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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Jul 24 - 02:01 AM | Thu Jul 25 - 10:25 AM

Ask PFW: May days and OTAs

Organized team activities (OTAs) are underway in Foxborough, and the 2010 Patriots are beginning to work toward blooming into a full-fledged team. But with the regular season still months away fans have plenty of questions about the pass rush, linebacker competition, Laurence Maroney and more.

With the offseason moves made by the Jets I feel they have leaped over the Pats as divisional favorites. If you compare the teams by position, I give the Pats the edge at QB, a push at RB & the O Line & the Jets the edge at every other offensive & defensive position. Thoughts?

My initial thought is actually a question. Interesting that the person supposedly asking a question, didn't. And the person supposedly answering a question, isn't. I just wonder if you can send an email to an Ask PFW forum, spout nothing but pure opinion and then turn it into even a vaguely appropriate question format by adding the word "thoughts" and a question mark? Just wondering.

Regardless, I'll answer this statement as part of the "Tell PFW" portion of this week's mailbag. The Patriots have a huge edge over the Jets at quarterback and head coach, that's well documented. I'd give the Jets the close edge at running back (obviously based the Shonn Greene from late last season) and wide receiver (especially when Santonio Holmes is available). I'll go with the push on the line. Defensively I think the nod goes to the Jets from front to back. There's no debate at linebacker and secondary. Of course all this analysis is on paper, in May and based on last season's results. I have high hopes for a lot of young players on the Patriots roster on both sides of the ball. If they all take big jumps this summer and fall this little comparison could look very different in the not-too-distant future.
Andy Hart

So we know that every NFL team goes through injuries each year, a lot of a team's success is in building depth to combat injuries, as well as just being lucky enough to avoid them. Although the Patriots have had a lot of success in the last decade dealing with injuries - and are very much built on a team-first philosophy, based on a players impact on a game, if you had to name 5 Patriots players that are the most indispensable, who would they be and how many games do you think the Patriots might lose over the season if they were put on IR during training camp?
Garry Gee

Gee, Gary, great question. No. 1 is easy, No. 12. I didn't think New England would win without Tom Brady in 2008, I'm pretty positive they wouldn't win without him in 2010. Sorrrrrry Brian Hoyer. So I'll say the Patriots would be minus-6 wins without Brady. No. 2 is Vince Wilfork. There is no true nose tackle backup and no one close to Wilfork's combination of skills. I'll say his loss would cost the team four wins. No. 3 is Randy Moss. He may have tailed off a little last season, but Moss remains the focal point of the New England passing attack for a lot of reasons. His absence would be minus three wins. No. 4 is Jerod Mayo. The third-year linebacker is a captain, the playcaller and should be a force around which the defense is constructed. (Minus 2) No. 5 Leigh Bodden. He may not be an elite player, but Bodden is the Patriots top corner and had a good year last fall. With all the other youth and question marks at cornerback, I think New England needs Bodden to be a constant. (Minus 2) Hopefully all these guys make it through the season healthy so we never get the chance to find out just how important they are to the team.
Andy Hart

Many fans submit questions about the lack of a pass rush in NE and list possible suitors, but you always shoot them down (although I agree that some of them are stupid). Who would you trade to get and what would you trade for them?Derek Dueker

I'll throw three names out there, each at differing levels of the market. I'd love to see a proven, big-money guy like Broncos OLB Elvis Dumervil in the mix. He's not ideal in anything except the most important category -- production. I'd send the Patriots first-round pick next year and then some to Denver if that would get it done. To me, Dumervil has proven himself a high-end NFL pass rusher in a variety of schemes. The Patriots need that. It'll cost a trade and some money, but why not try? A more bargain-basement trade option would be Cleveland's Matt Roth. Roth played both end and linebacker previously with the Dolphins. He's a big, powerful young guy who can set the edge and get to the quarterback at an OK rate. He's not elite but would probably only cost a mid-to-late-round pick He wouldn't cost nearly as much as Dumervil and he clearly wants out of Cleveland. (The Browns have said they won't trade Roth.) The last guy I'd mention would be free agent Greg Ellis. Not sure what seems to be getting the veteran black balled, but he's proven himself in the 3-4 and had seven sacks last fall in Oakland. In fact he's had at least seven sacks in eight of the last nine seasons. At age 34 he's not the solution to the pass rush, but he might be a part of the puzzle.
Andy Hart

I am not one of those Pats fans that starts hating a player for a few mistakes. I will never forget how a lot of fans started hating Reche Caldwell for one key drop, they tend to forget what he did all year. Same with Maroney other then last year he has been pretty fumble free. Last year he changed his running style to a more attacking style and had a few drops. If I remember Fred Taylor had that problem early on and moved past it. I assume Taylor is working with Maroney on this issue. If he can run as aggressively as he did last year with out the drops I think he is fine for our pass-oriented system. Stop being so fickle about the man. Do you all really see Maroney as a weak link>? I darn sure don't.
David Gannon

Maroney is neither the weak link nor a budding strength at this point. As his head coach would say, he is what he is. The problem is that as a first-round pick with seemingly sky's-the-limit potential he should be a lot more than he is at this point. If the Patriots fail to make the playoffs will it be Maroney's fault? No. If they win the Super Bowl will it be because of Maroney? Heck no. He's just a part of the team, a part of the backfield committee. For a guy with his supposed talent and potential, that makes him a career disappointment. It is what it is. By the way, I didn't see any great change in Maroney's running style last year to a more aggressive approach. In fact I thought for the most part he lost the big plays that he'd had in the past on his way the 3.9-yard average. How bad would his average have been had he not be so aggressive and attacking in style? (That's one of those rhetorical questions.)
Andy Hart

Its no secret that one of the Patriots biggest offseason concerns is addressing their edge pass rush, more specifically, the OLB spot opposite to Banta-Cain. BB is trying to reacquire the outside presence at this spot that has been missing since the days of McGinest and Vrabel. Clearly, in BBs defensive scheme, having a McGinest-type caliber OLB is a must. Do you think Cunningham (or dare I even mention Crable) is the answer at this position? Do you think Cunningham can be our next Mike Vrabel or Willie McGinest? (What about Crable?) The same goes for Spikes and McKenzie, I'm not high on Guyton being New England's future at ILB. Can Spikes or McKenzie perform at a level similar to that of Mayo? Which one do you see winning out in the battle for this spot?
Ryan Collins

Linebacker is clearly one of the positions to watch in training camp, so I really like this email. I am intrigued by Cunningham's overall package of size, athleticism and ability to play both the pass and the run. I wouldn't compare him to a top first-round pick like McGinest, but the idea that he could become a Vrabel-like player, with an emphasis on versatility rather than dominance in any one area, would certainly seem plausible. It's up to him to prove himself and show what he can do. As for Crable, I don't hold out too much hope. He's not shown the ability to stay healthy, back issues really worry me (except when it comes to my rookie man crush Rob Gronkowski) and even when on the practice fields in recent years I never saw all that much to get excited about. We might have to accept the fact that Crable looks the part of 3-4 OLB but may never fill it. On the inside, I'm very high on both Tyrone McKenzie and Brandon Spikes. I think we could very well be back to the days that, along with Jerod Mayo, the Patriots now have three capable bodies for the two inside spots. My gut tells me that Spikes is going to win the starting job next to Mayo as a rookie, but that's a huge projection since we've never seen either player in pads on even an NFL practice field. I think McKenzie and Spikes could wage one of the better training camp battles.
Andy Hart

I was wondering if the free agents and last years practice squad signees will have a chance to practice with the team first (before the 12 rookies are all signed) or how that will work, and what the remaining time tables are with the up coming camps and who will get to stick around for them. Are there any team camps the recent signees will get to practice at to see if they might have a shot with the team during training camp? I hope you get what I am driving at. Thanks.John Ozstryker

I see your fingers typing, but I can't understand a word you are typing. Many times the OTA workouts are varied, with some for the younger players and some for the entire team. Not sure exactly how that schedule is set for the team this spring. The young players had their chance in rookie mini-camp and will likely get a few more such opportunity workouts moving forward. But sooner, rather than later, they have to get up to speed with their veteran mates. That's the reality of the spot they are in. They are competing for jobs. And both rookies who are signed and those draft picks who are unsigned will participate in the OTAs and mini-camp action. Since I didn't really get your question, I hope that answers it.
Andy Hart

How you doing? OK I understand that the Patriots has re-signed Derrick Burgess to help with the pass rush, but to me he really didn't make much of an impact that I thought that he would. Do you think it was because it was his first season in BB's system or something else?
Paul Xiong

Your theory seems to be the prevailing thought on why Burgess might still be a viable asset in the pass rush in 2010. I agree with you in that Burgess was very much a non-factor in 2009. I never saw him really impact a game, or even many plays for that matter. Maybe he was learning the offense. Maybe he'll be more comfortable and thus more productive in 2010. Maybe. But I'm not sure I'm buying it. I think the best part of his career is by far behind him. I just didn't see him display an explosive step in his pass rush. In fact, I thought that more often than not it looked like he was brother-in-law-ing it with the right tackle.
Andy Hart

Paul, I just read your answer to a guy's question who said Chung was practically a first round pick and you disagreed saying that he was their first pick but in the second round. "Practically" means "just about". And I would say that 2 spots from round 1 is practically a first rounder. But my question is, how did Rodney Harrison do in his first year. He rarely saw the field and developed into one of the best safeties of all time. I realize he didn't "impress" in year one, but as an insider do you know if coaches are high on his football intelligence/intangibles plus having the ability to deliver a hit? Does he have the makeup to develop into a top safety with some seasoning?Chris

Paul hates Chung, what do you want me to tell you? Just kidding. Sure Chung was practically a first rounder. But do we call Benjamin Watson and Logan Mankins practically second-round picks? Just wondering. The bottom line is that Chung was not a first-round pick. Under the new format, he wasn't a first-day pick. That's the reality, that's why there are cutoffs. What are you, his agent? Sorry. Sure it's too early to judge Chung's potential. I tend to agree with Paul in that I never saw anything that had me all that intrigued. But it takes some guys longer to develop than others. Meriweather didn't play right away. Harrison didn't either. So anything is possible. As for what the coaches think of Chung, I have no idea. As the top coach would say, "You'd have to ask them."
Andy Hart

You really think Holt will line up in the slot? He seems more natural as a Jabar Gaffney type; an outside receiver who can get first downs opposite Moss and, occasionally, break one deep. Why not have Holt on the outside and Edelman in the slot? Unless, of course, you assume Brandon Tate is ready to start from Day 1.
Ethan Hammerman

This is in response to another one of Paul Perillo's answers last week that got fans all worked up. He seems to think Holt is a slot guy. I actually think the Gaffney comparison is a good one. Gaffney played all over the field at various times – inside and out. I think Holt could land the starting job on the outside opposite Moss to open the season, but will probably be asked to learn and play all the various spots at some point in the year. Though no long probably the speedburner and guy to stretch the field, I think he could still contribute in a variety of ways. But his role could very well be dictated on what develops with the young guys like Edelman, Tate and Taylor Price. If Tate and Price set the world afire on the outside, Holt could see more time in the slot. If they are slow to develop, he might be outside all the time. If Edelman gets hurt again, or struggles, then maybe it's more time in the slot for Holt. I think, and hope, he has the versatility and football IQ to play both spots.
Andy Hart

When AD continually said "Ask Bill", when Randy Moss said it's probably his last year, when Wilfork very publicly exhibited his angst and frustration over negotiations, and when Logan Mankins said from the ranch that no one had contacted him about an extension, I couldn't help but think that management could have mitigated some, if not all of these situations, by some personal communication. So, two questions: In the Mankins situation does management feel it's in a better negotiating situation after pissing off the employee, and are some/all of these problems attributable to Coach's communication skills?
Dave Anteski

First, I think that generally contract negotiations take place between the team and the agent. The player is usually watching/hearing from afar. That is, of course, why he hired the agent in the first place. So I think that muddies the communication waters sometimes. Having said that, I do think that sometimes Bill Belichick and the team could do a better job with its communications with the players. Over the years endless guys have struggled at times with a perceived lack of communication from Belichick and Co. I don't think it's changed too much. Belichick has done things a certain way for a long time with a lot of success. Why change things now?
Andy Hart

If Mckenzie is as fast and as strong as he says he is "I'm strong as an offensive lineman, so I can hit offensive linemen, but at the same time, I can go out there and run with a running back, so it's hard to say." (McKenzie in a resent article) then could we possibly see him playing OLB with Spikes next to Mayo in the middle?Jacob Templar

I don't think so. I think McKenzie (6-2, 240) is built and plays like an inside linebacker. I think moving him outside would take away some of his strengths playing tackle-to-tackle and put him at a disadvantage. I'm not sure he's long enough for life on the edge.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! I've asked this question each of the last two offseasons and its gone unanswered in the past. Paul touched on my topic this week, so maybe the third time is a charm. Paul wrote, "Others like Indy who generally exploit [blitzing] may see Belichick flooding the zones with extra defensive backs." Do you think BB's affinity with defensive backs the past few years has anything to do with the league becoming a passing league? BB seems to have neglected the front seven over the past few years while stocking up on guys like Wheatley, Butler, McCourty, Meriweather, Chung, etc. A few years back I heard a statistic that around the league over 50% of the either defensive plays were run out of sub-packages or offensive plays were run with 3 or more receivers. I don't remember exactly but either way, teams are throwing the ball more now than ever. It seems that BB is trying to stay ahead of the curve by stocking up on cover guys and athletic safeties that can also play down in the box. A pass rush is important, but if your best defensive players are DL and LBs, your defense is going to be in a world of hurt when teams spread 4 or 5 receivers wide as they do so frequently these days. And while no corner can cover a receiver forever, solid coverage can provide your pass rush an extra second or two to get the QB. We all know BB would rather give up the underneath plays than those of the down field variety so it makes sense to me that he'd sacrifice the talent of his front seven in anticipation of running more nickel and dime packages. Am I alone in this thinking? Do you have any similar statistics on the Pats over the last few years that would support or debunk my theory? As always, thank you and keep up the great work!

Joel Lindgren
Fitchburg, MA

It's rare than a question is far longer than my usually long-winded response, but that will be the case here. I think the back end of the Patriots secondary (and the defense as a whole) needed to get younger and faster over the last few years. I think you saw that, to some degree, with the draft picks. But Belichick himself also debunked such a theory this spring when asked about it after his selecting of McCourty. He talked about how a lot of teams on the Patriots schedule – including those in the AFC East – are more two-back, or two-receiver teams with the likelihood of lining up and pounding the football. So while I generally agree with you that the league is a passing league and that many offenses are of the spread variety, Belichick sort of shot down that theory on draft weekend. Plus, I think he's drafted some guys closer to the front in recent years like Mayo, Brace and Crable that balance the ledger out a bit.
Andy Hart

I know everyone is talking about Taylor Price and Brandon Tate contributing early. But what about the walk-on player Buddy Farnham. Do you see him making the final roster cut? And if so do you see him contributing any? And thanks for keeping us informed during the long and boring offseason.Zack Ross

Nobody at this time realizes that we have a diamond -in-the-rough. His name is Buddy Farnham WR from Brown University, I saw most of his games from high-school through college and right now i would say he is BETTER than Julian Edelman and I like Edelman. Everyone will see that he has many traits as Welker including his work ethic.Keith Verrette

First, at 6-0, Farnham is not really comparable in stature to Welker. And while I'm not buying it, both he and Edelman are listed at 6-0. He looked solid in rookie mini-camp, but at this point I'd have to say he's a long shot to make the roster and an even longer shot to contribute during the season. There are quite a few veterans and young players who are seemingly well ahead of him on the depth chart. But hey, since his potential playcaller (Bill O'Brien) is a fellow Brown alum, may he'll toss a few bones, err balls, Farnham's way.
Andy Hart

I realize this may be a strange question, how do you think the Raiders will do this year? With the Pats holding their 1st rounder in next year's draft, I was hoping Al Davis would give Russell one more year. Do you think Campbell gives them a playoff chance? What are your predictions? I know I am hoping for a complete flop of a season from them. The thought of having a shot at A.J. Green in next years draft makes me salivate.
Jesse M.

This is something Patriots fans will be watching all season. Many people said a year ago that the five-win Raiders were a real QB away from being potential .500 team. I've never been a big Jason Campbell fan. The big question is whether you think he can bring legitimacy to Oakland or will the Raiders drag him down to their level. I'd lean toward the latter. I don't have a ton of faith in Tom Cable. (Hopefully he won't hit me for saying that!) I have ton of faith that the Oakland front office can screw things up. My guess is the Raiders, who would seem to have a pretty middle-of-the-road schedule, will have a win total in the single digits yet again. How low that goes depends on Campbell. I'd be willing to bet it's a top-five pick come next April. Call it a hunch.
Andy Hart

Am I the only one sold on TBC? 10 sacks is pretty damn good for anyone. Everyone seems to think it's a fluke but is it possible that he's actually that good? On a defense with poor coverage and pass rush he stood out. He has to be one of the most improved players in the league. How likely is it that he has another big season like 2009?
Chris Carlin

Clearly Belichick is also sold on TBC. He not only brought him back to New England last fall for a breakout season, but he re-signed him to a pretty good contract this offseason. I think TBC is a good player, probably better suited as a backup or situational player. I think he works hard, has a great attitude and gives it his all to help the team. But I think there is a difference between a guy who had 10 sacks and a 10-sack guy. Guys like DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison and Jared Allen are true 10-sack guys. Their stats accurately indicate their impact on a game. Others accumulate 10 sacks, are good players and help their team but are not really impact guys. I'd put TBC in that category. And there is no shame in that. I'm not sure he'll ever get to double-digit sacks again.
Andy Hart

OK first off I've been saying this for a while. Guyton is probably the best fit for our OLB position opposite of Banta-Cain. He is fast enough he covers well enough, not to mention he can rush here and there(not all the time, which the OLBs are supposed to read and react). Second off if Guyton is too small than Crable is to because Crable is actually smaller than Guyton. By the way I listen to every PFW show.Korey Baum

I totally disagree with the entirety of this email. (And if you listen to PFW in Progress, you probably won't find that surprising.) Crable is 6-5, whereas Guyton is listed at 6-3. Length, and the subsequent ability to take on tight ends and tackles while maintaining control and leverage, is one of the more important aspects of playing OLB in this scheme. Guyton doesn't play with the type of stout presence that I think you need on the edge, the type that guys like Vrabel or McGinest brought to the field. I think he's best suited running around and using his very good speed and athleticism. That's not exactly the job at OLB. I'm not saying that Crable is any more the answer on the edge than Guyton is (I don't think either guy will fill the role in the long run) but he certainly is closer to the ideal measurables at the spot than Guyton is.
Andy Hart

First time long time fan of PFW I love reading your columns, you have great insider's knowledge and perspectives on the Pats. Last time on PFW Paul had stated that he saw Tory Holt filling in Welker's role lining up at the slot receiver position despite the obvious speed that he still possesses. Although I usually agree with you because of your intimate knowledge of the team, I've got to disagree with you on this one. First off I see Edelman filling in for Welker until he is able to come back. Sure he might not be able to take the punishment at that position as an every down receiver but he did great at the end of last year but getting banged-up in the process. Second, Bill went out and drafted two big athletic TEs who can catch and run with the ball making it 3 active TEs on the roster, when was the last time we saw that many? I don't believe Bill would waste roster spots or draft picks on these guys if he wasn't planning to use them right away so I see him working them in with Edelman running slot routes, more so if Julian starts getting banged-up early on. Finally, Moss seemed to be running out of gas early and often last year so I see Holt not as a starter but mostly as a backup to the aging Moss, giving him some rest while still having legitimate a deep threat on the field. I also see him lined-up opposite Moss to lengthen the field in certain offensive packages. Just wondering your thoughts on this, thanks and keep up the good work.Kurt Gloekler

I addressed earlier than I think Holt will play a variety of roles, maybe as both a backup and a starter, both inside and out. Clearly the tight ends will play a role in the offense and the passing game. (By the way, Belichick has more often than not kept at least three tight ends on the roster over the years.) Clearly the New England passing game is in some form of transition. That could include life without Welker early this year, life without Moss next fall and new, young bodies at both tight end and wide receiver that could make the future very bright through the air.
Andy Hart

Is it possible that Tom Brady would get paid more than coach BB?
Ben J.

Brady is already paid more than Bill Belichick (in salary and pro-rated bonus money). And he will continue to be whenever he signs a contract extension with New England that could average more than $20 million per season.
Andy Hart

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