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Ask PFW, California edition

I've noticed rookie cornerback Jonathan Wilhite is on the field way more than fellow rookie Terrence Wheatley. Is it just me? How do you think Wheatley has looked in practice?
David T.

In the San Francisco game, David, Wilhite did see some significant minutes in the sub packages as a slot cover guy. But keep in mind, when starting right corner Ellis Hobbs went out for a play or two, it was Wheatley who took his place out there on the edge. As for how Wheatley, this year's second-round pick has looked in practice, it's difficult for us to say. Unlike during training camp, when we're allowed to watch the entire session, the media is only allowed about 15 minutes of viewing time during the regular season, and most of that time covers the opening stretching period. So, there's not much to see of Wheatley, or any other player, for that matter. What we have seen of him, however, leads me to believe that Wheatley is a very good corner with the intelligence to match. It's a numbers game right now, with veterans Deltha O'Neal and Lewis Sanders ahead of him, but in time, I believe Wheatley will be a more consistent contributor for the Pats. And Wilhite, I must say, has been a pleasant surprise. For a fourth-round pick, he has shown the ability to hold his own against top-flight competition at this level. I'd say the Pats are in a good position for the future with these two young, talented rookies.
Erik Scalavino

Second-year safety Brandon Meriweather continues to impress. What do you think we will see most often in nickel situations: Sanders and Harrison at safety with Meriweather in the slot, or the standard two safeties (Meriweather and Harrison) and three corners, like Ellis Hobbs, Deltha O'Neal and Jonathan Wilhite?
Brian Bim

In San Fran, we saw Meriweather a lot, but Wilhite also got some reps. I just think, as head coach Bill Belichick notes all the time, it depends on the personnel groups that the Pats face each week. If there's a matchup that the coaches feel is more suited for Meriweather's skills in a particular game against a particular opponent, he'll get the reps. If it's something else, someone else, like Wilhite or Sanders or Wheatley, will get the call (heck, as an example, the Pats came out with four d-linemen and Adalius Thomas playing inside linebacker in several series against the 49ers). Injuries are also a factor when considering who plays where and when. This year's Patriots secondary is still evolving, with several newcomers and younger players adapting to the system. This could still change, and probably will as the season progresses.
Erik Scalavino

With Week 6 trade deadline rapidly approaching, do you think it's possible the Pats will go after a cornerback? What about working out Ty Law?Jack DiPietro

Oh, the Ty Law talk just won't go away. Jack, as mentioned in the previous response, the Pats secondary is still a work in progress, no doubt. But unless injuries really become an issue, I wouldn't expect New England to make a move. Law's issue is basically about money. He probably wants too much and most teams, even the Pats, aren't willing to dish that out. If they were, he'd be with a club right now. As for a trade, unless it's for a player who's really good and won't break the bank, I don't see it happening. Again, this is all contingent on the players they currently have staying healthy.
Erik Scalavino

I am a long-time Patriots fan and resident of San Jose. It would be a great opportunity for myself and other West Coast fans to check the team out. Do you know if any of the practices will be open to the public while the team stays in San Jose?
*Dan Lajeunesse *

Are Patriot fans allowed to stop by San Jose State?
Moises Flores

A lot of fans have asked us about this. Unfortunately for them, the answer is no. The general public is not allowed to watch the team practice while it operates out here in California. Unlike training camp, where almost all practices are open to the public free of charge, this week's sessions are just like any other regular season practice at Gillette Stadium. Only the media is allowed to watch, and even then, it's only for a few minutes. We'll do our best with all our resources (patriots.com, patriots.com radio, PFW, and the PFW blog) to keep fans informed throughout the week and throughout the season.
Erik Scalavino

In Sunday's game against the Niners, offensive lineman Russ Hochstein reported as eligible on a few different occasions. If, for the sake of discussion, he were to play the majority of offensive plays as a tight end or fullback, maybe because of an injury to another player, would he have to report to the referee before each play? If he were to continue playing the tight end or fullback role for a number of games, would the NFL require him to changes numbers or to report each play?
Brian Geditz

Great question, Brian. I'd have to consult the league office in New York for confirmation, but I believe an ineligible player, like Hochstein, must inform the officials that he's lining up in an eligible position before every snap in which he takes part, regardless of how many times that happens. This is so the referee can inform the other members of the officiating crew (so they don't throw an inadvertent flag) and the other team, who will then have a fair chance to assign a defender to cover him, or at least line up accordingly to defend the play. And unless Hochstein (or any other player in this circumstance) were permanently changing positions from an ineligible to an eligible, and were listed as such on the roster, he wouldn't have to change jersey numbers. So, as long as he remains listed as a lineman, he can keep his 71. He'll just have to continue reporting eligible whenever he goes into the game in that capacity.
Erik Scalavino

What was up with Randy Moss' pass interference call against the 49ers? Looked to me like he was blocking for the screen pass. What did I miss?
David Ribera

I remember the play to which you're referring. It happened in the fourth quarter on a 3rd–and-10. Cassel threw a screen pass to Wes Welker, who picked up 15 yards. Moss was flagged for offensive pass interference, thus negating the gain. Stephen Gostkowski then came in and booted a 49-yard field goal to give the Pats a 30-21 advantage. All I can say about Moss' penalty is that the ball may still have been in the air while he was blocking the defender, so that may have been why the official threw the flag. I don't believe either Moss or the New England coaching staff protested, so it was probably the right call.
Erik Scalavino

Was running back Laurence Maroney always a "dancer" at the line of scrimmage, or did he develop that after his shoulder and rib injuries?
Ed T.

From what I've seen of Maroney, he's always been more of a finesse-type runner than a power back, even before the injuries you mentioned, which he sustained in the pros. However, he certainly has the ability to run between the tackles, as he proved during the late stretch of the 2007 season. Maroney's main concern has been his consistency. In my opinion, he needs to channel whatever energy he found during the winter months last year and harness that when he gets his carries this season.
Erik Scalavino

Please, can someone explain to me why Chris Hanson is still punting for the Pats? In the first quarter of the 49ers game, when we needed a long one, he could only manage 35 yards, and when we needed a pooch punt, he blasted it into the end zone. I honestly believe it's a real weakness of this team.
David from England

You're not the first person who's made that observation to us. Hanson has struggled in his season-plus here in New England. It's not that he doesn't have a strong leg, like you mentioned, it's that he seems to use it at inappropriate times. Placing punts inside the 20 is definitely a skill, and it's not necessarily one of Hanson's. But until his performances start really hurting the team's ability to win games, his job is likely safe for now.
Erik Scalavino

The Patriots beat every team they played in the regular season last year. Why do they have to travel to both San Diego and Indianapolis this year?
David Fogg

Because the NFL schedule is not determined by which teams you beat the previous year. Back in 2002, when the league again had an even number of clubs after several years with an odd number, it decided to work out a rotational schedule wherein every franchise played the 31 others at least once every four years, and at least once at home and once on the road every eight years. In '02, the schedule was set for the next eight years (ending next year in '09), with the exception of two opponents every year. Those are based on seeding, but are also done on a rotational basis. For instance, this year, the Pats were scheduled to play an AFC South team on the road. Since New England finished first in their division last year, they had to play the South team that finished first last year, and that was Indy. They were also scheduled to play all four AFC West teams this season, and the last time that happened (in 2004), the Chargers visited Foxborough, so it was New England's turn in that rotation to travel to San Diego. If you notice, David, the Pats also hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers the past two years due to this paradigm (it was the Steelers' turn to come to Foxborough last year in the division rotation, and this year, the Pats were due to play an AFC North team at home, and Pittsburgh happened to finish in first). Next year, the league is expected to announce the rotational schedules for all 32 teams for the following eight years (2010-17). It's actually a very logical and fair system, and it makes for a more exciting, balanced slate of games.
Erik Scalavino

Do the Pats have many fans in China? Is the NFL planning a game for the Pats in China?
Shane Cartwright

Several years ago, New England became the first NFL team to launch a Chinese-language version of its website. We also have an entire staff devoted to the growth of our business in China. The team has sent several contingents of players and cheerleaders to China in recent years (including this past summer) to help build a solid foundation of support there. So, the Pats have a huge head start in building a fan base in that country. And it seems to be working. Already, there are a handful of Patriots fan clubs that have sprung up in China. I'm not sure if any other teams have gone to such lengths at this point, to be honest with you, Shane. As for a game in China, the Patriots were supposed to play the Seattle Seahawks at the Bird's Nest in the inaugural China Bowl last August, in a pre-season contest that was to mark the one-year countdown to the Summer Olympics in Beijing. But various factors led to that game being postponed. It's unclear when the NFL will work out a plan for a pre-season game in China, but the Pats would most likely be interested in taking part whenever that happens.
Erik Scalavino

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