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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 16 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 21 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: Camp is here

After a brief, OK long, hiatus, Ask PFW returns as the Patriots are set to open training camp on Friday. This week's mailbag covers a variety of topics ranging from the secondary to the linebackers to the receivers.

I'm very much aware that players like David Givens are rare, but why are you guys always down on players to make the team before training camp? Givens was a seventh-round pick and was a complete nobody when he first made the team. Who's to say any of these guys won't work out the way Givens did to improve his abilities? Like I said, I know those guys are rare, but there are players out there with that type of hunger.

Actually I think you answered your own question, Marc. Because late-round picks that make it are rare. That doesn't mean that none of them impact rosters around the league. Givens and Patrick Pass both stuck around as seventh-round picks, and of course Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick himself. But they are exceptions. Most late-round picks either are cut after camp or stick around as special teamers for a couple of years before washing out. No one is saying the little-known players this year won't make it and no one here is "down" on anyone. But it takes a lot more than hunger to make it in the NFL. David Givens didn't make it because of his hunger. He is a very talented football player who obviously was miscast at Notre Dame in an offense that didn't throw the ball much. He was actually one of the nation's most sought-after recruits coming out of high school in Texas. Can you imagine what kind of numbers he might have put up playing for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame? If was coming out of college next year after two seasons with Charlie, what round do you think he would have been picked in? I can tell you it wouldn't have been the seventh, that's for sure.
Paul Perillo

Welcome back! I am wondering what is your take on the backup position for quarterback? I read all these articles about needing to bring in a veteran to back up Brady. Why? I am confident that Cassel is ready to go and he should be No. 2. I don't think it makes any difference if Brady – God willing he doesn't get hurt – has a veteran or not. Let Matt play! If he continues to be No. 3 all of his career, I think his talent is wasted. Does anyone remember when Bledsoe was hurt and Brady took over? We all gasped and wondered "what the?..." but the change brought three SB championships. I think Cassel is ready to be No. 2, and he should be. Any other "veteran" is a waste of time and money – unless he's familiar with the Pats offense, and no one is better prepared than Cassel? No one!
Andres Ochoa

Actually, I pretty much agree with the 8-Man!!! I don't see the need to bring in a veteran at this point. Any addition would have to learn the system and be well behind Cassel in terms of comfort within the Patriots offense. So why bother? Obviously if something happens to Brady and Cassel is forced to play over an extended period of time, the Patriots would likely be in trouble. Just because Brady came in and was so good from the start doesn't mean everyone could do that. That's one thing about Brady that makes him so great. To expect Cassel, or anyone else, to do what Brady did is unrealistic. But at this point I'm with the 8-Man and I think Cassel should be No. 2.
Paul Perillo

You seem to think that the cornerbacks are fairly deep for next year with Gay, Scott and Warfield backing up. However, the safety position is far deeper, Sanders, Guss Scott and Hawkins backing up to start the year and then Jones eventually becoming a backup. Don't you think Hawkins will end up being a cornerback rather than a safety, that's where we need him more. I actually see him slotting into third on the depth chart because I'm really not sold on Randall Gay. Yes, he was a starter in 2004 and in the Super Bowl and led the game in tackles, but watching the game you could see why. His man was getting open on every play and he would desperately try to make a tackle after the completion. The Eagles were just ripping him all game.
Robbie Mitchnick

I really don't see one area being more in need than the other. I think there are some quality backups at both corner and safety and it will all depend on which players are injured, which inevitably happens each year. Plus, Belichick uses players in a variety of roles, especially his defensive backs. So whether Hawkins or anyone else is classified as a safety or corner is irrelevant. If the player has the ability to play either spot, Belichick will use him in both capacities – and I expect that Hawkins will be used at both spots this season.
Paul Perillo

So remind me again why getting the over grown 2-year-old Sullivan was a good idea? If everything holds up in court and if he has a record he's looking at fines and maybe a little jail time. BB couldn't see this guy was a jerk before they went out and got him. I know your going to say they wanted to get rid of Johnson but there wasn't another team they could trade him to?

As good as Belichick is, how could he possibly have known that Sullivan was about to get arrested? If you knew that, then send me the winning Megabucks numbers with your next question please. Clearly there were questions about Sullivan's work ethic before he arrived and Belichick knew about them for sure. He chose to trade one problem (Bethel Johnson) for another with the hopes that Sullivan would mature and turn into a potential backup on the defensive line. He may still do that, and he may get cut tomorrow. The point is, they made a low-risk trade of players who have done very little in their careers. If it doesn't work out it's not the end of the world.
Paul Perillo

With the abundance of quality tight ends and the speed and great hands, and instinct of Ben Watson do you see him lining up in the WR position this year?Mario Vanotti

Watson and Daniel Graham both have above average athleticism for the tight end position and have often been used on screens, in the slot and even split out wide. I believe Watson will see an increase to his overall role this year and will line up all over the place. Whether that means he's lining up as a wide receiver or a tight end I couldn't tell you. But when the Patriots go to their spread formations, Watson will definitely be one of the receivers.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys, I was wondering what is the future of Daniel Graham in New England? I think he is underrated as a TE with his excellent blocking skills and good receiving skills. I know there was talk about trading him but Coach BB crushed those. Also on another website ( under rumor mill) it says that the Patriots are going to try to re-sign him. Is this true? Are they currently trying to re-sign him to a new and hopefully long-term deal? Lastly what do you think his role will be this year? I would think with the lack of WRs on the team he would have more of an opportunity to catch the ball. But is he being overlooked as a pass catcher in the offense?
Curtis Levesque

The first part of your email I agree with 100 percent. I believe Graham is underrated in terms of his overall value and he's been a playmaker at time in the passing game as well. He's a punishing runner after the catch and his blocking ability is excellent. In terms of re-signing him, I haven't heard anything regarding any ongoing talks at this point. From talking to him in the past it seems he's been frustrated at times over his lack of involvement in the passing game, but never has he indicated that he's looking to leave New England. Bottom line is, like a lot of players before him, the Patriots will place a value on his worth and if he exceeds that on the open market (assuming he doesn't sign an extension before then) then he'll be gone. There's really no way of knowing that for sure at thins point, but if you're asking me to make a prediction one way or the other, I'd say he leaves as a free agent after the season.
Paul Perillo

If Rodney Harrison can't play by the start of the season, is Tebucky Jones the most likely candidate to start at the strong safety position?Nathan Graf

He would be my odds-on favorite to fill the role based on his experience in the system. People forget that Jones played three years in Belichick's system and was a pretty solid performer, especially in 2001. Youngsters like James Sanders and Guss Scott are also possibilities, as is Artrell Hawkins, who moved to safety last season after playing his entire NFL career as a corner. Any of these guys could fill the role, but I like Tebucky's chances. But hopefully none of these players will start because that means Rodney will be back and ready to go.
Paul Perillo

During my regular trips to US in the past few years, I fell in love with American football. It did help me that my trips were to Boston during February of 2004 and 2005. With regards to the Hall of Fame, I had a query. Apart from a complete meltdown, I am sure Brady and BB will make it in there. How are the chances for Harrison? How about Seymour? Ty Law? Also it surprises me that there are not a lot of Pro Bowl players on the offense apart from Brady (maybe Brown/Dillon of a few years back). Any thoughts? Any predictions for who would have a Pro Bowl season?
Kalyan Chennai
India/Framingham, Mass.

I agree that Brady (on track) and Belichick (already a lock) will make it to the Hall of Fame. As for your other suggestions, I would say No, Yes and Probably. I don't think Rodney Harrison is a Hall of Fame player. He had two Hall of Fame seasons (2003 and 2004) for the Patriots, but that doesn't make him a Hall of Fame player. In San Diego, he was a good but not great player like he was here. If he returns to full strength from his knee injury and has a couple more great seasons, then maybe he enters into the discussion. But until then he's a no. Seymour, like Brady, is definitely on the right track. The only thing keeping both out (figuratively) as we speak is career longevity. Part of being one of the all-time greats is being great for a long period of time. Brady (7th year) and Seymour (6th) haven't been around long enough yet. But they've both been great enough and have dominated their respective positions. No analyst would fail to place either among the top three in the league at their positions, and most would have them at the top. That spells Hall of Famer in my eyes. Law? He's very close, and with number like last year's he's getting closer. He's been to four Super Bowls and won three, plus he's been among the best in the game at his position for a long time. My gut says he's done enough already, but he could use two or three more productive years to solidify his standing. As for the Pro Bowl, it does not surprise me that Brady is the only offensive Pro Bowler. Dillon warranted consideration in 2004 and was actually picked as an alternate but didn't go because he was injured during the playoffs. He could have been elected outright but Curtis Martin won the rushing title and LaDainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James had equally productive years. It was a toss up and Dillon lost out. But Troy Brown hasn't warranted Pro Bowl consideration since 2001 when he made his only trip to Hawaii. The following year he made 97 catches but averaged less than 10 yards per catch. Those aren't Pro Bowl numbers, especially with players like Marvin Harrison in your conference.
Paul Perillo

Just want to say first off love the column and your insights as far as information given and how you're able to keep the average fan in the loop. My question is now that Vinatieri has gone his own way and the Patriots now have 2 kickers on the roster, what are your opinions on both Gramatica and Gostkowski and who do you think will be the kicker by the end of the upcoming season?Jonathan Backstrom

Given my extensive knowledge of the intricacies of kicking … OK, not so much. But as always I do have an opinion and I believe Gostkowski will emerge as the man. From what I've seen thus far, he appears to have a stronger leg than Gramatica and perhaps more importantly kicks the ball at a higher trajectory as well. Gramatica had problems getting his kicks blocked late in his Tampa Bay career and from I witnessed at mini-camp I can see why. He kicks a lot of low line drives and he even had one blocked during drills. I like Gostkowski's leg strength and I believe for the team to have invested a fourth-round pick in him they must believe he's the kicker of the future.
Paul Perillo

Looking at the upcoming season, after the loss of Willie and then relatively little work on bringing in more linebackers, what would happen if one of our linebackers went down? Are we going to have any depth at the position beyond the four starters?

From the looks of things right now, it certainly doesn't look like it. Beyond the four starters at linebacker, there is very little experienced depth to call on. Tully Banta-Cain, Eric Alexander and perhaps free agent addition Barry Gardner could factor into the mix, but all are relative unknowns at this point. Back in the Patriots heyday, they had six linebackers for the four spots – Bruschi, Vrabel, Colvin, McGinest, Ted Johnson and Phifer. Now they have four, and one of those is Monty Beisel, who struggled at times last season. To answer your specific question, my guess is that Banta-Cain would play if one of the outside guys got hurt and Alexander would fill in for one of the inside guys. Either scenario is a bit frightening at this point.
Paul Perillo

What is the hold up for Maroney picking a number? Is he trying to swing a deal to "buy" one from a veteran player or is he waiting for someone to get cut before he finally decides what number he will wear?
Bill Matters

As far as I know, Maroney will be wearing No. 39, which is the number he chose at rookie mini-camp back in May. If you've been waiting to pull the trigger on buying a Maroney shirt, I wouldn't wait any longer.
Paul Perillo

How is Dan Koppen progressing from his shoulder injury? Is he expected to be ready for the start of the season?
Jim Doyle

Koppen will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list, which means he won't take part in practice until he's healthy enough to do so. From talking to Dan at the golf tournament in June, he made it clear that he expected to be ready for the season. He has a serious injury to overcome so it tough to say for sure when he'll make it back, but I'll take his word for it that he'll return for the start of the season.
Paul Perillo

Love the PFW responses, enlightening and funny... anyhow, of WRs (other than the obvious Branch, Brown, Caldwell, Jackson), which, if any, stand out as potential contributors on either offense or special teams?
Jason Cray

On offense, no one. How's that for enlightening? In all seriousness, I don't believe any of the remaining wide receivers on the roster will factor into the offense this season unless the position is hit with a rash of injuries. But that's the same for all teams – no one goes five or six deep at wide receiver. In terms of special teams, Bam Childress and John Stone could factor in as returners but none really figure into the coverage teams.
Paul Perillo

Going into camp there are obviously more glaring questions than running back but I was wondering what your thought was about the depth and who might actually get cut? Is it possible to keep all six running backs (Dillon, Maroney, Faulk, Mills, Pass, and Evans)? I've talked to some of my friends who think Faulk could be cut this year but my problem with that is even though he is no longer going to be No. 2 on the depth chart he is the only running back of his style on the team and he can make a nice grab out of the backfield. Then again how can you cut Evans, or Pass since both are really good on Special Teams (as Faulk is too) and can play multiple positions. Assuming that Mills will play fullback is there a possibility that Bill keeps all six guys, and is this the year New England breaks their own team rushing recording? Speaking about the team is Micheal Haynes (the hall of fame CB) considered a Patriot or a Raider in Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Donald Chisholm

Wow, that's a lot of stuff. First, I don't think they will keep six backs but it is possible, especially if Belichick opts to go with just two quarterbacks, which would open up a roster spot. I don't see any room for Heath Evans on the team. I don't recall him being a valuable special teams member last season, as you indicated, and injuries would have to hit pretty hard for him to be needed in the backfield. Pass also could be on the bubble but his special teams roles could make him more valuable than Evans. Mills is a rookie fourth-round pick so he'll need to prove his worth. The other three are locks, including Faulk, who is a valuable member of the offense with his pass catching ability. As for the Hall of Fame, players aren't inducted as members of any team … their plaques simply list all the individual's accomplishments and the teams they played.
Paul Perillo

I am bringing this up for weeks now, and I hope that it would get your attention. I am a fan, who wants Pats to win SB as much as anybody. I remember that last season Pats struggled to get a 10-6 record. Besides running game, Pats secondary was a major issue. Pats improved the running game, but I still have doubts about our secondary. I am sorry for being a skeptic, but I do not see Pats winning the title unless they miraculously get Harrison and Law back in there. Hobbs and the rest of the boys in the backfield are OK but not great. Please alleviate my concerns!

Well, since Law won't be back there and Harrison is still a question mark, I guess that means you're concerned as camp is set to open. While I'm not completely convinced the secondary is championship caliber at this point, I also believe it's in better shape than it was when the season ended last year. They've added a healthy Randall Gay and Chad Scott Eric Warfield and Tebucky Jones to Hobbs, Samuel, Wilson, Sanders, Hawkins and Guss Scott. If Harrison makes it back, I believe this group will be solid provided it stays relatively healthy. If injuries are a major problem once again, then I believe they could struggle.
Paul Perillo

If there is one single factor that will get the Patriots back to the Super Bowl this season, it will be based on how successful they are at running the ball. Last season, with no threat of a running game, teams were able to tee off on Brady who somehow survived without suffering a major injury. As we all know, without Brady this team will be lucky to play .500 ball even with a weak schedule this year. I pray that there won't be any VISA commercials with the "5 layers of security" this year because the OL was never able to live up to the hype. Injuries surely played a big part and there is no way to predict those problems. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney must find a way to carry the ball 500 times, be productive, and take the load off Brady. All the talk about who is going to catch the ball is meaningless if other teams know what is coming. The offense must have balance and if you look back at the 2003-2004 seasons you will find the statistics to back it up. The Patriots could very well go 14-2 again if they can run the ball and keep Brady healthy.John Farrell

Since I don't see a question in there, I'll simply agree and move on.
Paul Perillo

I was upset when I looked at the schedule this year and saw New England didn't play anywhere near the West Coast this year. My wife is a huge 49ers fan and me NE, is there any way to tell when the NFC West will host any NE games in the near future (2007, 2008?).
Robert Langdon

If you can wait another two years you're in luck, Rob. In 2008 the Patriots will play at San Francisco and at Oakland, plus trips to Seattle and San Diego (I think I'm calling in sick for that entire season)! So that's four trips to the West Coast with two right in your backyard in northern California.
Paul Perillo

Hope some one can help. I don't recall this ever happening, but if the ball is fumbled and goes out of bounds through the end zone. What happens?Jasson Cote

I'm surprised you haven't seen this, Jason, but if the offense fumbled the ball forward through the opponent's end zone, that would result in a touchback with the defense getting the ball at their own 20-yard line. If they fumble backward through their own end zone, it would be a safety.
Paul Perillo

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