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Ask PFW: Camp update

With the preseason opener nearly upon us, here's a quick installment of "Ask PFW" to answer some of the questions fans might have as the Ravens and Patriots hit the field tonight.

We received this in "Ask PFW" and even though it wasn't a question, we thought we'd post it to get Patriots Nation fired up for the 2008 season.

Mr. Robert Kraft. My name is Dick Goodwin. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1942. I have been a professional football fan and supporter since way before the Patriots came into existence. But when they did start in 1960, I immediately became a Patriots rooter. I suffered through the Billy Sullivan years - and beyond. But at least we had a team. And in those early years, the Patriots (the Boston Patriots in those days) were at least a decent team in a subpar league. They regularly contended for the championship, although San Diego (with Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe) usually beat them. After that, the Patriots seemed to sink into mediocrity (or worse). True Patriots fans truly suffered (although a true fan never leaves - no matter how bad). I actually witnessed a Patriots punter missing the ball on a punt - no pressure - he just missed the ball. I have never seen that before or since. There was more - a lot more. If you travel through those bad days, you can appreciate all the more how wonderful the Patriots, and the whole Patriot organization is in these days. Which brings me to the point of this e-mail. You, Mr. Robert Kraft. You are the most professional, competent and dedicated owner that the NFL has ever had. Also, seemingly, one of the most respected. I want to congratulate you. Your comportment, since you have established control of the Patriots, has been nothing short of perfect. Influences you have in the finished product - as well as your general public presence - do nothing but enhance your reputation as the best owner in football. Can you think of an NFL owner who has come from the ranks of a true fan to become a team owner in the NFL? I can't think of anyone. Maybe, Mark Cuban (but he's in basketball - and way too confrontational). You are it. The only one. The NFL has good owner families (just not many). The Rooneys come to mind. But, you are unique. And, to make this story even more unbelievable, coming from the lowly fan base, you are - far and away - the best owner in football. Yes, credit your great front office. Yes, credit your great coaches. Yes, credit your great players. But who put that structure in place to make all these parts be able to function? (With all due respect to your future Hall of Fame coach - peruse his record in Cleveland - when he didn't have all the tools necessary to become a genius). You tend to stay in the background yet you play a more important part in what makes your football team great than anyone of the others do. If I would have to pick one thing, just ONE thing, that has made the Patriots such a joy for us fans over the last few years. Mr. Robert Kraft, no contest. Think about it. Many teams have great coaches, good front offices, super players. But what is the glue that puts it all together. Well, maybe it's just "Super Fan" who knows business, and football, and possesses a big dollop of common sense. The future will tell. It always does. And the future will say: "Robert Kraft was the greatest NFL team owner that ever lived." And you can take that to the bank.

P.S. -- Like you, I attended some early Patriot games (although I was not a season-ticket holder). I watched a bad team playing in a bad stadium. However, there was one saving grace. Pro football has the speed and intensity that cannot be matched in any college game or any high school game. Win or lose, you get to watch football played at a higher level. Nowadays, I have moved to Nevada, and am focused on professional motocross. I still watch NFL football (especially the Patriots) whenever I can, and irritate the Patriots Football Weekly staff with more e-mails than they would probably like. However, I wonder what it would be like to watch a really good team (my Patriots) playing in a good stadium. I guess the only thing better would be free beer.
Dick Goodwin
Las Vegas, Nev.

I really enjoy your column and regularly rely on "Ask PFW" in order to get an insight into the comings and goings of the Patriots. My question relates to the defensive secondary. Like many fans I am sure there are concerns regarding the exodus of talent this year from the Pats defensive backfield. Is it too late to make a run for Lito Sheppard? I know this would seem a little ridiculous with the obvious criticism that the Pats should have just paid Asante Samuel what he wanted instead of swapping CBs. However, at this point it would seem Sheppard is the odd man out in a loaded Philly backfield and is motivated to look at his options. What do you think the asking price would be?Michael McMillan

While I think Sheppard is a solid player, based on what I've seen thus far in camp I think the Pats secondary will be just fine. The young guys Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite have been promising, especially Wheatley, who looks like he could be a special player down the road. I've also been impressed with Fernando Bryant and think he'll give the Patriots everything Sheppard would have if he were here. Obviously having both would be better, but I'm not sure the price he would cost would be worth it. In today's NFL, teams need more than two corners so I don't think the Eagles have to get rid of him. I know Sheppard wants out, but certainly the Eagles could use three starting-level corners to deal with the multiple-receiver sets every team uses nowadays. I've also heard some questionable things from writers in Philly about Sheppard's commitment to the team. They cited some examples of times when he would remove himself from the game if the weather conditions weren't ideal. That doesn't sound like a guy Bill Belichick would embrace, but obviously history indicates looks can be deceiving in that department.
Paul Perillo

Is Wes Welker injured?Andrea Reisch

Welker started camp on the physically unable to perform list with a reported groin injury but was activated Aug. 2. He won't likely play in the preseason opener against Baltimore but should be ready to go in plenty of time for the regular season.
Paul Perillo

First off, I wanted to say thank you all very much for all the great work you guys do for us who subscribe to PFW. Now, I was wondering, how much do you believe the defense is going to schematically change this year as opposed to what the defense ran last year? The week before the Super Bowl I remember Eli Manning breaking down the Pats D, saying some things that I had begun to notice myself. He said that basically the Patriots will stay in their 3-4 with a lot of zone coverage on first and second down and then, blitz with a different formation on third down. Now, of course this isn't exactly true because there are numerous variables that affect what Coach [Dean] Pees will call and what the defense will do on a given play. And of course, Bill Belichick and Pees will run the 3-4, but with the addition of Coach Dom Capers, the defense's increased speed and versatility (with players like AD, Tank Williams, Rodney, Mike Vrabel) and last year's apparent lack of pre-snap disguise and confusion on the part of opposing quarterbacks, do you think that the Coach Belichick and Pees will incorporate some elements of more blitz happy and heavily disguised schemes run by the likes of the Steelers, Ravens and Jets (although mainly when they play the Pats) into this year's defense?Andrew Callahan

Wow Andrew, it sounds like you're auditioning for a job on the Patriots coaching staff. That was a pretty detailed post. Of course, trying to predict what Bill Belichick is going to do in terms of game planning is like trying to figure out who Andy Hart is going to insult next. In both cases you know something is coming but you never know exactly what. Belichick has definitely displayed a penchant for sticking with the 3-4 and for playing rather conservatively as a rule. He will blitz and he will blitz often if need be. He'll change things up on a week-to-week basis (remember the no defensive linemen formations he used to use for Drew Bledsoe against the Bills?). But I couldn't begin to tell you exactly how he plans on changing things for the 2008 season, only that he will do some things differently. I like the versatility that Jerod Mayo and maybe even Tank Williams give the team. Those players can operate in space in a way that the team couldn't in the recent past. How it all comes together will be fun to watch. I wouldn't expect a blitz-happy approach only because it's not really in Belichick's nature to expose his secondary to the big play in that manner, but maybe a little more pressure on the quarterback without blitzing, as Mike Vrabel mentioned during camp, would go a long way toward helping the entire defense.
Paul Perillo

After watching the Hall of Fame game and seeing how well Colt Brennan did, it made me wonder what the coaching staff saw in Kevin O'Connell to make them choose him over Brennan. And even John David Booty for that matter.Adam Newhouser

So you're making this determination without allowing O'Connell to actually play in a game? What happens if he plays better than Brennan during the preseason? Will you then write to the Redskins and wonder why they didn't take O'Connell and instead of settling for Brennan? I thought Brennan looked great the other night and from speaking with a former member of the Pats scouting department I know that the Pats liked Brennan heading into the draft. But geez, give O'Connell a chance before we bury him. He hasn't even put a uniform on yet and already we're wishing we took another quarterback. That has to be a record even for Boston!
Paul Perillo

I'm wondering about three veterans and how safe their roster spots are. Ellis Hobbs, Mike Wright and Nick Kaczur. Seems their salaries are high, but, if cut, the cap hit is low. What's your opinion?
Hermey The Great

Well, not to be a contrarian here but none of those three players has a particularly high salary. Wright and Hobbs will earn roughly $1.4 million while Kaczur will be in the neighborhood of $1.2 million. Wright would have no cap charge if cut because he was a restricted free agent and therefore receives no signing bonus or guarantees. The other two were third-round picks in 2005 and therefore didn't receive huge signing bonuses to begin with so their hits would be negligible as well. To answer the first part of your question, Hobbs is a lock to stay. He's a starting corner for a team that isn't exactly deep at that position. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, there's no way he's not a member of the 2008 Patriots. The other two are interesting. Kaczur's legal trouble could make his days around cutting time a bit anxious. The Patriots have signed a few veteran offensive linemen recently (Oliver Ross, Anthony Clement, since placed on IR and John Welbourn) so clearly Belichick is searching for more depth up front. It's likely that whatever is keeping Matt Light from practicing is the major factor behind these signings, but Kaczur could be part of it too. When all is said and done, I think Kaczur will be the starting right tackle, but it's not set in stone. Mike Wright has yet to practice so he can't be considered a lock either. If healthy, I think he's a serviceable backup on the defensive front and can play special teams, but guys like Le Kevin Smith and Santonio Thomas could make him expendable. Of the three, his spot is probably the most tenuous but again, if I had to say now, I'll go with all three being back.
Paul Perillo

With the pick up of LaMont Jordan the backfield seams to be pretty full right now. We have Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Jordan, Kyle Eckel, Heath Evans and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I am thinking that one or two of these guys will be losing a job. We have not heard from Morris yet in camp so I am thinking his sternum injury is not completely healed and might be a long-term problem. I also have not heard too much about Green-Ellis for him to make a spot for himself on the team. What is your take on this situation?David Dyckman

Morris has been on the field for virtually every practice and has looked fine. He missed the most recent practices we attended so I'm not sure if he sustained an injury, re-aggravated the sternum problem or was simply being monitored by the training staff as some other veterans have throughout camp. When he's been out there, he looks like the same guy we saw in the first five weeks of 2007 and as long as he's healthy I'd expect him to be back. Maroney is obviously a lock. Jordan and Faulk probably fall into that category as well. Jordan's versatility allows him to fill in for either of the other two. Heath Evans is a key special teams contributor and also serves as a goal line option in the running game. I can't see him losing his spot either. That leaves Eckel, who's missed the last four days of camp for unknown reasons, and Green-Ellis. At this point both players would be extreme long shots to make the club. Green-Ellis is quick but seems to dance too much before hitting the hole. He's also on the small side at 5-11, 215. Eckel played some special team last year but there doesn't look like there will be any room for him.
Paul Perillo

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