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Ask PFW: Bryan Stork, cornerback and other Patriots roster battles

I haven't heard much about Darryl Roberts this year. He "popped" last year but apparently not much "popping" this year. Haven't heard you guys talk about him. I tried to watch him closely in the first pre-season game but other than the 1 PI, didn't see much else from him. Maybe it's a good thing that I didn't notice him because he was good in coverage and not getting beat.

Do you think he will make the team over LeBlanc or J. Jones?

Ray Hamidi

Roberts did have seemingly a cult following after a very short stint last summer prior to landing on injured reserve with a wrist issue. I don't think he's had a great offseason or start to summer action. I haven't seen him make a lot of plays and have seen him give up his fair share. I do believe that both of the guys you referenced may be ahead of him in the race for a potential roster spot. And certainly all those guys are behind the likes of Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones. In the end its quite possible that no one from the group of Roberts, LeBlanc or Jonathan Jones makes the team. All three would certainly be in consideration for a practice squad spot, with my favorite at this point being LeBlanc.

Andy Hart

Given the importance of a pass rusher, do you think Jabaal Sheard is more important to sign than Malcolm Butler? Sheard appears to be primed for at least a double-digit sack season, which will increase his value and importance to the team. I think Hightower and Collins are no brainers to re-sign! Thanks for your response!

Mel B

In my opinion the most important positions in football are quarterback, cornerback and pass rusher. I think that cornerback is the second toughest of those to fill, behind quarterback. So as much as I agree that Sheard seems poised for a great season – although he's missed the last couple days of practice since the preseason opener – I don't place him as a higher priority over Butler. While I still have some reservations as to whether Butler is a true, shutdown No. 1 cornerback, he is certainly a very good player at the position. There just aren't enough of those guys to go around and when you have a young one you do everything you can to keep him. I would love to see the Patriots sign all three of the trio of Hightower, Collins and Butler. I don't see any reason why it's not a reasonable consideration, especially with the ability to use the franchise tag to secure one of them for at least a year. Certainly watching Sheard go out and reach double digits in sacks would be fun and will increase his value – both in New England and elsewhere. But I still don't think it will change the way I prioritize those guys moving forward.

Andy Hart

Hey guys! It's me again! Your coverage is awesome! So my question is, why not sign Antonio Cromartie? Butler is the #1 corner, Cromartie starts the other side and Logan Ryan covers slot. That would give guys like Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman more time to adapt. What are your thoughts?

Ty Gray

Cromartie's best days are clearly well behind him. He admits that his 2015 season wasn't very impressive. There are questions about his hip and what his health will be in terms of playing a full NFL season. He's a big corner who can be a liability at times. Even though I very much have questions about the Patriots cornerback depth – and even No. 2 corner Logan Ryan – I don't think I would feel much better with Cromartie in the mix. He seems pretty confident that he will find a job in the not-too-distant future. He may be right. I don't expect it to be in New England.

Andy Hart

Hi guys. I keep reading every article from Austria. Just watched the preseason game. I am not a pro but my impression was that we had issues in the secondary. We got burned 2-3 times by Thomas or Cook and just were lucky that Drew only got one series. One other thought is that White is good but lacks conditioning to run through the end zone. Also think Jimmy and Jacoby were OK nothing special - your thoughts? Thx.

Juergen Salaboeck

There was certainly a lot to talk about coming out of last Thursday night's preseason opener against the Saints. The defense made a lot of big plays up front, but the back end is where the questions are likely to come this season. That mostly will revolve around the team's depth at cornerback behind Butler. We all know that pass defense is a synergistic effort between the rush and the coverage. I have more confidence in the rush right now than the coverage. But it's early and there is a lot that can change in that area moving forward. I may be the biggest James White defender on the planet. Some think he's a bubble roster guy fighting for his life. I think he's a lock to be on the team. I think he's proven himself a pretty impressive playmaker as a pass catcher. He's not as flashy as Dion Lewis, but he gets the job done just about as well coming out of the backfield. And I don't think he's incapable of finishing big plays, even though it certainly would have been nice to see him do just that against New Orleans. As for the young quarterbacks, my biggest takeaway is that I'd like to see better accuracy from both of them. Garoppolo missed some easy completions and was inaccurate on a sideline throw to DeAndre Carter, which in a regular season game could have been a pick-six turnover. Brissett needs to work on his short throws and touch. Both made some nice plays, but as the fill-in starter Garoppolo needs to do so with more consistency against higher-caliber competition moving forward.

Andy Hart

Shea McClellin looks like a steal. I know he's not Collins or Hightower but the dude gives me the feeling he's got a mean streak. Do you think he's an upgrade from Chandler Jones?

Robert Miles

Even though I wasn't the biggest Jones fan, I don't think McClellin is an upgrade over the man who had double digit sacks in two of his last three seasons in New England. I also don't think the Patriots expect McClellin to replace or be an upgrade over Jones. I think he was brought in to be a rotational guy who can play on the edge as well as off the line at linebacker. McClellin drew some praise for his ability on third down early in camp from Bill Belichick, but I need to see more before I label him any kind of an impact defender. He's also been absent from the practice field the last couple days, which isn't ideal for a guy learning a new defense and trying to fill out a role for a new team. Like Jones, McClellin is a former first-round pick who never had more than four sacks in a season in Chicago and had just 7.5 in four seasons with the Bears. Jones never had fewer than six sacks in any of his first four years. To play off an old Bill Parcells saying, if McClellin didn't get to the passer as a cub in Chicago, I'm not sure I expect it to change dramatically now. But we'll see. He certainly brings some versatility, which can be said about a lot of his teammates up front. That should make for some interesting personnel groups and schemes for Belichick and Matt Patricia to work with this fall.

Andy Hart

Hi guys. Read you all the time. You've answered a couple or few of my questions. So, I'm watching the game and LeBlanc made this great pick in the end zone and the ball comes out to the 20. Are there now 2 rules for touchbacks? Thanks.

Howard Wolfe

Yes. Touchbacks on kickoffs will now be placed at the 25-yard line under the new rule for 2016. All other touchbacks of any kind, though, will continue to be placed at the 20-yard line.

Andy Hart

Hi PFW! Patriots fan from Norway here. GO PATS! Is Brady allowed to work out with another NFL team during those four weeks he is suspended? Can two teams with suspended players swap them during their suspension periods for example? Just football practice, not tactical meetings and the like of course. Or if that is not possible or practical, can he practice with a college football team? I'm sure he has a lot to teach younger players about what it takes to make it to the next level. Or is college football too low a level? Sorry if these are really stupid questions. I just really want it all to work out for the best. Much love.

Lina

Brady could not practice with another team in an official capacity, although he can work out with any non-NFL people he wants to on his own time. He has not said what he plans to do, but even ex-teammates have wondered if he might get some of them together for private workouts to stay in shape. While the NFL will strictly limit Brady's contact with his team, I believe the NCAA would not allow him to work with a college team, either, although I'm not completely sure how that would be treated. Most likely, though, is that TB12 works out with some close friends or former teammates and maybe his personal throwing coach. I know we've all come up with creative ways he might be able to handle the month away from the Patriots, but I'm not sure it's going to be as exciting as we all keep trying to make it out to be.

Andy Hart

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I have read, and heard on your (PFW in Progress on Patriots.com radio) show that depth at most positions is very good. Can you rate (A, B etc.) each position group, and indicate who you would think will be cut?

Thanks.

Mike in South Dakota.

While we have talked about the good depth the team has, Belichick has also raved about the unique depth this roster provides at wide receiver, tight end, safety and defensive tackle. He seems to really like the talent of this group at this point in the process, even though it quite obviously has not proven or accomplished anything as a team. That said, I'd be happy to throw some meaningless depth grades around in August. I mean, what else are mailbags for if not stuff like that? All these grades are assuming that everyone at the position currently on the roster is healthy. I would give an A to wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle and safety, much like Belichick has alluded to. I would give a B to defensive end, linebacker and quarterback. I would give a C to cornerback, running back and offensive line. As for cuts from 90 to 53, I think we are still a ways away from predicting all that. I will offer up a group of potential surprise or big-name cuts, including Aaron Dobson, LeGarrette Blount, Clay Harbor, Brandon Bolden and Bryan Stork.

Andy Hart

Greetings from Cohuna (town name) Australia. If you guys were to decide the final roster, what would ideal mix of positional players be at the start of the season? Would this be altered once TB returns? Keep up the good work. Regards.

Lach Fehring

This is a tough generalization to make regarding roster numbers without taking actual bodies, talents and the mix into consideration. But in general I'd say a team would like to keep 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 3 TEs, 5-6 WR, 9-10 OL, 4-5 DTs, 4-5 DEs, 4-5 LBs, 5 Ss, 5 CBs and 3-4 specialists. On the low end of those numbers that a total of 48 players. On the high end it is 54. So the perfect mix is in there somewhere.

Andy Hart

Julian Edelman's injury history is very concerning. All his professional injuries involve his feet and he has had at least five or six it seems. I can't help but think his playing future is bleak. Chronic foot fractures! Please convince me I am wrong?

Don

Marlboro

Edelman's health, especially now coming off multiple foot procedures in the last year, is certainly a concern. And you are right that he had foot in juries in the past before the latest issues. But those things can turn in a heartbeat. A couple years ago everyone was down on Rob Gronkowksi due to his arm and back injuries. He's gone out and played in 15 games in each of the last two seasons, putting up back-to-back monster campaigns. I understand your fears and they are certainly founded in reality. But Edelman is probably as capable of having a season like 2013 or 2014 when he played in 16 and 14 games, respectively, as he is only playing in nine games, his career low in 2012 and 2015. Injuries are completely unpredictable, that's why they are so hard to deal with. Fingers and toes crossed. That's almost all you can do.

Andy Hart

I'm concerned about Ninkovich and his torn triceps injuries. With him being my all-around favorite player, I'm wondering when/if I'll get to see him play this year. Knowing that Ray Lewis came back from that injury in Baltimore's most recent Super Bowl run, it gives me hope that he'll be back in the lineup later this year. Also, what is the D-line expected to look like without him?

Ashton Stelljes

The fact that Ninkovich has returned to the practice field – although only to run on the side field not take part in practice – is a good sign in my mind. When guys have real long term injuries they are usually out of sight and out of mind. He's running without even an obvious brace or apparatus on the arm, seemingly just a compression sleeve. Also a good sign in my mind. Some have reported a potential return in 4-6 weeks, which on the short end wouldn't even rule out the season opener in Arizona. That seems a bit optimistic to me, but thinking he will play in the first half or even the first quarter of the regular season schedule sounds like a possibility. That's a good sign for him and the team, as he's been a proven playmaker and force on the front seven for the last five-plus seasons. He's going to be counted on to do that again. With him gone, for whatever time he misses, I think you will see Chris Long pick up the bulk of his reps at left defensive end. Jabaal Sheard (who's missed practice of late) is expected to replace Jones on the right side. Shea McClellin (currently missing practice time) and Trey Flowers will likely have decent rotational roles on the edges as well. And just for comparison, Lewis tore his triceps in the second week of October, returned to practice the first week of December and played in the postseason for the Ravens.

Andy Hart

I just read a whole ask PFW where ES (Erik Scalavino) refused to speculate on trades but I had to ask could the tables be turned on the Pats and a practice partner in the Bears swing a trade for Bryan Stork to replace their injured center perhaps for the fifth-RD pick they got for Bennett?

Colin Brady

I would never rule out a trade at this time of year. And considering I think that Stork is a former starter fighting for a roster spot, he is certainly the type of guy who could be involved in a trade late in the process leading up to the season. Trades between joint practice partners have also become a bit common in recent years. So, your Stork scenario wouldn't be the craziest of ideas.

Andy Hart

With all of the concussions that Stork has had, do you think there is a time when BB should sit him down and tell him it is time to retire?

Monty Borrowman

I don't really think that's a decision or a discussion that falls on Belichick's plate. To me, that would be something dealt with by the team's medical staff, Stork, his family and his doctors. And while there have been reports that he's dealt with head injuries in each of the last four seasons, including earlier this summer, he disputed that in an exchange with CSNNE.com earlier in camp. Any injuries of any kind that keep him off the field, though, hinder his competition with David Andrews for the starting job at center and with other players for a roster spot.

Andy Hart

Hey PFW! As always, love what you guys do for this organization every week. Quick question, whatever happened to RB Jonas Gray? Last I remember, he missed a practice and never saw game time action again, at least not in any significant fashion, before ultimately being cut from the team. Is he still in the league? If so, any likelihood of a trade? I doubt he has a high market value, and I think could be swapped for one or two of the many WRs we have on the roster (all speculation of course). Thanks guys!

P.J. Bastiany

Gray is currently on the Jaguars roster. He played in eight games last season split between Miami and Jacksonville. As he was in his time with New England, he's a bubble player. I don't see him being a guy the Patriots would pursue, even though the role of big back is far from secure in New England. I think the Patriots would see Gray as a been-there, done-that, moved-on situation. I could see a trade for a running back at some point, I just don't think Gray would be a likely target.

Andy Hart

Who do you project making the 53 man roster on the offensive line? Do you think anybody on the O-Line will be retained as a practice player like in years past?

Ray Henry

Aug. 16 is as good a time as any to pick the guys I think will be on the offensive line to open the season. Why not? I will do so assuming Sebastian Vollmer gets healthy and activated from PUP for this scenario. So I'll say at tackle Nate Solder, Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle will be on the roster. At guard I think the group will include Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline and Jonathan Cooper. I think the center spot will go to David Andrews. Then I think the final spot could come down to Stork vs. Ted Karras, as I'm starting to assume that Tre' Jackson will open the year on PUP. If Karras doesn't make the team he's certainly a very strong candidate for the practice squad.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, so glad preseason begins and there is a lot more to read from you. I've been reading the camps notes and I know that Garoppolo will be the starter against Arizona, and he and Brady are sharing reps and drills. But, I haven't read any of Brissett participating with at least the second team in the 7vs7 or 11 vs 11 drills. I know Brissett is a developmental project but for the first four games he will be the backup (or at least that's what we know so far) and in the case Jimmy gets hurt in the first four games, Brissett will have to replace him with no practice or experience at all. Isn't it too risky just to have only QB with some real experience? Or do you think the coaching staff has another contingency plan for that scenario? Or maybe a little later in the preseason will he have some reps and drills?

Victor Galicia

You are right in that Brady and Garoppolo are splitting the bulk of the practice reps, with Brissett getting the few that are leftover. He also gets a lot of what are called "opportunity" reps with other young players at the ends of practice. He saw action in the second half of the preseason opener against New Orleans and will play a lot in the fourth preseason game as well. All that being said, Brissett is going to still be very inexperienced when the regular season gets going. Nothing that happens this summer is going to change that. And clearly getting him ready at the cost of getting the two guys who will actually start games ready doesn't make sense. I won't feel comfortable with Brissett being one play away come Sept. 11. Belichick has admitted that the team has considered bringing in another quarterback but that they just don't have interest in the talent that is currently out there. If/when that changes with cuts by other teams, maybe Belichick will consider bringing in a more experienced veteran backup. I would feel better about it. I think there is a chance it happens at some point because I just don't envision Brissett being ready to play if called upon this September.

Andy Hart

What have been the biggest surprises both positive and negative so far this camp?

Dave DeLuca

The biggest positive surprise for me so far in camp has been the way that Joe Thuney has stepped right in and looked like a starting NFL guard from day one. He's good in practice. He's shown he can compete with the big defensive tackles he faces in practice. He seems very professional and comfortable. As for the biggest negative surprise, that would be a tie regarding the questionable hands shown on the practice field by Rob Gronkowski and Cyrus Jones. While I don't have any real fear of Gronk's hands being an issue, he's dropped more balls this summer than I've ever seen. Jones, on the other hand, has muffed a punt in just about every practice, giving pause to the idea that the guy who was elite in the punt return role at Alabama might just come right in and take over that role in New England as a rookie.

Andy Hart

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