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Ask PFW: Draft offensive?

It is easy to see that Coach Belichick and Scott Pioli have done a great job in this year's draft. With running back Laurence Maroney and receiver Chad Jackson the Patriots offense did nothing but get better. But the Patriots also did a great job in the second day draft picks as well. Garrett Mills is going to be great player for the Patriots and mostly on the goal-line at fullback and with Garrett now we don't have to use Pro-Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour at full-back and take a chance of him getting hurt. Stephen Gostkowski was the best kicker in this year's draft and is going to be huge for us in year's to come. Dan Stevenson is someone that Coach Weis our old friend said that was like Joe Andruzzi. I feel like we have done a great job in this year's draft and are going to have a great season in 2006.Amber Bennett

Is it just me or is the rest of Patriots Nation oblivious to the fact that free agency isn't over yet? There are still trades to be made, the June 1st roster cuts as well as the players that will be released during training camp and preseason while teams fill out their 53-man rosters before the start of the regular season. The Pats just loaded up on offense and could have one of the most dangerous Red Zone scoring teams in the league next year with the additions of Maroney, Jackson, Thomas and Mills. They also did a fairly good job of adding some depth along the offensive line. In Bill We Trust the LB situation will work itself out SO RELAX EVERYONE!!!
Dan Daly

Why's everyone in panic mode about not drafting any LB's? Last time I checked we had some pretty good ones on the roster!
Rian Bednarz

Boston native here, spending a year in Israel and I got a few questions about the Pats offseason: The pick of Maroney appeared to start of the end for Corey Dillon with the Pats- it's true he is getting older but what if last year was just a fluke injury year for him and he remains productive for several more years? What role would Maroney fill with Kevin Faulk still doing well in the reciever/3rd down back position; he would be a very expensive Mike Cloud replacement. Also what positions do you see the Pats will look to add depth to this summer -- LB and WR still look a little thin.Avi Garritano

Tom Brady brought back some reality when he said, "These are rookies" about Pats 1-2 draft selections. He is totally correct. How can anyone expect Jackson to step in and perform as [David] Givens? I am sure you don't, but then why speak about how relieved and happy Brady must feel? I suspect most fans are just as Brady still uneasy about losing Dave, Adam, and Willie.
Tony P.

These emails are just a sampling of the wide variety of responses we continue to get in regards to draft weekend. I personally think the Patriots had a good to very good draft. I absolutely love the Jackson pick in the second round. I think he was the best available receiver in this year's draft and essentially gives the Patriots two first-round picks on offense coming out of the draft. While I don't expect him to replace Givens immediately I think he has the potential to be a great No. 2 wideout in the NFL and could develop into a true No. 1 target for Tom Brady over time.
I also really like the Maroney pick, especially after talking to his running backs coach from the University of Minnesota for a story in the current edition of Patriots Football Weekly that's on newsstands now. He has the size to a be a Belichick-type back for years to come as the offensive workhorse but also brings the big-play potential that fans haven't seen in New England since the days of Curtis Martin. Again, I don't expect him to be "the guy" from day one, but the potential for that is more than evident.
The rest of the draft brought increased depth at a number of offensive and defensive positions, including a pair of playmaking tight ends. How those guys fit into the offensive game plans in 2006 and beyond is for Josh McDaniels and Co. to figure out, but they clearly bring some talent to the rookie table.
Another interesting aspect of this time immediately after the draft is the signing of the undrafted rookie free agents. New England has kept one such player in each of the last two seasons, Randall Gay in 2004 and Mike Wright in 2005, so it isn't out of the question that one of these guys could make the regular season roster and contribute. The most likely spot for that to possibly happen would appear to be linebacker. Freddie Roach and Pierre Woods both seem to have the build to play linebacker in this system and let's be honest there isn't much depth there. Roach, in particular, could be an option on the inside. If Mike Vrabel moves to the outside again, opposite Rosevelt Colvin, that leaves Tedy Bruschi, Monty Beisel and not much else left to fill out the depth chart on the inside. Roach was a productive player at Alabama who many thought could get drafted on the second day of draft weekend. I think he has a shot to stick around and help out. Injury concerns and a slow 40 time hurt his draft status and he seems to be a not-too-flashy, two-down, inside linebacker type, but the team could used one of those guys right now. Of course I say all this having never seen him play in person and having watched only small bits of tape on him from college. But I am intrigued by his possibilities at the thinnest position on the team.
All said this summer is going to be an interesting one in New England as the Patriots put together the 2006 squad. There will be plenty of rookies looking to contribute and plenty of roles to be won. There will be surprises, both good and bad, and Patriots Nation will be waiting to see how it all works out. Let the competition begin!
Andy Hart

BB and SP seem to go after players from a particular school each year in the draft. What made Florida so special this year? Was it just Urban Meyer, or is there something about their system that is a fit for the Pats?
Eric Bernabei

I think this answer is twofold. First, Belichick has developed a solid relationship with Meyer over the last couple springs in meetings between the coaches in Florida. Belichick clearly respects Meyer, his coaching abilities and the system he runs at Florida. I think that has earned Meyer an honorary inclusion in the inner circle of college coaches that includes former Belichick assistants Pat Hill, Kirk Ferentz and Charlie Weis, Al Groh and others. Trusted, personal recommendations and evaluations on players the Patriots have interest in from those schools clearly carries a lot of weight as we've seen in recent years with players coming from LSU (when Nick Saban was the coach there) and Fresno State. This year it included drafting Florida players as well as a list of rookie free agents that includes guys from Notre Dame, Virginia and Florida. Second, and in terms of Chad Jackson's selection, I think Belichick thinks the reads and routes that Jackson had to understand in Meyer's unique spread offense could make for a smoother transition to what he'll have to do here in New England. So as a general rule, knowing all the prospects from school's where Belichick has ties to the coaching staff is clearly a good way for Patriots fans to begin draft preparation.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys! There has been a lot of selling of G. Mills to us in the press -- so OK I am sold. What about the new kicker? From what I understand, he shares "long leg" quality with Gramatica, but what about accuracy? I have a feeling that both of them can be good kickoff guys, but can they provide Pats with reliable FG's that made them 3-time Champs? I still need some selling please.Dan Fresco

I really like the Gostkowski pick, even though it may have come a round or two earlier than I expected. He has a strong leg, as you said, and was very accurate over his final two seasons at Memphis missing just seven total kicks. He went 16-for-17 from 40-plus over those final two seasons. I think he was the best kicker in the draft, as evident by his spot as the top kicker selected. All that said he's still a young, rookie kicker who will have to learn the NFL ropes and difficult kicking conditions of Gillette Stadium. Adam Vinatieri struggled early in his career and was about one missed kick away from being cut by Bill Parcells. We know how that turned out. So give Gostkowski a chance to prove himself and try not to compare him to Vinatieri from the outset because that's a lot of pressure for anyone to face. I think he will be very good given the time to develop although his first order of business is to battle Gramatica for the kicking job as a rookie. Both players have talent, but I think Gostkowski is the long-term answer at the position and has to be the favorite to win the job at this point.
Andy Hart

I'm a big Notre Dame fan and wanted to know how you felt about Dan Stevenson. And also, how much of an effect Corey Mays (linebacker) and Matt Shelton (WR) will have on the depth charts???Sean Logue

I really like what I hear about Stevenson. Charlie Weis has compared him to Joe Andruzzi and that's pretty high praise. I don't think Stevenson will Wow anyone in terms of measurables or athletic ability, but he should be a solid addition to the depth on the interior line. He's not flashy. He comes from a football family, works hard, studies film and gets the job done. He sounds like someone Dante Scarnecchia will love working with and be able to get the best out of. At the very least that should be enough to earn him a role in the unofficial offensive line development program for the Patriots. As far as Mays and Shelton, I don't know much about them and will learn more after rookie camp and heading into training camp. I will say there is a lack of depth at both linebacker and wide receiver right now and any undrafted player who surprises the coaches just might be able to crack the roster at one of those spots. We've seen it happen before (see Gay and Wright) and will see it happen again. Whether these are the guys or not, only time will tell.
Andy Hart

Dear PFW - How important kicking is to Pats?! As I remember, Pats won 3 SBs by a field goal, and most of the games that led them to SBs by a 3 points or less. Now, do you feel comfortable with either of the kickers on the roster? What about stories that Pats can find promising kickers in Europe or anywhere else? It is hard to believe that there is not enough kicking talent out there willing to kick for the 3-time champion and make $2.5M/year someday. In Italy, I can probably find one on a college campus if not a playground. Forget the comment, please answer the question about present kickers.
Ed S.

Do I feel as comfortable about the kicking situation now as I did a year ago at this time? No. But that's just the reality of the situation. Vinatieri is gone. The team, and subsequently the fans, need to move on. I think Gostkowski has all the physical tools, and based on listening to people who know him he has the mental tools as well, to be a very good NFL kicker. But that takes time. Lets give him a chance to get his feet wet, develop and judge him over time without comparing him immediately to a kicking legend, All-Pro with a decade of experience. And as far as finding kickers, I'm not sure there is an abundance of people on the planet with the physical skills and mental strength to succeed at the position in the NFL. We've seen plenty of teams play musical kickers in recent years and struggle to find guys to get the job done. Maybe they are all playing soccer somewhere. Maybe you are onto something. Why don't you start a business finding kickers in Italy and throughout the world to export to the NFL? (Somewhat kidding, somewhat serious.) Then you take a piece of their contracts. Run with it, you will be rich in no time.
Andy Hart

Did you notice that the Patriots didn't draft a quarterback with 10 picks? Some seasons, the Pats might keep 4 QBs. This year we have Doug Flutie supposedly retiring, Brady of course, and... Matt Cassel, the throwaway 7th round QB with no actual college experience. What does this say about Cassel? Has he turned out to be a 7th round find? Do you think he can lead the Pats in the playoffs if necessary?Paul K.

Actually I hadn't noticed that the team didn't draft a kicker, I'm glad you brought that to my attention. I wonder if Paul and Tom happened to notice. Anyway, I think it does speak somewhat to what the coaches have seen in Cassel's positive development in the last year. He's already taken some positive strides and at the very least has Tom Brady speaking very highly of the untested Trojan's future. I also expect the team to sign a veteran to add to the mix if/when Flutie does choose to retire. The Patriots also have Todd Mortensen in NFL Europe and undrafted rookie free agent Corey Bramlet in the mix right now. So there will be at least four passers in camp. But my money says the final roster will include Brady, Cassel and a veteran QB not currently on the roster. And I'm fine with that. A name I've thrown out a few times is Jay Fiedler, who is coming off shoulder surgery and is expected to begin throwing again later this month.
Andy Hart

With the draft over and the season a few months away do u think Ty Law is going to break and demand less money, as I have understood it he's been asking for too much money. I have also heard rumors about meetings with Bill. What's your opinion on Ty Law heading back to NE?Jimbo C.

I think the Patriots are interested in Law, as always, at the right price. I think he'd be a very good fit in a return, helping guys like Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs fill out the No.2-type corner roles that they are better suited for. But I don't think Law will break and sign for short money. He's a Pro Bowl cornerback coming off a 10-pick season. He's also a very proud man who thinks he's one of the best in the game and deserves to be paid as such. I don't think that will change and I think sooner or later someone will pay the man. That could be the Patriots. I wouldn't necessarily count on it, but it's still a very real possibility.
Andy Hart

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