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Ask PFW Part II: Moss, Meriweather and much more

We talk about the DL a lot and the talent they have on it but what about the OL? With all the parts returning to the OL this year and a few new additions how do you think the Pats will do running the ball and in pass protection? What do you think about Stephen Neal and some of the other guys? Does anyone on this line have Pro Bowl talent and if so who? Can they afford to suffer any serious or prolonged injuries and still be a force?Jason Gabrielson

While New England's offensive line isn't as talented or proven as the team's defensive group, I think the unit has the chance to continue to greatly improve heading into 2007. The nucleus of young, experienced players across the group returns and could remain in place for the next couple years. That should help in the ever important continuity factor that coaches and players so often seek. The group needs to work on its consistency in both run blocking and pass protection, though. I think the talent is there for it to be a relatively strong unit, but the proof has to come on the field each and every Sunday with far more consistency than has been the case.
Is there anyone with Pro Bowl talent? Despite the fact that left tackle Matt Light struggles at times with speed rushers and isn't considered one of the elite in the game, he was elected as an alternate and played in his first Pro Bowl last February. Beyond that I think the team's three interior linemen – left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen and right guard Neal – all have the chance to develop to a Pro Bowl level. In fact my guess is that either Mankins or Neal earns a trip to Hawaii this season.
Beyond the starters – and the starting job at right tackle may still be up in the air as third-year player Nick Kaczur fends off returning sophomore Ryan O'Callaghan and others – I think the group also has decent depth. Dante Scarnecchia has done a very nice job developing the likes of Russ Hochstein (C/G), Billy Yates (G/C), Wesley Britt (T), Gene Mruczkowski (G/C) and O'Callaghan over the last few years. So I do think the group could continue with relative success through injuries as it has at various times and various positions in recent years.
Andy Hart

With all the current moves the Patriots have made, what does the salary cap look like? Do they have enough money under the cap to re-sign Asante or is this going to be another Branch situation? Thanks for keeping us Pats fan who are no longer in the area well informed.Gerson Hernandez

The Patriots are in fine salary cap shape and certainly have the ability to do a long-term deal with Samuel if the opportunity presents itself in negotiations. Considering that Samuel's $7.79 franchise tender number is currently included in the Patriots present salary cap numbers his cap hit would actually likely go down some if a long term deal were reached as his signing bonus money would be spread out for cap purposes over the life of the new deal. While I don't have access to the team's salary cap numbers my understanding is that despite the most lucrative free agent spending spree of any team this spring the Patriots are well funded to sign draft picks, get a deal with Samuel done if possible and still have buffer funds left for the various in-season signings and emergencies that come up during the year. And for the record, the Patriots had the cap space to do long-term deal with Branch last August had they wanted to. Salary cap restraints at that time were not what kept the deal from getting done.
Andy Hart

Hello PFW, With all of the upgrades the Patriots have made this off-season, do you guys think the Patriots will be seeking some retribution against the Colts during the regular season/playoffs? I checked the Pats schedule, and it looks like they'll be facing the Colts in the RCA Dome (I would be thrilled to see the Patriots humiliate the Dolts, and mortify their fans--nothing would make me happier). I don't know about you guys at PFW, but every time I think about the AFC Championship Game last season; my blood begins to boil. I hope the Patriots get some payback on the Colts.Marc M.

Nothing would make you happier? What if I handed you, as Austin Powers would say, $1 billion? That wouldn't make you happier? Now I know you're lying.
Anyway, I do think the Patriots are well motivated to return to the Super Bowl and that likely means a trip through the Colts at some point in the postseason. On some level I really do think the last-minute loss in Indy last January was a driving force for New England's extremely aggressive spring shopping. Another Super Bowl victory (yes, I merely assume the Patriots would have beaten the Bears too) was well within grasp. Losing that has to fuel the 2007 fire. But that doesn't strictly focus on the Colts, a team that has now beaten the Patriots three straight times. It's about championships. It might be a little sweeter for both players and fans if a trip to Super Bowl XLII rolled right through Peyton Manning and the Colts, but the destination is the most important factor in New England's plans for 2007. Glendale, Ariz. or bust!
Andy Hart

Why did the Patriots not pick both a quarterback and a place kicker in the draft? It's important that the Patriots have a decent "third string" quarterback available just in case they might need him in an emergency situation, and having a competition among place kickers is also worthwhile if there truly is somebody else that's better out there for the Patriots.John Moore

I like the way you think John. While other negative people are wondering how the heck the Patriots failed to draft a linebacker and the positive types are praising the Randy Moss acquisition, you see the downside that comes with the lack of drafting a third-string quarterback and backup place kicker. Geez, maybe former Celtics coach Rick Pitino was right. Maybe all the negativity in this town does stink.
But I'll try to ease your concerns, despite the fact that the Patriots are right now the undisputed favorites to reach the Super Bowl out of the AFC next February. The team has reportedly signed rookie free agent quarterback Matt Gutierrez. Gutierrez, who never lost a game in high school, spent the last season of a disappointing college career at Idaho State after transferring from Michigan. He's smart and probably has the physical tools to compete as a developmental third-string quarterback. And even if he doesn't my guess is the Patriots could get a third guy off the veteran scrap heap as they did last season with Vinny Testaverde. I really wouldn't focus on the third QB job right now.
As far as a kicker to compete with second-year draft pick Stephen Gostkowski, I'm not sure I see the need there. Gostkowski had a very good rookie season as a fourth-round draft pick filling the huge hole left by the departure of Adam Vinatieri. I think he has all the tools and is well on his way to having a nice New England career in his own right. Maybe they'll bring in a guy to ease the sophomore's leg load in camp, but Gostkowski is the man right now and for the foreseeable future.
If your biggest concerns are third QB and backup PK I think that says a lot about what it's like to be a Patriots fan right now. Sit back, enjoy and dream up ways the newly stocked offense is going to put up points with Tom Brady at the helm.
Andy Hart

I have a grandson from out of state who would like to go to a Pats. practice. I can't find the dates. He and his parents are visiting the last week of July and 1st. week of August. Thank you for the information.Al Noyes

Training camp generally opens at Gillette Stadium during the last week of July each year, although the exact date for 2007 has yet to be announced by the team. It usually runs for around three weeks through the first couple weeks of August. For comparisons sake, last year training camp opened on Friday, July 28th. Keep an eye out on Patriots.com for a more specific training camp schedule when the team releases that information, but your grandson should have plenty of opportunities to see training camp during his visit.
Andy Hart

People have a lot of speculation of Patriots maybe going 16-0. I'm a huge Patriots fan but I just don't see us falling under the almighty grace of a 16-0 season. At best maybe, and that's a maybe 15-1. Our transactions thus far in the offseason are beyond words but we do have what seems to be a fairly hard schedule ahead of us and I guess what it's really all boiling down to is where do you see how all of our new transactions come into play to make this Mythical 16-0 season even possible?
Billy Blackwell

There is no doubt the Patriots are one of the more talented teams in football right now and a more talented group than the one that came just seconds short of a Super Bowl berth last January. But there is a big difference between being talented, putting it together to win football games and then going 16-0. I don't think people really understand how hard it is to win in the NFL consistently, never mind to go undefeated. It is impossible to truly to analyze schedules from year to hear, but I do agree that the Patriots have a tough slate ahead of them this fall. First off, playing against the NFC East rather than the NFC North immediately makes things that much more difficult. There are no cupcakes in the NFC East. Then factor in games against the Chargers, Colts, Bengals, Steelers and Ravens and you are talking about a large group of highly competitive, potential playoff opponents. Even the Jets will be a big challenge in a pair of meetings. The Patriots will come together later in the season as a far more cohesive and talented unit, just as the team has done in every other season under Belichick. But the new talent may take time to come together and New England plays the Jets, Chargers, Bengals and Cowboys in four of the team's first six games. That's not easy. Then there is a four-week stretch in Nov./Dec. that includes the Eagles, a trip to Baltimore, the Steelers and the Jets. That's another very tough month of football.
I think the Patriots will be very good, will win the division and will compete for a top AFC playoff spot. They will probably win somewhere between 12 and 14 games. That will be a very impressive win total. And if they happen to do the unthinkable and go 16-0 it will be the most impressive feat I've witnessed in my time covering the golden age of Patriots football history. It would also arguably be the greatest single season in the history of any team in any sport. But maybe we should at least wait until after rookie mini camp to really starting talking about a perfect season. Give the horse some time to catch up to the cart.
Andy Hart

This is Jeff Oldenburg; I'm Clint's cousin. I'm a big fan of Clint, and I know that with his work ethic and intelligence, he will likely earn a precious roster spot or a spot on the practice squad. Go Pats!!
Jeff Oldenburg

I doubt you are really Clint Oldenburg's cousin, but I also thought his brother was a fake when he emailed in prior to the draft. Maybe the Oldenburg family is larger and more far reaching than anyone realizes. Should we get a new slogan here? "Patriots.com, the official home of the New England Patriots, Clint Oldenburg and the entire Oldenburg family." For the record I think Oldenburg's versatility, athleticism and work ethic make him a strong candidate for the practice squad. But I'll let you know more when I actually see him hit somebody in training camp.
Andy Hart

What's up guys? I always enjoy reading your insights on the Pats every week. My question is what's up with all the hoopla over Tom Brady wearing a Yankee's hat? I can't believe the big stink some of the media is making over this. I mean, this guy is a 3-time Super Bowl champ, Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer!! To me, he's the best QB in the game. Now I'm watching these donkeys at ESPN (hello Mike Greenberg) saying that this is bad for Tom and that the fans are going to turn on him!!! Figures that a Jets fan like morning Mike needs to find something to give him any hope to grasp on to. So Tom, wear a Yanks hat, a Canadians jersey and Knicks shorts. As long as you keep taking us to the promised land come football season, this Boston fan could care less what you wear.
Billy The Hud

I cannot believe Tom Brady is walking around wearing a Yankees hat...FOR SHAME! DISGUSTING.
Robin Jackson

I lean toward agreeing with the first email rather than the later. If Brady is a Yankees fan, I don't really care. If it was just a part of his very fashionable New York attire, I don't care. If his girlfriend told him to wear it, I don't care. (And for the record I'd have worn it too if a hot babe wanted me to.) Remember Brady is just a guy and he was a human being long before he was the face of Patriots Nation. Billy the Hud is right. (Please email in and tell me what 'Hud' means and hopefully it's not something that has me posting inappropriate things on our site. If it is dirty, I'll just pretend you're the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.) As long as Brady is working hard, continues to be focused on winning and does his job on the field he can wear whatever he wants. Come on people. Now if he throws a key interception, then I'll be all over him.
Andy Hart

Is there any chance that Junior Seau will play for the Patriots this year. It would be nice to have him back since last season was cut short for him.Robin Hatch

I think there is a chance that Seau could be brought back. I haven't heard much on the topic of late, but the future Hall of Famer said shortly after the season that he'd like to return for an 18th year. I think he'd be a nice addition to the depth at inside linebacker and probably wouldn't have to start and play as much as he did a year ago when he was the team's most consistent linebacker before breaking his arm. I'd certainly sign him to add depth to the position and I think the Patriots will at least consider doing so as well.
Andy Hart

With the many offseason moves orchestrated by BB and Scott Pioli one has to wonder what will become of Chad Jackson? Is there the possibility of him becoming a return guy/special teamer? or is he likely on his way out? He seemed to be full of potential but we know that potential does not win football games and being on the field does.Dan Whaley

Right now Jackson is recovering from surgery to repair the ACL injury suffered in the AFC title game. My guess is that he will start training camp and probably the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. While he had a disappointing rookie season and the injury can do nothing to help his development heading into his second season it is still far too early to give up on him. No one can argue that he has physical talent that makes his future intriguing. Combine that with the fact that of this year's potential crop of receivers Moss, Brown, Stallworth and Kelley Washington could all be gone by this time next spring and there could once again be a need for receivers after the 2007 season. There will be a role there for Jackson to win when healthy. He still has the potential to be an offensive contributor, but he has a long way to go to prove it with any regularity on the game field.
Andy Hart

First off, let me thank you for the great job you all do on PFW. I am currently stationed in Iraq, and when the internet is up, I love getting up to date on my (sorry! OUR) Patriots! My question is; do you at PFW think it possible that Cory Dillon could be enticed to come back to N.E. for one more season, given the offseason additions, and our seemingly Super Bowl-bound status (in my mind, if no-one else's!) I would think he might want to be a part of the excitement one more time. Certainly, our air attack this coming season should open up the ground game, and while not an every down back anymore, he certainly had a nose for the end zone on short yardage situations last year (13 times!) I think it would be great! What are your thoughts? Also, I'm not familiar with Sammy Morris. Could you give your opinion as to strengths and weaknesses? Thanks much!
Tim Smith

I don't think Dillon would come back. He clearly didn't want to play second fiddle to Laurence Maroney and be a part-time ball carrier. That ship has passed. He had his run here and is either going to pop up elsewhere or retire.
Morris is a solid career backup (Bills, Dolphins) who brings some decent versatility to New England. I think he will play a role in both the running and passing games. He hopes to be used at times in some of the same ways that Kevin Faulk has been used over the years. He also will spell Maroney on early downs when the second-year workhorse needs a break. He's a tough runner and decent athlete. He might not put up huge numbers, but I think he'll be a nice contributor to the offense in a variety of ways.
Andy Hart

Where do the Patriots train? I say it's in Foxboro...my boyfriend says I'm wrong. Thank you...Ellen Santos

I say your boyfriend doesn't know what he's talking about. The Patriots train at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Tell him to never doubt you again. Then make him take you out to dinner and buy you something nice.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, I am very excited about the plethora of wide receivers that the Pats now have, but I have to wonder who are the ones who won't make the team. If we assume that the Pats will keep 6 receivers, which is a stretch, and we assume that Moss, Stallworth and Welker are safe, which given their price tags and talent they probably are. If we also assume that Troy Brown really wants to come back and BB really wants him back, then that leaves 2 remaining spots for Chad Jackson, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and Kelley Washington, not to mention Kelvin Kight, et al that are also under contract. Who do you think will be the odd men out? Caldwell, his dropped passes in the championship game aside, had a good year and probably deserves another year. Jabar Gaffney became Tom Brady's favorite receiver late in the year and made some very clutch catches. Chad Jackson was a second-round pick only a year ago and you wouldn't think that the Pats would be willing to give up on him yet. Kelley Washington was signed as a very talented, big receiver, who couldn't break the top 3 receivers in Cincinnati. This is a much better problem to have than the one that we had last year at this time regarding our receivers, and much more fun to contemplate. I look forward to your insight.Dan Driban

I think it is fair to assume New England will keep six receivers. As I said above, I feel Jackson will likely start the year on PUP so he won't take up one of the six spots early in the season. I also agree that Welker is a lock due to his contract and Moss and Stallworth should be pretty safe unless something freak occurs. Brown is also safe based on everything that's been said on both sides, even though he's not currently healthy or under contract. That's four spots down with two left to fill in a battle between Washington, Caldwell, Gaffney and other the rest. Washington brings a unique dimension in terms of size and style of receiver. Caldwell led the team a year ago. Gaffney became Tom Brady's favorite target in the postseason. That's an interesting battle. My guess is Washington and Caldwell make it and Gaffney is cut. But it wouldn't surprise me to see any combination of the three sent packing from the re-tooled receiving corps. Regardless of who comes out on top, it will be fun to watch how the receiver position plays out both in training camp and through the regular season.
Andy Hart

Hi. Where did the Patriots' assigned 5th round pick (165th overall) go? I saw it went to Oakland, but what did Patriots get in return? Was it a trade? I did not see anybody mention it. Randy Moss is for the 4th round, right? So what happened to the assigned 5th round? Thanks.Chien Ma

That pick was traded to the Raiders last September in exchange for wide receiver Doug Gabriel.
Andy Hart

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