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Ask PFW I: Dolphin envy?

The linebacker position has been an area of concern for many in the Patriots Nation and with Taylor signing with Miami where does that leave us? Does that make signing [Julius] Peppers all that more important? The Patriots pass rushing ability has been and seems like it will be almost nonexistent without the signing of someone. What do you guys think?Steve Kope

Alright, now I'm beginning to freak out a little bit....everyone had been hinting that Taylor was coming our way and now he signs with the Phins. It doesn't look like we are getting Peppers, and I've heard nothing about being interested in Pisa [Tinoisamoa], so I guess we need our safety's to play in the box all season to stop the run?!? Like I said I'm freaking out a bit...Rob Trunnell

Well, we've missed out on Taylor. What is the likelihood of us trading for Peppers now? As much us I think we'll have improved over last season, I have no confidence in us going all the way with our current group of linebackers.
Hamish Patterson

I know I'm beating a dead horse hear but with Jason Taylor now out of the mix did you think the Pats now have to make a move for Peppers or [Terrell] Suggs and at least one other vet. LB? Are you honestly comfortable with the Pats starting the season with what they have? I would just hate to see the year ruined by a poor defense with what I think is going to be another record-breaking offense.
Morgan G.

Not surprisingly after having spent much of the spring building hopes that Taylor would land in New England, fans are left very disappointed with his return to South Beach. The focus on the hole left in the wake of the Mike Vrabel trade becomes that much more intense. The notion that the linebacker spot is thin both inside and out is truly starting to worry fans of the team favored to win the Super Bowl yet again. I'm on board with those thoughts. I believe at this point that a lack of pass rush and overall depth at linebacker could end up being this team's fatal flaw. That flaw may not be ultimately exposed until December, January or even February, but at some point I think it will be exposed. It's similar to how weaknesses at wide receiver and cornerback were exposed in New England in the recent past.

Unfortunately at this point I'm not sure there are a ton of options to fix the problem. I think there is little to no chance the Patriots will/will be able to get Peppers, Suggs or any other franchise player. The cost of such acquisitions is simply prohibitive. The recent reports of trade talks between the Patriots and Raiders regarding Derrick Burgess are intriguing. He's a proven pass rusher who's succeeded in a place where even the great Randy Moss couldn't – the Black Hole. But he's also made his bones as a defensive end, lacks ideal height for New England's 34 OLB (he's only 6-2), is over the age of 30 and has battled injuries the last few years. So while he's an interesting option, he's not exactly the fail-proof answer to all New England's problems. He's probably not even nearly as good a fit as Taylor would have been. (Sorry, I know that's water under the bridge that Pats fans are ready to jump off at this point but it's also true.)

Even if Burgess ends up a Patriots he'll have to transition to linebacker and he'll have to be a part of an overall committee approach on the outside. Pierre Woods needs to prove he's ready to step up and probably will need to prove worthy of a starting job. Shawn Crable – who has all the physical tools – needs to prove himself valuable on the field. Adalius Thomas needs to stay healthy. All those things probably have to happen if the Patriots current perceived weakness is going to end up a contributing part of a championship-caliber defense. It's not impossible and it's still early in the process, but at this point in May it does seem like a lot to ask for. Time will tell how the OLB spot comes together and performs. Right now I, like so many Patriots fans, have my doubts. While I think New England is a virtual lock to win the East and compete for an AFC title I just wonder if it's good enough to go all the way with a hole at a major position at the heart of its defense.
Andy Hart

I was wondering the Pats have some openings at the linebacker position right? I was thinking wouldn't Derrick Brooks be the right fit. I understand they need to get younger at that position so you can have a core of guy for a few years. But I think Derrick has 1 or 2 good years left in the tank. Be a perfect match of a player wanting that final taste of wining and to club wanting to do the same. For example, you look at past Super Bowls with the Pats they had great players at linebacker. Actually that position was the anchor of the D, he'll also provide leadership, pulse look at it this way the contract doesn't have to be big. The Pats should try to seize the moment. Thanks.
Ben Harvish

Hey great work guys. Wondering i f you think we need more depth at the inside LB position. If so what do you think about derrick Brooks? Too old? Thanks.Mike F.

I just wonder what Brooks has left. He clearly was a very talented player at his best. And health doesn't seem to be an issue as he hasn't missed s start since his rookie year in 1995. He's only a year removed from a 100-tackle season and had a respectable 73 stops last fall. At least in name, he earned even his 11th Pro Bowl selection last season. Heck, he's also younger than another Tampa Bay castoff the Patriots signed – Joey Galloway. The two key questions are what Brooks has left in the tank and could he fit in New England's 3-4 scheme. He's obviously made his career as a Tampa 2 player. By all accounts he's been a great player and a great teammate. Given the Patriots lack of depth, I'd at least kick his tires. My guess is the team will do just that and see if it's worth a shot. It could also be a case similar to John Lynch who was still, in theory, a Pro Bowl-type player when he signed with the Patriots last summer. But it soon became clear that he was a slowing shell of his former self and his days as a contributing NFL player were over. I don't think Brooks would be a good fit in New England, but at this point in the process I'd at least consider the option.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, I really appreciate reading ask PFW in the offseason, it keeps me connected to the team even though I'm in the southwest. I have two questions I'm hoping you can answer. 1) With Taylor signing with Miami and McKenzie apparently out for the year our linebacker corps seems thin, is there any chance BB decides to go with a 4-3 this year instead of his 3-4? 2) I noticed recently that Ray Ventrone is listed on the depth chart as a defensive back. Wasn't he transitioned to a wide receiver last year? Is he back on the defensive side or is that a misprint because I know it can't be a mistake! Thanks for all your hard work through the offseason!!!!!
Jay Moulton

While we could seem some more 4-3 fronts this year (as we have at times in the past), I don't see Belichick abandoning the 3-4. It's his defense of preference and always has been. It's what he's built his team around. And even when the team uses a four-man line, a lot of the same two-gap principles remain the same. New England doesn't really have the personnel to go to a true 4-3 look, lacking pass-rushing defensive ends to make the scheme truly shine. With some variations the Patriots are likely to remain a 3-4 team and will have to work through any deficiencies the team may have at linebacker. As for Ventrone, he did work out quite a bit at wide receiver last summer and fall but is listed, by the team, as a safety on the roster. Primarily a special teams contributor, Ventrone neither caught a pass nor made a tackle on defense in 15 games played last season.
Andy Hart

What 4 games are the Pats scheduled to wear the throwbacks for? I know the opener against Buffalo is one game but I can't seem to find out what the other three are.Tom McNair

After wearing the throwbacks for the Monday night opener, New England will don the Legacy look again at the Broncos Oct. 11, against the Titans Oct. 18 and for the final time in Miami Dec. 6. The team's 50th Anniversary "Legacy" uniform is based on the Boston Patriots 1963 look. New England will wear red throwback jerseys for the two homes games and white throwbacks on the road.
Andy Hart

I know last week you guys were peppered with questions about linebackers, but I had a few questions that went unanswered. Didn't Tank Williams see time at inside LB during camp with the Pats last year, and do you think he could do the same this year? And secondly, do you think there would be any chance that BB could bring Rodney back and play him at inside LB? Thanks a lot guys, keep up the good work?Scott Macone

Williams did see plenty of practice reps in training camp at LB last summer, primarily at inside linebacker. But after missing the season with another serious knee injury I think it's hard to count on him for any significant role moving forward. I'm sure he will see time at linebacker in camp, working on a potential role as a hybrid safety/linebacker in sub packages. But considering his size/age/inexperience at the position and in the scheme I don't think you could expect him to be a regular, early down contributor on the inside. It's just too much to ask. I'd say the same thing about Harrison. If he came back, which seems like a colossal if at this point, I don't think you could project him to play a greater role in the box than he's played for the Patriots in the past. Safeties are safeties. Linebackers are linebackers. Sometimes the two shall meet, but rarely do they swap. Get what I'm saying?
Andy Hart

Hey guys, Great work that you do. Really like reading it. I just have a question about the defense, just like everyone else I'm sure. With the lack of depth that everyone keeps talking about, could the Patriots be running a lot more 4-3 style defenses instead of the 3-4 that we have always known them to run? They have some really solid defensive lineman up front and they got a bunch more in the draft. They helped solidify the defensive backfield with many additions. I just think that they will rotate the linebackers a lot with different formations. Thanks and you guys really do do a great job.A. Hammond

First, I'm going to pretend that the "do do" in the final sentence was a mistake and not a commentary on the quality of our work. Denial, ain't just a river in Egypt baby! As for the defense I agree that the Patriots will probably do a lot of different things this year, in part because the team lacks the 1-11 talent to just line up and play base defense every down. That's not really an option and not really the way the NFL works anymore. I also agree that the team has an abundance of defensive linemen and could probably send about a half-dozen on the field at any time. The old 6-1-4 sound good to anyone? The trouble is the roster of DL talent is built for playing primarily in the 3-4. True 4-3 ends are lacking. So while some four-man fronts might help get past depth issues at linebacker, I don't think it's ideal for the team defense as a whole. I'm sure we'll see it at times, as we have in the past, but not all the time.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, With the new increase to the salary cap, which I could use some clarification on please, do you think it might be even harder to get deals done with Wilfork and others as they may ask for more or see that more money may be had? At first I was happy to hear about the increase but now thinking that we could for sure sign our in their last year, the rookies we want and maybe even Peppers, but now I'm a bit scared that the players will get greedy and as we all know, BB doesn't like to pay too much for most players. And is it 12 million for this year because the NFL.com article said something about 9 hundred to the cap for this year? Sincerely, confused.Evan Noel

The salary cap for this season is now at $128 million. It was bumped up slightly by the league last week by about $947,000. The total is nearly $12 million more than the $116 million cap from last season. Reports have recently indicated that the Patriots are somewhere around $5 million under the cap at this point. I don't think the extra $900k will have much of an effect on signing players to extensions. While the extra room helps a little, it's not that substantial at this point. And you are right, the more money that's available the more players will ask for. Guys compare themselves to other contracts on the market. That's why we hear the names Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth thrown together quite a bit. Wilfork clearly thinks he could be the top free agent defensive lineman to hit the market next spring. Haynesworth was the top defensive lineman this spring and got more than $40 million in guarantees. I think that's probably the biggest issue in these types of negations, more so than exactly what the salary cap is for a given year or exactly what a team has to work with. Wilfork and players like him probably care more about how their paychecks compare to other players' than how exactly their contract fits under a team's cap. That's just the reality of the business.
Andy Hart

Question about Troy Brown's Number 80. Are they planning to retire that number this year? Also memory is short Retired Numbers 14,20,56 and 57?Raymond Hurteau

This is going to Hurteau, Raymond, more than it's going to hurt me. I don't believe there are any plans to retire Brown's No. 80, in fact the number has been issued to new tight end Alex Smith. Brown was honored during his own day at Gillette Stadium last fall. He'll likely end up in the Patriots Hall of Fame in the not-too-distant future. But I doubt his number will be retired. Due to a need for jersey numbers on what is at times an 80-man roster that way of honoring players is slowly being phased out in the NFL save for exceptional cases. And for the record the New England jersey numbers that are currently retired are 20 (Gino Cappelletti), 40 (Mike Haynes), 57 (Steve Nelson), 73 (John Hannah), 78 (Bruce Armstrong), 79 (Jim Lee Hunt) and 89 (Bob Dee). At this point the Patriots, out of need for jersey numbers, are de-emphasizing the practice of retiring numbers and putting a greater emphasis on honoring players with induction into the team's Hall of Fame at the Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon.
Andy Hart

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