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Ask PFW: All is Wel-ker!

Training camp has finally arrived but before the media and fans set eyes on the 2010 Patriots we offer one last edition of "Ask PFW" to hold you over.  

The McCourty twins

Hey guys, thanks for always keeping us fans posted on everything Patriots during the long offseason. If reports are true, Wes Welker is going to be back for training camp and has a good shot to be back for the opener. Personally, I'm so excited because the offense simply isn't the same without him, and this speaks volumes about his work ethic to get back into shape during his arduous (and speedy) rehab. My question is do you think this will hinder the development of young guys like Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Taylor Price? It's great to have Welker back, but that means it's one less spot on the receiver depth chart. What do you guys think?
David Gilmore

It's an interesting point you bring up – if Welker is back catching 100-plus passes that drastically reduces the opportunities the three young guys you mentioned would get. But I don't look at it that way. Instead, I see Welker's presence helping those guys develop. Welker will account for more attention from defenses, thus opening lanes for others, just like Randy Moss does so effectively for Welker. Plus, Welker can help the young guys, particularly Edelman since they both play the slot position, during practice and in the meeting room as they work on route running, adjustments and the many other aspects of a receivers' job. And having a proven commodity like Welker on the field can only help the team, so really I don't see any negatives in his return whatsoever.
Paul Perillo

I'm surprised this hasn't come up yet, and maybe it's to not jump to conclusions and throw someone under the bus who doesn't deserve it, but should we be asking why Wes is making such quick progress? In a sport that doesn't test for HGH, a drug that helps one recover quicker, shouldn't we be asking if maybe Wes has been using it? I really hope he's not, but doing the things he's doing after four months? Possibly being cleared for camp? He might be a hard worker but that seems bionic to me. Is it really possible to come back this quickly without some kind of artificial help (not including surgery)?Pascal Rawls-Philippe

Well, aren't we Mr. Negative!! First, it's not good journalistic practice to assume a player is taking a banned substance. That's a good way to lose your job. Second, contrary to many of the reports out there regarding the speed of Welker's return, it really isn't all that uncommon. Philip Rivers had surgery to repair his torn ACL after the Chargers lost to the Patriots in the 2007 AFC title game and three months later was on the field for San Diego's mini-camp. Carson Palmer likewise returned to the Bengals in time for the 2006 opener after blowing out his knee in the 2005 playoffs. Welker being a receiver makes his situation a little different, but at this point we've all seen how modern medicine can do wonders with today's athletes. There's no reason to assume a player is doing something illegal unless we get evidence of such an occurrence. At this point, Welker appears on schedule to return just as those other players did. Am I surprised? Yes. Shocked? No. There have been too many other guys who've returned from serious injuries for me to be stunned by a swift recovery.
Paul Perillo

A huge knock against the Patriots last year was their predictable offense, and so this offseason there has been a fair amount of theorizing from various outlets that the Pats are going to need to re-adjust their offensive identity so opponents won't automatically assume they are still a "pass first" or "pass happy" team. My question in regards to that is, how would they accomplish this? Unless Laurence Maroney can make an unprecedented fifth-year jump this season, the success of the offense (as far as I can tell) still rests on Tom Brady and him successfully distributing the ball (as does the success of most NFL teams with QBs of his caliber). But I do agree they need to do something to minimize the predictability that plagued them in the last part of the last season. Any idea how they can do that if they maintain their pass-first identity?Jessie B.

I know the No. 1 complaint about the Patriots offense in 2009 was predictability but I didn't think it was the case then and I don't now. The problem was a lack of play-making options – not play calling. Back in 2007 when Brady was setting all sorts of records, how many opposing defenses were taken by surprise when the ball went in Randy Moss' direction? Despite that "predictability" the pair managed to connect 23 times for touchdowns. The difference last season was Moss and Welker were the only viable targets at Brady's disposal. That's why things tended to bog down in the second half of games. In terms of changing identity and going with more of a run-first approach, I just don't see it. This team hasn't operated like that in quite some time … probably all the way back to 2004. I don't think the offensive line is consistent enough to play a smashmouth style and I think Brady is too good not to be the featured part of the attack. In short, I think the offense will continue operating in similar fashion but with the additions of the tight ends and some young receivers things should open up a bit in 2010.
Paul Perillo

Thanks for answering this question guys. I look at 27 screens a day and it's nice to be able to read something that isn't a number. Anyways, I want to know your take on the Albert Haynesworth issue. How does the NFL allow this sort of thing to happen? I work my rear off to support my three kids and family and I see Mr. Haynesworth decide he's going to accept $20 million … then say he isn't going to the job he just got paid to do because it's not his way of doing it. I find this really tarnishes the NFL. Who amongst the working class wants to see someone get paid ludicrous amount of cash and refuses to work because it's not his way? Will the NFL find a way to fix this?
Kristopher Jones

I'm not really sure what's broken here to start with. I certainly disagree with Haynesworth in this particular situation but there have been plenty of player holdouts and disputes where I've landed on the other side. Contracts are two-way streets where both the organization and player should be held accountable. But in the NFL only the player is truly accountable since the deals are only guaranteed from the organization's side. Players are forced to play through the deals as long as the teams want them to. If the team wants to cut the player before the deal expires, they can do so – usually with little to no financial consequences depending on any prorated bonus money remaining. Again, Haynesworth's individual situation is one I don't agree with at all. He's been paid handsomely and now he doesn't want to play in a 3-4 system. If he truly doesn't want to play then his simple solution would be to return his bonus money and move on. We all know he's not going to do that and that is why I have no sympathy for his plight. But I do believe players should have the right to ask for more and, if they deem it necessary, holdout for more. Teams don't have to give in, and ultimately players may be fighting a losing battle. That's called negotiating and I see no reason to prevent players from fighting if they wish to.
Paul Perillo

I wish you made it easier to find out how to submit questions to you. I really enjoy articles. I have a potential trade: Why don't the Patriots can trade Logan Mankins for Jonathan Stewart of Carolina?Ed Trivisonno

You can easily submit question to "Ask PFW" by scrolling down to the bottom of our Tuesday posts and clicking the "ask a question" tab, which you obviously have learned since you submitted this question. See how I figured that out … I'm much smarter than I look. As for your trade proposal, like most we receive here I love it – from a Patriots perspective. But why would Carolina deal a young, productive running back who is still earning affordable dollars for a top notch guard who is looking for $50-plus million? Stewart helps form a great tandem with DeAngelo Williams and the system has worked quite well. I understand where you're coming from with the idea since Williams is the better back (in my opinion) and perhaps Stewart represents a surplus at a position. But if I were John Fox and Marty Hurney I'd stick with a plan that has worked well rather than relying on just one back. Perhaps the Panthers think differently, though.
Paul Perillo

Do you think the Patriots will just hand the starting job to Zoltan Mesko after what they saw in OTAs or do you think they will bring in a veteran to compete with him at some point?
Scott Macone

I don't think the Patriots will bring in any veteran punters to compete with Mesko unless the rookie shows signs of not being able to handle the job. As training camp unfolds he will get plenty of opportunities to punt in every situation imaginable. Bill Belichick tries to put as much pressure on his specialists as he can during practice, squirting the ball with water, yelling at kickers as the snap comes, etc. If Mesko fails to handle those situations then it's possible that Belichick could bring in someone to compete with him. But the Patriots used a fifth-round draft pick to get him and in my opinion he'd have to struggle pretty badly not to be the team's punter this season.
Paul Perillo

A lot of analysts seem to think Jermaine Cunningham will either be a boom or bust in the NFL. Based on what you've seen so far from him, what's your take?Sam Frankel

Maybe you can ask this question again in two or three weeks because if we're being totally honest here, we haven't seen Cunningham at all. He's yet to put on pads as a professional so there's no way to know what we've seen. I think he has the athleticism, based on his college career, to compete at outside linebacker. He has good size for the position (6-3, 260) but how he holds up setting the edge against the run and moving in space in pass coverage is something we're all going to be watching this summer. Until then, I don't really have much analysis for you.
Paul Perillo

I love what you guys are doing and good work this eventless summer. With three OK/good teams (NE, Miami, NYJ) how will divisional games decide playoffs? AFC East predictions by divisional record?
Jackson Perry

It's a little early for predictions – our official prognostications will appear in our season preview issue the week of the opener, which will be on sale Sept. 7 – but I'll toss some out there. I agree with your assessment that there will be three good (not great) teams in the division and that obviously will put a premium on the head-to-head results of these games. The team that fares best within the division clearly will have the edge. As of this moment I'd say the Jets are best team of the three followed closely by the Patriots and Dolphins. I see things bunched very tightly at the top with the Jets and Patriots going 10-6 (NY wins tiebreaker) and Miami behind at 9-7. But a lot can change between now and Sept. 12.
Paul Perillo

For better or worse, have been Notre Dame fan for 35 years (Class of 1975). In the games with Michigan, Shawn Crable was a beast – speed, power, anticipation, big-time motor. At the very least, I see him as an A.J. Edds-type player (Iowa, Miami draft pick), but with the potential of a very big upside. If he is healthy, and if he gets a shot, I think he could be the ultimate sleeper. Thoughts?
Seamus Callaghan

I absolutely loved the Crable pick at the time and I totally agreed with your assessment of his career at Michigan. I thought he was a standout player with the Wolverines and displayed a lot of the characteristics needed to play outside linebacker in the Patriots system. Things haven't worked out for him yet, though, and time is running out. He hasn't been able to get on the field in two years and this would seem to be his final shot. Unless he's able to show something this summer I can't see him sticking around for a third year. During his limited time on the practice field the last two seasons he's shown little to warrant the enthusiasm you and I had for him coming out of college. Crable certainly seemed to recognize the urgency of his situation when I spoke to him during the spring but he'll need to do a lot more to prove that on the field. Personally I'm not counting on him to do much this season.
Paul Perillo

To me, our 3-4 defensive system demands outside linebackers who are 1) strong enough to hold the point, 2) fast enough rush the passer, 3) nimble enough drop into coverage, 4) huge, and 5) smart enough to be coaches. The only problem is players who meet these requirements are as easy to find as Ahab's white whale. Why do the Patriots stick to such rigid requirements for the position? If the players don't exist, we need to evolve, don't we? I know that last year many times we were in 4-3 alignment but usually it just meant that one LB had his hand in the dirt. I don't think of that as a system change.
Chris Noble

Easy there, Mr. Melville. Finding outside linebackers didn't seem to be so tough when the Patriots had Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin. DeMarcus Ware seems to be doing pretty well in that kind of role for Dallas. Anthony Spencer too. It's true that there aren't a lot of 6-4 guys who run 4.6 40s, as Belichck pointed out after the 2009 draft. But that doesn't mean you should scrap your system and make wholesale changes. The onus is on the player personnel department, and Belichick, to find them. Jermaine Cunningham looks like an intriguing player at the position and he could represent a transition of sorts at the spot moving forward. I guess what I'm saying is I'd rather play a defensive system that I know works and find players to fit it then change things drastically just because it's easier and be unsure of the results.
Paul Perillo

Do you think Torry Holt will bring anything special to the table for the Pats this year? Or do you think he'll just act as the same old veterans the Patriots bring in who will make a few catches here and there?Duncan Day

It all depends on what you consider special. I think Holt will be a valuable veteran in terms of leadership for the young receivers while also chipping in as an extra target from time to time. I could see him in the neighborhood of 40 catches with a handful of touchdowns. If you're expecting the old Holt with 1,000-yard seasons then you'll be disappointed. But I like what I've seen from him so far and I believe he will contribute to the development of the receiving corps.
Paul Perillo

Why don't the Patriots draft a dominant running back or could they get one through free agency?Chey Noda

Personally I'd rather not see the Patriots put many resources into the running back spot. I just don't think it's worth it. I don't think you need to have one dominant player at the position as long as you're getting production from a number of guys, and the Patriots have done so in recent years. Quick question – Who was the dominant back for the Saints last year? How about the Colts? Neither had a dominant back yet those teams wound up in the Super Bowl. The Jets and Vikings, the losers in the conference title games, both had great running backs, so there are many ways to win in the NFL. I just don't think the shelf life of great backs is long enough to warrant spending a lot of money to find one.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys, I was wondering your opinions on Taylor Price. From what you have seen (which I know is not much) how do you think he will do in the NFL? Do you think he will become the receiver of the future for the Pats or just another Chad Jackson? I for one am intrigued by Price and would love for him to start opposite Moss.
Eric Adams

Isn't there something between "receiver of the future" and "Chad Jackson?" That seems to be a pretty wide range. My initial impression was positive. I like Price's speed and hands, and at 6-0 he has enough size to play on the outside. It will be interesting to watch him play in pads during the summer but overall I think he has the skill set to compete for a starting job opposite Moss. There's a long way to go before those decisions need to be made but count me in the Price camp at this point.
Paul Perillo

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