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Ask PFW: No one likes Mike

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Michael Vick. AP Photo.

For the past couple of days, I've been hearing rumors about a trade for Derrick Burgess from the Raiders. I think adding Burgess would be a great idea. I say we give the Raiders a third and use him for passing downs. He will help solidify our pass rush. What is your take on this?Philip Balestrine Jr.

What do you think about the recent reports of the Patriots being interested in the Raiders Derrick Burgess? I think it's an intriguing option now that Taylor has re-signed with the Dolphins and Peppers would cost too much. I read a quote from the Raiders D-line coach that said Burgess actually played linebacker in some of their sub packages so the conversion to linebacker might not be that foreign to him. If they can get him cheap (a third-round pick), it might give us the pass rusher we have been seeking.
Gregory Driscoll

Whether the rumors of a potential Burgess acquisition are true or not, I feel such a move would make a lot of sense, and mostly for the exact reason you suggest. I don't feel he would be a solution as an every down player at a position he has very little experience playing, but as a situational pass rusher I feel he would provide some value. Burgess has had success getting after the passer throughout his career when healthy, and I don't feel a second- or third-round pick would be too steep of a price to pay to get him. While I don't think he would put the defense over the top like Julius Peppers might, I do feel he'd add some depth to an area that is a bit thin while also providing some experience to the group at the same time.
Paul Perillo

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]()I was very critical of Laurence Maroney after the past season, but with this broken bone, I feel I was harsh. What do you think he can do next season? Do you see a great season from him? *Richard Gatenby*

I'm a little confused about your assessment of Maroney. You admit that you were critical of him but then thought you were being harsh when you learned of the broken bone in his shoulder. He was placed on injured reserve so he obviously had some sort of injury he was dealing with. Whether it was a broken bone or not, the Patriots didn't just decide to end his season for no reason. That said, the knock on Maroney during his three years in New England has been his lack of durability and consistency. I would certainly put myself in that category (those questioning Maroney's consistency and durability, that is – I'm as durable and consistent as any writer out there). I believe Maroney has the talent to be a very productive back. Now it's time for him to prove that by staying healthy and churning out the yards. There's no reason he should be a 1,000-yard back in this offense with all the weapons the team has at its disposal. He rarely if ever faces defenses designed to stop him and he should have ample opportunity to put up a career-high total. But until he does, those questions are going to stick with him. I feel this will be his best season (1,200 yards, 10 TDs), but again, he needs to prove it.
Paul Perillo

I was watching a SporstCenter special on Michael Vick earlier this week and they listed the Patriots as a good fit for Vick due to the maturity of the locker room, and Bill Belichick's love for versatile players. Do you think there is any substance to this?
Dave Callahan

Yes and no. First, I don't think there was any substance to the report at all. I just think ESPN was looking at the Patriots history of taking guys with checkered pasts (Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, etc) and working them successfully into their program. I don't feel the report was based on any talks with Patriots personnel people – therefore, the lack of substance. However, I do believe Belichick explores each and every option available to him. That's one of the many traits that makes him so successful. He doesn't ignore any avenue where potential help may be found. I'm sure he's considered Vick and weighed the plusses and minuses of such an acquisition. But I don't feel Vick makes any sense for the team at the current time. With Tom Brady already here, Vick would be relegated to a backup for use in trick formations. I don't feel the controversy of signing him at this point would be outweighed by any small boost he could possibly give to what should already be a pretty explosive offense – one that Moss himself recently claimed could be even better than the record-setting crew from 2007.
Paul Perillo

Do you believe the Patriots are on the fall? Let's face it ... almost all of the defense is either young and inexperienced or aging and coming off injuries. The defensive line is the only young, strong part of the defense and two of our Pro Bowl starters are heading into contract years. Tom Brady is coming off of the same injury that Carson Palmer has never recovered from, behind a line that it not as good as we thought it was, one that was made up for by Brady. I'd love to think that the Patriots will always be in contention as long as Belichick and Brady run the show but at some point championship teams get old and have to rebuild. Are we seeing that now?Sam Frankel

Someone took his negative pills this morning. While I understand your points about age and injuries, I don't feel the window has closed on this group just yet. In fact, as long as Brady returns to something close to his normal form, I don't believe the window will be shut for quite some time. You can't fall into the trap of watching some great players get old and wonder how they're ever going to be replaced. I've certainly been guilty of that enough over the years so I feel confident in saying I was wrong. Belichick finds ways to replace players and the beat goes on. The lone exception to this rule has been Brady – which is why I used the one disclaimer of having him return to form. Last year, for all the great things that Matt Cassel was able to accomplish, the team went from 16-0 to 11-5 – that's a five-game difference and that dropped them from the Super Bowl all the way out of the playoffs. I don't see the same kind of problems happening from the loss of any other player. Right now you and I may see some holes on defense, through injuries, inexperience or whatever, but Belichick doesn't look at it the same way. He plugs players in and expects them to do the job. For the most part, that's been the case over the years. For every Duane Starks, Monty Beisel and Chad Brown that haven't worked, there have been dozens like Randall Gay, Jarvis Green, Mike Wright, Hank Poteat and Troy Brown who have filled in admirably and allowed the team to keep on winning. So in terms of expecting to win, I'd say the Patriots are primed to continue to be in the Super Bowl mix as long as Brady's knee holds up.
Paul Perillo

I know I'm off subject, but with all the RBs do you see Sammy Morris getting cut? He's old and can't run routes. And we can't trash Maroney yet. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will replace Kevin Faulk on third downs. So I see Morris the odd man out.
Chuck Pearson

While I can't trash you for being off subject since there is no specific subject for the "Ask PFW" mailbag, I can question your reasoning here, Chuck. Which part, you ask? How about all of it. I don't see a healthy Morris getting cut since he's been the most productive runner the Patriots have had when healthy over his two seasons. Injuries have certainly hurt him during that time, and another might signal the end of his time as a Patriot, but he's been a solid workhorse between the tackles – especially in 2008. He's not going anywhere. Green-Ellis isn't the biggest back at 5-11, 215, but I don't see him as Faulk's replacement in the third-down role. He actually seemed better suited lugging it between the tackles as well, something he did a nice job of last year when pressed into service in the middle of the season. This could very well be Faulk's last year with the Patriots since he'll be a free agent at season's end, but based on his work last year I don't see the team pulling the plug on him this summer. Maroney and Fred Taylor are also here to fill out a deep and talented backfield. If everyone is healthy coming out of camp, I'd say Green-Ellis would be hard-pressed to earn a roster spot. But there's a lot of time between now and September for questions like that to be answered. But I don't see Morris getting cut for anything other than health reasons.
Paul Perillo

I am impressed how the Patriots continue to stockpile second-round picks and they seem to have figured out where the value is. I don't understand why they drafted 12 players when there is no way that many players will make the team. Why didn't they use some of their late draft picks to trade down or accumulate more picks for next year? They did the same thing last year drafting a bunch of fifth, sixth and seventh rounders who had no chance of making the team.
Ron Levine

How many trades did you want them to make? Belichick spent the entire weekend trading down and into the future – seven trades in all. They picked up two extra second-round picks for next season as it is. How many do you want? I also have a problem with your draft pick theory and it's one I hear all the time – "Why pick X amount of players when there's no way X amount are going to make the team." Assuming this is true – and with a talented team like the Patriots it certainly is when you're talking about 12 players – how many draft picks would realistically stand a chance of making the club? Five? Six? Maybe in an uncommonly good draft seven? I'd argue those numbers for New England would probably be optimistic, but my point is this: If the roster is already strong and few draft picks are going to stand a chance of cracking the list, then why not give yourself the best chance of finding talented players? In other words, if five guys are going to make the team, wouldn't you rather have the opportunity to pick the best five out of the 12 you choose rather than having to settle for five of eight or nine? The more players you select increases your chances of finding quality players. Obviously not all of those late-round picks will be sticking around, but one might. So while you might think some random sixth-round pick has no chance of making a team as good as the Patriots, Belichick doesn't think like that. He views all those choices as potential opportunities to make his team better. Again, his track record speaks for itself.
Paul Perillo

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What you say about these stats? 25 tackles, 12 assists, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and no interceptions? Those are the stats of the great Mike Vrabel in his first four years with Pittsburgh. I have his jersey and he was my favorite player with the Patriots during his time with the team. So although it would have been nice to acquire a productive player, Julius Peppers or Jason Taylor, I personally don't understand why so many people are down on Pierre Woods or any of the other linebackers currently on the roster. IBIT. (In Belichick I Trust). *Shane Taylor*

Based on a few of my previous answers you can plainly see that I would fall into the IBIT club, but that doesn't mean I do so with my eyes closed and hoping for the best. First, Mike Vrabel had 43 tackles during his four years in Pittsburgh, most of that being accumulated during his first two seasons when he recorded 17 and 12 tackles as a spot player. The Steelers couldn't seem to find a permanent place for him and his playing time diminished during his last two years in Pittsburgh, opening the door for him to come to New England. But even that modest production is better than what Belichick has available at outside linebacker right now. Before Pierre Woods started three games due to a rash of injuries late last season, he had 14 tackles in almost three years in New England. Eighteen of his 31 career tackles came in those three starts. Vrabel had never started a game before he came to New England. And while the situations may seem similar on paper, Woods had the advantage of playing in the system during his three years and still not seeing much significant playing time while Vrabel was forced to perform in a much different variation of the 3-4 in Pittsburgh, where he was afforded the opportunity to perform as an outside linebacker on a consistent basis. During his first year in New England, Vrabel had 60 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and nine passes defensed while starting 12 of 16 games. That was Vrabel's fifth year in the NFL and first with the Patriots. This is Woods' fourth year in the NFL – all with the Patriots. That's the kind of production he would need to show in order to make that comparison valid. So while it's true that I do trust Belichick in these personnel matters, I'm not expecting Woods to turn into the next Mike Vrabel. To say that at this point would be rather disrespectful of Vrabel.
Paul Perillo

With all the offseason attention given to both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, I am curious as to why nobody seems to be mentioning the the hit our special teams have taken. Key contributors such as Lonie Paxton, Larry Izzo, Ellis Hobbs, Heath Evans and Kelley Washington are gone, not to mention the potential we had in Willie Andrews before he single-handedly destroyed his career a year or so ago. Our punt/kick coverage was definitely not the team's strong point last year, and now it has gotten that much worse. I wonder if such a lack of good coverage personnel will open the door for Ray Ventrone (who seemed to be in a few ST tackles last year) to solidify a spot on the roster, despite not having a real position to offer true depth at?
Mitch Lavin

Interesting post, Mitch, and certainly one worth being concerned about – especially when you add a new coach in Scott O'Brien to the mix as well. The long snapper situation will be closely monitored throughout the summer with Nathan Hodel and Jake Ingram battling it out to replace Paxton. That will be an important competition since Paxton's work in that area was flawless. Replacing Hobbs' explosiveness as a kick returner will also be an important element of camp. He consistently set up the offense with solid field position while also possessing the ability to take it to the house. There will be plenty of candidates to fill his shoes like Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley, Matthew Slater and perhaps even Laurence Maroney, who was solid in that department as a rookie in 2006. Other than those two spots, I'm not really overly concerned. Izzo is a terrific leader on special teams and his presence will be missed as much off the field as on it. But, as you stated, the coverage units weren't great last year and replacing some of the parts doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. I'd expect Ventrone to continue in his special teams role – which really is no different than Izzo or Washington, neither of which was asked to do much of anything on offense or defense. Ventrone doesn't have a true position per se, but his versatility allows him to serve in a variety of roles in practice while manning his spots in the kicking game on Sundays. I think he's a special teams captain in the making.
Paul Perillo

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