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Ask PFW, Part I: Camp questions

The first half of this week’s Ask PFW focuses on position battles and roster spots as this year’s training camp is now in full swing.


QB Andrew Walter (16)

Please tell me that what I saw in an article on Fox News is not a possibility!!!! It stated: "He was released from home confinement July 20 and conditionally reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, after an indefinite suspension that began in August 2007. Sports columnists across the globe have weighed in on where [Michael] Vick should, or could, land. The New England Patriots are at the top of their list. FOX Sports' John Czarnecki writes that Vick needs a solid team as much as any team may need him. He predicted the Patriots coach could be just the ticket. 'Bill Belichick would treat Vick like a man and force him to act like one,' Czarnecki says of the Patriots' coach. 'The way Belichick operates the Patriots, Vick would be surrounded by a solid group of professionals in the locker room.'"
Susan Boucher

Thanks for the great work, guys. Do you see Michael Vick putting on a Patriots uniform this season?
Ben Daly

I am an avid Patriots fan and heard a rumor a day after Vick was reinstated … that the Patriots may be looking at Vick. Is this so?
Cyndi Cannon

I was extremely upset to hear a report that Vick might be considered as a back up for Tom Brady. Is this true? I sincerely hope not!! This vicious animal abuser is not fit to be exhibited before the public, especially with an organization of players of impeccable stature and reputation. PLEASE NO!! Does he deserve to be given special treatment because a talent to play football made him a celebrity? He used his money to torture helpless animals for kicks. You don't need him, so please don't hire him under any circumstances.
Anne Seymour

With the signing of veteran QB Andrew Walter today, I think we can put this Vick-to-New England question to rest. But since Vick has been such a hot topic among our readers, I'll give you all a little more to chew on than that.

I agree with the overwhelming majority of our readers on this one. Since the very beginning of this sad Vick saga, I've been dead-set against his even being allowed back in the NFL. Yes, he served his time, but I have a difficult time believing he is, or will ever be, truly sorry for what he did. However, now that Commissioner Goodell has given him the opportunity to play in this league again, we have to look at the unfortunate possibility that he could wind up in New England.

Head coach Bill Belichick was asked directly about Vick as training camp got underway, and he wouldn't paint himself into a corner one way or the other, in true Belichick fashion. Regardless of how despicable any of us thinks Vick is, Bill has an obligation to do what's best for his football team, so I assume he and his personnel staff have done their homework on Vick, as they do with every available player at every position.

That said, I would be shocked – not to mention dismayed – if he signed here. First of all, I don't think they need him. They might want a more experienced veteran to add to the mix at backup QB (which is why Cleo Lemon's name keeps popping up in the rumor mill), but Vick wouldn't be the answer, I don't think. It seems to me he's not a good fit for this system. From what I've seen of his style of play, he's not disciplined enough to do what's asked of a quarterback in this offense.

Could he run some Wildcat plays? Yeah, maybe. But so could any number of other players, probably, who are already on this team. Off the top of my head, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris were both QBs in high school. Julian Edelman was one in college. And that's assuming Belichick even wants to run any of those plays this year.

Bottom line on Vick, he'd be too much of an off-the-field distraction, and that's not what this team needs. His risk-reward ratio is slanted for too heavily in the former category. There's very little upside to signing this guy. So, no, I don't see him suiting up for the Patriots this season … or any other.
Erik Scalavino

Hey, guys. I was wondering what kind of role Gary Guyton will play this year and what kind of impact you see him making? Thanks.
Mike Chase

I don't really know what kind of "impact" Guyton is capable of making – I mean, like Bill said the other day in his press conference, "I'm looking for every player to step up this year … There's not one player that I don't expect to step up, or they wouldn't be on our team. If they're here, then I expect them all to step up." However, some guys just aren't eye-popping playmakers, like a Randy Moss, for example.

But I can give you my best guess on what Gutyon's role will be. Based on what I've seen, he's been getting a lot of work at inside linebacker, which seems to be his natural position. Many times, he's lined up along with Jerod Mayo. And with Tedy Bruschi missing significant practice time already this summer, that's giving Guyton even more chances to prove himself. He and newcomer Paris Lenon could be in a battle for a starting job, but whoever wins out (assuming the incumbent Bruschi doesn't earn his job back) will likely be in a rotation with the others that allows everyone to see action on game days.
Erik Scalavino

With only four active OLBs in camp, five including Shawn Crable (who is on PUP for whatever reason), and with Eric Alexander getting reps at OLB and from what I've read in the PFW blogs, is he a legit possibility to get time at OLB or will the Patriots still make a move either through trade or free agency to add much needed depth at OLB before the end of the preseason?
Brandon Andrews

At this stage of training camp, it's not unusual for teams to experiment with players at various spots. That might be the case with Alexander, who did get some reps at outside linebacker over the weekend. I'd be very surprised, though, if he turns out to be a legitimate contender for playing time there. Maybe he can, but I've never seen him play that position. He's been an inside guy pretty much his entire time in New England, but perhaps the coaching staff thinks he has enough athletic ability to make the switch. We'll have to keep tabs on where he lines up from now on.

*Erik Scalavino *

Many, if not all, experts have the strength of the Patriots schedule ranked 3rd in the league. So my only question is this: With so much anticipation of Brady's return from injury being placed on this team's ability to perform, due to inexperienced backups in Matt Gutierrez and Kevin O'Connell, can we expect to see a more conservative type of offense in order to keep Brady upright and healthy?
Shane Salcedo

No, we can't. We're not even a full week into camp, and Brady's knee has already become a non-issue. He's moving around fine, and I barely even notice the brace he wears on that left knee. He's not thinking about the injury either, and it shows. This offense will come out firing on all cylinders.
Erik Scalavino

It is an old axiom in football that special teams are one third of a team's success. Yet other than the specialists (kicker, long snapper, punter) you never hear a breakdown of the other personnel. It is also my understanding that the Patriots have specifically brought in free agents who are primarily special team players. I understand that a position such as "gunner" may vary from situation to situation, but that's also true of many other offensive and defensive positions. So, how about a breakdown of the Pats special team players?
Joe Paretti

Is it just me, or are our special teams going to be completely horrible this season? I can't think of one real standout on special teams.
Josh Pales

First, I'll tackle Joe's request: if you pick up a copy of last week's issue of PFW, there's a detailed analysis of the special teams units in our training camp preview section, written by yours truly. In the meantime, I'll summarize what I wrote there in this space.

We at PFW always include the kick and punt returners, as well as the coverage players, in our special teams discussions, along with the kicker, punter, and long snapper. This year, there are several players who could vie for the kickoff return job, but I'm predicting Terrence Wheatley will be the man there. Rookie Darius Butler might give him a good run, too. On the punt return side, you'll likely see Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk take turns, as they have the past two seasons. As for the gunners and other coverage guys, you're looking at any number of players, rookies as well as veterans, who will see log substantial time for this team. Guys like Ray Ventrone and Matthew Slater come to mind because they've won roster spots with their special teams play and ability to play both offense and defense. Sam Aiken is another player who sticks around because of his special teams abilities.

But you also have starters like Stephen Neal, who has been a regular on the kickoff return team as a part of the wedge, or Brandon Meriweather, who covers kickoffs – you might not think of them as special teams players because you're used to seeing them in their "full-time" jobs on offense and defense. That's the thing about special teams: it's such a vital part of the game, and you only have so many bodies on the roster, that you're forced to put both starters and reserves out there to fill all the spots.

That's why it's a little difficult to give you a complete rundown of every important special teams player. There are just too many. But here are a few other names (aside from those aforementioned) to keep in mind throughout the preseason: Vinny Ciurciu, Greg Lewis, and Tyson DeVree. The first two have considerable experience on special teams with their former clubs, and DeVree's best chance of making the team this year might be as a special teamer, given the loaded competition at his natural position, tight end.

Now, Josh … I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you meant you can't think of any standout "coverage" player on special teams. Because if All-Pro kicker Stephen Gostkowski and fellow Pro Bowler Welker don't stick out in your mind, you need to start exercising your brain a little more. I think I've already addressed that part of your question in my response to Joe.

However, I don't know where you're getting this notion that the Pats' special teams will suffer. Yes, they lost their coach (Brad Seely) and captain (Larry Izzo), as well as the popular Lonie Paxton and dependable Kelley Washington. But they replaced Seely with perhaps the best possible alternative, lifelong special teams coach Scott O'Brien, who has a coaching history with Bill Belichick from their days in Cleveland. Someone new will have to assume the leadership void created by Izzo's departure, but I'm confident that someone will step up to the challenge. Same with Paxton's position and all the others.

Remember, no one is irreplaceable. The Izzos, Paxtons, and Washingtons of the world were unknowns once, too, and had to prove themselves. Give these new guys their chance to do the same before you go predicting doom.
*Erik Scalavino *

Where are the rookie haircuts???Joey Villabroza

They're coming, don't you worry. Rookie initiation got underway over the weekend with the annual soaking of the new guys (and at least one assistant coach) before Sunday's practice. The hairdos will probably happen sometime before the first preseason game.
Erik Scalavino

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