I love this year's draft, especially since we got two second-rounders for next year. I really like Patrick Chung, especially the way he wraps up and drives through the ball carrier. I think he will be the perfect complement to James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather who are better in coverage. I like the Tyrone McKenzie pick too. He seems great at reading plays and finding the ball. My question is how is his coverage ability? Who do you see the Pats using to cover premier tight ends like Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten? One of the middle linebackers? A safety? Rodney Harrison (my favorite Patriot of all time) did a good job of this in the past, so I think we need to figure out who gets that responsibility in his absence.
I hate to lead off this week's mailbag with some potentially bad news, but Tyrone McKenzie suffered a knee injury at rookie mini-camp Saturday morning and he did not return. We haven't received word from the Patriots as to the severity of the injury, but it didn't look good as the trainers were checking out the knee after he got tangled up with a running back in coverage. I, too, liked the McKenzie pick and felt he could press for playing time this year. We'll just have to wait and see what condition his knee is in before we peg him for any potential roles in 2009.
As for covering tight ends, I don't believe that job will go to a linebacker on any consistent basis. The elite guys you mentioned don't usually see linebackers too often so even if McKenzie were healthy and ready for playing time, I wouldn't expect him to be used in that capacity. When you're dealing with tight ends of that ability I feel a defensive back needs to be in coverage. You're right about Harrison … he did a great job on Clark a few times by being physical at the line and agile enough to stay with him in space. Not many linebackers can do that. Adalius Thomas is physically gifted enough to handle some of those responsibilities but even he struggles against those kinds of players. I'd look for Meriweather and perhaps rookie Patrick Chung to get some chances. Plus, don't forget a guy like Shawn Springs, who could be used as an extra cover man in sub situations depending on how the starting lineup looks come September. The spots in the secondary will be wide open with both starting corners from last year gone.
Does the salary cap apply year round? As offseason signings and departures take place, do the Patriots always have to remain under the salary cap? After the draft and midway through training camp, the Pats have 80-plus hopefuls with contracts trying to make the team. Are they under the cap at this point? As the season approaches, they whittle away until the final 53-man roster. At that point, after dumping 30-plus players contracts, do they have some more cap space to sign on new talent?
The cap does apply year round but not under the same set to parameters that exist during the regular season. From the time the new league year begins at the end of February until the Tuesday before the regular season begins, teams have to be under the cap while using the top 51 players in terms of salary. Once the regular season starts, then the entire roster, including practice squad, injured reserve and PUP players, have to be fit under the cap. So teams don't have to squeeze 80 players under the cap in the offseason but they have to be close enough to fit everyone in once the season begins.
I've really enjoyed your insight as well as some of your commentary. I hear a lot of talk about the need for a pass rush and while I agree I disagree with needing to pick up Jason Taylor or Julius Peppers. We have Shawn Crable, Pierre Woods and Vince Redd, who have had flashes of greatness. I believe that the Pats will use these players and find others through undrafted free agents that combined with the rest of the defense will provide enough of a pass rush. Then use next year's draft to pick up a stud rusher and leave the fossils behind to dance with the stars.
I'm glad you said you enjoyed our commentary because I'm probably going to offer some here. Crable, Woods and Redd have shown flashes of greatness? As Patriots? Crable has yet to play a game, Woods has three starts in three years and Redd has five games of special teams work under his belt. Where's the flash of greatness? You admitted you agreed that the pass rush was lacking last year. Well, they took away Mike Vrabel from an already suspect area of the defense and replaced him with some young guys that weren't good enough to play ahead of him last year. And now there's a possibility to acquire Taylor and/or Peppers and you're not interested? I have to disagree. And as far as age goes, Peppers is 29 and Woods is 27 so I don't really see that much of a difference there – unless you're talking about ability of course. Taylor is older and would be more of a short-term fix. He'd also be much easier to get since he's a free agent. Plug him in on one side with Adalius Thomas on the other side and let the young guys fight it out for playing time behind two established players. That's obviously easier said than done since Taylor may not want to come to New England, but I can certainly understand why Belichick is interested in making that move. What's currently on the roster is not good enough.
During the draft I was more than pleased with the additions of Patrick Chung and Darius Butler. Ron Brace is good, he may even be great, nonetheless don't you think the Patriots missed out on Everette Brown? Also do you think if the Patriots kept Ellis Hobbs he would have a turn around season or will he stay at his level in Philadelphia or would have been a bust here?
I understand Belichick's explanation of his reluctance to grab the outside linebacker types like Brown that were available in the draft. He said many of them were short and lacked the speed to play in the manner he likes. That said, I was a little disappointed about letting Brown go. I felt he was a terrific pass rusher who could have made a difference. He is a bit undersized, and every other team agreed with Belichick since he slipped all the way to 43, but I feel he could be a special player that coaches need to find a role for. He may not fit the traditional outside linebacker mold Belichick likes, but I would have liked to see the coach work his magic with such a talented athlete and figure out a way to best utilize his talents. As for Hobbs, to steal Bill's favorite phrase, he is what he is. I don't think he's a total bust and I also don't believe he's a frontline starting cornerback in this league. He's an excellent kick returner and I'll miss that ability. I won't miss the constant cushion he gave receivers on third downs and I won't miss the many big plays he allowed either. But I will miss his competitiveness, heart and drive to improve. Hobbs wasn't the best corner to pass through Foxborough in recent years but he wasn't the worst either. He'll do fine in Philly, especially if Sheldon Brown stays and Hobbs can serve as the nickel back, which is the role I feel best suits him.
Just wondering, why in the world did the Pats pass up Clay Matthews, OLB (USC)? In the weeks leading up to the draft, I saw about 75 percent of the mock drafts having us pick Matthews at 23. He even fell to 26 and we still elected not to take him. I thought for sure that we would take him and that he could be a starter right from Day 1. Please, help me understand this.Ryan Smith
First, I will admit right from the start that I don't share your enthusiasm for Clay Matthews. He basically played just one year on defense for USC after spending the bulk of his career as a special teamer. He was listed as an outside linebacker because that's where he played in the Trojans 4-3 defense. I don't believe he would have been an outside guy in New England's 3-4, and I'm sure that's one reason the Patriots passed. That also the reason I couldn't understand why so many mocks had us taking him, but that's another story. Matthews is a fine athlete and in the right system I believe he'll be a pretty good player. I'm just not sure the Patriots system is right for him. Obviously, there have been a lot of linebackers I felt that way about over the years and have been wrong about. Lofa Tatupu, another USC product, was one of them. I didn't feel he was big enough to play inside for the Patriots but based on his career in Seattle I'd say I missed on that one. Maybe I'll say the same about Matthews a few years from now. But today, I would have passed just like Belichick did.
I've been hearing a lot of clamoring on many message boards to get Taylor instead of Peppers. I realize that the money and salary cap ramifications are a large part of it, but I think that Taylor is going to want just enough money to make it not worth the pickup. I never liked Taylor when he was in Miami and don't like him as the answer to our pass rush now that he's past his prime. I think he'd be a big liability against the run and is older and slower than Peppers. Which seems to have been the problem with the pass rush last year. I'll take him for a bargain deal as a situational pass rusher that we can rest most of the game, but not for $4-$5 million or as a starter. I'd rather try and get Peppers still if we could get him for OLB money ($7 or $8 million).
Overall, I agree with you Nick. I think Peppers is a far superior player than Taylor at this point. He's younger, quicker, faster, more productive and figures to be a part of the long-range plans. But you can't ignore the factors that make Taylor more appealing right now. Peppers will require compensation via trade, compensation via cash and then have to learn a whole new defensive system. Taylor just needs cash. He knows the system and he's a free agent so the Pats won't have to deal with another team. I also think you're dramatically underselling Taylor's career with the Dolphins. He wasn't the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for nothing. While he isn't as strong against the run and might have a tough time setting the edge in Belichick's defense, he isn't exactly a liability in that regard either. And his pass rushing exploits would outweigh any of those deficiencies in my view. But If you're not willing to spend $4 million on Taylor then that's likely out of the question, and I also don't see Peppers settling for $7 million either.
I know Belichick is thorough in scouting talent for all positions, but was shocked to hear about his interest in Pat White given Kevin O'Connell was drafted in the third round in 2008. QBs aren't drafted that high for depth or to be a backup. Is there any indication that O'Connell has the tools and makeup to be the QB of the future?
I don't believe Belichick was interested in Pat White as a traditional quarterback. He was intrigued by his athleticism, potential ability to play slot receivers and possibly as a Wildcat quarterback. None of that had any potential impact on O'Connell. He's still the backup and time will tell if he has what it takes to take over as the starter should the need arise once again. From what I've seen from O'Connell, which admittedly hasn't been much, he has the ability to succeed. He's athletic with a strong arm and he appeared to be more comfortable as camp wore on last year, which is an indication that he was picking up things well. It will be interesting to watch him this summer to see if he's continued that development.
Why did the Pats pick second in the second and the Rams picked second in the first? What's up with that? Should they not have picked third like the Chiefs did in the first?Zach Hubbard
The Chiefs and Rams finished tied with 2-14 records and St. Louis won the coin flip to pick ahead of Kansas City. The loser of the flip is then allowed to pick first in the next round and the team alternate back and forth for the remainder of the draft. That's why the Chiefs picked third in Round 1 and the Patriots got to pick second in Round 2.
A loyal reader from Denmark with a question … I kind of lost track with all the draft picks that were traded. Which picks were traded to draft picks in 2010 and in which rounds?Heine Danielson
The Patriots acquired two second-round picks in 2010, one from Jacksonville and the other from Tennessee. They traded a third-round pick to the Titans (No. 89 overall) for a second-rounder in 2010 and a third-round pick (No. 73) to the Jags for a second-rounder in 2010 and a seventh-rounder this year, which they used to select Julian Edelman. The Pats also dealt a 2010 fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for tight end Alex Smith a few days after the draft.
What do you think of the Patriots drafting Brandon Tate? They already signed two WRs over the offseason and they still have Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Was this a good choice? What do you think?AJ B.
I know you guys are getting a lot questions about pass rushers and defensive tackles so here is a little change pace for you. How do you think Brandon Tate will contribute being that in my opinion he was the best receiver/return guy coming out of UNC? Do you think that he would be a Day 1 contributor or do you think that he will take some refining before helping out in the pass game?Cole Picard
At the risk of sounding like a Kool-Aid sipper, I loved the Tate pick. He would have been a first-round pick if not for the injury and the Patriots have the luxury of not needing him to step in and play immediately. They can be patient with Tate's knee injury and then when he's healthy he will contribute as a returner right away. He won't likely be ready to play much in 2009 as he recovers from his torn ACL and MCL, but he will be worth watching. Tate is a dynamic athlete with good hands who will provide depth in the short term and eventually step in for Moss and Joey Galloway when those players leave. Again, I really liked this pick and believe in two years Tate will be viewed as a steal.
Hello, I look forward to your column every week. My question centers around defense. Assuming no new free agents, trades or any major injuries during the course of the season (I know big assumptions), how do you feel the defense will rank next year? The defensive line appears strong and the linebackers seem to be coming into their own and we had some key free agent acquisitions and draft selections in the secondary, but everyone seems to be either young and raw or older and past their prime (except Vince Wilfork and perhaps Thomas).
The defensive line, if healthy, remains the strength of this defense. Wilfork, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour were dominant for large stretches last year when they were healthy. Warren was badly banged up down the stretch and Seymour also missed some time late in the season. When they're all together, few teams ran the ball effectively against them. The linebackers are a bit of a question mark. Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas will be fine, but they could use another starter next to both. Pierre Woods could have the inside track on the outside and Tedy Bruschi probably projects as the starter next to Mayo inside. There isn't much proven depth, though, so some players like Gary Guyton, Eric Alexander, Shawn Crable, Vince Redd and Tully Banta-Cain will need to emerge as contributors. The secondary, on paper, is improved. Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler and Mike Richardson will give Belichick plenty of options at corner and Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders and Patrick Chung should comprise a nice rotation at safety. With no more additions, I see this unit as improved but still not quite up to the performance of its 2003 and 2004 predecessors. A lot will depend on the play of the secondary with so many new faces blending in. And someone will need to emerge as a starter at outside linebacker opposite Thomas. I feel this group is better than the one that played last year but there's a potentially big hole at outside linebacker that needs to be filled.
How many players can a team have on their practice squad? Let's say a player like Sebastian Vollmer can't make the team as a developmental prospect but the Pats want to keep him on the practice squad. Can they protect him or risk loosing him or other prospects to the competition?
Teams are allowed to have eight players on their practice squads but they do risk losing the players to other teams if they try to place them there. Once a player is released he is then subject to the waiver process, which allows every other team the opportunity to sign the player. If a team does sign one of the players your team released, that team must put him on its active roster. If a player – like Vollmer in your example – does clear waivers the Patriots could then place him on their practice squad. Teams can still sign players off other team's practice squads, but then they are required to keep the player on the active roster for at least three weeks. Deciding which players you feel will make it through waivers and thus become eligible for the practice squad is one of the more difficult tasks for coaching staffs as the season approaches.
Just wondering what you think our OLB situation is going to be once the season comes. Do you think Crable is up to the task? Or Woods? Or is Tully Banta-Cain going to be the veteran fill in for the year with the younger two spelling him? Also, who's starting spot is more threatened by the drafting of Chung? Sanders seems like the logical answer, but didn't he just re-up with the Patriots?
Of the three guys you mentioned, I feel Woods probably has the inside track. Banta-Cain had a chance to be a starter in 2006 but perform well and eventually left as a free agent. Crable hasn't played a down yet due to injury so he's behind the others in terms of experience. Woods started a few games late last year before breaking his jaw. He showed some signs of being able to contribute, although nothing close to what he's going to have to do if given the full-time job. I feel Crable has the biggest upside of this trio but he has to stay healthy and show that on the field. I like his athleticism and pass rushing ability. He's going to be a player I'll be watching closely this summer.