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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Jun 18 - 11:55 AM | Thu Jun 20 - 09:55 AM

Ask PFW: In full preseason swing!

With a long week to prepare for the team's second preseason game, there is a lot of work going on these days in Foxborough - both on the field and in the PFW offices! Ask PFW is back with another summer summation of how the 2012 Patriots are shaping up on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.


What can the Patriots do to, greatly, improve upon their running game?
John Moore

I think an improved running game in New England would obviously come from three things: improved blocking, improved running and a greater commitment to running ball from the coaches. I have a lot of faith that the latter two things are going to occur this season. I really like what I've seen from Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. I think both bring an explosiveness that has been lacking in recent years. They both also have more versatility to stay on the field for "all three downs." I also think that Josh McDaniels wants to get back to a more complementary ground attack. The team's addition of fullbacks this offseason, and use of two-back sets in the preseason opener, would also seem to indicate more focus on the ground work. So the only question is whether the team's offensive line will be up to the task. Getting Logan Mankins back will go a long ways in that effort, but Nate Solder has to prove himself and the rest of the line is a bit up in the air at this point. In the end I do think the Patriots will run better than they have the last couple years, although the team did have a somewhat misleading 4.0-yard average last fall. Maybe the best example of the complementary backfield came in 2008, when the ground game helped Matt Cassel by average 4.4 a carry with the top three backs (Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan) all averaging 4.5 or better a carry.
Andy Hart

I was more than happy on how the Patriots played against the Saints last Thursday. Our defense was sharp and aggressive. Ryan Mallet and Brian Hoyer looked promising and our run game was phenomenal. I was very impressed with Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones. Dont'a seemed to be wherever the ball was, he had countless stops in the 2nd quarter. But one thing does have me concerned, he didn't want to wrap up the opposing player, it was more of a push or bump tackle. I hope BB and Patricia are working not just with Dont'a but with the rest of the defense on tackling in camp. Jones on the other hand was a one-man rushing machine, he was pushing and shoving to get to the QB. Those 2 were a couple of great first rounders if I say so myself. The only other problem I noticed during the game was about our O-line. I noticed how our pocket kept collapsing and how Mallet had to step up to avoid being sacked. Also seeing that monster sack on Brady, not good. I also am wondering on what our offensive game plan will look like this season? Of course it will be a pass-first offense, but we do have 4 great runners (Woodhead, Ridley, Vereen and Bolden) so it is a possibility that we will run the ball more effectively. I'm also pretty sure that our play action will be more convincing this season. With these 4 speedy backs, how much more do you think we will run the ball? And will our defense continue to and improve? Hope you guys can answer these many questions, and as usual huge fan and happy reader.
Kyle Rodgers

Holy long, rambling email! I do my best to cover as much as possible, but try decaf my friend. I don't agree with a lot of your observations – especially on Mallett – but I'll leave that for another day and get right to your specific questions. I think the Patriots will run a bit more in 2012, as I said in the previous answer. But more importantly I think they will run with more success. I thought BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a pretty bad year last fall. I am very intrigued by the youthful potential that the two second-year backs bring to the table assuming they get some blocking to work with. Last year's 438 carries for the team was the lowest in any season in which the Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. As for the offensive line that will be such a key part of the rushing game, I still hold out hope that the unit will include Solder, Mankins, Connolly at center, Brian Waters at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. But clearly you have to have doubts about both Waters and Vollmer at this point, the former due to absence and the latter due to health.
Andy Hart

Why can't the Patriots find a way to motivate Spikes? Injuries and all, the guy's mind is not always focused, and that's where the team and organization can help. We need Spikes to show up.
Frank G.

I heard this similar question posed by a local media personality recently and thought it was crazy. I don't think motivation is in any way an issue for Spikes. He just needs to get and stay healthy in order to stay on the field for a full season. I think he's as motivated as anyone to help the team and is dedicated to his profession. But, to spin an old saying, you can't help the club from the tub. I don't think Spikes has any desire to be in the tub. He just needs to stay out of it for an extended period, and so far this summer he's been unable to do that. And if you or other people are referencing Spikes' strange Tweeting, I don't really think that's an issue. All players have to do something during their time away from the game. He chooses to spend some of that time doing some at times indiscernible tweeting. So what.
Andy Hart

With the total team depth on the Patriots roster, how many guys that get cut end up on the 53 man roster of another team? Could you give possibilities of players and new teams?
Thank you, *
* Brett Larson

I have no idea. I don't pretend to know all the weakness of other teams. New England had a lot of guys land in other spots in recent years – young guys and veterans alike. There will probably be some more this fall. Maybe one of the veteran tight ends. Probably one or two of the linemen who get cut on both sides of the ball. But in the end, does it really matter? And why?
Andy Hart

After the preseason game how many sacks do you think Chandler Jones will have in the season?
Viraj Patel

Andy Hart


So, my blind side protection looked spotty [against the Saints]. I thought we drafted Solder to fill in as a replacement at left tackle? Will Smith is good, but he isn't the best DE in the league. Will this be a sign of things to come? I'm 35 and I'm not sure if I remember how to run out of the pocket. Plus, I don't want my hair being messed up.
Tom Brady

Tom, you know as well as anyone that it's too early to make any grand assessments of any aspect of the team. You also know that Solder is a talented, hard-working young tackle with a lot of potential. He got a little off balance and seemingly overanxious against the Saints. I really think he will get better. If not, he'll get more help from a tight end or a fullback during the season, as you guys used to have to do at times with Matt Light. And don't worry about your hair, it looks much better these days with your short haircut than it ever did when it was long. Good call on taking care of that.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, loving the work! Long time reader first time questioner (not a word I know) from across the pond in the UK. Are the Pats' jersey numbers confirmed for next season yet and when will Dont'a Hightower or Chandler Jones jerseys go on sale? The reason I ask is because I can't find the new Nike, Jones or Hightower jerseys anywhere and I have noticed Hightower wore 45 against the Saints which I thought was not allowed for a LB??
Gavin Walters

Hightower will indeed have to change his number to something in the 50s or 90s, unless he gets some sort of special approval from the league. Hightower also cannot wear the No. 30 he had in college, which right now belongs to Josh Barrett. Jones told us on PFW in Progress this spring that he wants to wear No. 99, which he wore at Syracuse. From afar, Trevor Scott (who has 99 right now) hasn't had the best of camps, so if he were to get cut my guess is that Jones would switch numbers. Either way, their jerseys will not be shipped until the start of the regular season when the players' numbers become official and permanent.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys. I think you do a great job, and I think your opinions about the Pats are probably the most valid that are out there. My question is: Do you think Nate Solder can be coached up to play better, or is it an issue of strength and foot speed? On a side note... I was glad to see Chandler Jones look good against someone other than Solder.
Howard Wolfe

I am not all that worried about Solder. While he certainly needs to continue to get stronger, I believe he has the athleticism and footwork to be an elite left tackle. I know he didn't look like it in the preseason opener, but that was only one game. Let's give him a chance to settle in. I do think there may be some growing pains with Solder at left tackle against some of the NFL's better rushers. I also understand that can be scary for fans, with Brady's health on the line every snap. But in the end I think Solder is capable of getting the job done at a high level, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, long time reader thanks for the constant updates and inside info. I had a question regarding Jeremy Ebert, he hasn't been mentioned at all and I was wondering, with the depth at the WR position, what are his chances of actually making the team (assuming he hasn't already been cut and it wasn't reported)
Clarens Jarbath

Ebert is on the roster right now, and has actually been practicing pretty well of late. He missed the early portion of camp with a leg injury. But since getting on the field he's shown intriguing athletic ability and has caught the ball pretty well. I don't think he will make the team, but after a year on the practice squad might be a guy to keep an eye on next summer as a possible slot target and return option.
Andy Hart

I have read that Matthew Slater's roster spot could be a factor in Deon Branch not making the team. I have never been that impressed with Slater's contribution in his time with the Pats and I would much rather have Branch. Any thoughts? Thanks and keep up the good work.
Bill West
* Santa Fe*

If we are just talking about receiver, I would obviously much rather have Branch than Slater. Slater has done very little as a receiver in New England, and was really just the team's deep threat last year because, well, he's fast and there was no one else capable in that role. If he makes the team this year, and I think he will, it will be for his special teams work. He was the special teams captain a year ago. He's capable in coverage and as an off returner. He also filled in as an emergency starting safety last fall. He's a great guy to have on the bottom of the roster. But he's not a real option as a receiver. I still think that Branch will make the team and will be very surprised if he doesn't. I actually think seven receivers will make the team, including the likes of Branch, Slater, Jabar Gaffney, Donte' Stallworth and Julian Edelman, who's also as much a special teams option as he is a receiver.
Andy Hart

Well I heard the team is doing pretty good wait they are good anyways. Well who's getting kicked off the team Gaffney or Donte Stallworth?
Nick Costa

First, thanks for the well thought out email, Nick. As for the wide receiver competition, as I wrote above I still think there is a good shot the team could keep all the veteran receivers. New England has kept seven receivers in the past – in 2008. So I don't see why it couldn't happen again, as both Edelman and Slater are essentially special teams players anyway. If I had to choose just one guy to cut at this point, I'd probably leave Stallworth off the roster. I think he's the least versatile of the group with maybe the least left in the tank. But I think the coaching staff likes what he brings to the table, both athletically and in terms of leadership. So in the end I think Gaffney, Stallworth and Branch may very well all be on the roster to open the season if they are all healthy.
Andy Hart

Are the Patriots going to sign Kevin Faulk this year?
Velvet Davis

At this point it really doesn't look that way. While Faulk has made it clear – through the media and on Twitter – that he'd love to come back, there doesn't seem to be a need for his services. He didn't look like he had all that much left in tank last year coming back from a torn ACL. Regardless, it looks like the Patriots want to give Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen every chance to prove themselves this fall. I, for one, really think that Vereen could be a star and big time playmaker for this team. And if it doesn't work out with the young guys, maybe the team will give Faulk a call during the season. Stranger things have happened and it's a good insurance policy to have in their back pocket.
Andy Hart


BB doesn't usually talk up rookies. The last one I can recall is Jerod Mayo. What are the chances Hightower, Jones and even Tavon Wilson contribute heavily on D? And what's up with Dennard?
Anthony Nanni

First, don't leave Devin McCourty off your list of impressive, praised rookies. I'll be surprised if Jones and Hightower aren't asked to be huge contributors on defense. Both are penciled in as starters right now. Both have shown flashes of impressive young talent. I'm intrigued, although I'm a bit concerned with Hightower's pass coverage ability. But I'm being admittedly picky with that. Wilson has gotten a lot of reps at safety, and has seemed pretty comfortable in the defense. Talking to him recently he's not taking anything for granted and is willing, as all rookies should be, to help the team any way he can. Given the injuries and personnel changes in the secondary in recent years I think that Wilson will get his chance to help out, especially considering his potential corner/safety versatility. I'm not sure he's a playmaker, but he can't be worse than the guys that took the field at the free safety spot last year. As for Dennard, it's starting to look like it could be a lost rookie season for him. He's missed a lot of time with a leg injury and it could be hard for him to catch up, although Ras-I Dowling missed a lot of time last summer and then started the opener. But given the competition and depth at corner, Dennard could end up on IR and be an option for next season. We'll see.
Andy Hart

I was wondering how the secondary has looked so far in camp. Which guys are looking good? And have you seen improvements in Devin McCourty.
Dylan Henderson

I don't want to be labeled a cynic or pessimist, but I haven't seen huge strides in the secondary this summer. I would say the biggest gain has been with the stability that Steve Gregory has brought to the free safety spot. He's had a few nice plays in practice, but more importantly is just out there every day as a potential solid starter at a spot that was a turnstile of ineptitude a year ago. McCourty has had his ups and downs in camp. At times I've seen him chasing receivers, as was a huge problem last year. In my opinion Kyle Arrington has struggled at times in the slot, especially in his matchups with Wes Welker. Sure Welker is the best in the game at that spot, but Arrington will have to prove himself against other tough matchups inside in game action. And I'm still not sold on Ras-I Dowling as an NFL cover man. He makes some plays and certainly has intriguing size. But he still looks stiff at times, doesn't wow anyone with quickness and has a Tebucky Jones look to him. But, in a positive light, he's been out there practicing every day. That's a big step for guy who's been known as much for his injuries as for his talent dating back to college. Overall I'd give the secondary a big incomplete this summer. They still have a lot to prove before I'm willing to say they are going to be significantly better than the much-maligned group from a year ago. They also need to get some help from the pass rush if the pass defense as a whole is going to improve.
Andy Hart

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