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Ask PFW: On the defensive

Fans' questions answered in this week's PFW mailbag.

Hey guys sure do miss PFW Radio on Wednesdays! My question is do you think the signing of [DE Jabaal] Sheard means that [Rob] Ninkovich will move back to LB or will Bill [Belichick] want to move Chandler [Jones] more inside on the 3-DE look we saw before, considering how bad he is at setting the edge? Thanks. K. Lewis

I'm intrigued by the potential that Sheard brings to this defense. Without having seen him on the field yet, my educated guess is that he'll be part of a defensive end rotation that includes both Ninko and Jones, at least initially. Is Sheard capable of becoming a full-time starter on one side or the other? Remains to be seen. If so, then, yes, Ninko has the versatility to move back to OLB, where there could be a need for bodies with the injuries to Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo leaving the roster thin there. However, I don't expect that right off the bat. I'm expecting a three-man rotation at DE. Hopefully, Sheard can at least give the Patriots the option of resting either Ninko or Jones at times, or even putting all three on the field at once. It's just really hard to predict before we see the players on the field, but that's how I'm approaching the Sheard signing right now. Erik Scalavino

Why is no one mentioning Malcolm Butler at starting corner, he made a lot of nice plays in the Super Bowl even the one where Kearse caught the tipped pass by Butler while on his back, it was Butler's quick thinking and reaction that kept Kearse from scoring and of course the interception to seal the win.

Render Russell*

Butler has been getting more than his fair share of attention this offseason, and some of it, in fact, has dealt with his on-field potential in 2015. Without having to compete with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, last year's starting corners, Butler, at this stage, stands as good a chance as anyone to vie for a starting job. He saw plenty of action with the starting units last summer, and I suspect he'll get as much, or more, this year at training camp. What he does with those opportunities is another story that we'll be watching with great interest, I assure you. Erik Scalavino

Like every Patriots fan, I am fairly concerned about the cornerback position at this point in the off season. I've heard lots of analysts talk about Malcom Butler having a breakout season, but what about Alfonzo Dennard having a breakout? I thought Dennard was an important contributor to the secondary in 2012 and 2013, and I figured he would be in line for a starting spot this past season until Revis and Browner were signed. I realize that this past season was the worst of Dennard's short career, but I think he got caught in a numbers game this year, and he still has a lot to offer the team. Am I wrong to think that Dennard will be a key contributor to this year's secondary?

Zach Strong*

Dennard certainly appeared to fall out of favor with the club last season, not just because of Revis and Browner, either. Dennard apparently lost reps to the aforementioned Butler, then was injured late in the season. Having said that, with Browner and Revis now out of the picture in Foxborough, Dennard now has an opportunity to reclaim the role he once had as a key contributor in the secondary. However, come training camp, he'll be like most every other cornerback currently on this roster: fighting for a full-time job. I'm not yet prepared to say whether or not he'll be a starter or even a reserve contributor to this team in 2015. Erik Scalavino

I was wondering if you have any insight into what skills Travaris Cadet brings with him as he compares to Shane Vereen.

Morris Hickok*

Well, the first and most obvious difference is size. At 6-1, 210, Cadet is much bigger and taller than Vereen. Given his career stats, Cadet had been utilized most often in a receiving role by his former club, the New Orleans Saints. However, Cadet wasn't on the field nearly enough to provide a fair comparison between him and Vereen. I'm anxious to see how the Patriots plan to employ him and what he's capable of when practices get underway later this spring. Erik Scalavino

Since Jerod Mayo has been injured for the past couple of seasons, does he take a limited role this year? Is he still considered the leader of the LB core?

Giancarlo Diaz*

Mayo is an elder statesman and perennial co-captain on this team, so, yes, he will continue to be regarded as a leader overall and specifically on defense. What his role on the field will be, though, after two straight seasons spent mostly on injured reserve, remains to be seen. It's unclear at this point how well he has recovered from right knee surgery, but assuming he's healthy enough to take the field and suit up in full pads when the time comes, he'll be an incumbent starter as always. Erik Scalavino

Hello, as a Pats fan in Colorado, the local news on Wes Welker is very quiet.  We all know he is not what he once was, but may have a bit left in the tank if he does not have to play full-time. Any chance he could come back to the Patriots to back up Julian Edelman, on a team friendly (i.e. cheap) contract? Thanks for the great job!

Larry Breault*

Anything is possible, but in this case, I'd say a Welker return is highly unlikely. For starters, as you indicated, he's not the player he once was, due to age and injury. Secondly, the team already has Edelman and Danny Amendola, two very similar players to Welker who are younger and fitter. Third, Welker's departure was not the most amicable, and I'm not sure the burnt bridges are capable of salvage at this point. Erik Scalavino

My question is about the Patriots Super Bowl rings. When is this set to take place? PS. You guys are awesome and really help me out on staying up to date. I'm currently stationed with the Army in Ft. Leavenworth, KS and the Patriots winning this Super Bowl and the way they carry themselves has really helped. Patriot for life!!!! #SB50hopes

Andrew Carr*

Andrew, first, thank you for your service to our country. As for the team's rings, owner Robert Kraft recently told Fox Business Network that he planned to host a ceremony for the players at his home sometime in June. We might get a glimpse of the design sooner than that, but at this point, that's all the detail we have on that subject.

Erik Scalavino*


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