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Ask PFW Part II: More post mini-camp ponderings

Last week, you appeared to answer a lot of e-mails about Branch holding out, and I thought I'd throw in my two cents worth. Seymour is a top DE, and they are hard to come by, so it is nearly impossible to get a top 5 rated DE from free agency or even trade, but WR is a position with unbelievable depth, and teams don't tend to hang on to WRs unless they need to, for example, Randy Moss, T.O., Plaxico Burress, etc..... So I can't see Branch being around for long, if Jackson does well, we should keep him at number 1 and if Caldwell stays healthy, he's number 2 and there's always a decent WR available if needed, like Ashley Lelie or Jevon Walker, so WR is a luxury position, whereas DE is vital, or at least I can't name many top DE that have moved recently, except, Jevon Kearse, John Abraham, unless you count people like Kimo Van Oelofen (or whatever the spelling is), I could never see Freeney, Peppers, Strahan, etc..... anywhere else. Look at Givens, he was arguably as reliable as Branch, but a Decent Coach, such as Belichick didn't value a WR, as he does, QB - Brady, DE - Seymour. Certain people can go, like safeties - Milloy and WR - Givens, Branch and others are more important, such as QB and DE, and if Branch wants to stay, then I believe he's going the wrong way about it and should accept less money if he likes New England. Anyway, TEs are more important than WRs, look at San Diego, Gates is a TE and who else, McCardell maybe, but he's not great!Tim Hart

Sorry to jump on a fellow Hart, but what the heck are you talking about? Your argument goes in circles three times. Is Gates better than McCardell? Yes. Does that mean all TEs are more important than all WRs? Not even close. Brady and Seymour are arguably the best at their positions right now and potential future Hall of Famers. That's why they got paid and are the exception to any "value" rules. But to assume that WRs are always available for short money is a little naïve. Walker was available, but only for a team willing to sign a big-money contract extension. The bottom line is that the best players generally earn the most money. Givens is gone because he was a No. 2 wideout here but another team was willing to pay him near No. 1 wideout money. Is a dominant defensive end more difficult to find than a similarly talented wide receiver? Maybe, but we just have to be careful with generalizations across all positions. Each player, position and example needs to be assessed on an individual basis. That's what Pioli and Belichick do. And whether you like their decisions or not, that's what they will continue do. It's not as easy as widespread generalizations like DE is more important than QB or TE than WR. It's just not that simple.
Andy Hart

We've been hearing a lot about Dave Thomas, in rookie and mini camp, about the way he catches everything thrown his way (which is great) but we haven't heard that much about Garrett Mills. Is that because he isn't doing too well or that he's overlooked as a second day draft choice? We heard a lot about Mils, his similarities to Thomas, his varied rolls on offense and special teams, and his ability to contribute to the team prior to the camps...I was just wondering what happened to him...Kacper K.

Mills is currently listed as a fullback by the team. He's worked at both fullback and tight end in camp, in line with his H-back skillset. He's had up and down days of practice, but it's still way too early to rate his performances at this point. He does carry a bit less in terms of expectations as a second-day pick, but I still think he will make the team and have a role at some point. He has a lot of work to do and plenty of things to work on, but certainly no one is giving up on him two months into his pro career.
Andy Hart

It is reported that Monty Beisel, so far in mini-camp, has been seeing more time at weakside ILB, or "Will," rather than at strongside ILB, or "Mike," where he spent most of his time last year. This switch is being posited as reasons for optimism regarding Beisel's attempt to earn a starting spot in this year's LB unit. A number of details in this report confused me, and brought up some questions. First, I've always heard the term "Will" linebacker used to describe the weakside OLB, with the weakside ILB called the "Mac" or "Jack." Are you familiar with which nicknames the Pats give to which LB positions? Secondly, I was under the impression that Beisel spent most of his time playing at the weakside ILB position Bruschi's absence left vacated, and that the bulk he added in the offseason was in preparation to move over to Ted Johnson's old strongside ILB, or "mike," spot. Where, in fact, did Beisel play most of his snaps last year? Finally, if Beisel does in fact play weak ILB in '06, what do you think of permanently moving Bruschi to the run-stuffing strongside ILB position? Does this take full advantage of Bruschi's playmaking ability? I understand some of my questions are perhaps a bit dry compared to Ask PFW's usual fare, but I'm really hoping you'll take a stab at answering this for me, as I would very much like to understand more about the Patriots' situation at the ILB position, as I feel it figures to play a deciding role in the performance of the Patriots' defense in '06.Jaime Hammond

I don't find this stuff dry, Jaime, in fact these are some of my favorite questions. This brings us back to good ol' basic football. No contracts. No egos. Just football.
Bruschi has been playing the Mike spot in the New England defense for some time now, especially when he played alongside a few years back Roman Phifer. Beisel played the spot last year early in the season, with Chad Brown taking reps at Will. While Will is the name of the weakside outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense it's the weakside inside linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense. The Mike is the middle linebacker in the 4-3 and strongside inside linebacker in the 3-4. The Mike is the more stout, run stuffer playing on the strong side of the offensive formation, a role that Johnson filled very well when he was healthy. The other spots in the New England defense are the Sam, strongside outside linebacker, and the Jack, the weakside outside linebacker. The names are more roles than players, though, as the outside guys generally play a side more than a formation and have to be able to switch roles if the offense changes the strength of formation through motioning of players.
Keeping all that in mind, Beisel's build and athleticism should make him a better fit at Will playing next to Bruschi. Bruschi has grown into a very good Mike linebacker and should be able to help Beisel improve his production in his second season in the system.
As confusing as it all seems, I hope that clears some things up for you.
Andy Hart

Thanks for the great pictures from mini camp plus all the other great coverage, it helps get me through to training camp. Question: I see a lot of linemen wearing something strapped to their upper calves, just below the knee. Some kind of device? What is it and what is its purpose? Thanks,Gary Abrams

Sorry but no sexy answer here, G. Those are knee braces that most of the offensive linemen wear in an attempt to prevent against knee injuries. You are seeing the lower strap where the brace attaches to the lower leg. The brace runs along the outside of the leg/knee and has a similar strap around the upper leg, often covered by the players' shorts.
Andy Hart

Just wondering are the rumors that the Pats may be interested in drafting Ahmad Brooks in the upcoming supplemental draft are true? Although there may be character issues here, he would have been considered the 1st or 2nd best linebacker if he had been in the April draft. Another strong indicator of interest may be Al Groh's recent visit to Pats training camp. Could you also discuss the implications if the Patriots were to draft Brooks in the supplemental draft? I have also heard rumors that the Pats would be very interested in Donnie Edwards if he were to be released by the Chargers. I can only imagine the possibilities of having Bruschi and Edwards in the middle of a 3-4 defense. To me, these rumors lead me to believe that the Patriots would prefer to move Vrabel back in his OLB spot most likely because of the recent loss of McGinest to the Browns in free agency. It also makes me think they are not entirely comfortable with the players they have to fill the ILB spot next to Bruschi should they move Vrabel back outside.
Erik Sivertsen

There is no doubt that the Patriots would rather have Vrabel making plays on the outside. Vrabel would also rather be out there. And based on mini-camp the plan is to start the season with him playing out on the edge with Beisel filling the void on the inside. I wouldn't read too much into Groh coming to mini-camp (see earlier answer). I am sure he's given the Patriots a scouting report on Brooks and Belichick will trust what Groh tells him. Now what that is exactly, regarding a player Groh kicked off his own team, well, your guess is as good as mine. If they Patriots do have an interest in Brooks, they could select him in any round they wish in the supplemental draft in July. All teams submit closed envelope bids on a player saying what round they would be willing to select him. The highest bidder wins and loses the draft pick of that same round in next April's draft. So if the Patriots bid a third-round pick for Brooks and that is the highest of any team, they would get him and lose their third-round pick next April. And as far as Edwards, I am sure if he got released in San Diego the Patriots would do their due diligence and look into it. I tend to think there would be other teams that would show more lucrative interest in Edwards where he might be a better fit. But any team that really wanted the playmaking veteran could have him right now for the right price in a trade and no one has stepped up to the plate just yet.
Andy Hart

As of now I believe that the Pats have only Matt Cassel as backup to Tom Brady. Please do not skewer me if I am wrong. Is there any chance they would pursue Gibran Hamdan from NFL Europe? Though he has suffered 2 season-ending injuries in the last 2 years, he has both led the best team in NFL Europe and been Offensive MVP in those same consecutive years. He may not be worth big money but he could be a serviceable # 2 or 3. What do you think?Jay Brooks

I am going to skewer you, but not for the reasons you alluded to. Cassel is the only real backup to Brady right now as third and fourth stringers Corey Bramlet and Todd Mortensen have little chance to make the team and struggled in mini-camp. But do you really think some injury-plagued NFL Europe "superstar" is really the answer. We've been down this road before. Rohan Davey dominated Europe by stumbling around the backfield, throw bombs and leading his team to victory. That means absolutely nothing on this side of the pond. Nothing. New England needs a third quarterback on the roster, preferably a veteran, but it certainly shouldn't come in the form of damaged goods shipped over from Europe. You can pull my skewer out after you read this. You know I will need it for many future emailers.
Andy Hart

I was wondering if any of the rookie linebackers distinguished themselves at the recent mini-camp. Specifically, Corey Mays, Jeremy Mincey, Freddie Roach or Pierre Woods.
Dick Hurley

Short answer – no. None of the young linebackers really got a lot of reps, especially with the top couple groups of defenders. I would say they are all in a similar group of prospects who will really have to standout in training camp and the preseason in order to earn a role with the team this fall. If you pinned me down, I would say Mincey has the best chance to emerge from the group but that could be a season or so down the road. I think he's an intriguing prospect on the outside as he makes the transition from playing with his hand down as a defensive end to a completely new role as a standup outside linebacker.
Andy Hart

Teams normally spread the signing bonus over the longest possible period for obvious reasons. My question is this: do the teams have to decide at the time that the contract is written how the signing bonus will be allocated for salary-cap reasons, or can they decide later on or change the allocation? Put another way, if the Patriots have salary-cap space can they use it to pay the signing bonuses that would normally be spread over the life of the contract?Phil King

The team could use the cap space, but instead of making the money a signing bonus they would make it a roster bonus and count all of it against the current year's cap. (The Vikings used such a tactic a couple years ago to sign cornerback Antoine Winfield.) But for the most part team's spread out true signing bonuses over the life of the contract to divvy up the cap hits into manageable numbers.
Andy Hart

Now that mini-camp is over and I didn't see any of it in person, I feel qualified to offer my expert opinion on our upcoming season and it's main contributors. Beisel will win us over and cement his starting role inside. Hobbs will become a fan favorite and somewhat of a leader in the secondary. Dillon/Maroney will be the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the NFL. (A little like Bettis/Staley was meant to be.) Chad Jackson will be widely considered the biggest steal in this draft. Conversely, Warfield (hopefully) won't make the team, Rodney's return along with (my man) Tebucky may push Wilson into nickel/dime pkgs around mid-season. Which brings me to my questions: It would seem logical that we will employ our "Big Nickel" pkg. from a few years ago considering what appears to be a thinning LB corps. Has that formation come up much in mini-camp? I only saw brief mention of lining up a safety in the OLB spot. Isn't that also considered a "Big Nickel"? And do you expect Hawkins to keep the SS spot warm for Rodney? He was very impressive last season. ThanksJohn C.

Not bad for a guy who has not seen a single practice rep from the players that will eventually make up the 2006 Patriots. I like the second-hand effort, and I think some of it is dead on. In fact, it sounds like you got most of it from the "expert" analysis available right here on As far as the Big Nickel goes, it was a gimmick that didn't have much success with Victor Green and Co. the first time around. So I'm not necessarily dying for it to make a comeback. But if Harrison gets healthy I do think there is a chance that you could see a late season Nickel package that includes Harrison, Wilson, Hobbs, Samuel and Jones. The versatility brought to the mix by Jones and Wilson, both former cornerbacks, could make for a valuable grouping that would appear to be strong against both the run and the pass in sub packages. Of course all that depends on Harrison making a return to form. And I think it will be Jones, not Hawkins, who will be keeping Harrison's strong safety spot warm for him although second-year player James Sanders seems to also be very much in the mix. I think Jones is a better player than he is given credit for, he knows the system well and is a more than capable backup who started for this team during a Super Bowl run. He wasn't traded to the Saints a couple years ago because the Patriots thought he couldn't play. He was traded because he wanted a contract that was more than they thought he was worth. There is a difference. He's back and he could very well return to a starting role.
Andy Hart

Hello, I have a question about the kicking situation in New England. According to several sources, Stephen Gostkowski kicks higher, farther, and more accurately than Martin Gramatica. My question is, what is Gramatica still doing on the roster? Also, I have heard a lot about these June 1st cuts. However, I have not heard about many teams releasing players. Are teams more happy with their players this year than other years? Finally, if David Patten is released by the Redskins, do you think the Patriots would be interested in him? Thank you for your time.David Bui

Gostkowski has been the more impressive kicker to date. But there is no reason to cut Gramatica at this point and most teams carry two kickers in training camp anyway. There is still a competition to be waged and at the very least a team has to have two kickers to split the reps in camp. My guess is that Gostkowski will win the opening day job, but that hasn't happened yet and there is no reason to cut your insurance policy in June.
Teams have done a better job in managing the cap in recent years and that, combined with the much larger salary cap under the new CBA, has made June 1 a far less important date than it was a few years back. Big name, quality players simply aren't available in June all that often anymore. And while I have heard that Washington has no plans to cut Patten at this time, I do think the Patriots would have an interest if/when he got released. He knows the system and there just isn't a lot of depth at receiver in New England right now.
Andy Hart

Ask PFW Part I

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