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Ask PFW: Counting down to camp

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Hi, guys. Long time (2010), first time. I apologize in advance for asking these questions. I know you guys get asked all the time, but I do need some help planning a family trip to Gillette on Sunday, July 29. Please correct me where I might be wrong.
As I understand it, Sunday the 29th will be an open practice. The gates open at 8:00 am, and the Patriots Hall of Fame is open until 7:00 pm. Do I need to buy tickets for practice or just get there early? I know you will be doing a live broadcast outside, but I was wondering if there is any chance to show my little girls (age 6 and 3) the PFW broadcasting studio. Being in Colorado I truly appreciate your show. Thanks for all you do!
Tony Bryant, Denver

No need to apologize, Tony. Thanks for your loyal listenership/readership.

Yes, Sunday, July 29 is the fourth scheduled day of Patriots training camp this year, and it will be the second day of full pads workouts. So, you should be in for a lively session. Parking and admission to Patriots camp is free, as always, so, no, you do not need to purchase tickets to watch practice. I would advise getting to Foxborough as early as you can, because once gates open, seating is first-come-first-served, and there are very few spots that are shaded. If it’s a sunny, hot day, you’ll want one of those spaces.

If you elect to visit the Hall of Fame as well, then you will need to purchase a ticket for admission there at the Hall’s box office window (right inside the entrance).

The plan is for PFW in Progress to broadcast live from training camp for the first four days. After that, our schedule of shows is to be determined. Feel free to drop by our broadcast table to say a quick hello! Erik Scalavino

With training camp just around the corner, the biggest question to be answered will be whether Isaiah Wynn will be the Patriots starting LT on opening day. Although his college tape clearly shows him to be a talented LT in college, his size may limit his talent to translate at the NFL level. If that is indeed the case, is Plan B playing him at LG, and will we know the answer to that question by opening day? Ronnie Guimond

First, I would say that New England’s vacant left tackle job is one of the biggest questions, along with who will win the second cornerback job and the limited number of spots at wide receiver. I’ve no doubt that rookie first-round pick Wynn will be given opportunities at left tackle and at guard, where the competition at both positions would appear to be up for grabs.

O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia usually prefers to have his five starting linemen chosen by Week 1. Which means by the time camp concludes, we should have a pretty good idea of who those five will be when the Patriots host the Houston Texans on Sept. 9. Whether Wynn is among those five remains to be seen, but my guess is he will be. It’s just a matter of where. Erik Scalavino

Do you think the Patriots are heading towards an overhaul in their offensive thinking? Something similar to what the Saints did last season? I think they are. I think they will run the ball more than pass the ball this season.

My thought process is twofold. One, I believe the Patriots, including B.B., want Brady to play till he is 45 and continue to be elite. Meaning, save Brady from taking punishment.

I also believe they found inexpensive value in the RB position and can do a lot of interesting things with whom they have on the roster. I also believe, of course, when needed, Brady can be Brady and can almost always convert 3rd-and-short and can kill people with play-action on 2nd-and-short. It might also save the defense by playing keep-away. That being said, are the Patriots built offensively and defensively to be a run first/run heavy team or should we expect the same balanced approach? James Brinton

While I believe the Patriots might call a few more running plays than normal based on the talent they’ve added to the backfield, this is still a pass-first team, with the best quarterback of all time, playing in a pass-first league. New England will continue to ride the precise arm of Tom Brady for as long as possible. You will not see these Patriots run more than they throw. Not this year. Not anytime soon.

But they will almost surely run more, and, I predict, more effectively, given the various talented options they have at their disposal. That should make this already potent offense even more balanced and dangerous to defend. Erik Scalavino

Long-time Patriots fan living the past 35 years in Washington, D.C. (When Chuck Fairbanks asked fans to come to the games in December, I went!). Love the running back-by-committee design used by the Patriots… But do you think we suffer from not having a featured back? Watching [John] Riggins and [Clinton] Portis, Terrell Davis, Emmitt [Smith], [Thurman] Thomas in Buffalo, LaDainian [Tomlinson] (yes, I’m old), and now Ezekiel [Elliott] in Dallas and the soon to be powerhouse Giants with [Saquon] Barkley, it seems these teams had/have a reliable foundation every Sunday. Maybe it is as simple as being either a running team or a passing team or making the best use of OL talent, but I watched those balanced Redskins teams make it look pretty easy. Dave Bassett

And what, may I ask, have the Patriots made it look like, other than easy, these past nearly two decades with Brady throwing the ball? If you call reaching eight Super Bowls in that time and winning five of them “suffering,” I’ll gladly endure the pain.

Would it be nice to have a bruising ball carrier like Corey Dillon behind Brady again? Sure. I’ll concede that point to you, Dave. And as I’ve already stated in this column, I believe we’ll see more and better rushes by the Patriots’ backfield committee in 2018. But I can’t say with a straight face that New England has suffered without a consensus No. 1 running back over the past dozen years. Erik Scalavino

First off, love PFW and the coverage you provide. I’ve been a subscriber since the second year the magazine was published (I wasn’t aware of it until then). My question: Although Danny Etling was a seventh-round pick, did he show anything in OTAs that would indicate that he may have potential to become a starter down the road or a serviceable backup? Considering that they used a draft pick on him instead of picking him up as a free agent, makes you wonder. Mike Allard

No, we saw nothing during the five spring practices the media were allowed to watch that Etling is a future NFL star. However, that’s not necessarily what spring practices are about, especially for rookie quarterbacks. Let’s be fair to the kid and give Etling some time to learn the playbook before we start evaluating his long-term potential in the league.

That said, aside from Brady, most passers taken after Round 3 aren’t destined for stardom. If I were you, I’d keep my expectations for Etling very low. Who knows, maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what he delivers. Erik Scalavino

After the overall dismal performance of the defense in the Super Bowl against the Eagles, do you think that the Patriots have addressed this issue effectively through both free agency and the draft? I think they have and, assuming that Derek Rivers and Dont’a Hightower can have injury free seasons, the Patriots can get to another Super Bowl without having to resort to a patchwork defense to rely on to get it done. When I look at that Super Bowl loss, I keep thinking, “If only the defense could have come up with just two stops, it could have made a difference!” Brian Vincent

Well, Brian, the Patriots have certainly made an effort to address their defensive failings in the Super Bowl, with the additions of free agent DE Adrian Clayborn and CB Jason McCourty, along with the trade for DT Danny Shelton. Having Hightower and Rivers healthy should also help, although I’m not sure yet how effective the latter can be coming off his serious knee injury.

In theory, therefore, the Patriots look better defensively at this point than they did at the end of last season, but we won’t know if they’ve truly addressed their problems on that side of the ball until we start seeing them perform in games. I’m cautiously optimistic that the 2018 defense will be better than 2017’s. Erik Scalavino

I’m curious as to whether you’ve heard/seen anything as of mid-July as to the performance of Cordarrelle Patterson. I know he was linked to the Patriots coming out of college. However, the kickoff rules are changing significantly this year and it is unknown as to whether, at this time, the changes affect his ability to make the 53-man roster. I’m pretty sure he’s never had a 600-yard receiving season.

With [Julian] Edelman’s suspension, there is an opening of a roster spot and who knows if Malcolm Mitchell will ever be healthy enough to reach his full potential (will he be the offensive version of Dominique Easley?). At any rate, with [Matthew] Slater turning 33 in Week 1, I suspect BB will keep five receivers to open the season: [Chris] Hogan, [Kenny] Britt, [Phillip] Dorsett, Slater, and Jordan Matthews. I understand a lot can happen once the pads come on, but none of these players have the speed to replace [Brandin] Cooks as a reliable deep threat (I’m hopeful Dorsett can, but I suspect he may fill the slot in games 1-4).

To whom can we expect Brady throwing the ball this season? Tom DiGangi

All that we (as in, the media, including us at PFW) have seen and heard about Patterson and every other player on the 90-man roster came during the five days of spring practices we were allowed to watch. There’s been nothing to see or hear about any player’s performance since then. Our next opportunity will come when training camp opens on July 26.

You’re right in saying that Edelman’s month-long, forced hiatus opens up an opportunity for a player to sneak onto the 53-man roster, but that player doesn’t necessarily have to be a wide receiver. The Patriots might urgently need more depth at another position during that time.

Regardless, Edelman, Hogan, and perhaps Jordan Matthews are the only players I’d consider “locks” to be Patriots this year. Slater will have a spot, too, but as the special teams co-captain. You can’t really count him as part of the wide receiver corps.

That’s leaves two, maybe three spots up for grabs. I’m anxious to see how the competition unfolds throughout August. Erik Scalavino

If I'm not mistaken, Wes Welker was 32 as a slot receiver and the Pats let him leave after countless injuries including knee damage. Is it possible Edelman could face the same fate? In my eyes, Edelman is more of a beloved Patriot than Welker really was, but the similarities between the situations are eerily similar. Jason Bickel

You might be right about Edelman’s popularity, but too many fans seem to forget just how much Welker meant to this offense during his six seasons here.

Of course, anything is possible when it comes to aging players coming back from serious injuries, but I would be very surprised if Edelman isn’t a Patriot this year or even next, after which his current contract expires. Erik Scalavino

Earl Thomas is clearly disillusioned in Seattle and the talk for the past few months has been that he’s going to end up in Dallas. Do you think that Patriots have any interest at say, a 2nd-round pick price? BB has always favored having a smart veteran leader at the back end. It has always been [Devin] McCourty in recent years but to pair him then with an All-Pro talent in Thomas, and allow different looks and rotations, could be a huge boost to this defense, plus a potential short-term successor to Devin as he’s a few years younger. Alex Marr

Thomas is a talented player who would help improve the New England secondary, for sure. If I were the Patriots, I’d probably inquire about his availability, but I can’t speculate on what they’d be willing to offer in a trade.

Perhaps the most impossible aspect of football to predict is what someone would be willing to trade. Recent case in point: Jimmy G. Nobody ever expected the Patriots to accept only a second-round pick for him. So, it’s a fool’s errand to guess at what the Seahawks might want in return for Thomas, or what the Patriots would sacrifice to get someone of his caliber. Erik Scalavino

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