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Ask PFW: All 4 a defensive change?

Training camp is just underway but much has happened in a short period of time. The Patriots made two big acquisitions, let go of some veterans and are toying with a new defense. It's all included in the latest "Ask PFW" mailbag.

Randy Moss' retirement announcement has me kind of shocked. I know he's a little slower than he used to be and that there are "effort" questions around him but I think he still has a go in him with the right fit. Last season he played in three different offenses. So, of course I think, one more season with the Pats. Do you think he could come to N.E., ala Junior Seau, and play one more season where he isn't the feature guy? For a lower price he can come into N.E. where he knows the system, players and coaches and play in a smaller role. Imagine him, Ocho, Branch and Welker in a four WR set. What would that do to the Jets? I don't know that the Philadelphia Heat....errr..."Dream Team" could consistently cover that. I don't want to sound like one of those fans that can't let go of the past but that would be fun to see. Don't you think? Do you think his retirement is more along the lines of a Seau or Favre "retirement"?
Dave Cruz

To answer your last question first, yes I do think Moss' retirement is more along the lines of Seau's or Favre's. In other words, I don't believe his playing days are over. Some team will have injuries at wide receiver, offer him more than he's worth, and Moss will come back. That said, I don't want any part of him on the Patriots, and basically his announcement confirms everything I've felt about him throughout this laborious offseason. Randy is all about Randy, and when one of the teams he wanted to play for didn't fawn over him with a multi-year deal, he did what he always does when things don't go his way – he took his ball and went home. The Patriots traded for a veteran receiver in Chad Ochocinco and the Jets signed a guy who's been in prison for two years in Plaxico Burress. So Moss retired rather than suffer the humiliation of either having to sign with a less-than-great team, or worse, have no one sign him at all. You mention that Moss could still contribute if he isn't the feature guy. When has Randy ever been happy without being the focal point of an offense? If he were willing to do that he wouldn't have been traded last year. Personally, I believe Moss is the greatest wide receiver I've ever seen play – including Jerry Rice. But his attitude, work ethic and erratic behavior prevented him from being even more dynamic than he was. If I were Bill Belichick (no need to hyperventilate Pats fans, it's just a hypothetical), I'd stay as far away from Moss as possible.
Paul Perillo

So in this moment of euphoria, over the recent trades, that Patriots fans are feeling give us the still glaring needs of the Patriots. I believe outside linebacker is still a serious issue and could bite us later in the year if not fixed.
Pat S.

I agree with your top need and feel the pass rush is still in need to help. Whether that comes from an outside linebacker or another position the Patriots need to add someone who can get after the passer. There is still plenty of time to address this and I feel Bill Belichick will attempt to do that by adding a veteran with some pass rushing ability – with Manny Lawson signed in Cincinnati maybe PFW favorite Matt Roth. He is won't remind anyone of DeMarcus Ware but Roth could add some punch to an area of need. And there have been reports that the team is interested in former Bears defensive lineman Tommie Harris. I also believe the team could use some depth along both the offensive and defensive lines. With Matt Light now back in the fold the starting lineup is set, but an injury to one of the interior guys could be a problem. Defensively there's little proven talent beyond Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth (and Mike Wright if he stays healthy). Other than that, the competition for roster spots figures to be quite intense based on the overall talent level this team possesses.
Paul Perillo

What are the chances of Lofa Tatupu landing in New England? I know you guys are great fans of Matt Roth as the linebacker to get, but Tatupu has been a good player down the years. Also, like father like son right?
Nathan Stubbs

Tatupu is more of an inside guy than outside like Roth so there really isn't any comparison between the two. Tatupu is a talented player who has dealt with his share of injuries over the years but has the athleticism to compete probably in any system. I like the Patriots current situation with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton on the inside, and even if they decide to go with more 4-3 looks, there doesn't seem to be much of an opening for a guy like Tatupu. Plus he would likely be looking for some money and given the Patriots situation on the inside he isn't likely to get much here.
Paul Perillo

If I remember clearly, the new overtime rules are to go into effect this season aren't they?
Matt S.

Actually they went into effect last year, but you could be forgiven for not knowing that since none of the postseason games went into overtime in 2010. The rules are only in effect for the playoffs.
Paul Perillo

With the Patriots releasing numerous veterans with fairly high salaries recently, will we see additional big moves in free agency/trades? Perhaps even an OLB with pass rushing ability? Also, how much cap space do the Patriots currently have?
Kyle Volo

I think you've already seen some pretty high impact moves with the acquisitions of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, and to a lesser extent the re-signings of Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and apparently now Matt Light. As I mentioned above I do believe an additional pass rusher is coming – whether it's Roth or Harris or somebody else. I don't know the exact amount of cap space the Patriots currently have but I'm told there's plenty of room to make more moves. I wouldn't expect Belichick to sit back and be satisfied at this point.
Paul Perillo

This is a two part question. First, with the addition of Albert Haynesworth do you see more of a 4-3 being used this year? The apparent strength at D-line cannot be overlooked and I feel as if we would have too much talent not to get on the field at the same time in a 3-4. Secondly, our depth and talent in D-line and our DBs are the strengths of our defense (obviously), do you see even more subsets being used this year (than normal) to exploit those strengths and mask the supposed weakness at OLB? 4-2-5?
Shane C.

I want to start by explaining that Ty Warren was released after Shane sent in this question, so perhaps his thoughts have changed since then. But I also will say that even with Warren I don't see the immense depth up front that you describe. Actually, I believe the Patriots may actually use more 4-3 looks this year because of a lack of depth along the defensive line. Belichick's 3-4 requires three rather large men (300-plus minimum) to operate effectively. If he decides to make a change and use a more conventional 4-3, he may only need to players with such a resume (Wilfork and Haynesworth). The defensive ends would likely include a combination of outside linebackers (Jermaine Cunningham, Eric Moore, Mike Wright, Rob Ninkovich and perhaps a newcomer like Tommie Harris, etc.) who are smaller than what the Patriots traditionally employ up front. There are a number of defensive linemen on the current roster but not much in the way of proven talent. Making a switch would require fewer of those unproven bodies to pan out in order to make it work. It's far too early to say for sure that this is the direction the team is going, but it is a possibility given the moves the team has made thus far.
Paul Perillo

So the Pats traded for Albert Haynesworth to bolster the pass rush, how do you expect the Pats use him? I figure this will allow Wilfork to move back inside, or will the Pats play more 4-3 packages? I know the Pats didn't land Sidney Rice or Santonio Holmes, but do you still believe they will sign or trade for a wideout? I also wondered if the pats would maybe trade backup QB Brian Hoyer? He could be the second coming of Matt Cassel. The Pats have a more-than capable backup in Ryan Mallet, so how about moving Hoyer for a receiver or pass rusher and signing a veteran QB as a third stringer?
Ian Bryer

I believe the Patriots will use Haynesworth in a couple of ways but he's been most effective in his career as a penetrating defensive tackle in 4-3 fronts. He certainly has the ability to play in virtually any scheme so it wouldn't surprise me to see Belichick stick with the 3-4 and use him at end, but ultimately it could come down to how well Haynesworth assimilates to New England and whether or not he's motivated to play. When he is, few are better. I'm assuming Ian wasn't aware of the move to acquire Chad Ochocinco when he wrote as well. Either way I'm not sure Hoyer has much trade value at this point because he has yet to play any meaningful minutes. Cassel played an entire season and still only got a second-round pick in return (and the Patriots had to add Mike Vrabel to the deal to get that). I don't think Hoyer would garner any quality receiver or pass rusher in return until/unless he ever sees the field for an extended time in the regular season, and no one wants that to happen. I could see a team offering a mid-to-late draft pick at some point for Hoyer based on preseason games but not much more than that.
Paul Perillo

Hey thanks for all the hard work! I'm sure it's a busy week for you guys! So Albert Haynesworth to New England … I love BB and he's obviously one of the best coaches but I'm honestly shocked with this trade! I don't know if this will turn out to be good or bad! What do you make of this move? And what position would he most likely play (NT, DE)?
Chris Morton

I will start like most others talking about this trade and say there was very minimal risk to this deal. No bonus money involved and only a fifth-round pick surrendered means the team can cut ties without any repercussions if things go badly. About the only risk would be if Haynesworth comes in and performs well for a period of time and then all of a sudden during the season decides he doesn't like it and becomes a problem. In that scenario, Belichick and the Patriots would be counting on Haynesworth to fill a role and then would have to change gears and find an alternative. But we can all agree the risks are minimal. I was shocked with the trade as well as I'd heard nothing about it all summer. I'm not a huge fan of bringing guys like this onto the team and wonder how he will react to having to do things Belichick's way all the time. In the past that's been a problem for him. But on the field, when he applies himself, Haynesworth is an immensely gifted player. He'll be able to man pretty much any spot Belichick wants him to along the defensive line. I'd guess he'd play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4. The positions are quite similar depending on how Belichick employs them. Haynesworth's strength has always been as a penetrating, one-gap force who disrupts in the backfield. It wouldn't surprise me to see the coach go in that direction, at least on a part-time basis.
Paul Perillo

What do you think about bringing in Malcom Floyd. I think he would be a good fit as a deep threat?
Chris Wiley

I like Floyd a lot as a deep threat. He has the size and speed to challenge defenses down the field on the outside. I'm not sure the team would be interested now that it has acquired Ochocinco, though. Floyd will play somewhere in 2011 but not likely New England, unless it's as a visitor.
Paul Perillo

Do you think Sebastian Vollmer will move back to the LT spot this year? I know he had to fill in on the other side because some guys got hurt etc. I think he does very well at the LT spot.
Matt Lucia

I think Vollmer will be the right tackle with or without Matt Light back. Both Light, who reportedly has re-signed, and rookie Nate Solder are left tackles and haven't had any experience playing the other side. Vollmer has done both, which adds to his value. When Light leaves and Solder is ready to take his place, Vollmer will likely remain on the right side.
Paul Perillo

With the Giants possibly looking to trade Osi Umenyiora for a first-round pick, do you think the Pats would consider giving up one of their two to obtain him?
Dave Roy

I'd definitely be interested in dealing one the two firsts for a proven guy like Umenyiora. Depending on how Belichick decided to structure his defense, he could be used as a true defensive end in 4-3 sets or as a situational pass rusher in the 3-4. While he's not a perfect fit for the latter, Belichick could certainly work with his athleticism to find the right spot. As I've mentioned above a few times, I believe the potential for some changes with the defensive philosophy exists and perhaps Umenyiora will be part of that. But certainly I'd entertain that trade if it presents itself.
Paul Perillo

Guys, am I way off base by believing that football may matter to Chad Johnson, but he just can't play well anymore? I hear and read the media fawning over him, but I just don't think they watched him play the last two years. 1. He's a possession receiver. They need someone to stretch the field. 2. At 33, he's at that point when WRs age considerably. 3. He drops way too many balls - a ridiculous amount of balls went right through his hands (chest high) the last two years. 4. After getting hit hard against the Browns a couple of years ago, he no longer likes going across the middle as he once did. A terrific WR five years ago, but not now. I want to be proven wrong, because I want the Pats to excel. Can you "calm my fears"?
Tony D.

No, at least not until we see the guy play. Chad's enjoyed a solid career but there's no way to know for sure if his drop-off recently is age related or simply a product of getting beaten down by the Bengals losing ways. And no one could possibly know that at this stage. I'd probably agree with much of your assessment. I think he is a possession receiver, but he's one who has excelled on the outside and that's an area of need for this offense. The Patriots have enough guys who can operate between the hashmarks but Ocho can do so near the sidelines. I disagree that he doesn't have good hands. His practice performance notwithstanding, he's displayed soft, dependable hands throughout his career. It remains to be seen how much a 33-year-old receiver has left to offer, but questioning him before we see him on the field is no better than "fawning over him" at this point.
Paul Perillo

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