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Ask PFW: D-Day is almost upon us

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I have heard a lot of very frightening talk about the Patriots selecting a cornerback in the first round or even in the first couple, not just from you guys but from other mock drafts as well. While Richard Marshall may have all the things BB looks for, it just doesn't work, because the team has three significant needs in the draft and defensive back certainly isn't one of them. Now that they have 5 competent corners and 3 competent strong safeties with one guy that can play either, they're in pretty good shape there. EVEN IF they don't waste a pick on a DB, they'll still be hard-pressed to get the three immediate contributors they need in the draft at each of running back, wide receiver and outside linebacker. And please tell me they won't let Maroney or Williams go by either because running back is probably even more important than the other two just because of the nature of the position. The only good thing that will come of taking a cornerback in the first round is that we'll get to see lots of him, because the offence won't be on the field long.Robbie Mitchnick

I hate to disappoint you Robbie but there is a good chance the Patriots will select a cornerback in Round 1. It may not be Richard Marshall but he's one of many corners the team has shown interest in. Why? Because all these great defensive backs you referred to are a mirage. Asante Samuel is a free agent next year and he's never been anything more than decent. Randall Gay is fragile and average at best. Ellis Hobbs showed some nice skills last year but he may be better suited as a nickel back. Chad Scott and Eric Warfield are veteran insurance policies. And where are all these great safeties you speak of? Mel Mitchell? He couldn't even get on the field in New Orleans. Tebucky Jones is a decent veteran who knows the system but Patriots fans know he's not going to be a long-term answer for the team. The one great player the Patriots do have back there – Rodney Harrison – is recovering from a serious injury and no one knows if he'll ever be the same player when he returns.

We have received a lot of e-mails saying the Patriots don't need a defensive back because they are set at that position. Well, I don't buy it for a second. Most of the guys the Patriots have in the secondary are stopgaps, backups or players who seem to be injured every other week. The secondary was a huge problem last year and I don't see it as being much improved from the signings this offseason. Mitchell is a nice special teams addition and I think Jones was a good signing to provide depth but the defensive backfield is still weak. If Bill Belichick believes Tye Hill can be a Pro Bowl cornerback or Donte Whitner can be his new do-everything safety and he thinks his defense will improve by adding a player of that caliber, then I'm all for it.

The bottom line is when Asante Samuel is your best cornerback and your opening day starter at safety could be Tebucky Jones, the defensive backfield is still an area of concern and there are a lot of good players at both safety and corner coming out this year. If Belichick sees a future star in that group, I'll trust his instincts. I don't know about you but I wouldn't mind having the next Ty Law or Rodney Harrison on this team. Right now, that player isn't on the roster.
-Tom Casale

Simply put, Tom: You're a myopic, provincial, supercilious, quack when it comes to evaluating college (and pro) talent. The only lighter lightweights in the sports media are Tanguay and Dickerson. You might well be interpreting the Tibetan Book of the Dead as studying film. You're not part of the team, you have no insight and you're a homer. Reid and Perillo are equally offensive for being imbecilic hangers-on. Fools approval stings as the poet said, and you've let fools approval go to your empty head.C J Richardson

I actually agree with you CJ. Paul Perillo is a fool.

PS Who in the heck is Reid?
-Tom Casale

I've been looking for months now on news about Rodney Harrison, and if he's coming back to the Pats or not. I heard from a number of people that his injury was career ending. Is there any truth to this?Jarod Dwinells

I was just wondering about Rodney, how is his rehab and when can we expect him back on the field putting the licks on the NFL? Can we expect him to have the speed he had prior to tearing everything? The other thing I was wondering is why cant the Pats move Ben Watson to wideout? Watson has got to be one of the fastest men in the open field (ask Champ Bailey) and he has exceptional hands. Watson is big enough, and most corners or safeties wouldn't be able to bring him down in the open field with his strength. Heck, he could be the next T.O. without the nonsense.Chris Croteau

As far as Harrison goes, everything we're hearing is that he's rehabbing just fine from his injury. However, his injury was a serious one and I don't see any way he'll be ready in time for the start of the season. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised to see him start the year on the PUP list. I think the best case scenario would be he comes back sometime in late October, gets on the field and works out some kinks and is ready to help the team in the playoffs. Remember, this injury takes a year to come back from so I would be shocked to see Harrison on the field before October.

As for Watson playing receiver, it's just not possible. While he has tremendous straight-line speed, receivers are quick in and out of their breaks. For instance, Keenan McCardell, Jimmy Smith and Isaac Bruce aren't as fast as Watson but they're much tougher to cover because of their ability to run crisp routes and their feel for playing the receiver position. Trust me, if Watson could play receiver he would already be there because receivers make a lot more money than tight ends do.

I do think the Patriots could line up Watson as a receiver inside the red zone like the Chargers do with Antonio Gates and the Chiefs with Tony Gonzalez to create matchup problems. This would provide mismatches in a short area that would allow Watson to use his size and athletic ability to go up and outfight defenders for the football.
-Tom Casale

Enjoyed your recent write-up on linebacker draft possibilities. I have two questions. Carpenter and Hoyte were both pointed out to be NE Patriot-type linebackers. Do we need to worry much about players like this and others to be taken as Brown type players by our good friend Mr. Crennel? When you are writing these draft ponderings I know it's mainly for PFW readers, but do you fantasize at all in your heads that just maybe (a very tiny fraction) Belichick and Pioli are reading your words and considering your opinions? (Nah, didn't think so) Keep up the good work!Erik Bell

Thanks Erik, this e-mail made me laugh. Let me make this perfectly clear: Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli could care less about my opinion. I do the draft stuff because I've been breaking down the draft for a few years and working for the Patriots, I now have access to film so I can better evaluate players. What I try to do is watch a player and see if he would fit in with the Patriots or not and then relay that information to the fans. To be honest, I'm not sure if Belichick even knows who I am yet.

In regards to worrying about the Browns, they are one of many teams the Patriots have to worry about. The Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Patriots are all looking for similar players who will fit their system. That's the price of success. The Patriots have enjoyed so much success over the years that other teams are now bringing in Belichick disciples and trying to install a system like the one that's helped this franchise win so many Super Bowls. So yes, I'm sure these teams are targeting many of the same players the Patriots are. On the bright side, at least NFL teams were too stupid to hire Charlie Weis and the Patriots don't have to worry about him turning around teams like the Raiders or 49ers who decided to hire Dennis Erickson and Norv Turner over Weis. So instead of having another franchise on their way up the ladder, those teams will continue to be jokes while Notre Dame competes for a National Championship every year for the next two decades.
-Tom Casale

In ASK PFW, Andy Hart said, "This is sports. It's supposed to be fun and offer an outlet from the everyday troubles of life." You're not from around here are you? Love the column and the newspaper.Thomas Sweeney

Thomas, I'm glad you enjoy our newspaper. To make it more enjoyable, do what I do. Just skip over the articles written by Andy Hart then you won't have to deal with his idiotic theories on life. Unfortunately for Perillo and myself, we work in the same office as he does so there's no saving us from his inane babble. Just save yourself man.
-Tom Casale

We constantly hear that the core of the Patriots is Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. Bill always gives the credit to his coaching staff. But, it seems like this is a constantly shrinking corps. Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, and Eric Mangini have all left to build their own coaching staffs. I would think that the logical step would be to fill up the tank with a full size or over-size coaching staff. But, the Patriots only show a staff of 14. The Steelers have a staff of 17. So do the Bengals. Tom Coughlin has 18 with the Giants. The Patriots do not have a quarterback coach. They do not have a secondary coach. They do have an assistant secondary coach, but so does everyone else. Is this cheapness or stupidity? Last year the secondary suffered when Eric Mangini tried to do both jobs. Tom Brady is the great but maximum effectiveness means someone is polishing your skills and hammering our your faults. Josh McDaniels clearly cannot do that and be a real offensive coordinator. What is the story?Peter Piusz Johnstown, NY

Peter, I should mention that the only reason I'm answering your question is because you're from my hometown. Before I answer your question though, I should offer my condolences to you for living in Johnstown, NY.

As far as the size of coaching staffs goes, I wouldn't get overly concerned with that. The Patriots have had a great deal of success in recent years so whatever they're doing must be working. The one thing I do agree with you on is having a quarterback coach. It amazes me that a lot of teams don't have coach to help with the most important position on the field. Teams will have nickel back coaches and not a quarterback coach. It's absolutely amazing. I wouldn't get too worked up over the size of the Patriots coaching staff. Remember the old phrase: It's not the size that matters it's what you do with it and the Patriots are doing just fine.
-Tom Casale

So you don't like White because of his poor work ethic and the fact that he got fat. Plus he has an over all bad attitude. Didn't a lot of people say the same thing about Dillon when he played for the Bengals? And didn't he turn it around when he joined the Pats? Don't you think that if White gets picked by the Pats that his teammates can get on him to shape up? They can explain to him what it takes to win. After all they have three Super Bowl rings. Do you know anyone else in the NFL who can teach him how to win the big game? I know the COLTS cant!Matt

Matt, Dillon was never out of shape. His attitude has been called into question on occasion but he's always been built like a rock. That's why after his rookie season Jonathan Vilma said Dillon was the hardest running back in the NFL to tackle. The guy is a tank.

In White's case, teams should have concerns about him. You have to remember, they are the ones who sink millions of dollars in a player. Now, I can only comment on what he said at the Combine and the national reports I've read about him. At the Combine, he came off very bad with the media, almost bragging about gaining 15 pounds before the Texas game. When a player is coming out of college and there are questions about his attitude and work ethic, those are legitimate concerns. If a guy is lazy now, what's going to happen when he starts making millions of dollars?

Having said that, if Belichick and Pioli sit down with White and feel all this stuff is overrated, he's definitely worth taking at 21. That would be tremendous value for a player with White's ability. No matter what you say about him, you can't discount what he's done on the football field. In White, a team is getting the ultimate boom or bust player because his success is all up to him. If he wants to work hard, he could be a Pro Bowl running back. If not, he could be out of the league in five years.
-Tom Casale

PFW seems to love Oliver Hoyte, and your description of him has made me love him too. My question is in what rounds might the Patriots draft him and what immediate impact could he have or could he even start next season?Jeremy Brown

Hey guys! I like what I have heard from you guys about Oliver Hoyte and he does possess a lot of the qualities that a Patriots linebacker should possess. However, what's your assessment of his cover skills? How effective is he in coverage? Is he good? Average? A liability? I would love to have him in a Patriots uniform regardless, but it is something I think should be taken into consideration.James C

We really like Hoyte. He's big (6-2, 250), physical and plays with a mean streak. He's perfect for the Patriots scheme and the fact that defensive coordinator Dean Pees liked him when they met; he's a definite possibility to end up in New England.

I think he would probably start off as a backup and special teams player but I do think at some point next year he could start playing some middle linebacker once he learns the system. That would allow Mike Vrabel to move back outside. Ideally I think the Patriots would like to have Vrabel play on the outside because he's such a playmaker off the edge. From everything I've heard, Hoyte is extremely intelligent when it comes to knowing the game of football, so he should pick up things pretty quickly.

Hoyte is solid in coverage. He's better against the run because he excels at shedding blocks and being a vicious tackler. I think his coverage skills could use a little work but he's not a liability against the pass and to be quite honest, there isn't many middle linebackers coming out of college who are great cover guys. I think it's an area of his game Hoyte will improve at once he's in the NFL but he already has the physical style of play you need to be an inside linebacker in the 3-4 and that's something you just can't teach.

Other than his immediate family, close friends and possibly his agent, no one likes Hoyte more than we do. We think he's the top middle linebacker in this draft but because most "draft experts" don't agree and just rank guys like they think they have to, Hoyte will probably go in the fourth or fifth round. If the Patriots get him in that area, I have no problems saying right now that I am 100 percent confident Hoyte will end up being the steal of the 2006 draft. I think he has future Pro Bowl potential.
-Tom Casale

Based on your assessment of the team, do the Patriots look like a team that is one or two impact players away from reaching the Super Bowl? Or does it look like they are on the right path and will be in contention, but realistically a season or two away from having all the pieces in place? Can we tell how the team perceives itself through the way it approaches free agencies and the draft?TC McDao

I think the Patriots have some holes to fill but by the start of the season, they should be one of the top three or four teams in the AFC. Look at it this way: they play in the AFC East so they're pretty much already in the playoffs. Then once they get in, they have the coaching and quarterback play to beat anyone. I don't know if the Patriots will win the Super Bowl this year but at the very least, I think they will make the playoffs and then anything can happen.
-Tom Casale

Hey guys! I'm hoping to squeeze this question in before the draft. Ideally, I would like to see Bobby Carpenter or Manny Lawson fall to the Pats at 21 and then a trade in which we package our two third round picks in order to move up and target two of the following players with that and our current 2nd round pick: Richard Marshall, Donte Whitner, Maurice Stovall and Jerious Norwood. I think that would give us three players that project well into the Pats system. I'm wondering roughly where our two third rounders would land us and where you think those players I listed might go. As always thanks for the input and I look forward to reading all your coverage the next week or two.Joel Lindgren

It's always hard to tell what a team is going to do on draft day but will 11 selections; I expect you will see the Patriots move around in this draft. The problem with trading up to get the players you mentioned is they may not have to do that. Whitner will be long gone. I think he's one of the best defensive players in this draft and I don't see anyway he gets out of the first round. It wouldn't even surprise me if the versatile safety ended up in New England.

Marshall is a guy I think will go in Round 1 but should be off the board by the early second round at the latest. He's the one guy in your scenario that the Patriots would probably have to trade up to get but if they liked him that much, they may just trade down a couple of spots in the first round and select him.

I don't know if the Patriots would have to move to get Stovall and Norwood. I think Stovall could slip to them in Round 2, where he would certainly be a possibility if the Patriots don't draft a receiver in the first round. Norwood is a player I love but I think New England can grab him with one of their two third round selections. So, without trading at all, the Patriots could end up with Lawson or Carpenter, Stovall and Norwood. That would be a pretty good start to their draft in my opinion.
-Tom Casale

I am a new subscriber. How often should I receive PFW? I received Vol. 12, No. 3 dated April 5th and haven't received anything since. By the way, I really enjoy PFW. Thanks.John Kellaway

John, we are weekly during the season and monthly during the offseason. Issue 4 – our draft review issue – will be out the week after the draft. Issue seven is the training camp issue and that comes out in mid-July. After that issue, we go back to putting out PFW on a weekly basis. There just isn't enough going on in the summer to put out a 56-page paper every week, so that's why we do it this way.
-Tom Casale

How well do you think that the Patriots will perform in the 2006 season? Do you think they will be above .500, and if yes, will they make the playoffs?Damian Myers

If the Patriots don't finish above .500 playing in the AFC East then Tom Brady most likely got hurt early in the season. I think they'll win the division and make the playoffs for sure. Like I said earlier, once they're in the playoffs anything is possible.
-Tom Casale

What do you think of Jonathan Orr? Could he be whipped into #2 receiver shape? He should be available in the middle rounds and seems like he could be a great physical compliment to Branch.William Benson

I am always weary of receivers that come out of Wisconsin because they play in a purely college offense. Chris Chambers and Lee Evans have been successful in the NFL but there have been a lot of busts too. Remember Tony Simmons and Donald Hayes?

One thing I should mention about Orr is what I heard about him at the Combine. I was working out in the hotel's weight room and I heard two scouts from an NFC team talking about how horrible Orr looked in all the drills and how poorly he ran routes. They were not kind in their assessment of him and I imagine his poor performance at the Combine is the main reason his name has fallen off the map recently.
-Tom Casale

Hello, First time writer from Canada, just like to say first off that reading you guys on Tuesday gets me through the week. My question concerns the drafting of USC safety Scott Ware. Every one talks about Darnell Bing from their secondary but from the games that I have had the chance to see, Ware seems to stand out a little more. I have not seen a lot of USC games from this past year living in Atlantic Canada and all but Bing never really impressed me all that much. Ware, however, is a tremendous hitter that seems to love to lay the lumber and also seems to have a nose for the football. I haven't heard anything at all about him in pre-draft talk and think that he would be a late round steal for the Pats. He seems that he might be an ideal type of player for the Pats. Just wondering what you guys think and if you have heard any inside rumblings with his name being mentioned as a possible candidate.Brent Morash

Brent, I am the Chairperson of the anti-Darnell Bing fan club so you're preaching to the choir. I think he's the most overrated prospect in this draft at any position with the possible exception of Ashton Youboty. However, Bing has much more upside than Ware because of his athletic ability, that's why he's considered to be a better pro prospect.

Ware is one of those players who was a good college player but may only be a special teams contributor in the NFL. You're right, he's tough and he loves to hit but he's raw, starting only two years at USC. He's likely to go in the later rounds of the draft and he's a player who could wind up on the practice squad for a year and then playing in NFL Europe next season. He's a gutsy, feisty player who will give you everything he has, I'm just not sure he has the physical tools to play safety in the NFL. He would be an intriguing late-round pick, however.

Sometimes guys like Ware just succeed at any level and I wouldn't be totally shocked if he surprised me and ended up being a better player than most people are projecting him to be. He does possess a lot of the qualities the Patriots look for so they may take a shot on him in the sixth or seventh round. I should add that Andy Hart thinks Ware is one of the worst safety prospects in the draft, which means he'll probably go to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
-Tom Casale

PFW, thanks for the interesting columns every week. Yesterday, rather than doing work that was more important, I instead decided to make a mock draft of players I think the Pats would do well to draft at each of their draft picks (assuming, of course, the Pats exercise all their picks without any trades). Just curious if you'd like to comment on some of the players and the rounds in which I have them being chosen? Thanks! Round 1: Bobby Carpenter Round 2: Maurice Stovall Round 3a: Jason Avant Round 3b: Jeremy Trueblood Round 4a: Jerius Norwood Round 4b: Oliver Hoyte (PFW's favorite) Round 5: Taureen Henderson Round 6a: Pat Ross Round 6b: Josh Huston (or Scifres) Round 6c: Will Derting Round 7: Marcus Green most of these players seem to be Patriots-type players or at least to have some connection to the Pats (Stovall). The only glaring hole in this draft plan is the lack of any secondary players, but certainly this plan would address questions at WR, OLB, ILB, RB, and OT/OC, which are also areas of concern. Do you think the players I've listed are ones the Patriots would do well to draft and do you think I have the players' draft positions projected fairly closely?M.C

I think your draft projections are pretty solid and I like the mock draft overall. The only thing I would say is that I doubt the Patriots would pick Stovall and Avant with back-to-back selections because they're similar kind of players. I would also substitute Memphis kicker Stephen Gostkowski for Josh Huston because I think Gostkowski is the best kicker in the draft with the biggest leg. Overall, a very good job and I think most Patriots fans would be very happy if the team's draft unfolds this way. If the Patriots can get both Norwood and Hoyte in the fourth round, someone should call the cops on them.
-Tom Casale

With the recent signing of Martin Gramatica do you feel like the Patriots are going to look in the NFL Draft for a kicker and if so who would be someone they may draft? Thanks, Always enjoy getting feedback.Amber Bennett

I think there is a decent possibility the Patriots draft a kicker depending on how many picks they end up with. If they trade picks and up with 7-8 selections, I would say no. But if they have at least nine picks in this draft, I think there is a good chance they select a kicker in the later rounds. Like I stated above, I like Gostkowski the best but also watch out for Virginia's Connor Hughes. Those are two players I think can come in and possibly beat out Gramatica for the starting job.
-Tom Casale

It seems like the NT position has been overlooked by PFW and Pats fans in general. If Wilfork goes down, they will be forced to play a 4-3 defense, unless they draft/sign someone who can give them adequate snaps at NT. Even if Wilfork is healthy for the whole season, he will be much more effective if there is someone who can play 5-10 plays per game without being a liability. Is Gabe Watson from Michigan going to be drafted before they pick in the 2nd round? And is there any chance they would trade up a few spots to get Haloti Ngata if he isn't drafted in the top 10? Watson and Ngata seem like the only prototypical 2 gap NTs among the prospects being projected in the first few rounds. Do you think the pats have any interest in players like Montavious Stanley or Johnny Jolly in the middle rounds of the draft? Are there any other potential NTs that could be drafted by the Pats in later rounds?Ryan

Well Ryan, I have to take offense when you say PFW has overlooked the nose tackle position when we have been preaching that the Patriots need a backup to Wilfork for three months now. Apparently, you don't read the articles I write on, listen to our radio show and draft podcasts because if you did, there is no way you could say we have overlooked the nose tackle position. Get with it my man!

I don't think Ngata is an option because he's a top 15 draft pick and I don't expect the Patriots will select a nose tackle that high. Watson could be around in the second round but personally I don't want anything to do with him. He was benched at Michigan for being lazy and on tape, players like Ohio State's Nick Mangold and Minnesota's Greg Eslinger manhandled him. There are a lot of concerns about his work ethic and he was a big underachiever at Michigan. I wouldn't touch the guy with a 10-foot pole. I think New England has to address the nose tackle position but it will be in the middle rounds of the draft.

Stanley is a guy Andy Hart and myself have liked since we talked with him at the Combine. He made a lot of plays on film and seems to be overlooked because of the year Elvis Dumervil had at Louisville. Stanley also has experience playing in a 3-4 defense and we think he would be a good fit in the Patriots system.

Jolly is another player the Patriots could be targeting. He's a strong, powerful player who excels at stuffing the run. Jolly has some experience playing in the 3-4 and bounced back to have a good senior season after struggling as a junior.

One more player to watch is Nebraska's LeKevin Smith. At 6-1, 310 pounds, Smith has the size and athletic ability to play the nose in the Patriots system. He is good at collapsing the pocket and can also rush the quarterback from the inside.

Those are the players we like the most in this draft as possible backups to Wilfork. You are exactly right though; the Patriots need some depth at that position because if Wilfork goes down with an injury and is out for any significant time, they're going to be in trouble.
-Tom Casale

Note: We will be putting up our Patriots seven-round mock draft this Friday, so be sure to check it out.

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