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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue May 21 - 02:00 PM | Thu May 23 - 09:55 AM

Ask PFW: Mini-camp musings and more

After getting a first look at the Patriots 2008 draft class and rookie free agents at last weekend’s mini-camp, the options on the roster for the coming season are really starting to come into focus.

I don't know why some people are doubting Terrence Wheatley (CB) he seems to have everything going for him, good ball skills, tough, fast and returns kicks well, good coverage, the only down side is height. I think he could be molded into an Ellis Hobbs, and believe me it would be better to have 2 Hobbs, then a Hobbs and a Lewis Sanders, or a Jason Webster. Another point I have to make is Kevin O'Connell I think that was a perfect draft pick I like this QB. He has size, good speed and good awareness. I'm sure Tom Brady has a strong 4 more yrs. and in four yrs. Bill can do wonders for this kid. I just think he has the potential to lead a team, watch some of his highlights he's definitely impressive.
Steve Demoura

I think the doubts surrounding Wheatley are based on two things: size and draft projections. I don't really get the size thing because we've seen plenty of very good corners in the NFL who have played under 6-0, some well under 6-0. In fact, I think it's rare to actually find a taller corner who can play. Those guys simply don't tend to have the great quickness and change of direction that's needed at the spot. Based on watching mini-camp work, Wheatley is clearly a very fluid, smooth, quick, fast and impressive athlete. He was the best athlete on the turf last weekend by far. As for the projections, with many draft guides putting him in the middle of the second day of the draft, there's nothing he or the Patriots can do about that. I know the Dallas Cowboys really liked his skills and considered him a possible second or third-round pick. The Patriots liked him. They saw him as a second-round value. They've had pretty good draft success over the years. Good enough for me, even if I was at first a bit hesitant with the pick considering his wrist issues (a fused right wrist that includes a stainless steel rod.).
I have to disagree with the "2 Hobbs" comments. I thought Hobbs had a pretty bad season last fall and hasn't developed into what I thought he might be. He gives too much cushion, doesn't close the cushion, gives up too many plays and hasn't evolved into a good No. 2 corner, never mind a No. 1 option. Maybe he'll make a big jump this fall, but I have much higher hopes for Wheatley than what Hobbs was last season. Much higher.
Finally, I really liked the O'Connell pick on draft weekend. I think he's a very talented all-around athlete. But after watching mini-camp he's clearly a very raw prospect. He really struggled with his accuracy at camp, especially on some of his shorter throws. I think he has the arm, athleticism and overall tools to play in the NFL, but he will have to put a lot of work in this summer to be game ready for the season if he has any hopes of, as some people might expect, competing for the top backup job behind Brady.
Andy Hart

I just finished reading your comment that comparing [Matthew] Slater to Troy [Brown] is like slapping Troy in the face. Wasn't Troy Brown a late round draft pick that the Patriots originally cut? Then why is it so far fetched to think that possibly he could be exactly what Troy Brown was?Paul Snyder

Actually I think Matt Slater is a mixture of Kelley Washington and Willie Andrews. Check out some of the UCLA highlights on****. He seems to be in on every special teams tackle they show, much like Kelley Washington and he returned 3 kicks for TDs this year (blazing speed), so he could be a better return man than Andrews. Guy could be a special teams beast.Mike Beaulieu

Never has more been made of a college special teamer than Slater. I don't want to take anything away from him, but all he did in his time at UCLA was special teams. He never had any real stats on either side of the ball. He did a good job covering kicks and was a playmaker as a kick returner as a senior. All that is fine. But generally guys end up as just playing special teams in the pros after great college careers doing other things, as is the case with Washington and Andrews. Both were very productive college players on their respective sides of the ball. But as the competition got tougher at the next level they found other ways to stand out. Larry Izzo is another one of those guys.
Troy Brown was a ridiculously productive I-AA receiver at Marshall. He averaged a touchdown every eight touches for his career there. He was an AP All-American. He had 101 catches for 1,654 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior, adding 158 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He tied an NCAA record with four touchdowns on kickoff returns in a season while becoming the NCAA all-time leader in kickoff return average with a regular season net of 29.69 yards per return. That's as impressive a resume as you'll find and blows Slater's out of the water. Brown was cut as a late-round pick, but that doesn't take away the fact that he'd done more on a football field before he even got to New England that Slater may ever do. And it doesn't take into account the things that Brown did becoming a Pro Bowl receiver for the Patriots and then going on to even play DB when the team needed him. I am a huge Troy Brown fan and agree with Tom's assessment in last week's Ask PFW that it's a slap in the face to compare Slater to him. Stick with the Washington and Andrews comparisons, those hit closer to home. In the end, though, if Slater is successful he'll be a pretty unique story. We'll see if he's capable.
Andy Hart

Please tell me why Troy Brown shouldn't be resigned. He's a veteran (Vet presence in the locker room) and has done everything the Pats have asked from him and more. What do you think?? Troy has been my favorite player since he joined the team.Derrick Aquino

Love the Troy Brown questions. The Patriots decided this offseason that Brown wasn't in the team's future. I, too, find that disappointing. I'm still of the belief that he has enough left to help a team as a fourth or fifth receiver, returner and in other special teams roles. But I think you and I are both thinking with our hearts, while Belichick has to take a colder business approach. Brown was injured early last year and barely got on the active roster. I think Belichick looks at the 53-man roster and probably feels a slot that might go to Brown could be filled by a younger player with more long-term options for the team. For his part Brown has visited a couple teams, including the Browns and Jets, but hasn't signed elsewhere. So there is always a slight chance he could be back but at this point it doesn't seem likely.
Andy Hart

I really wanted [Vernon] Gholston to go to the Patriots at 7, and when the Jets took him at 6 I was bewildered that the Patriots didn't trade up to get him. He was my favorite player in college, but now I can't like him, as he is a Jet. Do you think that the Patriots tried to trade up to get Gholston or did they just think the Jets would pass on him?
Keaton Stoner

I loved Gholston as much as anyone leading up to the draft and was also teased by his availability at No. 6. We've seen reports that the Patriots had discussions with the Chiefs about the No. 5 pick, but I guess the bounty was just too rich for such a move. I don't know for sure if such a move would even have been for Gholston, but I still think he would have been the perfect fit for this team. Good news is you'll get to see Gholston play against the Patriots at least twice a year. Bad news might be that you get to see Gholston play against the Patriots at least twice a year.
Andy Hart

What are your thoughts on drafting Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite? Will they be able to replace Asante Samuel in the future? Also, do you think that Shawn Crable was worth their first third-round pick?Joe Delibro

As I said in my first answer, I'm very intrigued with Wheatley and think he has a chance to be a very good playmaker. Of course he has a long way to go to reach Samuel's level as the All-Pro was one of the best playmaking cornerbacks in the game over the last two seasons. I don't think Wilhite will ever reach that high a level. I think his ceiling is as a next-tier cornerback, either a decent No. 2 or a nickel guy in subpackages. I don't think he has the playmaking skills of Wheatley, never mind Samuel. In fact some say he actually has stone hands, something he showed in rookie camp by first dropping then making a falling catch on a sure interception. Of course Samuel had some issues with ball skills early in his career so we know a lot can change as a player develops over the years.
As for Crable I really liked the pick on draft weekend. Then I saw Crable in person at mini-camp and I can't get something out of my head. Crable has the skinniest legs I've ever seen on a guy his size. I mean his toothpicks rival Randy Moss' legs. I just find it hard to believe that Crable is going to be a great outside linebacker in a 3-4 on those legs. This is one of those non-contact, shorts-and-helmet reactions that people make fun of me for making but I will need to be swayed by some good action from Crable in the preseason to prove to me that he can be a successful, stout outside player with his lack of lower body power. We'll see.
Andy Hart

If Junior Seau decides to come back for one final run for the Lombardi Trophy, do you see [Jerod] Mayo still in contention for significant playing time? Would it be Seau and Bruschi exclusively inside?Cole Wiegmann

I think Mayo will be in contention for playing time regardless of the other linebackers on the roster. A top-10 pick comes with certain expectations. He doesn't need to start right away, but he should be in the conversation for playing time even in New England's complex 3-4 defense. My guess is that Mayo will rotate with Bruschi, Victor Hobson and maybe even Seau if the veteran re-signs. Then as the year goes on I expect Mayo to become a starter. You can't see much from an inside linebacker in mini-camp so I will have a better feel for Mayo once the actions takes place in pads during training camp but my expectations now are for him to be a contributor of some sort on defense right from day one.
Andy Hart

Greetings from Washington D.C.! After the first day of the draft, I was very excited to see Dan Connor was still available. I believe he is a solid LB who could have played ILB for the Patriots. He's a Patriots type of player. Although his Combine and 40 numbers weren't great, I saw him as a potential Bruschi type of ILB. Not overwhelmingly athletic, but a solid tackler with good instincts. Drafting him in the 3rd round would've have given us depth at the ILB position at minimum, and a potential starter in future seasons. Was letting him slip by a mistake?Samson Lin

I need an answer: Why didn't we draft Dan Connor instead of trading our 3rd round pick to San Diego???
Thomas Raymond

OK, so I was watching the third round on day two in the NFL draft, and one guy I was paying close attention to was Dan Connor. This guy was projected to be a first-round pick in many mock drafts. He would have been a perfect fit for the Pats because up till that point, the Patriots only drafted one linebacker while they still needed more. Had they used their first third-round pick (instead of trading it to San Diego), and picked Connor with it, then they still could have traded one of their later third round picks for a future second.Daniel Y.

Gentlemen, long time reader, first time writer. I watched way too much draft coverage last weekend and was left extremely disappointed when I watched the Patriots trade away pick number 69 when Dan Connor, the highly rated LB from Linebacker U., was sitting right there. Did we pass on an opportunity to have the Bruschi/Vrabel combo for the next ten years in Mayo/Connor? I was happy to see the team address LB in Round 1, long over due, became disappointed in the passing on Connor and was left confused by the selection of 3 LBs after the Hobson signing several weeks ago. Please help us understand the thinking behind the Belichick/Pioli plan.Dave Barry

Connor was a hot topic both during the second day of the draft and in the time since. It's clear that he was a fan-favorite of Patriots Nation. But I wasn't as surprised that the team didn't go for him. First, he lacks the pure athletic skills of a first-day pick. Obviously that point is moot in the third round. Then, I'm not surprised the Patriots sent a third rounder for a second-round pick in next year's draft. That's just good value. And it's not like the Chargers would just have taken one of the later third rounders, they clearly wanted to move up to that specific spot for a specific player – as it turns out it was LSU RB Jacob Hester. Lastly, and most relevant, the Patriots weren't even considering Connor with that pick. They were on the phone with Crable before the trade. They were then lucky enough to get him a few picks later.
So as hard as it is to believe for some fans, the Patriots didn't want Connor. I don't think it's going to end up as one of those Sam Bowie/Michael Jordan things where the team is kicking itself for passing on some great player. My guess is that Connor will have a nice pro career but I don't think he's anything special. Plus I think the Patriots addressed the need for a young playmaker on the inside with Mayo and wanted to add an outside guy later and that was Crable. Connor just wasn't in the picture and I don't think he's worthy of all the energy Pats fans have wasted worrying about him.
Andy Hart

I know that the Pats O-line was blown up in the SB. In all other games played they did a good job. Toward the end of the season they were running the ball like beasts. I feel like our line is in good shape. I know that they are feeling foolish after watching Tommy get his [butt] beaten by the G-man. My Q to you is...what depth do we really have there? Can we get a guy OR two in free agent looks. Regards!Norman Kreutzer

How can the Patriots not pick an offensive lineman when Brady gets pressured 23 times in the Super Bowl and literally gets abused? I know the Pats had many offensive linemen go to the Pro Bowl, but seriously how many teams did they play against with good pass rusher's ? I think that they really should have added at least one offensive lineman so far, what are your thoughts? ThanksNick Patel

Nick clearly read Peter King this week with his reference to 23 pressures, next you'll be joining King's campaign telling everyone that Richard Seymour didn't get any sacks or pressures in the postseason. But that's a different anti-Peter King rant for a different day. Getting back on track I will say what I've always said about the line from last year. It's a good group that had a very good season. They picked a bad day to have a bad day when they were embarrassed by the Giants front. By the way, the Giants did have the best front in football last year in terms of rushing the passer. So it's not like the line laid an egg against a bunch of bums. I do think the Pats o-line got a little overrated last year thanks to the great skill guys on offense and Brady's ability to avoid the rush and get rid of the ball. I don't think Matt Light is a true All-Pro and Koppen may or may not be one of the best centers in football. But they are all good players and probably starting-caliber, including much maligned right tackle Nick Kaczur. I don't think the line was a top need on draft weekend. How would it have been any different had the team selected a lineman on the second day of the draft and then cut him in training camp as was the case with three second-day offensive line draft picks last year.
I think the Patriots enter training camp with one of the deepest group of linemen in football. Light, Logan Mankins, Koppen and Kaczur are all back. Right guard Stephen Neal is dominant when he can stay healthy and while no one has told me this I expect him to have recovered from shoulder surgery by the time the season starts. New England's next group includes guys with starting experience including Wesley Britt, Russ Hochstein, Ryan O'Callaghan and Billy Yates. Dan Connolly, Jimmy Martin and Ryan Wendell have also joined the developmental program. It's a solid group and, baring injury, I'm not sure any bodies need to be added, even for camp work.
Andy Hart

Outside of the 5th round, Matt Slater pick, I am very content with the draft choices the Patriots made. I know it is early to project this early before training camp, but who of the defensive rookies outside of Mayo, Wheatley and Crable do you see being a lock to make the final roster. I really think Ruud has a great opportunity to make the roster as at least on SPT this season. He seemed to have had a productive career at Nebraska and also had the "versatility" of playing inside and out. As for Wilhite, I feel that you can never have too many CBs on your roster as long as they can fill their given role.Brandon Andrews

I think both Ruud and Wilhite have a chance to earn roster spots, but I don't think either would be considered much more than a 50-50 shot at this point. Ruud was very productive at Nebraska, is a film junky and comes from a football family. But to me he seems like one of those guys who was a very good college player who just doesn't have what's necessary to jump to the NFL. Wilhite is in a similar boat. He's got some skills/measurables but has plenty to prove in camp. Both players have special teams value. More so than with probably some 48-plus other players looking to make the roster, it will really come down to preseason and practice action for these guys and others as they fight for the final roster spots this summer.
Andy Hart

I hear Randy Moss is wanting to drive in the NASCAR truck series and wants to start this year. Is this a good idea?Darryl Cockrell

Moss, like many other players, is trying to branch out into other business opportunities. That's all Moss Motorsports is about. It's something his interested in, it's a business and will help to add some cross promotion with other things he's involved in. And he's not going to be driving the truck. He's just the owner of the team. That would be funny though. Could you imagine Moss squeezing his lanky frame into a truck and racing around the track? That would be a sight to see. Not sure Belichick and Co. would find it funny. Don't worry, it's never going to happen.
Andy Hart

I just checked some of the available free agent corners and I saw that Dominique Foxworth is still available. Do you think that signing a very talented young player like himself would be a great roster move? Also Ty Law is still available and although it wouldn't be easy to sign him to a reasonable contract I think it would be worth a try. Also Jeramiah Trotter and Takeo Spikes are still available and although the need for veterans in the linebacker corps in obviously not pressing I still think we should look into signing one of those two players.Jack Keilty

Foxworth was a restricted free agent. Signing period for signing restricted free agents ended so he remains a Bronco. I think the Patriots have done a pretty good job of adding depth to cornerback, a blend of experienced free agents (including potential starter Fernando Bryant) and promising draft picks. I wouldn't be opposed to signing Law, but I think there are enough players at the spot to find a few good ones in camp. No one in the group will replace or make us forget Samuel, but there is decent depth and experience there. As for the linebackers, I don't think the team needs anymore aging linebackers. I like the additions of Hobson, Mayo and Crable over the last month. There have been reports that Seau might be coming to town to take a physical, too. I think the position is a lot more solid than it was in March.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW, I was wondering if there were any rookie free agents that have a good chance of making the team?Mike Chase

PFW, I noticed the Pats picked up a couple of quality undrafted free agents in LBs Vince Redd and Gary Guyton. They both seem to fit the Pats scheme perfectly, but my question is what are their chances of making the roster as FAs? I would take either one of those guys over Crable or Ruud. Thanks.Tony

I think Redd is the most intriguing rookie free agent on the roster. He's got great size (6-6, 260), ran a 4.5 40, has a 39-inch vertical and is very athletic for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He had a couple missteps in his college career that started at Virginia and ended at Liberty, but he's worth a look. I think he's got a chance to stick in New England. The team had Guyton working both inside and out during mini-camp. He was productive playing both outside linebacker spots at Georgia Tech and had good running numbers at the Combine. He has questionable strength (15 reps at 225) and had a breakout year as a senior. I'm not sure he has the ideal size for a projected spot inside for the Patriots and like so many players would probably have to take the special teams route to earn an initial spot. But I still say that Redd is the guy the boys here at PFW are going to be watching most. And that Slater kid is worth a watch. Oh, he's not a rookie free agent? He was drafted in the fifth round? Really? Forget it.
Andy Hart

Mayo seems like a great addition to the Pats. But I wonder what impact [James] Laurinaitis and [Rey] Maualuga would have had on the 2008 draft if they had declared. Who do you think the top 10 picks of the draft would have been if both had been in it?Steve O

I think there is a very good chance that both Laurinaitis and Maualuga would have been top-10 picks had they declared for this year's draft. Mel Kiper currently lists them No. 1 and No. 2 respectively as prospects for next year's draft. My guess is they would have just bumped both Keith Rivers and Mayo out of the top 10 had they come out early.
Andy Hart

Since Belichick has been our coach we have had 9 first round selections. Seven out of nine of the selections last names started with W or M. The only two that didn't were Seymour and Graham. Those were his first two selections. After that he drafted Warren, Watson, and Wilfork. After that he drafted Mankins, Maroney, Meriweather, and Mayo. I thought that it was an interesting fact and just wanted to get your opinion.
Ian Noyes

I don't really have any response for this. It's interesting in an "I don't really know what to say to that" kind of way. But look for it to be published as a "Football Things You Don't Care About" in an upcoming issue of PFW. Thanks for the info. And let's not forget that an upside down W is an M. Sort of like that Lincoln and Kennedy thing. Not the former offensive lineman, the assassinated presidents.
Andy Hart

I enjoyed reading about the April 29 Patriots draft and PFWs comments to reader questions. Michael Hobbs asked why the Patriots didn't draft Mike Hart, who was still on the board in the sixth round? Tom Casale responded that the Colts were a better fit and NE really didn't need another running back. Sammy Morris is listed # 2 on the Patriots depth chart. I thought he was very effective in 2007 before his injury. Do you think he can recover and be as effective in 2008?Jerome Farnsworth

Morris is expected to make a full recovery from the freak chest injury that cut short his 2007 season. It was a slow recovery with a lot of waiting, but Morris began lifting weights again this winter and appears to be on track to be ready for the coming season. I thought he looked great last year as the most positive surprise on a great offense early in the season. Hopefully he can get back on that track this year. Either way I don't think New England would have been a good landing spot for Hart, my cousin from another mother. He landed in a great place in Indy, a friendly place for running backs. Ask Joseph Addai.
Andy Hart

Eugene [Wilson] wasn't the best, but at least he knew the system and Rodney [Harrison] is getting to the Nursing Home days of his career, but little was picked up in free agency and no safeties in the draft. If Rodney or Sanders go down, isn't there a rather large, forgotten hole in that sector?
Dan Sullivan

The numbers could be considered a bit thin at safety, and despite his protestations ('s Erik Scalavino taught me that word recently so I've been trying to work it in a bit. What do you think?) I do think it's fair to question how long the team can count on Harrison as an every-down starter. Despite my beliefs previously, it's looking more like Brandon Meriweather will have to spend at least half his time at safety as the primary backup. Veteran Tank Williams is also a safety, but I'm not sure what he has left in the … tank. (See what I did there. I had to chuckle to myself as I didn't see that obvious one coming even as I typed the sentence.) Maybe one of the other aging corners on the roster will see some time at safety in the preseason and if Law did come back to the Patriots I wouldn't be shocked to see him spend a little time at safety either. Position flexibility is always a key to any Belichick secondary and will likely be the case again in 2008.
Andy Hart

I have a question regarding the draft. I know that the team with the first pick in the draft can negotiate contracts with as many players as they would like. In the case of this year's draft where Miami announced they had signed Jake Long, could St. Louis have begun to negotiate with their preferred players?
Paul Obringer

No one really knows the answer to this question, Paul. Not even the NFL. The league said it wasn't allowing the Rams to negotiate but then it didn't really know what the specific rules on the matter were. It's an issue that Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a radio interview the league would look at moving forward and come up with a definitive rule to work with. It would seem fair to let the next team in line negotiate, but what if half the first round is over before the draft even starts? That's something the league needs to consider.
Andy Hart

Belichick made comparisons between Crable and Pierre Woods in his post-draft press conference. Does anybody know why Bill wants another Woods when he doesn't see fit to give any playing time to the Woods he already has? Or is there some intangible difference between the two that Belichick sees and no one else can?Craig Johnson

I, too, noticed the multiple references to Woods and was making jokes wondering why they drafted a special teamer in the third round. (You obviously wait until the fifth round to get those guys.) But I think it had more to do with the physical similarities with the players – Woods is 6-5, 250 while Crable is 6-5, 243 – and the school/defense they came from. I don't think Belichick was trying to say they are essentially the same player or type of prospect. I would think, even if he won't admit it, that he has higher hopes for a third-round pick than he did for an undrafted free agent.
Andy Hart

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