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Ask PFW: Early camp concerns

The good news for Patriots fans is that training camp 2006 has finally opened and the process of building toward the regular season is underway.

Hey guys, I am 16 years old and a HUGE pats fan. I have a few observations and questions. Number one is in regards to the returning game, I believe Willie Andrews was a steal, he went to a school that was not highly regarded but performed at a very high level on defense and in the return game. He had several huge plays against Texas, showing he is good at a higher level of play than many think. He will be our kick/punt returner on opening day barring no injuries. My question is, who will be the kick returner opposite him? I had originally thought it would be Ellis Hobbs, but I am assuming he will be expected to play a big role on defense (in which he will excel I believe). Will it be Maroney until he takes a bigger role? My last observation/question is about Monty Beisel. I have read reports that have said he has managed to put on solid weight, and maintained his speed. I feel comfortable with him in the middle as long as he is not making calls. My question is if he does not succeed, what will happen? Banta-Cain doesn't seem good enough to take the OLB starting job. Thanks, and go pats!Andrade Azevedo

I think Andrews has shown well for himself through the first few days of camps. He looks quick, shifty and energetic in the return opportunities that he's had. It will be interesting to see what he does with the chances he gets in the preseason games, but so far I've been relatively impressed with what I've seen. Maroney will also be in the mix as a rookie returner, but I think he might have a pretty good role on the offense from almost opening day, so we'll see how his time gets split. And Hobbs might actually end up with a slightly smaller defensive role than he had to close last season. Eugene Wilson has taken most of the first team reps at cornerback, with Hobbs and Samuel splitting the action on the other side. So there is at least a chance that the team's opening day corners could be Wilson and Samuel, leaving Hobbs in a nickel role. Also, don't forget Patrick Pass. IF he makes a team he's always good for a few kick returns sprinkled throughout the season. And Troy Brown is still the most sure-handed punt returner in uniform, even if he doesn't have the big-play potential anymore. Like many jobs on this team, the roles in the return game are still way up in the air.
As far as Beisel goes, I've said all offseason that I think he'll start inside next to Tedy Bruschi and will have a decent year. He doesn't have to be Superman, just the contributing fourth linebacker on a pretty solid starting unit. But if he can't do that, this team may be in trouble. Veteran Barry Gardner might be next in line for inside playing time. And I think Chad Brown will be reserved to outside action and sub package pass rushing duties. Beyond that there isn't much experience in the backup roles at linebacker and no one in that group has done much to stand out in camp. Right now this team has four starting linebackers and will be in trouble if any of the four can't get the job done.
Andy Hart

Hey, I know that if veterans hold out of training camp they lose 14K each day they don't show up. So my question is if a rookie who doesn't even have a contract yet holds out of training camp does he also lose 14K each day and will have to pay the total amount he owes when he does get a contract signed. ThanksNick Moretell

Only players actually under contract are subject to the conditions of the CBA such as the fines for missing camp. Therefore a rookie would not be fined because he's not holding out of anything – he doesn't have a contract. And I don't have much more to tell you than that, Nick.
Andy Hart

A recent column in the Herald stated that the second half improvement on run defense was because of the return of Seymour. I would like to put my opinion in. The return of Bruschi and placing Vrabel in the middle had a bigger effect on the stats. The 3-4 defense is based on the linebackers, and Seymour's backups are not that bad, if they were they wouldn't be on the team. Seymour's good maybe even great ,but don't let anyone take away from the other segments of the 3-4 defense.Steve Guinen

No one is trying to take anything away from the rest of the defense when they say that Seymour is probably the best player at his position in the game and a huge key for the Patriots defense. The run defense improved dramatically at the end of last year because of all the different factors you brought up. But let me ask you a question, if Seymour's backups are that capable because "they wouldn't be on the team" if they weren't, why doesn't the same hold true for the backups playing on the inside linebacker to start the season? See my point. Seymour is an All-Pro. Bruschi has been to a Pro Bowl. They are both good and contribute. How much exactly? Who can really quantify that? All I know is that opposing offenses start their game plans with Seymour and that says a lot.
Andy Hart

Two questions for you guys, one Patriots related and one common sense question. First off, when players come in for spring training do they have to pass any sort of physical? Like, after the postseason do they have a weight limit that they have to hold to, or are they just responsible for themselves? If there is a rule like that, is it a league-wide rule or a per-team rule? My second question is this, I went to a few games last year, the Colts' stampede and the Dropkick Game (you can see me in the ESPN replays, I was right at that end zone in my faithful Bruschi jersey. I'm the cheering fan, if it helps you pick me out of the stoney-faced crowd.) Anyway, my question comes from this. The Colts had just scored again and, if you remember, we attempting a two-point conversion. My friend then asked me what would happen if the Patriots intercepted a pass during the conversion. I said the play would die which I believe is the correct rule. When a random fan next to us asked me how I knew, I promptly replied, "because that's how it works in Madden." I was then promptly laughed at and told life isn't a video game. Question being, is that in fact the correct rule and is it silly to assume the rules of Madden football are the same rules as actual football?
Dan Gifford

Players do have to pass a physical and play at a certain weight that is set by the team. Each team's offseason program, physicals and weight rules are different.
You are correct on the rule question. The play would be dead on the interception of a conversion attempt. At least you learned something wasting all that time playing video games. (Just kidding, so all you crazy gamers don't have to send me angry emails.) I am not a Madden expert, but I believe they try to follow the real NFL rules as often as possible in the game. So for the most part, rules you learn in the game should transfer to Sunday game viewing. I have heard that one rule that is different is that the game allows the team winning the coin toss to defer to the second half. That's not an option in the NFL.
Andy Hart

Do you guys think the 03-04 Pats D could be considered in the top three of any in football history? I do. And how about a Porter-for-Branch trade? Would you say that was even money?Morgan Van Lent

No. No.
Oh, you wanted a more informative answer? Well, the Patriots defense was good, great at times. But you have to compare it to teams like the 1985 Bears, the Steel Curtain, the No Name Dolphins, the 2000 Ravens, Doomsday Dallas defense and others. I just don't think it really measures up. Sorry.
As for Branch and Porter, they actually have had similar types of production in their careers. Neither has ever had a 1,000-yard season. 100 catches? Nope. 10 TDs? Nope. Porter is a bigger target physically, but I think Branch is a better fit for Tom Brady and the New England offense. Porter also didn't have the breakout year many expected playing opposite Randy Moss last season. Plus, the Raiders are looking for two No. 1 picks for Porter? Good one. No chance.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, I love the Pats and have always kept the faith, but this is more than a bit disconcerting. Branch and Maroney [were] holding out - now Seymour and Chad Jackson [were] placed on the PUP list and we re-sign Chad Brown!? Your thoughts on what is going on and how concerned Patriots nation should be?
Nagen Murti

I certainly agree that the early part of camp has been a bit unsettling for Patriots fans. But at least Maroney did end up getting to practice on time and Jackson has now been removed from PUP and started practicing. The Branch holdout is just going to have to play itself out, but the team is certainly not all that deep at wide receiver. It is definitely a position to keep an eye on. Brady can probably make just about anyone who lines up at wide receiver better, but does that mean he can help make them good enough to win with. I'd be a lot more confident in the offense if Branch was in uniform. The Seymour situation is a strange one. I don't know what to make of it. Does he have a lingering injury from offseason work? Did he fail the team's conditioning run? All we are left to do in New England's information-free society is speculate. If he did fail that test that's certainly not a good sign from one of the expected leaders and building blocks of this team. Bottom line is he just needs to get on the field ASAP or this defense, one that is already filled with questions, could be in real trouble.
Brown is a decent signing as a guy that should fight for a spot at a position where the team is a bit thin. If he can win a backup OLB job, that's fine. If not, nothing lost. He's certainly not the biggest problem this team has right now.
Andy Hart

Can you please give us details on the conditioning test that everyone loathes and many fail?Scott E.

Glad you asked, Scott. Paul Perillo explained the conditioning run, as he understands it, in the latest edition of Patriots Football Weekly that is available on newsstands now.
"In prior years the run has consisted of a series of sprints of varying lengths depending on position that must be completed within an allotted time. Running backs, defensive backs and receivers had to perform 20 60-yard dashes in eight seconds each, quarterbacks, tight ends, linebackers and kickers have to do 20 50-yard dashes in seven seconds each and offensive and defensive linemen have to do 20 40-yard dashes in six seconds each. All players receive a 30-second break between sprints with a two-minute break at the halfway point."
Isn't it ironic that the least conditioned member of the PFW staff knows the most about the conditioning run? Kind of reminds me of an old saying. "Those that can – do. Those that can't – teach." No offense to any teachers out there and let's all be sure to thank Paul for conditioning run lesson.
Andy Hart

Hi, since Ty Law signed with Kansas City, that means that the cap space the Patriots have laying around can be used to re-sign Branch. I know that the team assigns players a value and if they exceed the value, they aren't signed. But, it seems like with Jackson being a rookie and on P.U.P., the team needs their former super-bowl M.V.P. back. Do you think Branch will be re-signed?Chris Brownlee

This is only an opinion here, but I'm starting to think that Branch will not re-sign. His camp seems to have really dug its heels in for these negotiations. I can respect that if they are fighting for something they truly believe in. I'm starting to think that he will return at some point to play out this season and then look to free agency and its usual flow of cash next spring. And I expect the Patriots to use up a good deal of that open cap space on Richard Seymour's bonus that is due between this August and March of next year. The more they give him this year, the more they can put on this year's books and not have to worry about in the future.
Andy Hart

So Fumbling Faulk is back....why can't someone teach him to hold onto the ball, like Coughlin did for Tiki Barber? Faulk looks great in camp, but we never know when he is going to cough it up...usually in a BIG spot. Can Belichick fine fumblers? Plus, always seemed like Branch was hurt....and protected from contact in preseason last many years did he start in 16 games anyway? One? I predict Corey is Comeback Player of the Year
Robert K.

I think we found this week's winner of the Mr. Negativity Award. Former Celtics coach Rick Pitino will deliver your trophy later in the week. Sorry you are so down at this point in camp. I know the team has a lot of question to deal with and issues that need resolving, but lets not pick on Faulk. He's been one of the most productive, consistent contributors on this team. He's a good player and a better guy to talk to. And even if he has a great season, I wouldn't hold my breath for Dillon to win the Comeback Award. That's usually reserved for someone who overcomes extraordinary circumstances to return to a top level. Dillon was simply banged up last year, something plenty of other NFL players can lay claim to. And don't be afraid to look at the positives at this point. Brady is in the prime of his career. Bruschi is back to his old self. Maroney looks like he could be a stud. As Big Papi says in his new line of Papi Says commercials, "Be positive. The bases are half full."
Andy Hart

Being a big Pats fan I'm concerned about the number of quality players on the Player Unable to Perform list. The one that strikes fear into my heart from being on that list is Richard Seymour. I'm wondering if BB is doing the same thing here like he's does with the injury report every week or is Seymour really on the list? And if so, do you know why?Kacper Kosinski

Seymour is really on the physically unable to perform list. With the activation of Jackson, Childress and Lonie Paxton, New England still has seven players on PUP. As I said in a previous answer, I don't know exactly why Seymour is on the list. In general he's there because he wasn't ready to start camp – he failed the team's pre-camp physical. Does that mean he failed the conditioning run? Does he suffer from a lingering offseason injury? I can't answer that. I'll let you speculate.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! Good to see you back in action! My question is with regards to the recent linebacker signing/release Picking up Chad Brown and releasing Ryan Claridge... What is your opinion? Seemed like Brown was a bust and Claridge had youth and potential on his side. It kind of surprised me that it happened before camp even officially opened.Frank

Brown is back to add veteran depth on the outside and battle for a backup role. Maybe things will work out better for him in New England after a year in the system and with him in a role he's better suited for. As for Claridge, all I know is we never really saw him. When he was on IR last year he returned to Las Vegas to rehab. I never thought that was a good thing. Evidently it wasn't, as he didn't make it to a second training camp. One thing I've learned over the years here is that if you want to make the team, you'd better pretty much plan on being here year-round working as hard as you can to get better. Otherwise, you better be so good that they can't afford to cut you. As a fifth-round pick, I don't think Claridge fell under the latter.
Andy Hart

Okay so I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Freddie Roach. That's why I am not the scout here. However I was wondering what your feelings where about our 2006 7th round pick Willie Andrews. It seems from what I here is he is one of those guys that has figured it out that the only where he can make the team at the moment is by special teams. Also how are the other later round draft picks doing like Smith and Stevenson.Donald Chisholm

Don't be so quick to cut ties with Roach. The rookie free agent had a huge hit on fellow rookie Laurence Maroney in a goal line drill earlier today. While I don't think he's going to make the roster, he might be able to stick on the practice squad as an emergency option at inside linebacker. He's a stout, inside, run stuffing player, now he needs to prove he has the speed and athleticism to do more than lay the occasional goal line lick.
As I said in an earlier answer, Andrews has looked good in practice on returns. I'm intrigued and look forward to seeing him return punts and kicks in preseason action. He's got energy in practice, that's for sure.
Smith has gotten a decent amount of reps at nose and in some goal line packages. Considering Johnathan Sullivan's current situation, I think Smith might have a chance at earning a job as the backup nose. Stevenson hasn't done much in camp to stand out from the rest of the second and third team lineman that have been rotating through the drills. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, though, and I won't pretend to tell you what exactly his role will be this season or in the future based on just a few practices.
Andy Hart

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