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Ask PFW: Patriots ring in mini-camp

Super Bowl rings on their fingers, the Patriots close out a spring of work this week with mandatory mini-camp at Gillette Stadium. This week’s Ask PFW continues looking at the various issues in New England as the team builds to 2015.

Perhaps I am a "spoiled" Pats fan, but I believe that if Patriots win one more SB, they will break a number of records and set themselves as the most successful dynasty in football ever. I also believe that Patriots are one player, one high quality CB away, from having a roster than can do it.

Do you agree? And if there is such CB that some team may trade, do you think that Pats may go for it, giving a pick, considering that they already lost a first-round pick next year? And if not the pick, what about Chandler Jones who may be gone next year?

S. Goldin

Defending the title would give the Patriots five Super bowl championships, tying the Cowboys and 49ers and one less than the Steelers. It would be the most under one coach/QB combo. It would continue the Kraft/Belichick/Brady dynasty and give the team its second back-to-back run in the era, something no other team has done since New England in 2003-04. All that said, clearly the cornerback position is one issue that has some doubting the Patriots title chances heading into 2015. I said the second that Darrelle Revis darted off to New York that getting to San Francisco immediately became infinitely harder. But I don't see anything on the horizon in terms of a trade that could alter the course of the cornerback position, the secondary or the team. Revis is nearly impossible to replace. Even a guy like Aqib Talib, who was the mid-season addition a couple years back, would be hard to find. Keep your fingers crossed. But right now it looks like the Patriots are going to have to go to battle with the corners that they have on the depth chart. That might be a scary proposition, but it is what it is.

Andy Hart

If/when Tom Brady gets cleared because the report had it all wrong, do you think the league will also admit fault and give New England back the draft picks? I think this is the only reason Kraft decided not to fight it. Thoughts?



I think this is really optimistic thinking, bordering on wishful. I know the recent AEI report has ignited Deflategate chatter and feelings both inside Patriot Nation and around the country, but I don't really see it being definitive enough to change the punishment given the Patriots, but maybe I'm wrong. I don't see that first-round pick or money getting overturned. There is even more mud in the water now. More confusion all the way around. No one looks good. But remember, a big part of the Patriots punishment was supposedly for not cooperating fully with the league's investigation. Sorry, I think that pick and fine are gone for good barring some groundbreaking unforeseen new information.

Andy Hart

I find it highly improbable that Coach Belichick would see the need to discipline Malcolm Butler by keeping him off the practice field for 3 weeks for only being late to a voluntary OTA! I get the whole punishment regime and so forth, but in the past more important players (Randy Moss etc.) were just sent home for the day and that was during the season! Also, taking into consideration the defensive backfield being in flux and who we have to play cornerback, you'd think he'd want Butler to get as many reps as possible, right? I feel there must have been other factors keeping Butler out of the bulk of the OTAs. What do you think?

Gary Abrams

My first reaction to the report of Butler's OTA disciplining was similar to this email. I found it hard to believe a guy was sidelined for six practices for showing up late to just one – and that coming due to a flight being cancelled. I generally use a very unscientific "smell test" for any story I hear. That doesn't seem to pass the smell test. Maybe Belichick was sending a message to a key player for the team at a key time in that guy's career. Maybe. Maybe there is more to the story. The good news is that Butler is back on the field competing for a starting job, getting the reps I do think he needs as he tries to carve out a much larger role for himself in his second season after his breakout fourth quarter in the Super Bowl. For better or worse, Butler could be a key cog in the Patriots title defense hopes.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, I've been wondering if you guys have an idea of how the Patriots pipeline will work once Belichick steps down as head coach, will the Patriots still have an affinity for Urban Meyer products and Rutgers players? It seems like almost every year Uncle Bill takes at least one player from either system, so will the pipeline die with Bill, or will it continue on? Thanks.

Jesse C

I think the "pipeline" will alter significantly when Belichick moves on from New England, whenever that may be. People lean on people they trust and have good communication with. That's the case with Belichick. It would be the case with whoever is making the decisions when he's gone. And I think the Rutgers thing has played itself out at this point. Greg Schiano is far removed from that program and I think he was at the center of that so-called pipeline. It will be interesting to see if Meyer's players at Ohio State become draft targets for Belichick. Of course his track record taking Meyer's players from Florida was pretty poor, so maybe that will be a factor with the attraction to future Buckeyes.

Andy Hart

With the release of TE Tim Wright, what do you think of Fred Davis's chances of making the roster after this transaction? Chandler is more of a Y/in line tight end whereas Davis and Wright would have competed directly for the F spot. Thanks PFW.

Adam Williams

I think Davis' chances have obviously improved, simply by numbers. I thought that both he and Wright were dubious prospects to make the team and still feel that way about Davis. He has a lot to prove, but it can't hurt that he was cut and a returning player was sent packing. And I don't think that Chandler is as much an in-line tight end. I think he's more of a pass catcher to line up in space. He may play in-line, but he has limitations as a blocker. The real guy for that backup spot may still be Michael Hoomanawanui, assuming he makes the team. It's also worth noting that Davis has to prove what he has left at this point after an extended time out of the game and later in a career after an Achilles injury. Right now the tight end depth chart has to go with Rob Gronkowski up top, Chandler seemingly a lock to make the team and then the rest competing for the roster and roles in the offense. And the third tight end role always has to be considered in relation to special teams work as well as compared to spots like fullback, extra running back and extra receiver.

Andy Hart

We're all talking about the CB situation (for good reason), but I'm just as worried about the OG position. Brady can't keep taking the hits he took against Baltimore and Seattle, and I don't see that the interior O-line is any better than last year. Maybe Jackson can fill Connolly's role, but Mason is probably going to need a year learning how to pass block.

That still leaves Wendell, and he's the guy we need to upgrade. Is there something going on that I'm missing? Any chance we could sign Mathis or Blalock? I assume we could get Connolly back if we want him. Why don't we want him? We've added some weapons and depth at TE/WR. Am I some kind of dinosaur because I still believe that football games are won in the trenches?

Dave P.

The guard position certainly is worth watching and is in the top two or three areas of need/caution for the Patriots heading into 2015. It's hard to get a feel for the plan at the position right now, especially with all practice work taking place in shirts and with guys not wearing jersey numbers. Even as a fourth-round pick, Tre Jackson certainly feels like he will be given a chance to start as a rookie. That would come next to his college teammate, Bryan Stork. Even if that works, and it's never a sure-thing to pencil a rookie in as a starter at any position, that would leave another guard spot to look at. Line coach Dave DeGuglielmo admitted last year that no one thought Ryan Wendell could hold up as a starting guard. The veteran was good enough to win a Super Bowl, though. He's back to compete. Connolly is the real wild card at the spot. If he's back, I think he would make a nice option for at least one more year to allow Shaq Mason to develop. Even Belichick admitted at the draft that Mason has a pretty big transition to a pro-style offense and pass protections. Connolly is still available, so I'm assuming he'll be back at some point. Regardless, Dave's overall point is worth noting. It's never good to have a lot of questions on the interior of the offensive line. That's especially true when you have a soon to be 38-year-old quarterback. A lot could happen this summer at the guard spot in Foxborough.

Andy Hart

There's a lot of talk about picking up another back. Myself, I'm happy with who we have. But if we are looking, what about trying to trade for Kniles Davis, would Jonas and a 3rd or 4th round pick get him? What's your thoughts.

John Koz

While I am of the belief that there is a lack of proven talent and experience in the Patriots backfield – the weakest committee the team has had in the Belichick era – I don't know that trading a mid-round pick at that spot is in the team's plans. Davis is seen as the primary backup to Jamaal Charles in Kansas City. I don't know that he's available, even if New England were interested. I would think the more likely scenario at this stage is for the Patriots to add a veteran free agent to the mix at some point – maybe a guy like Pierre Thomas? There are major questions behind LeGarrette Blount – even he is suspended for the opener – so I'm not all that comfortable with the running back committee that's set to battle behind a young offensive line and Jimmy Garoppolo/Tom Brady. But, it is true that the Patriots have found a way to cull together production and a solid rotation at that position in the past. That will be the challenge for Ivan Fears, Josh McDaniels and Belichick once again.

Andy Hart

What's the deal with Dan Connolly? Will he be signed by the start of training camp? Is he not a key part of the offensive line for the Pats?



This is a great question that no one seems to really have the answer to. Connolly has said he wants to continue his career. New England has a lack of starters and depth at the guard position. They like Connolly. He likes the Patriots. Seems like an easy marriage to continue for at least one year. So what's the hold up? My gut tells me that maybe they are just giving the young players time, reps and a shot to prove themselves. If they surprise enough, than there is no need to bring Connolly back and some money can be saved. If not, the experienced veteran is a phone call away. As a guy who has started at all three interior spots for the better half of a decade in New England, I don't think Connolly is missing anything by not being at OTAs this offseason. If needed/wanted, he'll be ready. I still assume he'll line up for the Patriots at some point.

Andy Hart

So, there is no third down back. No one who can keep Brady clean and turn a lateral wheel route into 11 yards and a 1st down. Reading the roster tea leaves I see the Pats will be using 2 or 3 TE sets on third down, likely Gronk, Chandler and Devilin as the "H". I'm still hoping Jacksonville will cut Corey Grant from Auburn, the 4.2 40 guy so the Pats can coach up his crazy speed into a real football threat on third down, but I'm still trying to rewind the draft with that thinking. I don't like the "depth" the Pats have at RB: Grey is stout, but often runs like a blind man, someone get him a cane or a dog please, White is versatile and can do everything, but at just a smidge above sucking. Gaffney? Who? The way I see it the Patriots backfield is three players deep, Blount, Bolden and Devlin.

Do you agree the lack of a "scat back" indicates more tight ends on 3rd down and do you think it matters if James White and Tyler Gaffney are even on the roster? Wouldn't you rather have a Corey Grant who does one thing well, be incredibly fast, than James White Mr. Versatile, yet sucks at everything?

Sean Nunnink

Not sure what you've seen from White to say he, "sucks at everything." I have no idea whether he can play or not, but if he lives up to his potential then he is the answer at third down or passing back. He was drafted to be the Vereen replacement. Belichick compared their skills at the time. He did nothing as a rookie but let's give him a chance for a Year 2 jump. You are also eliminating Travaris Cadet, the free agent addition from the Saints. I think at least one of the two will have a chance for a significant role in the offense this fall. I thought I was as down as anyone on the depth at running back and passing back, but you make me look like the ultimate optimist. And I have no idea what you see in Grant other than pure speed. He could barely find a role on the Auburn offense, never mind in the NFL. As an undrafted player, his potential is well behind that of White. Maybe he'll turn his speed into football ability someday, but it's a bit of a longshot.

Andy Hart

Hi all and thanks for the continually great coverage during the offseason. As we all know, Belichick isn't afraid of changing schemes up to fit the personnel that he has available. Obviously our secondary hasn't got the talent of last year, but arguably our front seven has a lot of versatility, with the most versatile being Jamie Collins. With his background being previously at safety in college, is there a chance that he could become that hybrid linebacker/safety role where on any given play he could be covering in man coverage on a tight end, dropping back in zone and blitzing on any given play, whilst be lined up anywhere around the formation? My thought process on this (and assuming everyone is healthy) is with Mayo, Hightower and Fletcher being able to work in a rotation, this could free up Collins to be used in as a wild card with his physical talents. Am I off the mark?

Charlie Peterson

No, you are not. That's pretty much the role Collins filled out at times last season during his breakout second year. I expect that to continue to grow in his third campaign as he gets even more comfortable in his role as an athletic linebacker who can cover and rush. I think the Patriots have a shot to have one of if not the best linebacker group in the NFL. Collins should be a key centerpiece of that and has the potential to elevate to a Pro Bowl level this season. He's an exciting athlete, improving football player and ascending star.

Andy Hart

Have the Pats announced the 2015 training camp schedule - starting dates??

Judy Ciriello

Nothing has been officially announced, but based on history and the calendar leading up to the preseason games July 30 or July 31 would seem to be a logical start to camp for the team. Keep checking for official word as we get closer to those dates.

Andy Hart

I plan on attending training camp, if I stay in Boston will there be public transportation available to Foxborough like during the season? Also will the PFW staff be "available" for pictures and autographs? I don't know if this is the right forum to ask this, and thank for your taking questions...

Milton Shawn

There are no trains to the stadium for training camp, those are only on game days. So your only options would be a rental car, cab or service like Uber. As for PFW, at least a couple members of our staff are on hand at every camp practice. We are in the media tent and always willing to say hello to fans. Not sure why anyone in their right mind would want our photos or autographs, but we'd be happy to oblige with those as well. Hopefully we'll see you in the hot sun this summer!

Andy Hart

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