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Ask PFW: Backs and 'backers

Where has Shawn Crable been in the first two preseason games? I've hardly seen him on the field at all. Is he looking like a bust? How about Derrick Burgess? The pass rush has looked good, but it's always been other guys. I was against the Burgess trade when it happened. He seems to have not really made any impact, especially in the run game.
Sam Frankel

Crable has played in both preseason games so far. However, he limped off during the Bengals game and has been missing from practice ever since. Bill Belichick admitted in a conference call the day after the Cincy game that Crable suffered what the head coach called "some soreness." This summer has been nearly a repeat of last summer for Crable, and that's not good news. He just hasn't been on the field long enough in his brief pro career to show what he can do.

As for Burgess, the guy was brought in specifically to help boost the pass rush. So, to malign him for not having an impact in the running game is unfair, Sam. In the two preseason games, Burgess has been inserted on obvious passing downs, for the most part. Admittedly, he hasn't made any big plays, but come on … the guy is still trying to learn the Patriots defense, which isn't the easiest task in the league. Let's give the poor guy more than a couple weeks in the system before we go panicking about his lack of an "impact."
Erik Scalavino

Hello Gentlemen. Without sounding nostalgic, I have read various reports that are counting #54 out. I do not see this as a possibility, is Tedy Bruschi capable of being a starting ILB, maybe not. But his knowledge alone should solidify him a linebacker spot even if he simply takes over the spot left on special teams by Larry Izzo (who I believe was listed as an ILB anyway.) He is more than capable of handling that workload and serving as a backup for Mayo. Who could you trust more out there???
Brad Pelletier

Why is it that so many people are down on Tedy? I still hear talks about bringing in linebacker help in the middle of the season (i.e., Junior Seau). Do you thing Tedy will be forced into a Seau-esque forced retirement?
John

First of all, Junior Seau was not "forced" into retirement. The guy's 40, for cryin' out loud … that's far into retirement age for most NFL players. With regard to Bruschi, just look at the facts. He's closer to 40 than he is to 30, he's been hurt for much of the preseason, and he's getting most of his reps with the reserve defenders. He's just not the playmaker he used to be. Bruschi himself recently acknowledged that Jerod Mayo is the de facto leader of the New England defense, and rightly so.

Mayo and Gary Guyton are younger, quicker, stronger players at Bruschi's position, and the team has been playing a lot of 4-3 this summer, which means one less inside linebacker is needed on the field. So, naturally, people are going to wonder aloud just how much longer Bruschi will be part of Belichick's plans. That all said, I'd still be surprised if Bruschi does not make the final roster. Simply from a numbers standpoint, there just isn't much depth in the middle. In the end, that might secure Bruschi's spot on the team this year.
Erik Scalavino

Who were the other top running backs selected in the same draft as Laurence Maroney?
John Seymour

I think what you're implying, John, is that you're not a fan of Maroney, and what you're really asking me is, who else could the Patriots have drafted instead of him? Am I right? OK, I'll play along.

Believe it or not, the only running back drafted ahead of Maroney in 2006 was New Orleans' Reggie Bush at number two overall. Afterward, there were some decent players taken. Carolina took DeAngelo Williams late in the first round, followed by the Colts, who tapped Joseph Addai. In the second round, LenDale White went to Tennessee, while the Jaguars selected Maurice Jones-Drew.

Those are the most notable names still on the board when New England took Maroney. Williams is a good little back, but he splits carries, as does White. And until Fred Taylor signed with New England, Jones-Drew did, too, in Jacksonville. Addai is the number one guy in Indy when healthy. So, there you go … you can play "What if" all you want, but at the time, Maroney looked like the most attractive fit for the Pats' offense.
Erik Scalavino

So, last week's question about playing Philly in the pre-season prompted a funny story I'll share with you before asking my question. Back in the mid-1990s I went to a preseason game against Philly and during the introduction of the starting offense, Curtis Martin runs onto the field pumping his fists in the air, then falls flat on his facemask in front of 68,000 Foxborough faithful. I've got nothing but admiration for the guy though. He was a great player and an even better person. It's just not every day you get to see a potential hall of famer get tackled by the turf. My question is who do you think will benefit the most from the new emphasis on the 4-3 front, Wilfork or Seymour?
Joel Lindgren

Well, both Wilfork and Seymour have been asked this quite a bit lately, and neither is convinced that New England is switching full-time to the 4-3. Wilfork recently said, "I love a 4-3. I love when [the coaches] just say, 'Go get the ball.' … Sometimes we get a little bone here or there and we have to make do. When we do get that bone we have to take advantage of it because they're not going to come often." But Seymour pointed out that when the Pats line up in a 4-3, they often are two-gapping out of that front. Which means they're reading and reacting as opposed simply to knifing into the backfield to make a play.

In theory, both players would have more chances to make individual plays in a 4-3, but the reality is they may not have that opportunity as much as this preseason has led many observers to believe. The fact remains that Belichick's defenses mix up their alignments so much that, at this point, we shouldn't put too much stock into what front the team starts out in … because chances are it won't be the one they stay in for the entire game. Oh, and as for Martin, I don't remember that embarrassing moment, but I couldn't agree more ... great player, greater guy.
Erik Scalavino

This might be a rookie question, but what matters more for a player being cut or kept: preseason games or training camp performance? Matt Cassel's story would seem to indicate training camp, but preseason games are extremely important too. What do you think?
*Nathan Goulding *

Depends on the position, but in general, both games and practices carry a considerable amount of weight. Specialists, for instance, like kickers and long snappers, have so few opportunities in games that their practice performance is crucial. Although, when asked about this in a recent press conference, Belichick couldn't think of an example of a player who didn't practice well, but who shined in games. So, that tells me that practice is a good indication of how good a player is. If he practices well, chances are he'll play well. But make no mistake, a player who can't perform under the lights stands little chance of making a team, no matter how great he might look in practice.
*Erik Scalavino *

Hey guys. Great site. I look forward to every Tuesday. My question is about players on IR or PUP ... specifically Brandon Tate and Tyrone McKenzie. Do they participate in any of the team activities, like meetings or workouts? Does the team oversee their rehab? Are they even in Boston? Thanks.
Eric Theall

McKenzie is a rare case, because he was hurt during mini-camp and is likely out for the season. As a result, he hasn't yet signed a contract, so, he's not technically part of the team. But once he does, he'll be allowed to rehab here at Gillette and take part in team and position meetings like every other player, including Tate (who's under contract, but on the Non-Football Injury list and has yet to practice with the Pats). A player on injured reserve or PUP is prohibited from taking part in practices until he is removed from those lists. He is usually on a customized workout and rehabilitation regimen, which most players take part in here at team headquarters. So, yes, Tate is here and presumably taking part in what he's allowed to take part in. Given McKenzie's unique situation, I'm not sure where he is at the moment. Eventually, he'll be here, though.
Erik Scalavino

The Patriots wore white jerseys at home last year against the Chiefs and Dolphins for September games in the daytime. Will they do it again this year? The team will have a game on September 27 during the daytime against the Atlanta Falcons.
Stephen Chou

Home teams normally do that when the weather is unusually hot, which was the case in those games you cited. In the 2007 season opener at the Jets, the Pats wore their blue jerseys because the home team wanted to wear white on that sunny, hot September day. The Dolphins are notorious for wearing white at home sporadically, too, when it's particularly steamy in south Florida. So, I suppose it's possible the Pats could wear white against the Falcons next month – or any other home game in which they so choose, for that matter.
Erik Scalavino

What are your thoughts about unretiring all the retired numbers? I personally hate the idea of retiring numbers. I want to see a Patriot wear #20 or #57 again. Wouldn't it be better to have a ring of honor like the Cowboys do?
Rob Curley

Well, Rob, the Pats don't really need a ring of honor because, unlike the Cowboys, New England has its own hall of fame where great players are honored. You should visit it if you ever find yourself in the Foxborough area. But I'm with you on the jersey numbers. I've said before in this space that only those players who are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio should have their numbers retired. Tippett's 56, Hannah's 73, and Haynes' 40 would be the only Patriots numbers I'd put on the shelf, if it were up to me.
Erik Scalavino

Hey Guys, First off, thanks for keeping us on the West Side connected. So, what's the deal with the NLF Network? Out here we have been getting the Pats preseason games at 8 (replay) on the NFL Network. Both the Philly game and now the Cincy game have had their announcers call the game. I figured Philly was home, so that made sense, but the Cincy game was also Cincy play callers. Do the Patriots not allow rebroadcast of their announcing team? I know it's just a preseason game, but come on, I don't want to hear all about the other team when we are at home. Thanks guys.
Matt Lawrence

I'm surprised to hear that, Matt. Here's what I know. The rules used to be that NFL Network would take the home team's broadcast crew for the first half of a preseason rebroadcast, and the visiting team's for the second half. That's clearly not the case anymore. I asked our friends at Kraft Sports Productions, who produce our preseason games, and they told me that they saw the Cincy team's rebroadcast that you saw over the weekend, but that on Monday night, NFLN replayed the game using New England's broadcasters, Don Criqui and Randy Cross. It's unclear to any of us, however, what the rhyme or reason is for the way NFL Network is determining which rebroadcasts to use and when. Sounds like you were just unfortunate in having caught the Cincy rebroadcast and not ours.
*Erik Scalavino
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