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Ask PFW: New England Mourns

I would like to give my condolences to the Hill family for the tragic drowning that occurred over the weekend. Such a shame...I saw Marquise play in college and he was a joy to watch.Shane Cahill

Your thoughts are echoed by the staff here at PFW and Patriots.com. For those fans who haven't yet seen them, I'd also like to include comments from Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick issued by the team in a statement following the confirmation of Hill's death on Monday. Hill, a native of New Orleans, was reported missing Sunday night following a jet skiing accident on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.
"We are absolutely heartbroken to learn of Marquise's death," said Kraft in the release. "Our immediate thoughts go to Marquise's mother, Sherry, and the rest of his family. He was only 24 years old and his death is hard to comprehend. Marquise was a very respectful young man who worked hard to improve and was always eager to contribute to the team, both on the field and in the community. On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we extend our most heartfelt sympathies to Marquise's family and friends who mourn his loss."
"We have suffered a stunning and tragic loss today," said Belichick. "Marquise will be remembered as a thoughtful and caring young man who established himself as one of the year-round daily fixtures of our team. I send my deepest condolences to the Hill family."
Andy Hart

I am hoping you can answer this question. Is there any NFL rule stating that players can not work together during the off season to get a head start on working with each other. For instance, can Tom Brady work with his receivers to get their timing of pass plays down before spring training opens.Chris Meyers

There are two ways that players can work together. First is the time they spend together at the team facility working in the team's offseason program and organized team activities (OTAs). Those times are limited by the collective bargaining agreement to just four days a week of four hours a day for the offseason program and a maximum 14 days of OTAs at no more than six hours per day. But beyond those, I am not aware of a rule that would prohibit players from voluntarily getting together to workout, run routes or anything else they might choose to do together during the offseason. So if Brady wanted to call up his new receivers and invite them over to the backyard or local park, I don't think there is any rule in place that would stop it from happening.
Andy Hart

With all the new additions to the team and with Jr. Seau coming back and everybody healthy, which side of the ball will be the most exciting for the fans to watch and the most difficult for the opposing team. Is this the best Patriots team ever on both sides of the ball?Russell Durham

That's an interesting question for this point in an exciting offseason. While I'm certainly not ready to declare either side of the ball the best the Patriots have ever had to offer, both have plenty of talent and the potential to put up impressive numbers. At this point I'm going to give the competitive edge to the defense. The group set a franchise record for points allowed a year ago and returns every starter aside from part-timer Tully Banta-Cain. Add to that talented core prize free agent Adalius Thomas and the group has the potential to be even better. I think Thomas' addition could make for more exotic looks from the front and could lead to more big plays, turnovers and turmoil for opposing offenses. That's a scary thought for opponents.
On offense I am intrigued by all the potential the roster has to offer, but I still need to see it put together on the field. The entirely new group of receivers, new workhorse running back and loss of a starting tight end/pass protector leaves a lot of different roles to come together. While I think the unit will put up some big plays, big points and big wins over the course of the season, I actually think it might get off to a bit of a slow start due to all the new faces and roles that will need to come together and work cohesively.
Andy Hart

Seems to this Patriot fan that without Asante Samuel at corner this season that our chances to return to and win the Super Bowl are slim. What is your take on this??Chip Heard

There is no question the Patriots are a better team with Samuel and would have a better chance to win it all. But I am not willing to say the team can't win without him. Bill Belichick has shown the ability to get by at times with questionable talent in the secondary over the years. Plus, with the addition of Brandon Meriweather and potential returns for Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson and Randall Gay I think there is at least average depth and talent in the group. If Samuel isn't in uniform the team will probably need more big plays and pressure from the front seven to be a premier unit. But as I said earlier, I think the addition of Thomas makes that a very real possibility. Not long ago people questioned whether Samuel was even a starting-level, No. 1 NFL corner. Now he's the difference between winning and losing? I am not ready to concede that because I simply don't think it's true.
Andy Hart

Let's imagine for a moment you are Asante Samuel's agent and he asks you for advice on how to handle his current situation. He has just come off a career year in all the major statistical categories - interceptions, tackles, and passes defensed. He says it is time to Get Paid. He can have $7.79M guaranteed or hold out. Given recent history, holding out will, in all likelihood, yield higher guaranteed money, maybe $20-$30 million. What advice do you give your client?Chris Nioble

That is a very tough question. Based on what I've seen in the NFL over the years, players who hold out generally get what they want in the end. I didn't think there was any chance the Deion Branch situation would play out the way it did and look what happened there. That said, I think there is a big difference in terms of leaving nearly $8 million on the table when you are a former fourth-round pick who's made relatively small dollars in your short pro career. I think I would probably tell Samuel to play for the franchise tender and that we'd continue to try to work on a long-term deal. I know it's hard to watch other players getting their tens of millions, but I still think there is something to be said for the old "bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" theory. I can see the reasoning behind either decision and certainly have a hard time criticizing the team or the player in these types of contract negotiations. It's simply a part of the business of sports.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, great draft coverage. I am pumped for this year like everyone else, but was wondering what you feel the recipe to replace Dillon's production particularly in the TD department will be? To be truthful am worried about Maroney's durability if expected to shoulder the lions share of the groundwork. How do you see the other backs like Morris and Evans fitting into the picture and what do you foresee their roles being? Thanks , and GO PATS !
Francis Brown

Thanks for weeks of great insight to the best football team this century. Tell me I'm not crazy when some naysayers worry about Maroney in 2007. Maybe I missed something, but when fans worry about Maroney not having Dillon and you guys point to his production before his injury as an indicator of his expected 2007 success. I keep thinking that with Brady's 2 long, field stretching receiving threats that Maroney should have an easier than time last year. Am I right in assuming this, assuming there aren't a crop of new injuries to Maroney or his backups or blockers? I cannot wait for September, October, November, and December, and have more faith this May than in any May this decade.James Siegel

Whether you are an optimist or pessimist, Maroney's elevation to the top of the running back depth chart is an issue that has to be considered when looking at the Patriots potential on offense heading into the season. Maroney showed big-play ability at times as a rookie sharing the load with Dillon. I think if he remains healthy he will have a good season and has the ability to be a special player. But the injuries are a big if at this point. He's never carried the complete load before. That makes him an unknown.
That said, I'm not all that worried about the loss of Dillon's touchdowns. I think there are a number of guys on the roster that will score those points now. First, I think Maroney is capable of finding the end zone. I know he seemed to dance too much late last season, but I think given the red zone chances he'll convert on most of them.
In terms of roles, I think both Kevin Faulk and Heath Evans will hold similar job titles as they have in recent seasons. Faulk is still the main change-of-pace/third down guy, while Evans is a jack-of-all-trades who will likely get limited chances to touch the ball in an ideal world. The new addition of Morris brings added versatility to the group. The career backup brings the option of a handful of carries out of regular sets while he should also be a contributor in the passing game and could fill Faulk's roles if needed. He doesn't really do anything at a starting level, but I think he does a lot of things well enough to help the offense.
I do still think the offense lacks a true backup running back. If Maroney does indeed get banged up and has to miss a few games I'm not sure there is a guy currently on the roster capable of handling 20-plus carries for a few weeks. That said, the team has gone without a true backup running back at other times over the years and made due with guys like Evans and Faulk or even signed guys like Mike Cloud, Amos Zereoue and Rabih Abdullah to fill the void. Plus, as many emailers have optimistically pointed out, if the passing game is anywhere near as good as it has the potential to be it should open up the running game for all the team's backs. I really don't think the team will missing the aging Dillon all that much, despite what his touchdown numbers from last season might suggest.
Andy Hart

Everyone's focus seems to be on the new Pats skill position players, but I am still concerned with O-line, particularly at left tackle. Do you think Light's struggles for most of the regular season were attributable to his previous broken leg and lack of training time, or is he starting to break down? I know he has had trouble with faster DEs, but he was clearly over-powered a number of times by Jason Taylor, for instance. I just don't see how Brady can throw deeper timing patterns when he his hurried constantly. Also, do you think Dante will address the run-blocking on the right side? It seems to be the side they don't feel comfortable will produce holes. Thanks!Frank Novio

I find it interesting that Light seems to be getting his greatest criticism after his first Pro Bowl season and impressive postseason action. I have always believed that Light is a middle-of-the-pack left tackle. He struggles with speed rushers at times. I don't specifically recall him getting overpowered by Taylor but that could have been a result of Light overcompensating in preparation for Taylor's speed-based moves that generally give him so much trouble. As for the right side of the line, I think that Stephen Neal is a very good guard but you are right that the right tackle spot needs to get more consistent play from whoever starts in the spot. But I think that can be said about the entire line. It's a young group that has talent, has been playing together for a couple years and is signed for the next few years. They need to start putting it together on the field on a consistent basis, both in the running game and the passing game. Only time will tell if this is the year that finally happens.
Andy Hart

My question is about David Thomas. I like Benjamin Watson and think he is a very good vertical threat for a tight end, but the tight end I see really benefiting from the additions of Moss and Stallworth is Thomas. He showed last year that he is a very good underneath route runner and has outstanding hands. Do you agree with this assessment and what are your thoughts about Thomas' contributions to the offense next year?Pat Yegian

In very little playing time last year, and in more extensive practice action, I like what I saw from Thomas. I think he has some of the best hands on the team and can be a consistent pass catcher. And if he shows the flashes of athleticism and playmaking he displayed against the Jaguars then I think he can be quite a force in the offense this season. It will be very interesting to see what kind of role he can carve out on a now crowded offense. I definitely think that the ground game and all the underneath type receivers like Thomas will benefit from having both Moss and Stallworth on the field. At this early point I'll say that Thomas will catch 34 passes for 426 yards with four touchdowns. But please don't hold me to that prediction.
Andy Hart

Hey Guys! i have a couple of Questions about Jabar Gaffney. 1. How long do we have him signed for?? 2. Do you think it was a fluke last year when we got him. I thought he did WONDERFUL. Just worried he may get lost in the shuffle with the receivers we picked up. Take care and GO PATS!!!!!
Steven Hubbell

Using your own telescope to look into the future Mr. Hubbell, I think that Gaffney could be a fight for his roster life this August. He is signed for just this season with a salary of $595,000. While I won't necessarily term Gaffney's playoff production a fluke, I do think it's probably the best you'll ever see from him. He did a find job and took full advantage of his time working with Brady after joining the team midseason. But he is what he is and was on the street in the middle of the season for a reason. The talent now stocking the New England depth chart at receiver could put both Gaffney and Reche Caldwell in a tough fight for roles this fall. If Gaffney does make the roster he'll certainly be one of the lower options on Brady's radar.
Andy Hart

Hello, I just would like to say that I live in Israel so if you mind forgiving any of my grammar mistakes I would appreciate it. First I would like to say that I'm a big fan of Robert Kraft, he is been trying for about three years to get a real football league in here and as a die-hard football fan, I really respect his efforts... the real reason football doesn't get picked up here by most people is because people here are used to simply watching sports such as soccer and they don't like waiting for the stop between the plays. On to my question, it isn't entirely Patriots football question but I hope you wouldn't mind answering my question. I see how a bigger Offensive Line takes out a smaller D-Line on running plays, basically since the O-Line is bigger and stronger so it usually beat the small D-line who basically faster and skinnier. I was wondering why on a passing down the big O-lineman just goes backwards in order to pass protect? It just looks like the all O-Line takes a step or two backwards on every pass play [which also helps the defense understand what kind of play it would be]. I'm sure undersized ends such as Dwight Freeney or Jason Taylor would not have as much success flying by the tackle's shoulder if the tackle would just aggressively take him on and lock on him.Nitsan Kliman

I'll do my best to answer your question, although I'm by no means an offensive line expert. The sliding back of the linemen allows the line to fan out and create a larger wall and "pocket" around the quarterback. That forces the pass rushers, especially the end rushers, to take a wider angle in attempting to use their speed to get around the tackle and in turn forces them to go a longer distance to get to the quarterback. It also gives the tackle an extra second or two to react to the pass rusher and set a course to engage him and try to stunt his rush. If the tackle just fired out at the rusher there is a good chance that the smaller, faster rusher would avoid the tackles explosive charge at the snap and then have a free rush to the passer. Plus, the offensive linemen by rule are prohibited from going down field on passing plays. So if the tackle did fire out and blow the defensive player off the ball he could get called for an illegal man down field penalty.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, greetings from Pensacola. The team's roster index is very helpful but when the season starts, those of us viewing at home find a roster program in numerical order invaluable. Being able to glance down the sheet to a jersey number to identify a player is a must. In the past I've taken the time to do this each week during the season and printed it out by game time for my friends and associates who take delight in jumping on my case for any errors. (sound familiar?) Perhaps, you and your crew could make up a single page 'program' in printable format for use each Sunday. Keep up the good work. Regards.Bob Robertson

You can get the information you are looking for right here on Patriots.com. Click on the roster link near the top of the main page. That will open up the roster document in a new browser window. You can then click on any of the category headers near the top of the page to sort the roster by that category. So if you click on the "No." header, it will re-sort the roster by uniform number. You can then print out that document for your game day use. Hope that helps.
Andy Hart

Someone has been telling me that if we have too many WRs come September, we can pay Troy Brown as a coach in the beginning of the season, and then, if we need a WR, sign him to the active roster when needed in mid-season. This way, we free up the 53-man roster with another spot, but still have Brown if we need him. Brown gets paid either way, and everyone is happy. Can they do this? It sounds illegal to me, but he swears it is perfectly legal, and I don't know much about the CBA.Tom Sweeney

I just want to know what the status of Troy Brown is. He clearly needs to be signed by the Patriots and play out the rest of his career in New England. He is an instrumental part of the team both on the field and in the locker room providing not only versatility and reliability, but also leadership and teaching to new and veteran players alike. Where do things stand between Troy and the New England Patriots?David Racca

As of right now Brown is a free agent and recovering from offseason knee surgery. He has said he'd like to return to play in New England for another season. Bill Belichick has said he envisions Brown having a role with the team this fall. Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? My guess is both sides are waiting to make sure that his knee heals before he rejoins the team and signs a contract.
Brown could, in fact, serve as a coach if he agreed to such a role with the team. He wouldn't likely be able to earn what his veteran minimum playing salary would pay him at this point -- $820,000 – but he could be paid as a coach. He would remain a free agent and could be signed to the active roster during the year if needed.
Although it would take up a roster spot, Brown could even be a player/coach if he wanted to. Some fans might remember that Broncos defensive back Jimmy Spencer served in that role in 2003 in Denver becoming the first player/coach in the NFL since Dan Reeves with the Cowboys in 1971. If Brown did serve as a player/coach not only would he take a roster spot, any money he received from the team would count toward the salary cap.
Andy Hart

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