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Ask PFW: Mini-camp mailbag

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Over the past few years the salary cap growth has really taken off from fairly modest bumps of years past. That, along with Tom Brady’s price breaks, has helped Bill Belichick tremendously in keeping veteran players on sizable deals and not relying on drafts which were ranging from "drought" to "severe drought" in terms of talent acquisition. Do you think that Bill would have produced championship-level rosters if the salary cap was growing a lot more modestly?

Ben Larkin

I’m not sure I understand the question you’re asking. I think you are saying the draft and the cap increases are related, and in some ways I guess that could be true. I’m not sure I see it that way, as the cap has been dramatically increases for quite some time and the draft “droughts” as you called it have really been a recent thing. I don’t believe there’s been any conscious decision to put less of an emphasis on the draft due to having more cap dollars to work with. And with Brady in place as the best quarterback in the league, any roster around him would be considered championship-level. So whether the cap was rising rapidly as it has for the last 10 years or more modestly as it was back in the early part of the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders with Brady at the helm.

Paul Perillo

First of all thank you for being our eyes and ears during this period of the year, it is well appreciated. My question is about Danny Etling. So far I really liked what I have seen of the late-round pick (although that was not too much), and I would like to know what you guys think of the third QB currently on the Patriots rooster? With all due respect, there is no chance he could dislodge Tom Brady and the Patriots already have a pretty good backup QB in Brian Hoyer. As far as I remember the Patriots seldom carried a third QB on the roster. The rookie is fighting an uphill battle. What do you think, will he earn a roster spot? Is he destined to be a practice squad member? In the second case what are the chances another team would just poach him? Shall we see him in action during preseason?

Richard Farkas

At this point we have seen virtually nothing from a physical standpoint from any Patriots players since they have yet to put pads on and get to work. At this stage of the offseason it’s all about learning the system and getting comfortable with everything. Etling can throw the football but we have no idea how that will translate when there are plays being run at a high level in a competitive environment. We will start to see how far he has to go once training camp starts and then the preseason games will provide some opportunities at some point. I don’t feel that Hoyer is a lock to remain as the backup but I will admit that is the most likely scenario. Etling would have to catch on rather quickly to earn enough trust to displace him. But we haven’t even begun to see how any potential competition will play out. As far as practice squad or anything of that nature, it would depend on how Etling plays this summer. If he shows promise the risk of losing him would be greater and perhaps lead Belichick to keep him on the active roster.

Paul Perillo

As a Pats fan since 1971, I think it’s great that John Hannah, Mike Haynes and Andre Tippett all found their way into Canton from some of those solid late-’70s to mid-’80s Pats teams but I was wondering if you could weigh in on whether or not you think Stanley Morgan ever has a shot at getting into Canton? Without purposely wanting to throw Steve Grogan under the bus (as I loved his toughness and durability through the years but he also had more INTs than TDs over his career as well), Morgan did post some incredible numbers, especially his per/catch yards during his career while playing with mediocre QBs and average supporting casts. Some of his numbers compare very favorably with Lynn Swann and John Stallworth except Morgan never won a SB which I think sometimes carries too much bias with the voters. Do you have opinion either way?

Chip Huckins

Stanley Morgan was an outstanding wide receiver and very much deserves strong consideration for Canton. He played a large portion of his career in a run-oriented offense yet still managed to post some incredible numbers, especially as a big-play receiver. He averaged 19.2 yards per catch for his entire career on 557 receptions. That’s amazing production over a long period of time. Unfortunately, as you said, he had an inconsistent Grogan and underachieving Tony Eason throwing him the football, and he never won a Super Bowl. The latter point is probably the biggest reason he won’t make it, but he is certainly on par with Swann and Stallworth.

Paul Perillo

Love the work you guys do, and look forward to it each week. I was wondering how you think the new kickoff rules will affect the roster spots? The fact that running starts are now gone, will that mean gunners like we’ve stocked our roster with in the past (Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner or Jason King) will be more/less valuable? Could this open up some spots elsewhere on the roster such as RB or WR?

Justin

Chicago

I definitely think the new kickoff rules will lead to even more touchbacks, and touchbacks had already become more commonplace in recent seasons. But I don’t think that will lead to Belichick keeping fewer special teams only players like Slater, Ebner and King. In fact, I’d expect all three of those players to be on the active roster provided they’re all healthy. Belichick likes to have tough coverage players and there’s still the punting game to worry about and that’s where gunners play, not kickoffs. So while cover players on the kickoff might be less important there’s still a need for them on punts. Personally I don’t think teams need to keep as many of these specialty players as the Patriots typically have but Belichick doesn’t usually ask for my opinion on that matter. Despite this, I think it’s worked out OK for the coach over the years.

Paul Perillo

Every year there seems to be a “surprise” player that gets cut or leaves New England in some form or fashion (i.e. Kony Early, Cassius Marsh, Terrance Knighton) whether it be for overall fit or otherwise. Do you see any surprise players that could be on the bubble that need a good camp to stick around? I could see Dwayne Allen being the one driving that boat considering his lack of production.

Jason Bickel

I think Allen could be asked to take a paycut as he’s scheduled to earn $5 million in base salary this year. That’s a lot for a backup tight end who doesn’t contribute much in the passing game. It’s a little early to project a veteran who might be in trouble since we haven’t really seen any practices yet, but based on some very limited viewing of two OTA sessions I have yet to see Jason McCourty take a single rep with Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. As a veteran newcomer I would assume Jason McCourty would need some work with the starters, and for all I know he’s been getting plenty of it during the workouts that we haven’t been allowed to attend. But it seemed in the two OTAs we watched that a lot of young DBs like Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz and the rookies were getting a lot of work. Anyway, still too early to make a call on your question, but if veterans continue to work with second and third groups in training camp that’s usually a sign of trouble.

Paul Perillo

Rob Gronkowski is a great target for Brady, however he is brittle and injury prone. If he is injured, there is no passing tight end to back him up. Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas and Ryan Izzo all appear to be the big moose blocking type of tight end. Would it make sense to have James Develin double as a backup tight end? I remember him looking good on pass plays. Does he catch well or is it my wishful thinking selective memory?

Gordon Rowlinson

You are correct in your assessment of the three backup tight ends as being more of the blocking type. All three are stronger in that area than as receivers, although we’ll see how Niklas and Izzo perform as Patriots before making any final evaluations. You also left out Jacob Hollister, who did show the ability to catch the ball last season. And you also were guilty of “wishful thinking” in your view of Develin. The Pro Bowl fullback (your welcome Andy Hart) works with tight ends a lot but usually as an extra blocker. He is not a great receiver and doesn’t really offer much in that department. He will catch the occasional pass and has shown the ability to make a play or two in that area, but not to the point where he is a viable option.

Paul Perillo

Is Harvey Langi going to be around for 2018? He’s someone that I was excited to see last year and seemed to show (in the very limited time before being in a car accident) signs that he’d be a valuable addition to the LBs. After sitting out the year, has he shown any bounce-back? Does he show potential to make it onto the roster? LB seems to be an Achilles’ heel of the Patriots defense and I’d like to see what Langi can do.

Gil T.

I’m really not sure what to expect from Langi after his abbreviated 2017 season. He got a lot of playing time with starters during the preseason and was used primarily as an edge player being asked to rush the passer. In that department I really didn’t see much production from him and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him used more as an off-the-line linebacker this summer. How he performs in whatever role he’s in is an unknown at this point because we just haven’t seen him play enough. He’s a guy we’ll be keeping an eye on this summer for sure.

Paul Perillo

We have a freedom a speech and any player can express their feelings in public. But I find that Eagles offensive lineman running his mouth more than once at Patriots Way and now Cassius Marsh doing his "I hated playing there" explaining how he failed to perform after being traded for a valuable draft pick distasteful and unprofessional. Do you think that other GM's ask their players to be reserved about making critical comments about other organizations? Or perhaps some welcome it or simply don't care? Is BB's "no critical comments about others" culture unique in that way?

Ben Marcevitch

I honestly don’t know if Belichick’s style when it comes to dealing with the media – “say nothing” – is unique as I’m not overly familiar with how each of the other organizations choose to handle such matter. I know some teams (Pittsburgh comes to mind) have no problem allowing their players to speak their minds. Others (like Green Bay and Kansas City) are usually more reserved with their public comments. Personally I like hearing the players speak their minds rather than spouting clichés and not letting their true feelings known. At least they’re being honest. In Marsh’s case I couldn’t disagree with him more, but he has the right to his beliefs even if we all disagree. But as the Steelers should know more than anyone, words don’t win football games.

Paul Perillo

It may be too early to talk about who makes the roster especially given the fact the injuries play a role, but there are a couple of positions on offense which the local media is reporting as being very competitive: WR and RB. My question is, why would Patriots keep Brandon Bolden, who has the least upside among RBs even with his special team value over Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee as some suggest? And what about finding a spot for Phillip Dorsett, who is reportedly a possible man out by giving Kenny Britt a TE spot even as he plays WR if Patriots have no real talent behind Gronk and thus no need for more than two TEs on the roster?

Stan C.

You are correct in stating that it is too early to make these kinds of evaluations. Let’s wait for training camp and the preseason so we have at least some information to go on. In terms of the specific cases you brought up, I thought it was interesting to see the coaches working with Jeremy Hill on the punt team during OTAs. It would see they’re looking for Hill to develop another role in addition to a backup running back to provide more value and possibly make a special teams only back like Bolden expendable. But again, that’s a long way off at this point. Same thing with wide receiver, although I’m not sure where the Britt as tight end thing came from. There will be some competition there, and as you said, injuries will play a role.

Paul Perillo

How many college football scouts Patriots have? Do they have psychologists and bio-mechanics (to try to study and improve all the players’ movements) in their coach staff?

Gregorio Ladeira

The Patriots have a director of college scouting (Monti Ossenfort) and an assistant director of college scouting (Brian Smith). In addition, they have national scout Dujuan Daniels and area scouts Matt Groh, Tim Heffelfinger, Jonathan Howard, Patrick Stewart and Brandon Yeargan. There are also several pro scouts and scouting assistants, so that department is quite extensive. As for biomechanics and things of that nature, the team’s medical and training staffs do a great job of monitoring the players’ movements and training on a regular basis. I’ve actually tried to talk to the players about these monitors in the past but haven’t gotten much more information about it than what I already said. But I would say that the team in general does a great job of collecting and analyzing as much data in this area as possible.

Paul Perillo

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