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Ask PFW, Part I: Looking for 'backers

With the recent signing of Paris Lenon, do you see Bill Belichick putting Gary Guyton at outside linebacker? To me this would make sense. He has the speed and coverage for the position. So, why not put him there?Zach Colburn

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With the recent signing of Paris Lenon, do you see Bill Belichick putting Gary Guyton at outside linebacker? To me this would make sense. He has the speed and coverage for the position. So, why not put him there?Zach Colburn

[

nep052809-042.jpg

]()No, I don't. He's more of a natural fit – from the limited amount we've seen of him – on the inside. I'm not sure what you saw last year that led you to believe he has any sort of pass-rushing ability, or the necessary speed to drop into pass coverage. So far, PFW hasn't seen it. Besides, there are enough young, untested players at the outside spot already. What the position needs is a proven veteran to add either depth or another potential starter.
Erik Scalavino

Given the recent acquisition of Lenon, to go along with Mayo, Bruschi, Guyton and others, is there a possiblity that Bruschi does not start? It seems with Mayo, Guyton and Lenon inside, they have speed across all 3 guys, something they have not had in years. Could we just see a 3-man rotation at the position, severely limiting Bruschi's snaps?
John Q.

Sure, it's possible. And for the exact reasons you cited. You might also see something similar to what happened last year, where Bruschi started the game, but was replaced more frequently as it went on. In any event, I think the trend of Bruschi getting fewer and fewer snaps will continue into this (what could be his final) season.
Erik Scalavino

With news that Greg Ellis is going to be traded or cut from the Cowboys, what do you think about the Patriots going after him to beef up the linebacker corps and provide another veteran presence at that position heading into the season? He is only two seasons removed from Comeback Player of the Year.
Thomas Smith

What kind of role do you think Ellis would fill if the Patriots traded for him or waited till he was released, and what kind of year do you expect out of our linebacker corps?
Josh Barcus

Going after Ellis would be a smart move for the Pats, in my opinion. He has some experience at outside linebacker in a 3-4 and clearly has the ability to rush the passer. If he were brought in, it would be to fill that Julius Peppers/Jason Taylor role on the outside. He is getting on in years, so his contributions would only been short-term, obviously.

As far as what I expect out of the linebackers this year, that's difficult to say, because last year, a lot of us expected them to make substantially more plays than they did. Perhaps expectations were a bit too high. This year, my expectations are much lower. I'm just hoping the team can find someone capable of starting opposite Adalius Thomas. So far, no one has done anything to separate themselves from the pack. But it's still only late spring. There'll be plenty of time in training camp and the preseason for that to happen … I hope. I'd feel a lot better about the LB situation right now if Peppers were a Pat.
*Erik Scalavino *

Love your column, read it every week. Here's a crazy thought. For help on the outside, why not call Big Mac [Willie McGinest]? I'm sure he could help at least as much as Junior Seau. Maybe he could retire as a Patriot, and they could put #55 back where it belongs. I have nothing against Junior, I was very impressed with him in fact, but that number is really Willie's. I might be a little sentimental, but I think there still might be a little left in Big Mac's tank. He is, what, four years younger than Seau after all? Just a thought. What do you think?
Howard Wolfe

I think it's great that you enjoy Ask PFW so much. We appreciate your loyalty. I also think you're way too sentimental and need to stop living in the past. McGinest was a decent player whose best years are in his rear-view mirror. Years in which he didn't quite live up to the expectations of his first-round selection, I might add. And your comparison to Seau is flawed because Seau plays on the inside, not the same position as McGinest, an outside 'backer. Also, I must take issue with your fealty to the number 55. You'll recall, McGinest wore 55 at USC after Seau had done so. Yes, McGinest wore it for more years here in New England, but remember, one of these guys is headed for Canton. The other isn't.
Erik Scalavino

With the depth at TE, what would be the possibility of moving Benjamin Watson to outside LB? He does have the size and speed. Would this be a worthwhile project?
Mark Davis

[

2008-12-07_nesea_-side_-_0.jpg

]()To be fair, this idea has been brought up by e-mailers in the past. I think it's an interesting one, because Watson is very athletic and is certainly big enough to fill that role. I'm not sure, however, that this is the season to start experimenting with a position change at such a crucial spot (OLB). As we've said in this column repeatedly this offseason, the Pats need an experienced veteran to challenge for Mike Vrabel's job on the outside.
Erik Scalavino

Why is everybody (including PFW) so down on Watson? I think he played pretty good last year (example: Jets game minus the fumble), but was mostly used as a blocker to help out Cassel. Do you think he'll show his true receiving talent with Tom Brady back or is he really a bust?
George Wallace

Why? Because he was a first-round draft pick, that's why. Because you don't invest valuable selections like that on blocking tight ends, that's why. When you pick a tight end in the first round, you expect Antonio Gates/Tony Gonzalez-type productivity in the passing game. You expect the ability to get open, make great catches, and hold onto the ball.

Watson has displayed excellent speed, quickness, and athleticism during his years in New England, but has negated it all with inconsistent pass-catching ability, a disturbing propensity for fumbling passes he does catch (as you correctly pointed out in your Jets citation), and an inefficiency when it comes to route-running and finding openings in the defense. Furthermore, Watson's "true receiving talent" didn't manifest itself before Brady got injured, so, what evidence is there to suggest that the QB's return will help it do so now?

It's all a matter of perspective, you see. If he were an undrafted rookie free agent, we wouldn't be nearly as tough on him as we have been because our expectations for him wouldn't have been nearly as high. Look, Watson is a great guy off the field, let me stress. But the Pats drafted him to be an equally impressive player on it. He has yet to prove the latter, and his best opportunity to do so may have already passed him by.
Erik Scalavino

nep052809-042.jpg

]()No, I don't. He's more of a natural fit – from the limited amount we've seen of him – on the inside. I'm not sure what you saw last year that led you to believe he has any sort of pass-rushing ability, or the necessary speed to drop into pass coverage. So far, PFW hasn't seen it. Besides, there are enough young, untested players at the outside spot already. What the position needs is a proven veteran to add either depth or another potential starter.
Erik Scalavino

Given the recent acquisition of Lenon, to go along with Mayo, Bruschi, Guyton and others, is there a possiblity that Bruschi does not start? It seems with Mayo, Guyton and Lenon inside, they have speed across all 3 guys, something they have not had in years. Could we just see a 3-man rotation at the position, severely limiting Bruschi's snaps?
John Q.

Sure, it's possible. And for the exact reasons you cited. You might also see something similar to what happened last year, where Bruschi started the game, but was replaced more frequently as it went on. In any event, I think the trend of Bruschi getting fewer and fewer snaps will continue into this (what could be his final) season.
Erik Scalavino

With news that Greg Ellis is going to be traded or cut from the Cowboys, what do you think about the Patriots going after him to beef up the linebacker corps and provide another veteran presence at that position heading into the season? He is only two seasons removed from Comeback Player of the Year.
Thomas Smith

What kind of role do you think Ellis would fill if the Patriots traded for him or waited till he was released, and what kind of year do you expect out of our linebacker corps?
Josh Barcus

Going after Ellis would be a smart move for the Pats, in my opinion. He has some experience at outside linebacker in a 3-4 and clearly has the ability to rush the passer. If he were brought in, it would be to fill that Julius Peppers/Jason Taylor role on the outside. He is getting on in years, so his contributions would only been short-term, obviously.

As far as what I expect out of the linebackers this year, that's difficult to say, because last year, a lot of us expected them to make substantially more plays than they did. Perhaps expectations were a bit too high. This year, my expectations are much lower. I'm just hoping the team can find someone capable of starting opposite Adalius Thomas. So far, no one has done anything to separate themselves from the pack. But it's still only late spring. There'll be plenty of time in training camp and the preseason for that to happen … I hope. I'd feel a lot better about the LB situation right now if Peppers were a Pat.
*Erik Scalavino *

Love your column, read it every week. Here's a crazy thought. For help on the outside, why not call Big Mac [Willie McGinest]? I'm sure he could help at least as much as Junior Seau. Maybe he could retire as a Patriot, and they could put #55 back where it belongs. I have nothing against Junior, I was very impressed with him in fact, but that number is really Willie's. I might be a little sentimental, but I think there still might be a little left in Big Mac's tank. He is, what, four years younger than Seau after all? Just a thought. What do you think?
Howard Wolfe

I think it's great that you enjoy Ask PFW so much. We appreciate your loyalty. I also think you're way too sentimental and need to stop living in the past. McGinest was a decent player whose best years are in his rear-view mirror. Years in which he didn't quite live up to the expectations of his first-round selection, I might add. And your comparison to Seau is flawed because Seau plays on the inside, not the same position as McGinest, an outside 'backer. Also, I must take issue with your fealty to the number 55. You'll recall, McGinest wore 55 at USC after Seau had done so. Yes, McGinest wore it for more years here in New England, but remember, one of these guys is headed for Canton. The other isn't.
Erik Scalavino

With the depth at TE, what would be the possibility of moving Benjamin Watson to outside LB? He does have the size and speed. Would this be a worthwhile project?
Mark Davis

[

2008-12-07_nesea_-side_-_0.jpg

]()To be fair, this idea has been brought up by e-mailers in the past. I think it's an interesting one, because Watson is very athletic and is certainly big enough to fill that role. I'm not sure, however, that this is the season to start experimenting with a position change at such a crucial spot (OLB). As we've said in this column repeatedly this offseason, the Pats need an experienced veteran to challenge for Mike Vrabel's job on the outside.
Erik Scalavino

Why is everybody (including PFW) so down on Watson? I think he played pretty good last year (example: Jets game minus the fumble), but was mostly used as a blocker to help out Cassel. Do you think he'll show his true receiving talent with Tom Brady back or is he really a bust?
George Wallace

Why? Because he was a first-round draft pick, that's why. Because you don't invest valuable selections like that on blocking tight ends, that's why. When you pick a tight end in the first round, you expect Antonio Gates/Tony Gonzalez-type productivity in the passing game. You expect the ability to get open, make great catches, and hold onto the ball.

Watson has displayed excellent speed, quickness, and athleticism during his years in New England, but has negated it all with inconsistent pass-catching ability, a disturbing propensity for fumbling passes he does catch (as you correctly pointed out in your Jets citation), and an inefficiency when it comes to route-running and finding openings in the defense. Furthermore, Watson's "true receiving talent" didn't manifest itself before Brady got injured, so, what evidence is there to suggest that the QB's return will help it do so now?

It's all a matter of perspective, you see. If he were an undrafted rookie free agent, we wouldn't be nearly as tough on him as we have been because our expectations for him wouldn't have been nearly as high. Look, Watson is a great guy off the field, let me stress. But the Pats drafted him to be an equally impressive player on it. He has yet to prove the latter, and his best opportunity to do so may have already passed him by.
Erik Scalavino

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