secondary that can ill afford to lose even one component, I don’t envision Bill Belichick risking making Talib part of the offensive game plan anytime soon – exciting as that prospect might be. Erik Scalavino

I know you guys would like to see the team push forward with the young receivers and I think that's a good idea to a point. I realize it will take time for them to get on the same page with Brady and playing a lot of snaps in-game will be the only thing that can help that. But if they don't improve, who do you think will be available to trade for that the Pats would be interested in? Derek Dueker

That’s really an impossible question to answer, considering that no one – I mean, literally, not one person – foresaw the Browns’ trading of running back Trent Richardson to the Colts. October 29, 4 p.m. EST is the NFL’s trading deadline this year. New England could execute a similar blind-side blockbuster deal for – and I’m just engaging in wishful thinking here – Larry Fitzgerald, for example. Improbable as that may be, it’s the one of the only scenarios I would want to see happen. Tom Brady needs someone of that caliber to throw to, not some run-of-the-mill journeyman veteran. If Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson or that ilk aren’t on the other end of the trade, I want no part of it. Erik Scalavino

I understand he is on NFI, but do you guys know how Armond Armstead is coming along? Will he be back before the end of this year? When he gets healthy I am looking forward to the Pats D-line wreaking even more havoc with Armstead. Thanks. Austin Hopf

You may understand that he’s on NFI – the non-football injury list – but perhaps you don’t quite understand what being on that list entails. It means you cannot practice with the team. And even if and when Armstead is allowed to begin practicing (as early as Wed., Oct. 16), we’re only allowed to watch stretching and sometimes one or two individual/position drill periods at practice – certainly not nearly enough time to form an opinion of how a player (particularly one we’ve never seen play in pads) is “coming along.”

Armstead has had serious heart problems in the past and is now recovering from an unspecified infection that required surgery earlier this year. To expect a player with his health history to come in and immediately “wreak even more havoc” is just unrealistic. You should set your sights much lower and simply hope that Armstead can come back at all this season and be elevated to the active roster, kind of like Marcus Cannon did during his rookie year after overcoming cancer. Erik Scalavino

Through the first four games, how would you judge Tavon Wilson's performance: good, bad, or ugly? Michael LaRocco

The correct answer, Michael, is… nonexistent. Wilson has played virtually no snaps to speak of on defense in 2013. He’s plummeted on the depth chart, and with good reason. He is a non-factor for the Patriots defense at the moment, and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. Erik Scalavino

During his time with the Pats, did [Wes] Welker ever spend the majority of his time on the outside, or was he always a slot receiver? I’m contending he was always a slot, with guys like Moss, Branch, Lloyd, Galloway, Jackson, Stallworth, etc. playing outside, but I have a buddy who insists that there was a year when Wes played outside for the majority of the year. Can you help me out? Thanks! Bryant Summers

Welker was never “always” in the slot. The Patriots often lined him up as a flanker or split end in two-wide receiver sets, and occasionally as an outside receiver in multiple-receiver looks. But he was predominantly a slot receiver in his six seasons here, just as he now is in Denver. So, you would win that argument with your friends. Welker never spent the majority of his snaps on the outside. Erik Scalavino

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