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Ask PFW: Part II

Hey guys, enjoyed the PFW in Progress [on draft] weekend, really helped me with my lesser known players. I have a question about what you guys think the offensive line will look like this year. I can't quote it, but I remember during day 2 you guys were discussing possibilities for the o-line, but I didn't hear Mankins' name, unless I missed it, I can't believe he wouldn't be back at LG. The line did have problems last year in the run game, and although we obviously can't predict how well rookies do and if they'll become starters, but what do you foresee as the line? Some people are saying O'Callaghan's a guard but I think he'll end up RT in the end.Michel LaFrance

If we left out Mankins in our discussion it was an accident. I expect him to be the team's left guard in 2006 and well beyond. Stephen Neal was re-signed and is the clear-cut starter at right guard. Beyond that I'm not sure anything else can be taken for granted right now. Matt Light is working hard to return from the injury that landed him on IR last year, but I wouldn't say he's a lock for opening day right now at left tackle. Dan Koppen is also working hard, but I think he's an even longer shot to start on opening day at center. We'll know more about both guys as the summer progresses and training camp practices roll around. If those guys aren't ready, a lot of spots will be up for grabs. Nick Kaczur is probably next in line at left tackle, but if Light is healthy could get the nod over Brandon Gorin on the right side. Russ Hochstein is probably the backup plan at center, and also has flexibility to backup at guard. As far as the rookie draft picks, I think Stevenson is a backup option on the inside while Ryan O'Callaghan is a very realistic option at tackle. Some believe he has some flexibility to play guard or tackle, including his college line coach, but I think he's more of a tackle and lacks the athleticism to do things in terms of pulling in the Patriots offense. As with most rookies, though, he's still a major unknown right now. But as I said, if everyone's healthy the only real question comes at right tackle. If Light and Koppen are slow to return, three of the five starting spots could be up for grabs.
Andy Hart

Besides Daniel Graham and Dan Koppen, which Patriots are eligible for free agency after this season?
Terry G.

Other notable Patriots whose contracts are set to expire after this coming season are Tully Banta-Cain, Monty Beisel, Deion Branch, Troy Brown, Don Davis, Russ Hochstein, Larry Izzo, Dan Klecko, Patrick Pass and Asante Samuel.
Andy Hart

I really just want to see you answer my question in Ask PFW. I asked a question of you guys about 3 weeks ago, and it was about the possibility of Ray Lewis coming to New England. This wasn't something I made up to start rumors, I really heard this discussed on WEEI. But I am asking you guys because you are the Football experts, they are the Baseball experts. I want to know what the truth is behind this, if any, and I want to see my question on the board. I thought with [last] week's posting being all about linebackers, what more of a perfect one to post it in? But I still got button hooked (obscure reference). Please, enlighten me on this one, I have to admit, even with how rumoresque this sounds the idea is more than intriguing. P.S. Is rumoresque a word?Ryan Oak

You only made in due to your Adam Sandler reference this week, tree boy. Generally I delete anyone who begs to be answered or complains about not being included in previous Ask PFWs. Consider yourself warned. I don't think Lewis would be a good fit in New England, on or off the field. He complains about not be protected and just wanting to run free and make plays. That's not what I'm looking for and it's certainly not what Belichick is looking for in his defense. His best days are behind him, he complains about his contract and I'm not sure he's a great teammate. You have to be stout to play in this two-gap defense and the knock on Lewis is that you can run right at him. Not a good fit. No thanks, I'll pass on Lewis. And I think Belichick and Co. would too.
Andy Hart

Bethel Johnson has been frustrating to watch. Aside from the occasional homerun pass or kick-off return...he has done nothing to merit a second-round draft pick. So is this it for Johnson? Is this his last year to prove that he can be a productive receiver with the Patriots? He seems to have all the tools to be a very good receiver but has yet to put it all together. Thanks, I really enjoy your column and you guys do a great job answering questions.
Jeff H.

This may be Johnson's last chance in New England and, having spoken with him recently, I think he knows it. You are right in that he's never lived up to a second-round pick and has only shown minimal flashes of his potential brilliance and great speed. He says he works hard, understands the offense well and believes he's ready for a breakout year, but he still has to prove it for people to take him seriously. Until that happens he will remain unproven potential and you can only get by for so long on that. There isn't a lot of depth at wide receiver, so there is clearly a window of opportunity for Johnson to win a role in the regular rotation. Now he has to go out and do it.
Andy Hart

I currently live in the area where, apparently Freddie Roach grew up. I am a big Alabama fan, and an even bigger Patriots fan. I saw in the local paper that Roach had signed with the Pats after the draft, yet I have seen nothing from the Patriots. I was wondering if the Pats signed Mr. Roach, and if he would see significant playing time?
Drew Gilbert

Roach did sign as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Patriots. Like most rookie free agents he has a long ways to go before he has a chance to even win a roster spot, never mind find some playing time. I think he has a chance because he's a true inside linebacker type and was very productive in that role at Alabama. But he needs to prove he has the speed and athleticism to do it in the NFL. That starts this coming weekend at rookie mini camp and will continue into training camp and the fall if he lasts that long. I think he has a chance, now it's up to him to produce and earn a longer look with the team moving forward.
Andy Hart

This may be a little late to ask, but what happens if a team doesn't choose a player within the allotted time period?Kacper K.

Once the time expires on a team, the next team on the clock has the right to pick any player they want. The previous team then needs to get its pick in ASAP or other subsequent teams can also pass it in the draft order. That scenario happened a couple years back with the Minnesota Vikings (I think they drafted Kevin Williams when the finally selected) getting passed in the first round. It also happened here with the Patriots in 2002 in the seventh round when the team's time expired and other teams selected before New England finally chose wide receiver David Givens.
Andy Hart

Gentlemen, With all the Tight Ends now on the roster and Daniel Graham's contract coming up soon I have a question that may sound laughable in the face of conventional wisdom but Belichick is not always a conventional coach (see zero down-linemen Buffalo game and Vrabel catching TDs) so I have to ask. Could it be advantageous for Belichick to switch Daniel Graham (even part-time) to WR? Before you laugh, consider 7 teams are now using the 3-4 scheme so having a large target almost like a Moulds (yes albeit slower) to contend with LBs would be beneficial. Graham is quick and tough to take down - imagine DBs bouncing off him if he's split wide and racing down the sideline (even moreso if he shed 10-15 pounds). Halfbacks have their fullback counterparts and I think Graham could fill that large WR counterpart role - especially down in the red zone with another big & tall body to make space and be more vertical. I don't think it would be an every-down formation but I could definitely see him in to move chains and bodies against a team like Pittsburgh or San Diego. You can stop laughing now.Matt McNulty

Do you have any idea how hard it is to type with tears of laugher in your eyes? I can't even breath I'm laughing so hard. Water shot out my nose. I haven't laughed like this in a quite a while. OK, trying to gather myself and breath normally. Eyes clearing up. OK, ready to answer. Graham is a tight end whose strength is blocking and has questionable hands. You want to move him to WR, at least part time. I think that would take him out of some of his best roles. I think Benjamin Watson would actually be better suited for such a transition, but I wouldn't do it with him either. I think good tight ends can lineup split at times and cause matchup problems. I just don't want them out there all the time. Part of the beauty of moving them around is in the fact that defenses don't really know where an athlete like Watson is going to line up after the huddle breaks and as such end up with a linebacker or safety covering him in a mismatch. Make him a wide receiver on every play and he gets covered by an extra corner on every play. You lose your matchup advantage. So using Watson, or Graham, Mills or Thomas, lined up as a wide receiver, at times is a good idea. Making them fulltime WRs thanks to a lack of depth at the position is not. Thanks for the laugh though.
Andy Hart

Time and time again, people have said that our receivers aren't good enough, but I don't agree, I mean, Branch is Class, Chad Jackson is arguably the best WR from his draft, so, especially with Brady and Belichick and his staff could be great. Look what they did with Givens, who was a 7th rounder, and Reche Caldwell isn't bad but not great either, but an upgrade on last year. And then if you are talking about receivers, then you should count TEs, with Watson being a really good receiver and Graham is good and Thomas and Mills, are receiving TE/FB's. So if they can come through, our receiving could be in good hands! Not to mention out of the backfield. So, it doesn't matter that the WR is only 3 deep, because the others are so good! Do you agree with this?Tim Hart

No, I don't agree. Right now you have a proven Branch and not much else at wide receiver. Caldwell could be on the upswing and benefit from playing with Brady and the change of uniform. Jackson has tons of potential but is still just a rookie. Troy Brown is a proven veteran presence, but I think his biggest contributions are clearly behind him. As I said in a previous answer, Johnson may be looking at his last chance to prove himself in New England. Even Branch has to prove he can make it through a full season with no injury concerns to slow him down. He also has to prove that he can beat the double and triple teams that he struggled with at times a year ago and will clearly see once again this season. If that's not more questions than any one receiving corps should have, then call me crazy. That's not to say there isn't potential, or that Brady and Co. can't make it work. Just don't try to tell me that it's a perfect formula for winning offense. And while the tight ends are a deep, talented group they have to prove they can also stay healthy all season. Even if they do, and even if Watson has the breakout season that even Brady is predicting, I'm not sure that completely makes up for potential shortcomings or unproven talent at wide receiver. But there is still plenty of time before opening day and therefore plenty of time for Jackson, Caldwell and others to earn Brady's trust and prove they can be consistent offensive weapons. By the way, nice name.
Andy Hart

Hey, guys I appreciate all you do. I had a thought about why the Patriots may have gone offensive in their draft and I wanted run it by you and see what you think. Do you think the Patriots went offensive, because they knew that with all of the young LB, and DE's drafted this year would cause a lot of veterans to be released once the roster cuts start and that they can pick up some veteran help at LB for the price they're willing to pay? They must think they have enough firepower that they can fill the holes with some veterans left in FA and after the roster cuts and then go defensive next year in the draft. I imagine with all of the losses that the Patriots had, they will have a lot of compensatory picks like they did this year. Tom C. thanks for all your draft work. It was very informative, although I didn't agree with all of your assessments I think it adds to the fan experience tremendously.Matt B.

First, Tom's ego is getting big enough these days so lets not go crazy with the praise. I mean could he have been any more off on Oliver Hoyte? And I think your Fred Kirsch-like conspiracy theory on the draft is a little farfetched. Even if the scenario unfolds and a lot of vets are cut on defense and particularly at LB, thinking those guys could come right in, learn the defense in a week and help the team out immediately is a bit naïve. Chad Brown had as much experience as anybody and an offseason to learn the defense and he admitted it was extremely difficult. So why would other guys be able to do it in a like a week? I think the Patriots drafted offense because that's where the value was when they were on the clock. There was a run on top defenders before the team picked at 21, so looking at the top offensive players available was the obvious thing to do. Drafting need for the sake of drafting need and ignoring value is a huge mistake that can set a team back for years. The Patriots didn't fall into that trap. But it had nothing to do with any mysterious crystal ball that told them what players would be coming available late this summer. Good try.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW. With the Pats drafting Stephen Gostkowski, what do you think the odds are of Martin Gramatica ever actually kicking a field goal for the Pats are? I know a lot of people weren't too thrilled when the Pats signed him. But I think if he's healthy there's a chance he could be a solid replacement for Adam Vinatieri. Not that any one could ever do that. But what a better place to start then with a guy named Automatica Gramatica. So I guess my real question is, if Automatica Gramatica has a solid preseason. Do you think there's a chance Gostkowski could spend his first season on the practice squad. I know this didn't exactly work out when the Pats tried putting Owen Pochman on the practice squad his rookie year. But I think Martin deserves a shot.Adam Sennott

The kicking battle could be one of the more interesting competitions in training camp. In an ideal world I think the best scenario would be if Gostkowski comes in and clearly wins the job. But if Gramatica is the better preseason kicker, that leaves a decision to be made. If you put Gostkowski on the practice squad there is a chance you could lose him. You can entice him to stay there with money and promises of a long future with the team, but there is still some risk another team could scoop him up. Putting Gostkowski on the practice squad would allow Gramatica to kick this year, at least until the coaching staff feels the rookie is ready. If Gramatica then falters, Gostkowski is waiting in the wings to be thrown out there. But if you go with Gostkowski from opening day, that means you likely have to cut ties with Gramatica and could lose him to another team looking for a kicker depending on how attractive the veteran becomes after preseason action. As I said, the best option is for Gostkowski to win the job from day one and begin what Patriots fans hope will be a long, successful career.
Andy Hart

Is the mini camp this weekend open to the public if so what time are the practice sessions?
Mitch Rose

Mini camps are not open to the public. The first time fans will be able to get a glimpse at the player that will make up the 2006 Patriots is at the start of training camp here at Gillette Stadium sometime in late July. Sorry, but you'll have to wait a couple more months to quench your Patriots practice thirst.
Andy Hart

When Tom was at Michigan, his uniform number was number 10-why is he wearing number 12, did someone on the team have number 10 and the didn't want to hand it over to a rookie?
Brian Shea

Punter Lee Joh
Johnson wore No. 10 in New England at the time that Brady was drafted. And lowly sixth-round draft picks don't generally get numbers handed to them by proven veterans, even if it is a punter. Sure, carrying the resume and cache he has now Brady could get any number he wanted. But back then he was, no offense to the Corey Bramlets of the world these days, a nobody. Even though it's funny to think of it that way now.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys - Unfortunately we cannot look forward to a 3 Games to Glory, Part IV for the 2005 season, but can we anticipate one of the conventional NFL season recap videos? The Patriots had one in 2002 when they missed the playoffs, but I've yet to hear anything about our 2005-2006 campaign even though it was a remarkable season given the adversity the team weathered. Thanks
Ken R.

NFL films puts out a season review DVD for every team each season. The DVD generally becomes available sometime in July and, as always, will be ready for purchase at the Patriots online Pro Shop on patriots.com as well as the Pro Shop here at Gillette Stadium.
Andy Hart

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