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Ask PFW: Mini-camp underway

Deion Branch's absence and the depth at receiver highlight this week's mailbag, but plenty of other topics like the Johnathan Sullivan acquisition are on tap as well.  

I was just wondering if you think the Pats are going to go back to a more "traditional" 4-3 defense? With the D-line so deep and more than enough tackles (Wilfork/Sullivan anchoring) and a bunch of good ends (you know the names) and their lack of interest in "excellent" inside LBs, it seems like that would make the most sense. There are 2 great OLBs and one great ILB on the roster and 6 legitimate linemen. I know they will pick up another LB or 2 before the season starts, I was just wondering if you think the same.R. Ballou

I led off with this question because this seems to be a hot topic of conversation this week since the trade that sent Bethel Johnson packing and Johnathan Sullivan here in return. Many fans are in agreement with Mr. Ballou and believe the Patriots would be better served to go with the 4-3 as their base defense. I don't necessarily agree, but at first I want to state that the Patriots will definitely use some four-man lines from time to time just as they always have in the past. But it seems to me that Bill Belichick wants to use the 3-4 as his base, and one reason for that is it gives him the most flexibility possible. With the three-man front, Belichick can use his versatile linebackers as rushers while disguising it to the offense. It's this flexibility that allows Belichick to confuse offenses and create havoc. Obviously he can still do that with a 4-3 front, but not to the same extent when you're dealing with one less player who can potentially be used in a variety of ways. This is the main reason I believe that Belichick will stick with the 3-4.
Now, I'm also of the opinion that the Patriots defensive line is not nearly as deep as many fans believe. I think it's immensely talented with Seymour, Wilfork and Warren as starters, but with only Jarvis Green as a reliable backup, I don't believe the group is overly deep. Sullivan may add to that depth (and even if he does that makes five, not six as you point out), but he also may remain the disappointing, overweight player he was in New Orleans and provide little to the Patriots. Assuming he's able to contribute, he and Wilfork could play inside but Seymour and Warren aren't prototypical defensive ends in 4-3 sets. Now I have no doubt that Seymour in particular is talented enough to succeed in virtually any spot up front and I can definitely see this alignment being used. But Seymour and Warren would probably be better suited as tackles in most 4-3s. And playing a 4-3 could limit the options Belichick currently has when playing Colvin and Vrabel on the outside, where they now rush, set the edge in the running game and drop occasionally into coverage as stand-up de facto ends. I'd be surprised to see Belichick stray from what he feels is best, and based on his history that would be the 3-4.
Paul Perillo

My question revolves around the potential signing of Ty Law and how it might affect the safety position. If Ty is signed, my guess is that he and Asante would be projected as starters, which leave Hobbs, Warfield and Scott as the backups/nickel guys. My question is, do you see the possibility of one of those backup CBs being moved into the free safety position and moving Wilson to strong safety? My feeling is that the team would benefit more from having a guy like Hobbs on the field more than say Sanders or Mitchell. Of course this is all conditional on signing Law and Harrison not returning until late in the season.

That's an interesting thought, Tim, and certainly one that several of you fellow fans share. If Ty Law does return (and just to be clear, the staff of PFW does not know for sure whether or not Ty Law will return to the Patriots) there is a chance that one of the corners could move to safety. But even if that doesn't happen I wouldn't assume either Sanders or Mitchell would start next to Wilson. Even without Law, my guess is Artrell Hawkins or Tebucky Jones will open the season at safety with Wilson if none of the corners switches positions. And I would agree with you that Harrison's return will likely be delayed at least for a few weeks into the season.
Paul Perillo

Gentlemen never had the opportunity to play, not sure of the time frame to snap ball, schools to small for a team. Question is when Peyton has Colts get in formation, line gets set and he moves to do his antics and the back moves and then a lineman moves and a man on the end. Why is this not called for too many men in motion? He has at least two to three men moving at the same time.Don Kierce

The rule prohibiting two men being in motion at the same time only comes into play at the snap. All teams use motion where more than one players shifts at the same time, like a wide receiver going in motion while a tight end or back shifts his position slightly. This is only considered illegal if more than one player is moving at the time of the snap. That would constitute a 5-yard penalty for illegal motion.
Paul Perillo

Hi Tom Casale, remember our discussion a few weeks back, when I said many people have been knocking the WRs, and I suggested to you, not to look at just the WR, but also the receiving as a package, such as RBs, FBs and more specifically the TEs in particular I mentioned Ben Watson stepping up, largely due to Brady having more confidence in him, and you didn't exactly share my views! Then, this week, Matt C, mentioned some stuff about Watson, and to my surprise, you jump to Watson's defense, even going as far as saying his role in the offense will be increased due to Brady having more confidence in Watson! What's happening, I've actually put my point across and convinced an "expert" such as yourself that, we, the "non experts", can actually have a decent point.
Tim Hart

Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back there, Tim. After all, this is only Tom we're talking about. When Peter King or the great Andy Hart start changing their minds based on your thoughts, then we'll give you the credit.
Paul perillo

Hi guys, wow you guys really get the cream of the crop writing in, do any of them actually watch football. Anyway, I'm happy with the makeup of the team, but depth in case of injury could be concerning at receiver and linebacker. If they stay healthy the receiving corps is pretty solid 1-4 Branch, Brown, Caldwell, Jackson, but if someone in that rotation gets hurt it could get scary. Trading Bethel was a good enough deal and no great loss, but he might have been that No. 5 guy. What about for depth purposes someone like Kevin Johnson? He used to be a No. 1 and obviously his career has tailed off, but he could be an interesting insurance policy. I'm just throwing his name out there, are there any others that could be a fourth or fifth receiver? It's unfortunate Andre' Davis left town, he was ideal in that role.
Matt F.

I know a lot of folks are really concerned about this position, but I'm not one of them. I think as long as Branch doesn't get caught up in a prolonged contract holdout this group is fine. Assuming Branch, Jackson and Caldwell stay healthy, with Brown there to do what he's always been able to do, that's more than enough. How many teams boast five quality wide receivers? Yes, injuries are always a concern and that position in particular has been hit hard over the years. But every team has that concern and I don't think many are prepared to deal with their fifth and sixth receivers playing major roles. So if Branch and Jackson go down, then yes the Patriots passing game might be adversely affected. But I think that's true in about 30 other NFL cities as well. I don't see the need to add a guy like Kevin Johnson unless there is an injury to one of the top four guys, but again, I'm in the minority on this one. Most people agree with you, Matt.
Paul Perillo

First like to say I love reading your comments and analysis. I hope you print this because I want all those Pats fans who are concerned with our receivers to sit back and relax. Everybody is so worried with the Bethel departure, Well I am here to tell you all that it was a great trade. The Pats Receivers are one of the best groups in the league. Yes Givens is gone but hey life will go on. Let's break it down: You will have Branch, Caldwell (not great but definitely not bad), Brown (still one of the most dependable possession receivers in the league) Jackson (yes a rookie) but maybe he will be able to stretch the field. Now, throw Graham and Watson in the line-up and you have defenses spread out to open up the Run and you also have defenses having to use linebackers to cover tight ends and with Graham's and Watson's abilities that is a mismatch. So, now defenses throw in a couple more nickel backs and corners to try and cover Watson and Graham and now you give the ball to Dillon, Faulk and Maroney and let them punish those guys. Bottom line, our offense is still one of the best in the league. Defense is where we need to fill holes and nothing bad can come from the Bethel for Sullivan trade.

First, I haven't seen one person who is worried in the least about Bethel's departure. Not a single email this week lamenting the deal. We got exactly two that were against the trade last week. Like I said to Matt, I believe the receiving corps will be fine without Bethel Johnson and I'm not overly concerned about the position. But come on, Buzz … you have a rosier outlook about the Patriots than Bill Belichick. You say that Caldwell is not great but definitely not bad … what does that mean? That doesn't sound like much of an endorsement. Jackson is a rookie? Well, since we just drafted him no news there. Graham and Watson won't always be covered by linebackers, either. Safeties and corners cover tight ends too. Sometimes the Patriots will win these matchups and sometimes they won't. That's the nature of football … finding ways to exploit these mismatches. To say that nothing bad can come of the Johnson-Sullivan trade is untrue. I personally believe the trade is a wash – one team's disappointment for another's. But if Bethel puts it together in New Orleans and Sullivan remains a disappointment here, then I'd say that would be something bad coming of the trade. Chances are both will maintain the levels they've shown through their first three years and neither will be lamenting the deal.
Paul Perillo

Hi, my In-laws are visiting from Germany beginning July 9th. My Brother In-law is a huge Pats fan, as am I, and it would be a dream come true for him to see the Pats during his visit. I would like to know if there are tickets available for practices or scrimmages. I don't know if I am directing this question to the right people, but any info you could give would be greatly appreciated.Don Dickson

It's that time of year when the training camp questions start piling in so I thought I include one and hopefully answer some of the questions that may be floating around. First, we don't have the official start of camp dates as of yet. Based on history, it should be somewhere toward the end of July (usually late in the last week of the month). Camp will be held here at Gillette Stadium and will be open to the public (free of charge, by the way). However, some practice times and public availability can change periodically so it's best to check with every day for the latest in schedule changes, etc.
Paul Perillo

When a team loses a playoff game do they review the tape then clean out there lockers or do they just end the season without looking at film?David Felger

As a general rule I think most teams clean out the lockers and head home for the start of the offseason after getting knocked out of the playoffs. Now certainly the coaches would be reviewing the film before they call it quits, but in terms of the entire team gathering to go over the film, I don't think it's done in the normal manner after the final game.
Paul Perillo

Kudos on this weeks Q's. Tom Casale is quite funny. Good work! I'll still be giggling about Kliffy K as team mascot the rest of the evening.Jason Uechi

So you're the one that gets Tom's sense of humor. Most of the responses want to kill him because of his know-it-all-attitude.
Paul Perillo

I understand depending on how the Patriots handle Seymour's bonus this August, they may have available cap space in the range of $10-$15M. In your estimation is this enough cap space for the Pats to re-sign Branch to long-term deal, sign Law and still have a reasonable amount left over for managing current and future 2006 needs?
Len LaPadula

I do not have the Patriots latest available cap numbers (and I wouldn't believe everything you read in this regard, either). My guess is if the Patriots chose to they could re-sign Branch and Law and still have plenty of room to manage the roster for the season. I don't think the Branch decision has as much to do with cap space as it does with value. If the sides could agree on what they believe Branch is worth, my guess is the Patriots would have the space to do the extension. But something tells me with Branch a no show for the start of mini-camp that Branch's camp has a higher value for Deion than the Patriots currently do.
Paul Perillo

How important is signing Deion Branch before the season begins? We all realize his importance to the success of the offense but can we be effective if we choose not to sign him?
Chip Heard

In a perfect world the Patriots would re-sign Branch at an affordable salary and both sides would be happy entering into the 2006 season. But that's not reality right now. I think it would be easier if Branch had an extension before the season, but I don't think it's overly important. He's under contract and has virtually no leverage entering the final year of his contract. If he holds out, he must return at some point in order to earn an accrued season under the CBA rules. If he doesn't, then he'd remain Patriots property and still have one year left on his deal. So either way the Patriots hold most of the cards. The receiver depth is a legitimate concern without him, but like I said I just don't see it being in Branch's best interests to stay away very long.
Paul Perillo

Why wouldn't Law come back to the Pats? We know his agent is about money, we know Law is about money (the reason why he's not a Pat now and wasn't last year) But if Ty Law knows what's good for his legacy then whey wouldn't he return? If he returned he would most likely go into the Hall of Fame. If Law doesn't return, to me he'll be known as one of the greatest corners in NFL history, but he would also be known as a money hungry idiot. Take $2 million-$4 million less and retire a Pat and go to the H.O.F. I'm sure that wouldn't lighten his already bulging wallet too much. Last but not least in a one word answer in your guy's opinions will he come back?Justin Bridges

Why do you make the assumption that Ty Law is a Hall of Famer only if he returns to the Patriots. I'll answer that for you --- Because you're a Patriots fan. I bet fans in Seattle believe if he retires a Seahawk, adds another Super Bowl appearance or two to his resume, then he'd be headed to the HOF there. Same thing in Kansas City. My point is, we as New England fans tend to look at things from only our perspective. It's like when a player signs somewhere else we always say words to the effect – "well, I guess he doesn't care about winning" as if coming to the Patriots is the only way a player can win. Ty Law can cement his legacy with any team – how damaging do you think those 10 interceptions with the Jets were to his legacy last year? Personally, I'm hoping Ty returns because I happen to like the guy a lot and enjoyed talking to him. And to answer your final question on him – yes.
Paul Perillo

With the recent trade of Bethel Johnson to the Saints the Patriots appear to have a number of young/ developing players at the wide receiver position. I am sure that Jackson, Childress et al will have some role on the team this season -but are they ready now? (Sorry but I'm not sold on Caldwell). That being said who is available as a free agent or through a possible trade as a veteran wide receiver to complement Branch and Brown to start the season?

So you're sure Childress will have a role at some point this season but you're not sold on Caldwell? I have to disagree. Caldwell is a serviceable NFL receiver who has had trouble staying healthy. Bam Childress is a nice story as an undrafted free agent who didn't play much in college, but he has a long way to go before establishing himself at the NFL level, even at Caldwell's level. And Jackson will definitely be part of the offense this year, much like Branch was as a rookie second-round pick in 2002. There's always a chance for a guy like Ashley Lelie to come via trade (he's on the block in Denver), but at this point those are only rumors.
Paul Perillo

My question this time is regarding Deion Branch and the possibility of a mini holdout, a la Seymour. It is my opinion that Mr. Branch is not worth the kind of contract/extension that was offered to Seymour, not even close. Yes he is our No.1 receiver in an already thin position, not to mention a Super Bowl MVP but I really don't think the PATS will give in and make an over the top offer. He has never had a 100 catch/1,000-yard season and on many teams would not be a No. 1 receiver. Not to mention if this Chad Jackson kid is the real deal, (which I bet he will be), Deion may find himself at No. 2 before long. Do you guys think there will be a holdout and, if so, do you think he is worth the big money he is looking for?Rob K.

This is an interesting dilemma. First, I don't think Branch is worth the kind of money he's reportedly looking for ($12 million in bonuses and guarantees, etc.) In fact, I'm not sure I would have given him what the Titans gave David Givens (five years, $24 million, $8 million signing bonus). But Branch is better than you're giving him credit for. Does that translate to Seymour money? Of course not, Seymour is a special player. I agree that many teams have top receivers that are better than Branch. But it only takes one team to offer him a huge deal so maybe the Patriots don't want to let him get into that situation where they'll have to match someone's dollars. This will be an interesting story to follow.
Paul Perillo

Just a general question about rookie regulations for award purposes and in general as well. Does a player have to play a certain number of games in his first year to no longer be considered a rookie or is it as soon as he is drafted, he has one year as a rookie? In Willis McGahee's instance where he missed all of his rookie year with a knee injury, was he still considered a rookie in 2004 or not? And in Kellen Winslow's case, where he has only played in maybe two or three games since he was drafted, would this be considered his rookie year or not?Matt Breer

I the NFL, a player can only be considered a rookie during his first NFL season. So whether he plays one game or 16, he can no longer be considered a rookie the following year. Some players, like the Patriots Guss Scott, are injured and miss their entire rookie season but still aren't considered rookies the next year. Same thing with McGahee, who was considered a second-year player in 2004.
Paul Perillo

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