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Ask PFW: Camp breaks, but preparation rolls on

Midway through the preseason questions about the Patriots new-look defense and the team's overall potential for 2011 fill out this week's edition of Ask PFW.

We seem to have a good group of offensive linemen, but not necessarily all the right positions. How do see the Patriots filling out the starting offensive line given their talent and the positions that are available? Also, we all know there will be surprises on the final roster. Do you have any insights about who will be left off or on the roster?
K. Richardson

Insights? In terms of inside info? No. But thoughts? Yes. I think the starting lineup to open the season is set at this point with Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer. Nate Solder will be a top backup, with the outside possibility he might get some reps at guard. If healthy I think Ryan Wendell will be a top backup inside, with Steve Maneri serving as another reserve. My guess is that Marcus Cannon will start the year on NFI or PUP, and that Rich Ohrnberger and Thomas Austin will battle it out for the remaining roster spot(s).
Andy Hart

For this season, what are the Patriots major weaknesses?
John Moore

This is a great big-picture question at a time when those types of questions are hard to answer. I still see the biggest questions coming on defense. Though it's looked good in two preseason games that would include the pass rush, defensive line rotation and safety depth. There have been flashes of impressive play at all three areas, but nothing is certain at this point. Lesser concerns would be about the slot corner ("star") role as well as middle linebacker if Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher both miss time to injury to open the season. I will say that given what I've seen at this point in the preseason the Patriots have less questions and major weaknesses than most other teams, and fewer than I expected them to have heading into the regular season.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, A follow-up question from last week regarding team captains -- what practical role does a team captain have? As far as I can ascertain, is it more of a title bestowed upon players to show respect than any increase in duties or responsibility? Thanks.
Nigel Wakeley

There are actual roles for captains on all teams, and certainly in New England. Bill Belichick often meets with his captains to use them as sounding boards for ideas in terms of team decisions he is making and to get input from them on various issues. On the field the captains are supposed to be the point person for the team in terms of interaction with the officials and decision making on penalties. The captains also do such things as the coin toss, lead stretching groups and a variety of other less specific tasks. It's not a role that is taken lightly in New England, nor should it be.
Andy Hart

Do you have an update on him and when can we see Ron Brace play?
James Brace

Given your last name, maybe you should invite him to a flag football game at a family reunion! But seriously...Brace opened training camp on PUP and has yet to practice. He won't get on the field until he's physically able and can pass the team's physical. The more time he misses -- and given the seeming logjam on the defensive line -- the more likely it would be that he'll open the season on PUP and won't be eligible to practice/play for the first six weeks of 2011.
Andy Hart

What's the latest on Albert Haynesworth? I read some reports that he could be released from the team. I didn't see his or Ochocinco's name on the roster either, is that because they haven't been signed yet? GO PATS!!
John Hatch

Not sure which roster you were looking at, but both players certainly appear on Ochocinco has played throughout training camp practice and the second preseason game. Haynesworth has participated fully in just one practice and hasn't played in the preseason, but seems to be very much in the team's plans for the year. The reports of a possible release of one or both players was speculation by National Football Post citing an unnamed source. I don't buy into it. I think there is zero chance that Ochocinco would be cut, especially since his restructured contract included a reported $4.5 signing bonus. I think there is less than a 5-percent chance they cut Haynesworth before the season. He is seemingly being monitored physically thanks to a history of knee injuries and conditioning. Though we may not see much of him in the preseason, the little taste we got on the practice field looked very good. He's looking to rehab his image and name. I expect him to get the chance to do that in New England in 2011.
Andy Hart

With the addition of Ochocinco and possibly Housh. How do you see the starting jobs playing out especially with clutch guys like Welker and Branch? Do you see the possibility of BB spreading the field more this season? Maybe going 4-5 WRs formations? Or just subs to keep fresh legs on field?
Marcus Sullivan

Based on what we've seen in training camp and preseason action the top of the wide receiver depth chart is pretty set with Welker, Branch and Ochocinco as the top three receivers. Yes, the team will use plenty of spread sets as it has done for the last four-plus years. Some of those sets include running backs and Aaron Hernandez, who's actually as much a slot receiver as a tight end. The other wide receiver reps will likely be split between Taylor Price and Julian Edelman. Brandon Tate had his chances on the outside last year after Randy Moss was traded but did little to earn more opportunities. He's also been hurt for most of the summer. As for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, he didn't sign with the team and I think his workout (and that of Mark Clayton) was more about due diligence and updating scouting reports that any potential imminent signing.
Andy Hart

Hey guys quick question about rookie Shane Vereen. On the Patriots depth chart he is listed as reserve with the other rookie Stevan Ridley, is there any chance with the way camp and practices are going that one of these two guys could become 1 or 2 on the depth chart? Both guys went undrafted in my fantasy league and I was wondering if I should add them and pick up a good steal.
Todd Bockowski

Vereen hasn't practice hardly at all this summer while dealing with a reported leg injury. Ridley, on the other hand, has been one of the brighter spots of training camp. The third-round pick out of LSU has taken advantage of extra reps to display more athleticism, wiggle and pass catching ability than some pre-draft scouting reports gave him credit for. In my opinion based on what little we've seen over the last month Ridley has a chance to not only contribute as a rookie but could be the long term lead dog in the New England backfield. Not sure what that will mean in terms of his fantasy value in 2011, but I think he has a potentially very bright future on the field for the Patriots. Vereen, on the other hand, could very well have a lost rookie season and I think has an upside as a long-term change of pace or third down back.
Andy Hart

Do you think the Pats will sign Darren Sharper due to the shortness of depth at safety?
Pete Savino

Sharper left town after his reported workout, and it doesn't seem that a signing is in the works. He's rather old and played sparingly last season after an injury. Not sure what he has left in the tank at this point. If James Sanders is healthy, and he's now back practicing, I think the Patriots have a serviceable set of three safeties. And Josh Barrett seems to be in the plans, if he can ever get healthy. That's the biggest issue, health. Assuming none of the injuries at safety are major, I think the lack of depth is a tiny bit overrated. That said, I think Patrick Chung is the only proven, sure-fire starter in the mix with a lockdown on job. I would start Sanders next to him at this point, with Meriweather as a reserve. But what do I know?
Andy Hart

While I understand the Patriots stance on disclosing injuries I am curious how Ras-I [Dowling] and [Shane] Vereen were injured considering there was not OTA, no rookie camps or other offseason activities and they were not injured during draft? Did they get injured walking to the bank with their new rookie pay checks???
Robert Thomas

Not a bad sarcastic line by you, but both rookies were injured - reportedly leg injuries - in training camp practices. Dowling has since returned to the practice field.
Andy Hart

Do you really think the Pats won't sign Welker ...and what's the word on Sharper?
Thomas Clatterbuck

As I said above, Sharper left town without signing and think his workout was about due diligence and updating emergency lists on available veterans. As for Welker, it's all about what he's looking for in terms of money. He's finishing up an $18 million deal. That's good money, but probably not in line with the 400-plus catches he's had in the last four years. Is he looking to get up in the $8 million range in terms of salary? If that's the case, I don't think the team would re-sign him. If Welker is looking more at the $4 or $5 million range, I think there is a chance he could sign an extension. We know Belichick isn't going to overpay for a guy simply based on past performance. While it might be hard to imagine the Patriots horizontal passing attack without Welker, it's going to happen at some point. Is that time next season? Will Edelman be seen as a Welker-in-waiting? We'll see!
Andy Hart

I was wondering about your thoughts on the actual hypothetical chances of the Patriots making this 'the season'. (Meaning winning the Super Bowl of course.) It seems like the defense has been addressed (I'm not saying it's fixed, but it's seems like it'll be better at least) with the D-Line bolstered, the cornerback position back to Leigh and McCourty and the safety position possibly also addressed with the addition of the prospective veterans. Do you think we can pull it off?
Tim Hallett

Funny, you should check out the latest edition of Patriots Football Weekly. On newsstands now - or call 1-800-494-PATs to order - it includes my postgame analysis of the win in Tampa Bay. Basically, I think this team is showing itself to be the clear favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The new-look aggressive defense has me very much intrigued. I think it's the most intriguing defense the Patriots have had in years. Although, that certainly doesn't mean it will be the best defense by any means. I'm excited to see the new scheme, new faces and young athletes come together on the field this regular season. Given the versatility of the offense, consistency in the coaching and now potential on defense I don't see how anyone can see the Patriots as anything but a Super Bowl contender. A tough schedule will make for a challenging regular season and New England must get the postseason monkey off its back. But the talent is there to get the job done.
Andy Hart

Hey, I've heard in the media that the Pats are thin in the secondary, but I don't see where those accusations are coming from. We have a great player in Devin McCourty, who is coming off one of the best rookie seasons I've ever seen, two high draft picks in Ras-I and Darius Butler, and an established veteran in Leigh Bodden. And that's not mentioning last year's starter, Kyle Arrington, who didn't look spectacular but didn't give up many big plays either. Jonathan Wilhite is probably the least known of the corners, but even he hasn't been a bust like Terrence Wheatley. We have 3 solid safeties in Chung, Meriweather and Sanders, so with maybe one new face, we should be fine, and we can't forget about Sergio Brown, who looked good in the game against the jags. Thanks for the insight!
Ian B.

If all the players you mentioned are healthy and played up to their potential, then the secondary would certainly be set. But at this point there have been questions about the health of Dowling, the ability of Butler, the consistency of Meriweather, the health of Sanders, the abilities of Wilhite and the health of Bodden. That's a lot of questions. I think the team is pretty well set at corner. As long as Bodden is healthy, I like the starting lineup. I also don't mind Arrington as the first guy off the bench as Dowling develops. At safety I really like Chung and think Sanders can be a solid starter when surrounded by other playmakers. But the depth of the secondary very much relates to health. If they all are healthy, and even add guys like Josh Barrett to the mix, I think there is a pretty good diversity of talent.
Andy Hart

Greetings, my question is regarding contracts and money. When reports come out that a player signed a 25 million dollar contract with incentives, does that mean $25mil in just money or do contracts include things like cars or houses or other material goods that add to the value of the contract? Thanks!
Michael Vaughn

NFL contract are all about the money. While some other sports (especially baseball in its craziest of days) include things like luxury boxes, use of team planes and even partial ownership stakes in teams, that's not the case in football's salary cap world. Beyond salary and bonus money, the only incentives in football revolve around playing time, performance, workout money and other forms of bonus, but it all comes down to money
Andy Hart

Here's the question that most Patriots fans want to know, what is going to happen to Tom Brady?? History has a way of repeating itself and Ryan Mallett proved to be very impressive and efficient at running the Pats offense. Drew Bledsoe was let go after signing a huge extension when they found out about Tom's ability. How long do you think Tom will be wearing a Patriots jersey for?? The plan with Mallett and Brady is that he'll sit behind Brady until Tom retires and is expected to be the QB of the future. However Mallett is 23 and if Brady is to play out his contract Mallet wouldn't start until he's 27, Do you see the Patriots keeping Brady for that long and have Mallett sit? or is it going to be "business as usual" when it comes to dealing players with the Patriots, even if it concerns a player of Tom Brady's magnitude
Clarens Jarbath

I expect Brady to play out his contract in New England. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if after the third season the team at least considers trading him if Mallett has developed into a clear NFL starting caliber quarterback. But let's not put the cart before the horse. Mallett looked good in the first preseason game and not so much in the second. Based on what I've seen on the practice field this summer he has a long ways to go before he'll be a high-level starter, in New England or elsewhere. The one thing I'll say is that Brady has said over the last couple years that he wants to play for another 10 seasons. If that is the case, I can't see that all happening in New England. At some point the team (Belichick) will move on. Will that be near the end of the current contract? I don't think so, but I won't be surprised if it happens, either.
Andy Hart

With all the recent pickups in free agency, trades, and the draft, do you think this is the best Patriots team since their last Super Bowl run?
Steven Durand

I definitely think this is the best Patriots team since the 2007 Super Bowl run. I think the young players are developing very well and the veteran additions, especially on defense, look like they could make major contributions. In fact, I think this team is significantly better than last year's 14-2 team. Of course with a very difficult schedule, especially in the eight-game stretch in the middle of the season, it won't necessarily equate to a better or even as good a record in 2011.
Andy Hart

When does Patriots Football Weekly start back up on Comcast Sportsnet?
Ryan Southworth

We'll return to TV on Thursday, Sept. 8 as we preview the season as well as the regular season opener against the Dolphins!
Andy Hart

Since it appears that there will be more touchbacks with the kickoffs from the 35 yard-line, what would happen if the goal post uprights or crossbar were hit by the ball bouncing the ball back onto the playing field? Could the kicking team advance the ball? Would it be ruled a touchback or would the receiving team have the ball wherever they recover it on the playing field?
Bob Bennett

The ball is dead and it's a touchback for the receiving team as the goal posts are out of bounds.
Andy Hart

Vince Wilfork was supposedly named as one of the Miami players who received improper benefits. It is said he received about $50,000 in cash while at school. Could this have any effect on the organization or lead to punishment from the league if it is true?
Kyle Volo

Wilfork was indeed named in the recent Yahoo! Sports investigation into a booster and improper benefits to University of Miami athletes. He addressed the issue in a series of tweets from his @Wilfork75 Twitter account:
"I am aware of the report that has claims that involve me while at the U ......
"...While the NCAA and the U conduct their investigations @Mrs75 and I believe that it is not appropriate for us to comment.
"Thanks for your continued support and confidence in me."
Beyond that he's said he doesn't want to be a distraction to the Patriots and I don't think he will be. I don't expect he would be punished in any way by the team or league for what happened nearly a decade ago in college. Has Reggie Bush been punished by the NFL? No.
Andy Hart

Hello PFW! Am I right to expect a little something out of Ras-I Dowling, beyond what one might usually expect out of a second-round pick? The way the draft is set up now, with teams having a whole night after the first round to think about the second round, I was actually amazed that we didn't trade that 33rd pick...surely other teams offered us a future first-round pick? The fact that we didn't trade that highly coveted pick, and drafted Ras-I Dowling with it makes me think that BB considers this kid a real diamond in the rough.
Kenyon Gagne

I thought there was a chance that pick could be traded under the new format as well. Only over the last two years, including this spring with the Patriots, that has not been the case. Regardless, Dowling was considered a first-round talent who slipped due to injury issues. Now, he's opened up his pro career by missing the bulk of training camp with a reported leg injury. This came after not having an offseason to learn the defense. He may have a bright future down the road, but I think his impact as a rookie is going to be stunted by the fact that we're three weeks away from the opener and he's barely practiced.
Andy Hart

Is it true there getting rid of Albert and Chad? And why so much hostility against Brandon Meriweather? At least he wasn't all over the E! News like stupid Bret Lockett. Why didn't they try to further the depth at OLB? Or is Gary Guyton moving over to outside? That would make a tremendous difference. Thanks for all the up to date info!
Jake Gobeille

No, I don't believe that either Albert or Chad will be cut. See my above answer for a more in-depth response. Meriweather is a frustrating and seemingly immature player who hasn't lived up to his draft status, talent or style of play. He's not terrible, but he's also not worthy of being a two-time Pro Bowler and seems to lack football instincts. And while Lockett was on E!, let's not get into Meriweather's offseason off-field issues. OK. As for outside linebacker, that position has changed greatly given the apparent move to the 4-3 front. Guyton could play either in the middle or on the outside in the 4-3, depending on depth and injury issues.
Andy Hart

At the start of last year's season, we all had concerns about the lack of pass rush. However, the cornerback situation was pretty unsettling as well (after Bodden goes down, we enter with two rookie corners), and I wasn't too excited about the running back situation either. Nevertheless, the team shocked me with a 14-2 record. This year we've had a great offseason (when taking all factors into account, i.e. the lockout). We drafted two solid running backs to complement Green-Ellis and Woodhead. We were aggressive in free agency and got Haynesworth, Ochocinco, Ellis, and Carter. We re-signed Light and Mankins, while also drafting Solder and Cannon. We get Bodden back from injury. And to top it all off, we drafted Mallet--a strong prospect for the future. So my question is, do you see any glaring needs for this team? Everywhere I look, I see plenty of talent. This, in my opinion, appears to be the strongest team we've fielded since 2007--not a lot of weaknesses to be found.
Rhys Robinson

Agreed. Indy or bust!
Andy Hart

Can you guys do a little tutorial on PFW.I am sometimes confused about the positions and their roles mainly on the defensive side like: is a defensive lineman the same as a linebacker? what is a DE? what is a OLB? is the OLB the pass rusher? I think it would be very helpful to explain this to us fans. Maybe once a week choose a position and describes what the player role is. Thanks.
Ernst Manigat

I don't know if we'll make it a weekly feature, but Ask PFW is always willing to answer any questions that are thrown at us. A defensive lineman lines up in a three-point stance at the line of scrimmage directly in front of the offensive line. A linebacker lines up primarily in a two-point stance (standing up) a few yards off the line of scrimmage in most defenses. The defensive end is the defensive lineman on the end of the line of scrimmage. The outside linebacker is the linebacker closest to the sideline. In most defenses there are either three or four defensive linemen and either three or four linebackers (4-3, 3-4). And the premier pass rushers are usually the defensive ends in a 4-3 defense, or the OLB in a 3-4 defense. Hope that helps. Feel free to send in more questions in the future and we'll answer them. If it happens to be Erik Scalavino's week for Ask PFW, I'll tell him the answer so he will be able to answer it for you.
Andy Hart

What division do you think will be the toughest one to come out of this season to make the playoffs? It looks like each division has at least one patsy.
Kevin Coskren

I'm going to go with the NFC East. I think that's the only division with the chance to have three very good, playoff caliber teams in the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants. They could really beat up on each other, as has been the case for decades. I think the AFC East and AFC North will both have two very good teams and two stinkers. I think the AFC South could be pretty competitive, but I don't think it will have an elite type team. And the Chargers should have a pretty easy run in the AFC West with the Chiefs potentially having a reality check with a tougher schedule. In the NFC I think the West is a division filled with average to below average teams. The South could have two very good teams in the Falcons and Saints. The North could be the most interesting as I think it has an outside chance to have four pretty good football teams, although only the Packers will be in the elite category. Anyway, there's my quick assessment of the NFL's eight divisions. Take it for what it's worth.
Andy Hart

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