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Ask PFW: Crawling toward camp

ESPN is touting that Michael Vick would be a good fit for the Patriots. Do you know if the Pats would actually consider taking Vick after his inhumane past transgressions? The Pats would seriously damage their image and their popularity by adding this clown to their roster.Jim Tully

With Michael Vick now being a free man, any chance the Patriots take a look at him? I am 100% against what he did, but he probably does deserve a second chance and the Patriots seem like the team that could help him and I believe he can help us.
Dave Mac

These emails represent the two sides of a very interesting debate on Vick's future. There is little question he's a lightning rod at this point. I don't know definitively whether or not the Patriots would consider Vick. But my guess is they would do their due diligence and consider him, simply because I think that's what they do with all available players – either draft picks or free agents. I personally think Vick has done his crime and his time; now he deserves a chance to move on with his life just as so many other people do. We all make mistakes, some much worse than others. But once we pay for those mistakes, we all deserve second chances. How, when and where Vick will get that chance is anyone's guess. Remember, first he needs to meet with the Commissioner and get reinstated by the league. Once the Commissioner levies his decision, I'd look into Vick. If he's still the athlete he once was and was looking for a place to play it straight as he rehabs his image, I'd consider signing him as a role player, gimmick guy, Wildcat option, etc. But that's just me. I don't have any direct knowledge of what the team feels about the matter, I don't think anyone does at this point.
Andy Hart

Gentlemen...just about through the dark days of the offseason...thanks for helping us through. I, like everyone else, was concerned about the defense following the draft...didn't think enough holes were filled...but, after looking at the depth chart I see reasons for optimism. The line is intact and adds [Ron] Brace. The LBs get Adalius [Thomas] back and return [Jerod] Mayo, the DROY. [Tedy] Bruschi isn't finished yet and you have [Shawn] Crable, [Gary] Guyton, [Pierre] Woods, [Paris] Lenon and TBC (Tully Banta-Cain). In the secondary, [Brandon] Meriweather started to show promise and [James] Sanders is solid. If [Patrick] Chung is half the hitting machine he's reported to be, the safety position should be fine and the roster of CBs looks a lot better than 2008...[Leigh] Bodden and [Shawn] Springs alone are an upgrade, [Jonathan] Wilhite, [Terrence] Wheatley and [Darius] Butler are all promising youngsters. Is this blind optimism on my part or do you see the potential for a promising long-term nucleus already on the roster.Dave Barry

I think it's a little blind optimism mixed with some legitimate excitement considering the young potential on defense. The blind optimism comes in as I think you, and the team, will be counting on some young/new faces to play at a high level at a couple different positions this fall. While I'm sure some of the unproven Patriots will step up, there is also a good chance some of them won't live up to the hope you are showing. I certainly think the secondary will be better than last year and is as stacked with more young talent than any spot on the roster. Whether those guys are all ready to step up and make plays this fall remains to be seen. In my mind the linebacker spot is the biggest concern. First you have to worry about who's going to step up on the edge with a group of players made up of undrafted guys, unproven mid-round picks and free agent retreads. The other issue is the heavy reliance on the two potential stalwarts in the group – Thomas and Mayo – to remain healthy and lift their individual games enough to help carry the unit. That's a lot to ask on a few levels. But summer is the time for this type of hope to exist. It may get crushed by preseason or early regular season action. Or, it could also be strengthened by play on the field in August and September. If that happens, then all I can say to New England's opponents is look out. If the defense steps up to even an above average level, then I expect this team to be darn near impossible to beat.
Andy Hart

What record do you think the Patriots have in the 2009 season? Even though they have statistically a tough schedule, it seems like they just play a lot of good teams, in the 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7 range, that can't compete on their level. While there's always a few unexpected losses, and probably loss to New Orleans, who they will play at home and will likely need the win for a playoff chance in a tough division and even tougher conference, I still see the Pats around 13-3 or even 14-2 depending on how the division plays out.Sam Frankel

Sam, I'll be Frank-el with you. I'm going into the season projecting a 13-3 mark. That's based Tom Brady's return and, like the previous emailer, a belief that the new-look defense is going to come together to be a decent unit. There is not a single game on the schedule at this point in which I wouldn't at least consider picking the Patriots to win. Sure, there are tough matchups like at Indy, the one you referenced at New Orleans, across the pond against Tampa Bay, and the possibility of dropping a division game along the way. But even if you think they have six or eight "tough games," as arguably the best team in football you have to believe they'll win at least half those contests. So while I reserve my right to change my mind based on training camp and preseason action, I'm going to predict a 13-3 record at this point.
Andy Hart

With the various draft picks and free agent signings, do the Pats have what it takes to win this season's Super Bowl? After all, defense wins championships!Harry Ewasiuk

I do think New England has what it takes to win the Super Bowl. While the defense may not be great, it will almost certainly be better than it was a year ago. I also think it's important to compare the Patriots perceived strengths and weaknesses at this point with some of the other so-called elite teams. I think Indy is going to take a step back thanks to some turnover on offense and the changes to the coaching staff. I don't think Tennessee will be as good after losing its best defensive player and relying on Kerry Collins again. Pittsburgh will still be tough, but its line is a question and we all know how hard it is to defend a title. Baltimore? Step back. Miami? Step back. And in the NFC I don't see a single team that looks all that unbeatable even in the optimism of July. Therefore, I certainly think the Patriots have as good a chance as any team of winning the Super Bowl. Las Vegas agrees with me, by the way.
Andy Hart

After all he's done and he says he's willing to do for this season... Why don't the PATS give Willie McGinest a chance for a comeback? I didn't expect him to shine in a mediocre Browns defense. They need depth at the OLD position and he could definitely contribute. Not to mention his experience to help develop younger guys.Shawn Taylor

McGinest would certainly make OLB an "OLD" position as you so accurately write, although you may have done so mistakenly. He's one of the team's great all-time players. He made some big plays over the years. But right now, I wouldn't be too excited to sign him. I'd rather see what the young players on the edge have. Keep McGinest on speed dial. If you need his services due to poor performance or injury, hopefully he'll still be available come October or November. But let's see what Crable, Woods, Redd and Co. have first. Signed now, all McGinest would do is take reps from those guys and change the focus of the position. I like them entering training camp knowing they are battling for a key starting job. Let's see what they do with those expectations before we give up on them.
Andy Hart

Some time in the coming years, like within 10, there could be new teams in the NFL, expansion teams. What do these teams get that will help them have a chance at winning early on like extra draft picks, first chance at cut players? Please let me know as I have no clue what happens if there is an expansion.Zachary Hubbard

Expansion teams are given two major tools to work with. First, is an expansion draft in which they can select unprotected players from the rosters of the other 32 teams. For example when Houston entered the NFL in 2002, the other teams each made six players available. From those, the Texans had to select 30 players or use up a certain percentage of the salary cap. Houston ended up selecting 19 players, assuming the requisite salary cap charges. Then the expansion team from Houston was given the top pick in each round of that year's regular NFL draft. The Texans also received seven extra picks in that inaugural draft in rounds two through seven with those selections coming in each round after all teams with a winning percentage of below .500 from the previous season. Houston also received an additional seven picks in its second draft in 2003.
I don't know if the league would use the exact same system for any potential future expansion, but I'm sure some similar measures would be taken to help the new team build a foundation.
Andy Hart

Just giving a quick shout out to Deion Branch, today [Email sent July 18] is my birthday as well. I was wondering who you think will be the defensive leader, vocally and on the field, for next year with [Rodney] Harrison and [Mike] Vrabel gone. Would [Tedy] Bruschi or another veteran take the position or someone younger and more athletic such as [Jerod] Mayo? Thanks.Ryan Hinerman

Bruschi is clearly still one of the team's top leaders, on and off the field even as his production and playing time have slipped in recent years. After him I think both Mayo and Adalius Thomas are candidates to lead to some degree for the front seven. In the back end, I think you will see James Sanders evolve into the go-to guy in terms of communication. He's the most experienced, proven safety. He may not be the most vocal guy, but he knows his stuff while working well with the coaching staff and other players. Longer term, I think you will see Mayo take over the top leadership role as he gains experience and comfort in the team and scheme. He's both the present and the future in the middle of the New England defense.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, thanks for helping me fight off NFL withdrawal for the summer. My question relates to an old stalwart, Deion Branch. I know that he's been largely hurt and therefore hasn't been very productive for Seattle. I further know that he didn't leave us on the best of terms. Nonetheless, he has chemistry with Brady, and I can't help but feel he might be a better 4th option than Greg Lewis. He's still 29 years old, but his enormous salary could lead to his release. If it does, do you think the Patriots might be interested?Jacob Resner

Two Branch related emails in one Ask PFW. Pretty interesting. There is little doubt that Branch hasn't had smooth sailing in Seattle. Injuries and maybe too-high expectations have been a big part of that. As far as I know, he's got at least one more season with the Seahawks as the team paid him a bonus that was due this spring. He showed flashes late last year -- including some plays against the Patriots that Junior Seau will see in his nightmares -- of what made him the commodity the team went after when they traded for Branch and gave him the big contract. That said, if/when he does hit the market I do think the Patriots would consider brining him back. I think both sides understand that it was a business situation when he left. He's still friendly with Brady and I could easily see him sliding back into this offense. It just won't be this season.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, great job answering these every week. In a recent video on NFL.com they were counting the top 5 coaches in the NFL. Bill Belichick was named the number one overall and possibly the best coach ever. Do you consider him to be the best coach ever? And if not what does he need to do to earn that title? Thanks keep up the good work.Karl Moreland

Based on what I've seen in the league – as both a fan and media member dating back to the late 1980s – I do think Belichick is the best. It's hard for me to speak on guys from like Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi or others. Those guys are clearly in the conversation and true innovators of the game. I think it's hard to compare generations of great coaches like that. There are just too many variables. But if you force me to take just one coach, I'm going with the guy I know the most about and I'll take Belichick. I think he maximizes his team at all times. I think he wins the big games. I think he has as good a feel for his players and his team as anyone I've ever seen. He's always looking to work to change and get better, but doesn't change for change sake. Without question he's the best in the game today.
Andy Hart

1st I'd like to start off with the debate I'd take Tom Brady until retirement over a 19-0 season simply because that's only 1 season and with Brady every year you have a chance to win a championship every year. Just curious as to your opinion. The other thing is I think this team could be the strongest Pats team ever including the 3 Super Bowl teams and the 18-1 team. I think Crable and Woods will be fine on the outside and our secondary is strong so is ILB and our offense has the potential to be even better than the record setter in 2007. Curious on your thoughts? Thanks for the great work. I've been a season ticket holder since 1990 when they were 1-15 and that explains why I thought that debate was easy.Joey Smiroldo

First, I was the original voice of the keep-Brady side in the great debate your are referencing. I want him on my team as long as possible, to ensure my ability to compete each and every week. I wouldn't give that up for anything. Based on the poll we took on Patriots.com, most of Patriots Nation agrees with me. Second, this email is an example of the type of summer optimism I referenced earlier. You seem to find just about no faults with this team, and I don't fault you for that. But I would question your analysis of the LB spots and the secondary. They may be good. They may be better than last year. But I'm not sure they'll be the best the Patriots have had. I'd say the same thing about the offense; I find it hard to believe it will be better than the 2007 version. Time will tell. The Patriots could very well win the Super Bowl, but I'm not ready to say this will be the best Pats team ever. I certainly admire your faith, though.
Andy Hart

Is or has the NFL going to put communication devices in the defensive captain's helmets much like the quarterbacks have in their helmets. Last time I heard the NFL proposed it but they voted in favor of not putting it through. Your insight would help.Timothy Suydon

The NFL began using communication devices in the helmets of defensive players last season. That player's helmet has a green dot on the back. Like on offense, only one player can wear the helmet on the field at one time. The defense can switch which player has the helmet on between a pair of players depending on injury or sup packages. Mike Vrabel wore the device most often for the Patriots last season. If I had to guess, I would think Mayo would be a solid candidate to wear it most often this fall.
Andy Hart

Will the Patriots win Super Bowl 44?Lewis Owens

Yes.
Andy Hart

Which rookie will have an impact on the Patriots defense?Lewis Owens

Patrick Chung.
Andy Hart

I don't get why the Patriots aren't aggressively attempting to plug the obvious holes in, both, the OLB and ILB positions!John Moore

John, what Moore do you want them to do at this point? They've clearly kicked the tires on a few options this spring. They reportedly offered Jason Taylor more money only to see him return to Miami. They added depth on the inside with Paris Lenon, who I think could play a big role for this team. Maybe, just maybe, Bill Belichick has some faith in his young players on the outside. Combine that with the ridiculously high price of trying to get someone like Julius Peppers and you're left with the current youth movement. I'm all for it. Would I have liked to have added Taylor? Sure. Did I want to lose other important players just to get Peppers? No. Do I want to bring in some questionable veteran to see what he has left at this point? No. Let's see what Woods, Crable and Co. can do. Do I have any more questions to ask myself? No.
Andy Hart

Is there any reason why the Patriots' logo is the similar to the shape of North Carolina?
Billy Turner

I'm going to assume this is a serious question and reply with a simple no. That flies in the face of my better judgment, the side of me that is pouring through the endless wise-ass responses floating through my mind. Mom always said that if you don't have anything nice to say then you shouldn't say anything at all. For the first time in my life, I'm going to follow her advice.
Andy Hart

Hey Guys, Love your work and obviously the mailbags, but I did have to call Erik out on something. When you were talking about USC players getting drafted because of where they went to school, and then mention players who haven't done well in the pros, you mentioned Keith Rivers and said that he had an underwhelming season. That's a bid misleading. Keith Rivers was having a pretty good season up until his jaw was broken by a blindside block from Hines Ward in week 7. Up to that point though, he was averaging over 6 tackles a game, had forced a fumble, and intercepted a pass. He seemed like he would be competition for Jerod Mayo for Defensive Rookie of the Year until he got injured. So even though his year-long stats aren't so great, to label his season as "underwhelming" doesn't tell the whole story. Keep up the good work guys.Jeff Wong

Much to my delight, Jeff is right and Erik is…wrong.
Andy Hart

With [Heath] Evans gone do you think Sammy Morris could play FB in plays that require a FB?Jeff Paquette

In some packages, yes. I think Morris is a versatile athlete. He has good size and a hard-nosed playing style. He might not be the biggest of leader blockers, but neither was Evans. When that role is called for I'm sure the team will do as it has done in the past and turn to either a tight end or a reserve offensive lineman. While I think Morris will continue to get reps at tailback -- where he's been the team's most consistent runner when healthy over the last two seasons – I could definitely see him taking some reps at fullback this fall.
Andy Hart

With training camp approaching I was wondering how many of the Pats draft picks are now under contract?
John Gilbert

The team has officially announced [as of July 21st at 2:00 PM] the signing of three players Darius Butler, Rich Ohrnberger and Darryl Richard. Published reports have also indicated it has reached deals with as many as seven others. It's likely that those have not been officially signed, sealed and delivered, so to speak, with the league and that's why the team has not yet announced them. That leaves only top pick Patrick Chung, injured linebacker Tyrone McKenzie and long snapper Jake Ingram reportedly left to get done between now and the opening of camp. At this point, I'm not too worried. I think they'll all be in camp. Also, keep in mind the team will have to make some (six) roster moves to get down to the 80-man roster limit when all the rookies are officially in the fold.
Andy Hart

The Pats running game wasn't so consistent last season. Primary back, Maroney, was out and Coach Belichick had to bring in three other backs. Can we count on Laurence Maroney this season as our featured back? Or will Coach BB turn to powerhouse Fred Taylor?Matthew Diaz

I will have to disagree with the assessment that the running game wasn't consistent. I thought the group did a pretty good job on the way to ranking sixth in the NFL. In fact I think the rise in production a bit over the latter part of the season was, in my opinion, partly attributed to an improved passing game under Matt Cassel and an increased focus on the running game at times in power sets. Otherwise I thought the committee of backs did a nice job for the bulk of the year. They averaged better than 4 yards a carry in 10 games, going over 100 yards as a group 13 times with more than nine games over 125 yards. Maroney was the least productive of all the backs, mostly thanks to a broken shoulder. He's clearly battled injuries in his career. So I do think it's hard to pencil in Maroney to start 16 games. But I haven't given up on him. I think he could very well have a breakout year in what is a very important year for him in both New England and the NFL. Regardless, I think Belichick and the Patriots will continue to use a diverse committee approach in the backfield that will utilize Maroney, Sammy Morris, Taylor and Faulk. I don't see Taylor being the featured back at this point in his career, his first year in a game-plan, diverse Patriots offense.
Andy Hart

Can someone please shed some light on why N.E. didn't draft one of the MANY solid young LB's out of this years draft class. As much as people worried about it before the draft and still after the draft, why did they not go after one earlier? Going into the draft I was very excited about the possibilities but it seems like they missed an opportunity to bolster a slight weakness. Thank you.James Force

Clearly, James, the team didn't like the linebackers available as much as many so-called experts did. Or even as much as I did. Belichick has said there weren't the kind of 6-4 players available who run the 4.6 40 that the team looks for on the outside. To be fair, they did take McKenzie in the third round to help bring more youth and depth on the inside. I think he would have seem playing time this fall had he not been injured in camp action. Maybe they missed on some guys. Maybe they didn't. Either way, Belichick just wasn't interested in the talent available at linebacker in the first couple rounds. He apparently just didn't see good value in it. Time will tell, to some degree, if he was right.
Andy Hart

Last week a question was posed to you asking if the Pats won another Super Bowl this season would they give a ring to Seau even if was not a member of the current roster. Your response was that it was not possible because only players on the current roster are afforded that luxury. Didn't the colts send Edgerrin James a ring when they won the Super Bowl the season after he departed for Arizona? If so, how was he able to receive a ring if not part of the Colts team? Thanks for your response.J. Gatlin

Teams can give Super Bowl rings to just about anyone they want. It's an organizational decision that's different for each team. Some give out hundreds of rings, as the Patriots did to most staff after the team's initial Super Bowl win in 2001. Others give out fewer rings. But it's all up to the teams. The only input the league has is that it pays a certain amount for a certain number of rings, I believe subsidizing something like 150 rings for about $5,000 a pop. Beyond that it's up to each team as to how much money they want to spend and who they wish to give rings to. Sorry for the confusion from last week's answer.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, just was wondering what ever happened to Oscar Lua he looked like he could have make the team last year is he still on the team? Does he have any chance of making the team this year? Thanks for the hard work guys!Cameron Paulson

A seventh-round pick out of USC in 2007, Lua spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury. He was then released by the team in February 2008. As far as I can tell, he's no longer in the league. According to Wikipedia he's now "director of the Trojan Club of the Desert. He is also involved in property management." At best he was a developmental, two-down inside linebacker with limited upside when he was drafted. Obviously the knee injury didn't help him in his attempt to scrap together a pro career.
Andy Hart

Guys I saw that Darius Butler has signed and it made me wonder why he never comes up in the corner questions that have been asked during the off season. Chung is assumed to play a large roll at safety this year, but he was only taken seven spots in front of Butler. Has there been something during the mini-camps that have given the impression that he won't be able to contribute as a corner, at least in nickel situations right away?Dan Driban

No. I think the reason Chung is expected to have a greater impact is twofold. First, according to Coach Belichick he comes from a very complex, diverse pro-style defense at Oregon in which he played a key role for his entire career. He's already done a lot of things he could be asked to do in the pros. He also has great experience making calls and adjustment in that scheme. But maybe more importantly the Patriots don't have a ton of depth at safety. Beyond projected starters James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather there isn't a lot there. Chung will be competing with returning injured veteran Tank Williams, newcomer Brandon McGowan who missed nearly all of last season in Chicago with an injury and special teams ace Ray Ventrone. Chung could easily be the team's third safety and that would likely equate to significant reps on defense in Belichick's multiple defensive back sets. Butler, on the other hand, faces far more competition at corner with veterans like Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs as well as returning sophomores Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite. Butler could have a nice preseason and still be the team's fifth corner. In fact his greatest chance to contribute may come on special teams. In the end finding a role for yourself is as much about who's ahead of you on the depth chart as it is about a player's own development. Just ask Matt Cassel.
Andy Hart

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