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Ask PFW: More about Marty

I am puzzled about the Martellus Bennett injury situation and hope you can shed some light on it. What are the individual’s and team’s responsibilities for reporting injuries to the league? Was Green Bay just trying to get out of paying Bennett? Did he have to pass a physical to sign with Patriots? What was the Patriots’ responsibility to league on reporting of the physical if one was conducted? What is the Patriots’ responsibility to league going forward? Thanks. Stephen LeShane

Generally speaking, teams are required to report any injuries that cause players to miss playing time in practice or games. Of course, they can’t do so unless it becomes clear to them that a player is dealing with an injury.

In Bennett’s case, as we understand it, he suffered a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum at some point either prior to joining the Packers are thereafter. He managed to pass a physical examination with Green Bay in order for them to sign him, so, if he was dealing with the condition before signing, he apparently didn’t disclose it to them at the time.

If he suffered it subsequently, again, he must have decided he could play through the pain until midseason, when he told his then-head coach, Mike McCarthy, about the injury.

McCarthy and Bennett have both stated publicly that Bennett was encouraged to and in fact did seek opinions from multiple doctors while trying to decide if surgery was required. While this process was ongoing, the Packers decided to release Bennett and cited his failure to disclose earlier that he’d been dealing with an injury. Their reasoning behind the move – whether they just didn’t want to pay him or whatever the case may be – is not entirely clear, but what is evident is that the Packers no longer felt that it was in their best interest to keep Bennett on the roster.

Now that the injury is in the public sphere, New England’s responsibility is to list Bennett on the weekly injury reports for as long as the ailment persists in limiting Bennett’s ability to participate in practice and games. Erik Scalavino

I’ve been a "Kool-Aid" drinker since ‘01 and didn’t question BB after [Logan] Mankins, [Chandler] Jones, [Jamie] Collins, and Jimmy [Garoppolo] were traded. But I don’t understand the [Martellus] Bennett re-acquisition. It seems to me our defense, especially the front 7, has needed an upgrade ALL season, but BB keeps five RBs, plus [fullback James] Develin, adds TEs, and hasn’t effectively replaced [Dont’a] Hightower, [Shea] McClellin, [Rob] Ninkovich, [Jabaal] Sheard, [Chris] Long, [Derek] Rivers, etc. Defense wins championships. Am I missing something? Tom DiGangi

There’s no denying that New England’s defense has taken significant hits with losses of talent (trades, free agency, injuries, retirement), but as we saw in Denver the other night, a talented defense (like the Broncos) doesn’t always beat an equally powerful offense. I’m not dismissing the need to improve on defense, let me be clear, but if someone of Bennett’s skills becomes available and basically falls back into the Patriots’ lap, I have no problem with Bill Belichick’s decision to bolster his tight end roster and thereby add another element to an already potent attack.

If there were more quality defenders available for New England to bring on board, I’m sure they would do so, but at this point in the season, teams are essentially forced to make do with what they already have. Erik Scalavino

As far as acclimating to the altitude [in Denver and Mexico City], in the military, they tell us 21 days is needed to fully acclimate. However, we go 50 percent over three days and then 100 percent on the 4th day. You can feel the difference each day, you go from sucking wind to being able to keep pace just over three days. Why don’t our boys get there earlier and give themselves a bit more of a chance to acclimate? Brian Gray

Thank you for your service, Brian. One of the reasons the Patriots decided to stay in Colorado this week before heading down to Mexico is to get acclimatized to the thin air of these two locations. As you said, taking things lightly in the beginning helps you adjust in as few as three days. So, while spending more time in high altitudes would benefit anyone, New England’s 10-day junket is sure to provide sufficient time for the players to get their lungs used to the environment. As you saw this past Sunday, it wasn’t the Patriots who appeared to be “sucking wind” at Mile High. Erik Scalavino

What would be any good reasoning that rule makers would limit teams to activating no more than two players a year off of IR? It’s hard to understand that if players are healthy enough to play the NFL limits their availability just because of this rule. That hurts the players’ ability to perform and help earn money, hurts the team, and I think hurts the product of the NFL for fans. Austin Evans

The main reason I can come up with, Austin, is that the league doesn’t want teams “saving” players (who aren’t necessarily deserving of being placed on injured reserve in the first place) for later in the season. When players are on IR, they don’t count toward a team’s 53-man roster, which means clubs could, in theory, also “stash” more players than are currently reasonably allowed and prevent them from joining other clubs. Perhaps allowing just two legitimately injured players to return is too few, in your estimation, but allowing for unlimited use of this procedure would be counterproductive as well to the overall wellbeing of the league, as you suggest. Erik Scalavino

The front seven has a lot of questions marks and I see we signed Ricky Jean Francois. Do you see him having an instant impact? Can you give me more insight on Shea McClellin’s injury setback? Akim Gibson

Well, Jean Francois (his last name is two words, not hyphenated) did see action against Denver, albeit limited, given that it was his first opportunity to play in a game for New England after arriving just days earlier. He’s a solid veteran who has bounced around the NFL, so, I’m not expecting him to be a difference-maker on this defense.

In general, players who arrive this far into the season aren’t of “instant impact” caliber. They’re usually journeymen or less experienced players brought in to provide depth to a roster. If they wind up contributing frequently and having success, that’s a bonus, but it shouldn’t be expected of most players acquired at this stage.

McClellin’s case is a concern. He has a history of concussions, and it is believed that is what sidelined him again this season (the team has not specified what his ailment is because it occurred during the preseason, when player injuries are not required to be disclosed). McClellin practiced for three weeks prior to the Denver game and appeared poised to be one of New England’s two players designated to return from injured reserve. In fact, New England did assign him that designation when he started practicing again in October.

Something must have happened in the last practice before the bye, however, because that’s the last time we saw McClellin on the field. His window for being activated has now passed, and we are left to extrapolate from these details that he suffered some sort of setback. I have concerns now about his long-term availability and health, as we’ve seen too many examples of players with concussion histories not be able to continue their NFL careers. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be the case with McClellin, but at the moment, it’s definitely something to monitor. Erik Scalavino

I was just wondering what your thoughts were on Geneo Grissom. For all the talk about players like Phillip Dorsett over the bye week, I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about the possibility of Grissom maybe stepping up on defense on the edge or even at LB, which I feel are by far the thinnest positions on the team. With Hightower and McClellan seemingly out for the season, is it unreasonable to think that maybe Grissom could make some sort of a leap?

The guy was a third-round pick in ’15, actually picked ahead of [Trey] Flowers, and had a lot of people excited about his athleticism and versatility coming out of Oklahoma, but he has certainly been underwhelming on the pro level so far. But what’s stopping him from stepping up here with DE and LB so thin? And what has held him back from being successful in the past?

Is it possible that he could be a “late bloomer,” so to speak, or is what we have seen from him thus far indicative of his ceiling as a player in this system? I know he has carved out a role for himself on special teams, and that Bill obviously values that role, but is it unrealistic to think that he could now do the same thing on defense? And is that really an unfair expectation for a third-round pick? And why is no one really talking about this guy? Thanks. Keaton Beams

Grissom is a player the Patriots obviously like to some extent, because even though he remains on the margins of the roster, he also continues to be brought back in one capacity or another. At this point in his career, though, he is a known commodity to the coaching staff and has likely reached his talent ceiling.

I agree with you about the need for an infusion of talent at the pass rush positions, but the fact that Grissom (who’s on the practice squad at the moment) hasn’t been given a regular opportunity there is an indication of how his coaches feel about his ability to contribute on defense. Erik Scalavino

When the two things the refs are looking for on kickoffs and punt returns are holding and blocking in the back, why do the Patriots and other teams constantly keep getting flagged for these penalties and severely hurt good field position? Very frustrating to understand why they can’t clean up these penalties. Dick Williams

It does seem like whenever there’s a positive return, there’s too often a penalty flag that accompanies it. And the two infractions you mentioned are generally the ones called in those situations. It’s been that way for years, all across the NFL, and I share your frustration.

Each summer during training camp, we get a chance to meet with officiating crews to ask about anything referee-related. A few years back, I asked one official this very question and he responded that he didn’t believe it was as frequent a problem as we do. I found that hard to believe, but he maintained his stance. I’ll try again by asking New England’s special teams captain, Matthew Slater, and other core special teams players next chance I get.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see a great example of perfect special teams execution, check out the Dion Lewis kickoff return for a touchdown against Denver in Week 10. His teammates gave him some fantastic blocks and one of them made a tremendous effort to avoid what would have been an easy block-in-the-back penalty. Erik Scalavino

You guys obviously have far closer access than other media and fans to the front office and team, but can’t discuss publicly what you know until it someone else has broken the news. So I have two questions. 1) What is the biggest secret you've had to sit on (obviously only something we all now know) until it became public knowledge? 2) What has been the biggest shock news that you didn’t even get a whiff of that surprised you when it came out publicly before you knew anything about it? Thanks for all your great work entertaining and informing us. Ben Chudleigh

I’ll start with your second question and cite a very recent example: Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade. Never saw that coming when it did. Had it happened this past spring, prior to the draft, or later this coming offseason in some sort of sign-and-trade kind of exchange, I wouldn’t have been as stunned, but the timing – in mid-season – took me by complete surprise. Your first question is much harder to pinpoint because there are just so many examples. Erik Scalavino

What is Jonathan Jones’ role now? I thought he was playing very well (according to what I read in PFW), yet [fellow cornerback Johnson] Bademosi started ahead of him with [safety/co-captain Duron] Harmon playing the star position. And BB is still speaking highly about him.

Same question for Jordan Richards. Apparently he’s getting a lot more playing time than I would have expected given that there are no injuries to the players ahead of him. Is he going to end up being a solid player for the Patriots (not necessarily a starter)? DR Pineo

The answer is essentially the same for both of these players. They’re primarily counted on to provide special teams assistance, with limited roles on defense. Jones has certainly gotten more work on D in this, his second season, as a slot corner, while Richards has been a surprise contributor in a linebacker-type role at times this year (his third). Of the two, I’d say Jones has probably more potential to become a regular contributor on defense, given his speed and skills, but I think we’re starting to get an idea of what each of these men brings to the table, and it’s in more of a support role for this team. *Erik Scalavino *

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