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Ask PFW: Camp questions

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.

Thank you for the summer coverage so far. I keep reading in various places that things look well for us this year, at least on paper. But, I have two questions. Based on [Julian] Edelman and Danny [Amendola] not being available so far, how will Jimmy [Garoppolo, the backup quarterback] have developed enough timing with them for the first four games? Combine that with Tom [Brady] not being on the field and guys learning Jimmy timing for four games, it leaves me thinking that it may be a slow start right into the first six to eight weeks, not just four.  Of course, I worry every year, however... Second, please tell me that you see sound technique out of [Marcus] Cannon finally. If he is at right tackle to start, I fear batted passes and fumbles coming for Jimmy from the right passing arm.  Please tell me another plan is in the works for RT! 

Michael Monk*

Well, the good news after 10 practices is that Edelman is finally taking part fully in practice. He now has a month to get on the same wavelength as Garoppolo, and that should be plenty of time. Amendola hasn't yet donned the pads this summer, but having played with Garoppolo for the past couple of seasons, I don't expect it to take long for the veteran receivers to get used to him as the temporary starting QB. What concerns me more is the state of Garoppolo's offensive line, and how well it can protect him so that he has time to throw to his many weapons.

Which leads me into your second question. No, sadly, I cannot say that I'm seeing any improvement in Cannon. Nor, quite frankly, did I expect to see any in this, his sixth NFL season. He's never going to be anything more than a barely serviceable backup, at best. The plan, I'm sure, is not for him to start the season at right tackle. He's only there right now because incumbent Sebastian Vollmer remains on PUP (the physically unable to perform list). Once Vollmer is healthy enough again, he'll be in there protecting Garoppolo's right side. Hopefully, that is sooner rather than later, for the young QB's sake. 

Erik Scalavino*

Since we are deep at safety and wide receiver is it possible to trade one or two of these guys for another need on our team? And if so, like who? Say, Keshawn Martin for Knile Davis? Other trade ideas please, thank you. 

Jay Raynham*

I'm not in the specific trade-guessing business, Jay, mostly because we normally have nothing substantial on which to base such abstract ideas. It's purely a speculation game, and I prefer to deal with more concrete subject matter.

I also don't believe the Patriots are as deep at safety as you suggest. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, and Jordan Richards are the main men there, just as they were a year ago. When Nate Ebner returns from the Rio Olympics, I expect he'll keep his job as well, but he's not really asked to play safety as much as special teams. I don't see Bill Belichick wanting to part with any of these players.

However, you might be onto something at wide receiver. I feel safe in saying that Edelman, Amendola, and free agent signing Chris Hogan are locks to make the roster. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell is a close fourth, given both his draft status and the way he's performed in camp. From here on is where a logjam occurs.

Martin and veteran Nate Washington have missed some significant time early on with injuries, while Aaron Dobson is finally looking like the player New England hoped he'd be when he was selected in the second round three years ago. First-year man DeAndre Carter has also been impressive.

If the Patriots were looking to unload some excess at one position, it might be here at receiver. And I'll grant you that running back is a spot where, perhaps, the team might look to add some competition. But I'll stop short of hazarding any guesses on who specifically the Patriots might want, because in my experience, the trades this team executes are usually the ones we never see coming. 

Erik Scalavino*

Who do you think will win the starting [linebacker] job next to [Jamie] Collins and [Dont'a] Hightower? I know they have experimented with [Rob] Ninkovich. What role will Shea McClellin have? Will he definitely be in a role position opposite [Jabaal] Sheard? It will be interesting how the Patriots will position this for the defense! Thanks!

Patrick Lyon*

As we've discussed before in this space, I'm not sure we're going to see too many traditional 4-3 base defenses from the Patriots. The nickel has become the de facto base in recent seasons, and with the versatility that guys like Ninko and McClellin have, it's possible we could see both on the field at the same time as Sheard and/or Chris Long, and on some plays, they could line up as d-linemen and other plays, as off-the-line 'backers. If and whenever we do have a basic 4-3 look, Jonathan Freeny is the third traditional linebacker Belichick seems to like the most. He's been limited with injuries in this camp and hasn't really done much. In all likelihood, though, you'll be seeing more sub packages anyway from this defense, with personnel groupings designed for flexibility in terms of where they line up on any given play. 

Erik Scalavino*

I'm super excited to see how the addition of Martellus Bennet benefits the team. What upgrades do you see that Bennet bring over say...Aaron Hernandez, and what does he lack the Hernandez had? 

Nick Maryanov*

Bennett has been as advertised this summer, showing tremendous hands and route-running. He's more a Gronk-like tight end than Hernandez was, in terms of size and skills, and is a much better player. What he lacks that Hernandez possessed (aside from the obvious mean streak), is the almost supernatural knack for making defenders miss in the open field. However, Bennett more than makes up for that with his ability to out-jump most defenders for passes and running seam routes very similar to what Gronk does. This version of the two-headed tight end monster has the potential to be the best ever in NFL history. 

Erik Scalavino*

Hey guys, love the articles you write, and they've become a daily-habit for me to check on in the coming weeks of the season. My question is about Malcolm Butler. Don't get me wrong when I say this, because I think he's a heck of a player, but, am I wrong to feel a little bit of doubt in his overall abilities? I know it's coming into his third season now, but I feel like the main reason he's in the role that he's in is because he made that (spectacular) goal line interception during Super Bowl XLIX; and believe me, I was as head-over-heels for the guy at that moment in time as anyone else in New England was.But for some reason, he doesn't inspire the same level of confidence in me that I felt with guys like Brandon Browner, Aqib Talib, Ty Law and Darelle Revis inspired. I almost cringe ato say it, but sometimes I feel like there's too much confidence put on him, or too much responsibility thrust on to him, just because everyone has been coasting on the "high" from that big Game-Winning play. Anybody can be great for a single moment, but it takes a whole different level of player to be amazing every play of every game. Do you think Butler has that same potential as those other names I mentioned? Am I just being overly-nervous because he's still relatively young in his career? 

John Morgan*

You're being a bit unfair to Butler, John. He's shown much more than just that one spectacular play in Super Bowl XLIX. He started all 16 games last season, plus the playoffs, and got better each time he stepped on the field. The reason he's this team's top corner is because he's better than all the others on the roster, not simply because of one play he made two seasons ago. Remember, he did make the Pro Bowl last year in just his second season and first as a full-time starter.

Furthermore, none of the players you mentioned were perfect. They certainly weren't "amazing every play of every game." You have every right to be a bit skeptical about Butler as a perennial all-star and potential Hall of Famer like Revis or Law, but he's a talented player who hasn't even reached his prime yet, and he continues to get better the more experience he gets. There's also no other corner on this roster whom I'd trust to cover another team's best receiver. 

Erik Scalavino*

If you were Jimmy G, would you stay as the backup if all goes well in preseason and the four games that Brady will miss, or at the end of the season ask to be traded, unless BB trades him first. What would he be worth if all goes well? 

Bill Sparkes, England*

Again, I don't like to guess about potential trades. It's a futile exercise. No matter what happens in these four games without Brady, however, if I were Garoppolo, I'd be looking thereafter to find whatever opportunity paid me the most and gave me the most chances to play. 

Erik Scalavino*

After watching the [2016 Patriots] Hall of Fame Induction ceremony [for Kevin Faulk], I couldn't help but think: What about Mr. Kraft? Has he been considered? It would be great to see him have his great day. He's the kind of person that probably would not want the focus to be on him, but I think he deserves it. He's done more for this organization then a lot of those players who have been inducted in recent years have, not that they weren't deserving, but Mr. Kraft is VERY deserving! I feel now would be a good time to show him how loved he really is around here!

Paul Graham, Swansea, MA*

I have no doubt that Robert Kraft will one day be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. When exactly, I don't know, but it will happen, and you're right, there's no one who would be more deserving of the honor. 

Erik Scalavino*

Big fan of the [PFW in Progress radio] show and the Patriots. I am visiting Boston for the first time and along with seeing a game at Fenway, I would like to see a Patriots training camp practice. I am planning on coming to watch joint practice on the 16th at the scheduled time. My question is how early should I arrive to get a good seat (if possible), and if you have any other tips about seeing practice for the first time? Thanks. 

Will Sloyer, Lancaster, PA*

You picked a good date, Will. It's the second of the two joint practices with the Bears, meaning it should be an exciting practice with lots of activity. General rule of thumb for attending Patriots training camp is the earlier, the better. Also, there's virtually no shade for fans, and the weather's usually great this time of year (sunny and hot), so, plan accordingly as far as your clothing, sunscreen, and hydration are concerned. Bring a camera, if you have a good one, because fans get to sit pretty close to the action and you'll be able to snap some good, close-up photos.

Erik Scalavino*

We know every year there are cuts the team makes that most people consider a surprise. With the depth at WR, CB and safety, any chance Mathew Slater is the guy that gets the axe? I know he's a captain and Pro Bowler (like Logan Mankins was), but he also doesn't play any offense really and we have younger players at the gunner position that offer more at their respective spots. 

Nick Cabrera*

All fair points, Nick. I'd still be surprised if Slater winds up on the chopping block. But I'll give you another candidate: Bryan Stork. Head injuries continue to mount and there seem to be more players on the o-line who have position versatility. Again, it would surprise me somewhat if Stork is cut, but not entirely. 

Erik Scalavino*

I want to know since Brady is suspended the first four games, he's told he can't go to the Patriots games. Is he allowed to go to other football games played at other stadiums?  Can he go watch the Browns at their stadium? To me that would be great and he could see how they play when it comes to his first game back after his suspension. 

Frances Gomez*

Interesting question. I suppose it's possible he could attend other NFL games in which the Patriots aren't playing, but I don't see why he would need to. There's this wonderful feature on called Game Pass, which allows you to watch any game, any week – even with the all-22 coaches video – so, if TB12 wants to do some intense scouting of his upcoming opponents during the month of September, he doesn't even have to leave his couch. 

Erik Scalavino*

Hey fellas. Great job each week on the mailbag. Got a tough question: Which Patriots players would you put on a Patriots Mount Rushmore? I got Brady (duh), [Pro Football Hall of Fame LB Andre] Tippett, [Ty] Law, and Gronk, but I can think of a few others that would fit, too, like [kicker Adam] Vinatieri, [cornerback Raymond] Clayborn, [LB Tedy] Bruschi, [Pro Football Hall of Fame guard John] Hannah, and the great Troy Brown. maybe Willie [McGinest], too. Interested to see what you think. Here's to 12-4 this year!

Andy Gibbs*

This question isn't tough at all. In fact, we get a version of it quite frequently on PFW in Progress, so, we've answered it a number of times. The obvious answers are Kraft, Belichick, Brady, and probably Gronk, who is sure to go down as the best tight end this game has ever seen. I'd love to include Tippett, who has become a good friend and colleague, but unlike Gronkowski, he'll never be considered the best ever at his position. BB, Brady, and Gronk are, while Kraft is one of the most influential owners in the league and easily the most successful in club history. 

Erik Scalavino *

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