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Ask PFW Part I: Post mini-camp ponderings

First I just want to say that you guys at PFW do a fantastic job of covering Patriots news and keeping us fans as informed as possible. Now I just want to say that personally (like most people I would imagine) I would love to see Ty Law in a Patriots uniform again. However if we don't get Ty Law back, who do you guys picture as the starting corners on opening day? I'm hoping Ellis Hobbs will be one of them. From what I saw of him last year I think he's got a lot of potential and unlike Bethel Johnson, is actually making use of it. He seemed to be able to knock the ball away from receivers really well without getting called for pass interference and he also appeared to be really fast. What are your feelings about Hobbs? Do you guys see him being a starter this season? And how do you guys think he is compared to Asante [Samuel]? Keep up the great coverage guys! And as a closing comment, I wanna say that Andy Hart..you are awesome.
Wesley Nickle

Sucking up to open and close an email, on a both a group and individual level? I like the way Wesley works. He's clearly going places in this world. As to the question, I'd pencil in Hobbs and Samuel as my starters if nothing comes to fruition on the Law front. Neither player is in Law's league, but both have shown flashes of being capable starting cornerbacks. I think Hobbs has a little bit of a higher upside (although I don't think he'll ever be an elite, shutdown type corner) in that he's got just one season under his belt. He's a confident, athletic, physical corner and I am eager to see how he does in his sophomore campaign. Samuel is a little older and therefore may have settled into what he is – a relatively reliable second or nickel corner who likes to play a physical style at the line but can get beaten for the deeper routes at times. Beyond Hobbs and Samuel I see a bunch of guys fighting for the rest of the roster spots. And, of course, if by chance Law does enter the mix the New England secondary becomes immediately and infinitely better.
Andy Hart

I may be in the minority here but I personally feel the PATS should not dole out top receiver money for Branch. He's never had #1 #'s, no Patriot really has since Troy Brown in '01. Where was Branch in Denver? Ineffective to the "triangle coverage" I believe he (Branch) called it. I may be quoting one of you guys but Brady and Seymour are the only exceptions to the rule. Right? Get to camp Branch.David Dion

Dion on Deion crime, that stings! But I do tend to agree your assessment. Branch is good and is New England's No. 1 right now. But he's not worthy or true No. 1 top dollar as compared to the rest of the league. And what happens if you overpay to sign Branch to top wideout money? Maybe two years from now Chad Jackson has developed into a true No. 1 target and starts looking for money. Then you'll have to overpay to keep him because he'll point to Branch's deal as a starting point in negotiations. Brady and Seymour are the only exceptions to the value rule, but Branch does have some leverage here thanks to the team's lack of depth at receiver. Because David Givens is now in Tennessee and guys like Bethel Johnson and P.K. Sam never developed the position hasn't replenished itself. That's Branch's leverage. But I don't think it's enough to get the Patriots to break the value bank and give in to his demands. I think they should give him a fair market offer that's comparable to other second-tier No. 1 receivers. If he doesn't seem interested, play out the season and see what happens next spring. That's just my opinion and I don't pretend to have all the details of the negotiations. But I do agree with your final statement about Branch getting to camp. I don't really ever agree with a player holding out, especially if it runs into the season. I think everyone loses out in the end when that happens.
Andy Hart

Am I the only one who thinks that Deion Branch may be just a bit overrated? He's certainly the best receiver on the roster, but he's also injury-prone, has never had a 1,000-yard season, and can be completely removed from a game when double-teamed. I know the Pats don't have a lot of flexibility at the position, but I wouldn't be surprised if he never gets that extension and makes it to free agency next year (after an extensive and possibly damaging training camp holdout, of course). On another note, who's held out from 7-on-7 drills? Guards and tackles on offense, I suppose, but how about defense? The DEs and OLBs? The whole D-line and one OLB? Various combinations?Craig Benson

Based on some of the other emails we've received, including the one immediately preceding this one, you are not alone in your opinions on Branch. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Branch situation plays itself out this summer and fall. 7-on-7 can mean a lot of different things in different practice situations. Basically it removes the offensive and defensive linemen from the mix on both sides of the ball and is primarily a passing segment of practice. With a 3-4 defense, though, the defenders actually probably have eight defenders on the field thanks to the mix of four linebackers and the four-man secondary. That can change in sub packages. On offense the group of seven includes the center, the quarterback, and some combination of running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. But as I said, in general, 7-on-7 refers to a passing segment of practice that doesn't include linemen on either side of the ball.
Andy Hart

I recently read Michael Felger's article regarding Eugene Wilson's poor play during the 2005 season. Wilson certainly was surrounded by new players every week. Where cohesion is so important to the secondary, I can understand why Wilson's play deteriorated. What bothers me is that was his comments that he felt like he was babysitting. The rest of the secondary had their own problems, but Wilson was caught out of position and just beaten on way too many occasions. He felt he made fewer plays because offenses were throwing away from him. I think they started going after him. I think he tries to intimidate receivers instead of making plays. He has good hands, but rarely gets in position to make a play on the ball. Instead he just looks to put a big hit on a receiver. On occasions where he needs to tackle a running back, he whiffs far too often. Maybe some of the reason his play was poor was because of the players that surrounded him. But he needs to change his attitude.Ed Enman

While Wilson's play without Rodney Harrison by his side last season was definitely disappointing, I think you are being a little hard on him. First, if I recall correctly the writer in question chose the word "babysitting" and not Wilson. Second, I think it's a fact that Wilson had to take a more open leadership and mentoring role in the secondary as the veteran presence with rookies and first-time Patriots being put on the field next to him. He didn't have a great year and I'm not sure he's a comfortable and natural leader, but I don't think his attitude necessary needs a dramatic change. As for his playmaking, he's missed tackles on occasion and does seem to go for the big hit at times when maybe it's not the most prudent decision. Of course the same thing can be said about the guy Wilson so clearly missed, Harrison. Wilson needs to be better in 2006, that's the bottom line regardless of the reasons for his lackluster '05 performance.
Andy Hart

So far the primary question has been how much does [Corey] Dillon have in the tank and how effective will the 1-2 punch of Dillon and [Laurence] Maroney be? (one has to assume pretty good). That leaves us with Kevin Faulk. Relegated to a 3rd down back in the past, he may be in for competition with Maroney for even that. Patrick Pass seemingly is running out of chances. Lacks the size of a true FB and as far as blockers go not much there either. Is he worth carrying as a 3rd back, over Faulk, I'd say not. Meanwhile [Dan] Klecko is being groomed for FB and some sort of WHAM package one has to assume, so again Pass may find himself without a offensive spot. At the end of the day, the addition of Maroney is quite a shakeup in the RB corps. The gap between Dillon (when healthy & motivated) and the rest of the cast was huge. Now we can expect the drop off to be minimal if not the reverse, so I think we finally have that sorta nice problem : too many backs, and at least 2 good ones. That seems to work for most of the running teams. How do you see the running game playing out this year?Mike Luster

I'll agree with you that there is a lot going on in the New England backfield this summer, although I look at some of the options a little different than you do. Dillon will start the year as the lead back, but if he's not much better than he was a year ago that spot might not be his for very long. The problem last season wasn't the drop off from first back to second, it was that the lead back simply wasn't productive. I am intrigued with Maroney's speed and big-play ability. I think he's the type of game breaker that fans haven't seen in New England years. In my mind, Faulk remains a consistent and dangerous third-down threat when he is healthy (and he may have been the PFW MVP of the recently completed mini-camp). That said, I do believe Maroney will be an option in the passing game and could get some reps that might normally have gone to Faulk. Beyond those three, the rest of the backs are big question marks. I think the addition of Garret Mills, officially listed as a fullback on the team roster, could spell the end for both Pass and Klecko when training camp closes. Mills is a passing option and not a true fullback, but no one on the team is and it's not something the Patriots use very often. Like so many other spots, it will be interesting to see how the running back roles play out in the preseason and how long Dillon can hold off the hungry, athletic youngster to retain the bulk of the carries.
Andy Hart

Al Groh seems to be present at many Patriots games, camps and practices, is there any plans to bring him into the Pats coaching ranks? Is he studying BB coaching philosophy and applying it in Virginia? Or is he being "primed" for a future coaching job with the Pats?
Andres Ochoa

I wouldn't get too far ahead of yourself with Groh, 8-man. He's been at different games (2004 AFC Championship in Pittsburgh) and practices over the years. He and Belichick have known each other for a long time and clearly retain a strong relationship. "I talk to Al quite a bit," Belichick said during the recent mini-camp. "He and I go back a long way. It's good to have people like that, that are familiar with you and your system and how you can be able to exchange professional football ideas with and their experiences as well as the personal side of it. He's a good friend and I have a very high regard for Al and a lot of respect for him and his opinions. It's good to have him here." He's clearly part of Bill's trusted coaching "family." They share philosophies, experiences and ideas. That's only natural. But I'm not sure it goes much further than that at this point.
Andy Hart

Belichick's has stated that the greatest improvement in performance occurs between year 1 and 2; and that, by year 3 you pretty much know what you have in a player. Given this statement (and frankly, I drank the Kool-Aid a long, long time ago), can we surmise that Tully Banta-Cain is nothing more than a special teams player and a mop-up duty linebacker? I had high hopes for Banta "Cain't", but if he couldn't get on the field last year in the regular rotation with all the LB problems, to me it means the coaching staff does not have faith in his abilities; and, I know it's only now year 3 for Marquis Hill, but is he on borrowed time? One would think that with the Seymour injury last year, Hill, if the coaching staff had any confidence in him, would have seen more snaps than he did in fact get. Thanks.*Tony *

I don't want to starting ripping guys here, I leave that for good friend Tom Casale, but I think both Banta-Cain and Hill will be in a battle for their roster lives this summer. Banta-Cain came into the league with reputation as a pass rusher but has been nothing much more than a special teamer at this point and it looks like that's all he'll ever be. He's never worked his way into the defensive mix in any way and doesn't seem like he's on the verge of it now. Hill has done even less in New England. As a second-round pick he's struggled to even be active on game days much of the time. I know he plays behind the likes of Seymour, Ty Warren and even Jarvis Green, but rookie free agent Mike Wright found a way to get on the field more often than Hill. Potential is fine, but it's time Hill shows the ability to actually perform at the NFL level, if it's not already too late. The Patriots pride themselves on having a deep roster where spots have to be earned and maintained. That could be bad news for Hill, Banta-Cain and others who are on the bubble and have yet to carve out distinct roles in New England.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys! If I look at history of contracts for top players: Seymour and Brady got the money they wanted. Law and Givens did not, and left. If Pats give Law what he wants, Law is back. It all looks simple to me. So while you keep on explaining to us Pats "value" system, for the top players, it does not amount to much. All Pats would accomplish with Branch is shift some money around in his deal. So why not do it sooner than later so he'll be back on the field?
Sam

Are you saying that professional sports are about money? I've never heard that theory posed before. You should write a book about it. Call TV and radio shows. You need to get your ground-breaking ideas out to the general public. I always thought it was just about the love of the game.
Andy Hart

Ask PFW Part II

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