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Ask PFW: Ideas on defense

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag 


Should [head coach Bill] Belichick trade for Haason Reddick to add some athleticism and depth to the linebacker group? Max Starke

Arizona are said to be shopping Reddick. Do you think the Patriots would be interested? He would add much needed speed to the linebacker position. Len Carmody

Well, it's a position of need and Reddick is a seemingly available player, so, I wouldn't rule it out. You have to ask yourself, though, why a player of Reddick's caliber (13th overall pick in 2017) has so quickly fallen out of favor in Phoenix.

Is it simply that he cannot grasp new head coach Steven Wilks' system, as some media outlets have suggested? If so, you have to wonder how much better he'd adapt to New England's defensive playbook. I'd be intrigued to find out, though, if the Patriots have any interest in getting Reddick prior to this year's Oct. 30 NFL trade deadline. Erik Scalavino

A weakness of the Patriots and a lot of teams is the lack of speed of the linebackers while attempting to cover a running back on pass plays. During the Indianapolis game, James White was very effective outrunning Colts linebackers on pass plays. It can't be much fun for linebackers to be consistently burned by faster running backs. Wouldn't it make sense for teams to have one player in the linebacker position that is a linebacker-defense back hybrid?

Such a player would be smaller than a linebacker and bigger than a defense back. He wouldn't handle the run as well as the other linebackers, but he would be the guy that watched for the running back coming out of the backfield. The Patriots appeared to be experimenting with such a position in last year's preseason with Jordan Richards. But perhaps that was my imagination. Why not develop players for such a position? Gordon Rowlinson

Essentially, what you're suggesting already exists in the form of a safety, which is what Richards was. However, I'm thinking of an even bigger player like former Patriot Rodney Harrison. It's just not that easy to find such players or to develop them, or else more teams would have them. Erik Scalavino

With a struggling pass rush, why can't Derek Rivers get on the field? Chris Bovie

Excellent question, Chris. It's one we've been asking ourselves around the office this season. I can only surmise that either the coaching staff doesn't believe he's ready – physically or otherwise – to contribute, or that he isn't versatile enough to crack the 46-man game day roster. If there's another reason, I'm not aware of it. In any case, it's disappointing not to see Rivers on the field. I thought he had a good chance of being part of a pass rush rotation, at the very least. _Erik Scalavino _

Why haven't the Patriots ever had a defense for the ages like the 2000 Ravens? Michael Sargent

Not sure when you started watching the Patriots, but perhaps it was after the 2003 and '04 seasons, when New England had one of the most dominant defense in the league. Erik Scalavino

Rookie running back Ralph Webb was cut, but I though he looked really good. Is he signed with anyone? I would like to see him signed by the Patriots. We need at least one more back right? John Trocki

Yes, Webb was released from the Patriots' practice squad this week, and the Patriots are unusually thin at the running back position, which is why they also re-signed veteran Kenjon Barner. Had the Patriots wanted to add Webb to their 53-man roster, they could have easily promoted him from the practice squad. Apparently, they don't feel that the need is so great that they needed to do that, but I wouldn't rule out Webb being back on the practice squad at some point this year if he doesn't find work elsewhere in the league. Erik Scalavino

It seems to me that the Pats have to get another RB, someone who can play, not just a guy who takes a couple of snaps here and there. They can't make it through the season with two backs. So do you have any ideas about RBs who might be available for trade around the league? Or (unlikely) anyone who's out of work, and who could do the job? _Dave Pineo _

I know a really good back who may or may not be on the trading block (depending on which media reports you believe), but I doubt Pittsburgh would ship Le'Veon Bell to one of its top AFC rivals.

That said, New England now has three backs with Barner re-joining White and rookie Sony Michel. It's possible that veteran Rex Burkhead could be activated off injured reserve later this year as well. With Michel continuing to grow in this offense each week, I don't think New England is in panic mode yet when it comes to their running back position. Erik Scalavino

Considering left tackle play is key to keeping Tom Brady healthy, how is Trent Brown grading out versus his predecessor, Nate Solder? Randy Poulton

Offensive linemen are given grades by their position coaches each week, but I don't pretend to know exactly how that scoring system is utilized here in New England. I simply go by another trusted method – my own two eyes. Those tell me that Brown has been a rather effective replacement for Solder. He's had a few mistakes now and then, but overall, I don't see much difference, in terms of on-field performance, between him and nice-guy Nate, who's now with the New York Giants. Erik Scalavino

My question is about special teams, in particular the new kick return rules. It seems like BB has had a big change in philosophy and prefers that [placekicker Stephen] Gostkowski kick touchbacks rather than aiming the ball towards the goal line and forcing returns. If that's the case, do you think he will reevaluate the number of special teams-only players the Patriots are carrying on the roster? [Matthew] Slater, [Nate] Ebner, [Nicholas] Grigsby, and probably [Geneo] Grissom fall into that category.

None of the above gives you much of anything outside of special teams, although they do have traditional O and D positions, at least on paper. The Patriots really need depth at LB and it just seem like too many assets are devoted to a specific skill that looks like it is diminishing. Granted with cold weather games, it will be harder for kickers to provide touchbacks, but 3-4 guys on the roster in this role just seems a luxury they can't afford. Alan Bernstein

While there have been more intentional touchbacks this year through the first five games, it's important to remember that "special teams" is more than just the kickoff team. Belichick stresses often that it's important to have players like those you mentioned to fill roles on the field goal/field goal block, punt/punt return, and kickoff/kickoff return teams. If one of those players goes down, he tells us, it's not always a simple matter of inserting another guy at his spot, because those core special teamers often take up several positions on those six units and have developed a certain set of skills that another player might not easily be able to replicate.

So, no, I don't see Belichick changing his roster or his overall philosophy regarding special teams players. Erik Scalavino

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