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Ask PFW: Combine and Free Agency, Part II

Draft prospect discussions kick off the second half of this week's installment of Ask PFW.




Hey Guys, I was watching Combine footage today and I loved OL Max Unger. He played at both center and left tackle during college, but I have seen/heard many analysts saying he could play anywhere on the offensive line. What do you think of him? Is he really this versatile? Where do you see him going in the draft and will the Pats be interested?Katrina DeGraff

Good eye, Katrina. He was one of the linemen I spoke to at the Combine last week, and there's a reason he was ranked the highest among centers. Yes, he really is that versatile. I came away very impressed with his interview. The Patriots had already made contact with Unger prior to the Combine, during Senior Bowl week, so, that proves there's at least a modicum of interest on their part. Unger could be a late day-one draft pick, or an early day-two. I don't expect him to slip past the third round, so he might not be available if the Patriots decide to take defensive players with their first couple of picks. If he is, I could definitely see New England selecting him.
Erik Scalavino

Hi guys. Really love the job you guys do every week, particularly found your Combine blog useful with my lack of NFL Network. As a Buckeyes fan, I'm a big James Laurinaitis fan. I was wondering whether you think this guy will fit in the Patriots defence. People have questioned his block shedding, and perhaps his smaller stature and good speed make him more of a weak inside backer similar to Mayo, rather than the bigger run stopper we need. But I still can't resist the temptation of Mayo and 'lil Animal running this defence for years to come. PS, correct me if I'm wrong, but on PFW last week I believe I heard you guys suggest that a 2- or 4-year-old was too young to watch the Wembley game, particularly because English sports fans are "hooligans". C'mon man, that's not just the English, that's football fans in every country. I'm a rugby guy and you'll never hear and problems from a rugby crowd. Otherwise though keep up the great work. Cheers guys.David Grew, England

Well, Laurinaitis gave a good showing in front of the media at the Combine. We don't have tape yet to analyze, so it'd be a little premature for me to offer an opinion on how he'd fit here, but in general, I'd be fine with the Patriots drafting a complement to Mayo on the inside. I think the outside linebacker group is deeper this year, so I'd rather they look there first, but if they think Laurinaitis or some other inside guy is worth taking, fine.

Now, don't get all sensitive about the hooligan remark. We were just kidding about that. But we were serious about a child that young going to a football game, or any other sporting event, for that matter. At that age, it just wouldn't really be a good environment for them. No such event is really the ideal environment for a young child. They're always restless, not paying attention to what's going on, so they wouldn't really enjoy or even appreciate the experience. Seriously, how much do you remember from your 2-to 4-year-old years? Plus, throw in the loud, drinking adults and course language they're bound to hear. It's just not a good mix at that age.

But hey, David, at least give me credit for leaving the "c" in your spelling of defense. I realize that's an English thing.
Erik Scalavino

Hey guys, first off, I just want to say keep up the good work, I am enjoying Ask PFW more and more every time I read it. My question is about whom we might select in April's draft. It seems like our biggest hole is ILB. What are the chances we select James Laurinaitis if he falls to us? He may not have the size or the speed of other linebackers but he's smart and can hit like a truck! Also what are your thoughts on Brian Cushing?Matt Griffin

As I just told David, we haven't seen any tape on this year's prospects yet. All we have to go on at this point are their Combine interviews. Based on that, Laurinaitis passed the test, but we need to see some game footage before declaring him fit for the Pats system. Same with Cushing, although I got less of a good feeling from him than some of the other LBs we spoke with.
*Erik Scalavino *

After Tom Brady's injury in first quarter of first game of the 2008 season, and the pressure he was under in the Super Bowl, then the amount of sacks to Cassel when he took over, do you see the Pats getting an upgrade to protect them on the offensive line?Fred Reed

Yes, but not necessarily for the reasons you specified. First of all, Brady's injury came from a blitzing safety, whose pass rush was to be picked up by running back Sammy Morris. The Super Bowl fiasco was a combination of great coaching and execution by the Giants and poor performance and adjustments by the Patriots. No excuses, they just had a bad day. Cassel's sacks early on where as much his own doing as his offensive line's. He often held onto the ball too long, or tried to scramble away from trouble too late. As the season went on, those sack numbers began to drop because he got a better feel for the pocket.

But the offensive line has been a strength of this team under Belichick, in part because they've always had talented, versatile players who've received great coaching from Dante Scarnecchia, the ageless wonder who oversees that position. You can never have too many good O-linemen on your team, so if there's one available (Unger was mentioned earlier, for example), I would expect the Patriots to take him.
Erik Scalavino



]()In light of the Pats' questionable history with selecting tight ends from the draft, what do you think about fullback Heath Evans sharing a role as a TE? He is a proven blocker, albeit out of the backfield, and does have somewhat decent hands. He's a tough player who seems like he contributed more to the offense. *Phil M.*

Your evaluation of Evans' skill set is accurate, Phil. He's a good blocker and can catch passes out of the backfield. He's also tough, durable, and a solid contributor, both on offense and special teams. I don't like the idea of him as a tight end, however, because he's short for the position and doesn't have quite the speed for the position, either. He's found a great niche with this team as its go-to fullback and special teams regular. New England hasn't hit on many tight ends in the draft, you're right. But that doesn't mean they should stop trying.
*Erik Scalavino *

Hello Gentleman. Long-time reader and listener to your show. Keep up the great work. Here is my question: what are the different skill sets between an offensive line and the defensive line? In a pinch, could someone from either side, replace someone from the other side? Simple question, and I have an idea what the answer is, but I was curious to hear your thoughts.
James Marshall, Canada

There are nuances in their skill sets, but similarities as well. Obviously, the offensive linemen are taught to take on defenders while running backwards on their heels during pass protection. That requires strength, balance, and leverage. D-linemen rarely find themselves running backwards, unless they're getting manhandled on running plays. The interior defensive linemen are coached to bull their way forward on every play, but the ends also have some freedom of movement in space to rush the passer or take on a running back. They might have a few more moves in their arsenal than a defensive tackle might.

The similarities are obvious. Most linemen, on either side of the ball, are at least 6-feet tall and in the neighborhood of 300 pounds. And most have experience either in high school or college playing offense and defense. So, in a pinch, it's entirely plausible for them to fill in for one another. I can't remember a specific instance of this happening at the NFL level, but coaches – Belichick, at least – have thought about and planned for this eventuality, I'm sure.
Erik Scalavino

Now that Gil Santos has retired, has a successor been named? Will Gino Cappelletti still be the color man?Peter Lee

Santos retired from his day job at WBZ radio in Boston. It's my understanding, however, that he'll remain the Patriots play-by-play announcer for the foreseeable future. Cappelletti is expected back as well. We've heard nothing to the contrary.
Erik Scalavino

I'm just curious about something. As you are well aware, for the first four or five weeks of the season, the "Ask PFW" mailbox was stuffed full of vitriolic hate mail directed at Matt Cassel. My question is whether or not you guys can resist writing all those people nasty "I told you so" e-mails, or do you just assume that those people have been adequately silenced by Cassel's excellent season? Thanks.
Gabriel Cruz

Sure is tempting, Gabriel, but, like Cassel, the PFW crew will take the high road. He let his play do the talking, and we'll do likewise. Erik Scalavino

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