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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Jun 18 - 11:55 AM | Thu Jun 20 - 09:55 AM

Ask PFW: Potential rookie, veteran impacts

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.

Hey guys, loyal Patriots fan in Idaho! I'm just wondering how big an impact Cyrus Jones will make, in your opinion, and if he solves the need for CB? I'm hoping he comes on strong, but should we be looking for another CB nonetheless? And what role do you think Kamu Grugier-Hill will have because I read he's a hybrid linebacker-safety? Lastly, I was watching the little bit of highlights on Jimmy G[aroppolo] and saw he can squeeze the ball where it needs to be and can make quick decisions every now and again. So, I'm wondering if you guys think he'll play well the first four games if worse comes to worse? Thanks in advance!

Ty Gray*

First, thanks for the loyalty, Ty. Always very much appreciated.

With respect to your two rookie questions, it's impossible to say at this stage, having not seen them at all on a football field here yet. Ideally, Jones competes for and wins the right cornerback job opposite Malcolm Butler. It will be interesting to see where the coaches decide to use Grugier-Hill, given his skill set and 'tweener size, but until we do, we just don't know what role he'll assume, if any.

And as for Garoppolo, this summer is crucial for him. I have no idea how well or badly he'll play in September, if it comes to that (which it looks like it will), but he must show marked improvement from the past two training camps to give me any confidence that he's capable of leading the offense consistently. 

Erik Scalavino*

Hey guys, big fan. I read Ask PFW every week. Looking at our defensive backfield, I see a major problem. Who can match up on big-bodied receivers? We saw Logan Ryan assume that role last year with varied success. I understand that when a DB is over matched safety help is a necessity, but it's not ideal to rely on help coverage. I guess my question is really how big of a problem is it? To me it's huge, especially if (knock on wood) Ryan gets injured.

Ryan Mueller*

After all the movements in the draft, and undrafted free agency, I see that there are many DB prospects, and even if I like most of them, I have a question about the average size of the perimeter. My question is, how do you think NE will face matches against WRs like [Arizona's Larry] Fitzgerald, [the Jets' Brandon] Marshall and [Eric] Decker, [Buffalo's Sammy] Watkins, or any other team with a couple of WR who are at least four inches taller than any DB in the roster? Last season they had hard times playing against those types of players and even when [Malcolm] Butler and Ryan were successful adjusting that, I still have my doubts with the rookies.

Victor Galicia*

First of all, most NFL corners are small, relatively speaking. Certainly much smaller than most of the receivers they cover. So, New England's perceived disadvantage, as you two characterize it, is not unique to the Patriots.

Second, in response to Ryan's question, Malcolm Butler is the No. 1 corner on this team, and in that role, usually sees the biggest, best receivers on the other teams, not Logan Ryan. Yes, there are matchups that vary each week based on game plan specifics, and Ryan (Logan, not the e-mailer) may find himself on a taller receiver than Butler is covering, but generally speaking, the short-ish Butler holds his own against taller opponents.

Third, I fully expect a healthy competition for Ryan's job as the No. 2 corner during the summer. Cyrus Jones, this year's top pick, is my leading candidate at the moment, but wouldn't rule out challenges from others, either. Ryan doesn't have a strangle-hold on that right corner spot.

Playing corner in the NFL isn't necessarily based on height. In fact, given the nature of the position – having to backpedal so much and move quickly in often tight spaces – smaller, more agile players are typically tapped to play those spots. Where height becomes an advantage for the receivers is on jump-balls, obviously, but otherwise, it's overrated. There are plenty of capable corners out there who aren't six feet tall. The question is, does New England have enough good ones to be more competitive this year at the spot opposite Butler? I'm looking forward to finding out in August. 

Erik Scalavino*

I'm wondering what you guys think with regard to the free agents still on the market. Specifically, I'm curious about [DE] Dwight Freeney, [WR] Anquan Boldin, and [G] Jahri Evans. Though Freeney is old, he still racked up 8 sacks in 11 games with the Cardinals and could bolster a pass rush that was depleted with Chandler Jones' departure. Boldin is also old, though considerably younger than Freeney and could be a solid option on the outside. I understand that the Patriots currently have good depth at wide receiver, but I think Boldin could easily take the place of Nate Washington and others on the depth chart. Finally, is Evans worth pursuing or would his price tag be too high? Evans would be a clear upgrade over Tre Jackson, and probably Shaq Mason as well.

Ben Offen*

With respect to the first two players, you nearly answered your own questions, Ben. Except for the glaring error you made in stating that Boldin is "considerably younger" than Freeney. Only eight months separate the two players, and both were born in 1980. So, they're both old in football terms, and while the fit wouldn't be right for any of the 32 NFL teams, both could provide enough as role players for a few contenders, including New England.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Evans come in at some point during training camp, particularly if injuries or ineptitude surface among the interior, but for now, I don't expect Evans to be in Foxborough. 

Erik Scalavino*

Quick and simple. Dwight Freeney?

Dakoda Esposito*


Erik Scalavino*

With a large number of free agents set to hit the market after this season, who do you think will be back, besides the obvious [Jamie] Collins, [Dont'a] Hightower, [Malcolm] Butler, and who'll be let go? Secondly, I love football and I don't know what I want to be, so, is there any way I could get a job with you guys after college? Haha! 

Sean Rockliffe*

Not if you keep asking questions like this, Sean (Just kidding… sort of)! We take things one season at a time around here. For starters, a year is a long time in the football industry. So much can transpire in 12 months. For instance, it's not uncommon for the Patriots to sign extensions with players during the regular season, just before their contracts expire at the end of that season. Which means there's no way of knowing just how many free agents the team will have next spring.

Plus, while we'd like to think it's "obvious" the team will retain its three best veteran defenders whom you already mentioned, there's no guarantee that this will happen, given the economics of the NFL and the way New England does business. I'll only go so far as to say that I'll be stunned if all three of those players don't have new deals before the end of this calendar year. Those are the most important players the team has to worry about financially at this point. 

Erik Scalavino*

An area that hasn't been discussed is the change at the top of the strength and conditioning program. With the rash of injuries last season (not entirely placing blame), is there a different vibe coming from players/coaches in regard to this important, and often overlooked, department, i.e. more emphasis on flexibility, stretching, yoga, etc.?

Ron Izzi*

Actually, this has been discussed, Ron, right here on Ask PFW in previous columns. To summarize, you're right in not placing all the blame on the erstwhile strength coach, Harold Nash (now in Detroit), for last year's injury bug. Many of the injuries had nothing to do with conditioning or fitness, but just plain old bad luck. But Moses Cabrera, who was the assistant to Nash in recent years, will undoubtedly bring his own brand and ethos to the job. What exactly that will look like in terms of new programs remains to be seen. And keep in mind, we only see the tip of the iceberg in terms of what players do year-round to keep in top shape. So, it's not like all the changes Cabrera might make will be obvious.

In the meantime, while we haven't had much opportunity to see players this offseason since Cabrera took over, my sense from previous campaigns is that he's well-like and –respected by the players and will do a fine job in his new role overseeing the strength and conditioning program here at Gillette.* Erik Scalavino*

Under Dante Scarnecchia, do you think the Patriots will find a starting offensive line in training camp and stick with it until injuries or form force a change in personnel, or will there be the 'mix and match' approach with multiple changes in a game we saw in the previous two seasons?

David Beckett*

"Scar," as we like to call him, was never one for volatility (at least not on his o-lines). Not surprisingly, the experimental nature of the Patriots' o-lines that we witnessed the past two seasons came when he was no longer coaching the position. In general, the best offensive lines have always sprung from continuity, not caprice. So, I fully expect him to settle on five players by the end of the summer (if not earlier) and trot them out as often as possible throughout 2016. 

Erik Scalavino*

Any way the Patriots trade [right tackle Sebastian] Vollmer and put [incumbent starting center Bryan] Stork at right tackle, which would make room in the interior for all the guards they have? What would they get for Vollmer? Thinking another player with a similar cap number.

J. Gillespie*

Both moves would be ill-advised. For one thing, Vollmer is probably the team's best offensive lineman, even though he's the oldest. I'm usually not in favor of shipping out my best players at any position. For another, Stork's natural position is in the interior, namely center. While he filled in temporarily at tackle when injuries required him to shift over, that's not where he's best suited.

If, however, the team decided to deal Vollmer, I would want nothing less than a second- or third-round draft choice in return. 

Erik Scalavino*

On a recent [PFW in Progress] podcast, I heard some conjecture that Bryan Stork may be on the way out (injury?). He's been wearing a device for measuring force of impact in his helmet. Might this explain the Joe Thuney pick? Any hints about Stork leaving the game?Phillip Roy

What you heard was a random caller offering his own conjecture about Stork, not anything of substance. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Stork, the team's starting center the past two seasons, is at risk of losing or forfeiting his job.* Erik Scalavino*

Why would smart people trade Jimmy Garoppolo? The Packers are a prime example, that choosing the younger QB [Aaron Rodgers], rather than the "proven commodity" [Brett Favre] with one or two years left is the smart move. In case he plays well, why shouldn't the Patriots move forward with a new QB and remove the lingering threat of an aging QB [in Tom Brady]. No matter how much we love TB, his arm decayed during the last season, if you ask me, which showed especially in the cold in Denver. The competitor TB is, he won't step back on his own, but I'm certain this, or next season (near future if you're in denial), will be Peyton-[Manning]-2015-like for him. With that said, why would you trade the future???

Jascha Weiss*

Good news, Jascha: it was all just a bad dream! In case no one's told you yet, Garoppolo is still on the Patriots roster. He hasn't been traded, nor has anyone in the New England front office (to our knowledge) discussed even the remote possibility of dealing him to another club. I'm sure your nightmare was induced by all the so-called media experts and fans who want to be analysts debate this topic ad nauseam this offseason. I won't sugarcoat it for you, though. It is a distinct possibility, given when Garoppolo's contract expires (after the 2017 season). Depending on how well or badly Brady plays over these next two season, Garoppolo could either be traded or re-signed as the heir to Brady's throne.

What's nearly impossible to envision, however, is a scenario in which Garoppolo elects to remain Brady's backup through the end of TB12's current deal, which ends after 2019. With the state of quarterback play around this league, it's inconceivable that another team wouldn't want Garoppolo to compete for their starting job. Look at how much cash the Texans threw at unproven Brock Osweiler this offseason, for Heaven's sake!

But like I said, as of today, Jimmy G is still your main backup, and at the moment, your starter for the first month of the 2016 season if nothing changes in Brady's court battle with the NFL. Let's just focus on the here-and-now for the time being, OK? Be mindful of the future, a wise Jedi once advised, but not at the expense of the present. 

Erik Scalavino*

Mass native here, but Virginia resident for 40 years, still a hard core Pats fan!! It's obvious that RB questions are on most fans mind, though we don't hear much coming out of BB concerning it. I was just curious, with the NFL taking Brady out for the first 4 games, why not stick it to Goodell and sign Ray Rice? Sure, he's got some pretty negative history, but he's a strong RB, would probably fill the void, and in the process tick off Goodell. Might be something positive there...

Cliff Maurand*

Big believer in cutting off your nose to spite your face, are you, Cliff? Because that's exactly what you'd be doing if you brought in a reprobate like Rice.

Yes, the Patriots could use substantial help at the running back position. It's their weakest link on the roster right now. But no, there is absolutely nothing positive that could come from signing Ray Rice. Nothing whatsoever. I don't care how talented a player he might be.

Signing him wouldn't make Goodell look bad, it would make the Patriots look downright despicable. Not only would signing Rice add a woman-beating punk to New England's roster, it would be make a hypocrite out of its owner.

Perhaps you've forgotten, but Robert Kraft said unequivocally, in the immediate wake of the Rice affair, that Rice would never, ever wear a Patriots uniform. Do you want your favorite team's owner to look like a greedy, heartless scoundrel who cares more about trying to win games at any cost than about keeping his word and winning with respectable individuals? Because that's precisely how it would look if the Patriots signed Rice. 

Erik Scalavino*

So [Rob] Gronkowsi landed on the cover for Madden this year. Congrats to him. I know some will make a case that he's due to be injured, ineffective, or retire a week before training camp. Personally, I don't see much merit to the curse, but what's your opinion? And, heaven forbid, if something did happen, would you just chalk it up as another Gronk freak injury (don't think the greatest TE to play the game will be ineffective and he loves football too much to retire right now)? Knock on wood. Thanks.

Connor Hartley*

I prefer to answer questions about actual football, not the ersatz variety (fantasy football, video games are just not my thing). However, I do think it's neat that a Patriot is gracing the cover of the popular Madden game, and who better than Gronkowski? OK, maybe Tom Brady.

Gronk is as fun to watch as any player in the game. The way he plays the game, he puts his body on the line week in and week out. He's a target for defenders and is therefore constantly at risk of significant injury, whether he's gracing the cover of a video game, a magazine, or a record album, for that matter. If he does sustain anything major in terms of injury this year, it won't have anything to do with being chosen for Madden, I promise you.

Anyway, in regard to this silliness about a curse, I'll let Gronkowski take over from here.

In an interview with ESPN, the cover boy himself made a rather salient point about the superstitious idiocy of this so-called jinx.

"It's definitely reversed itself from back in the day," Gronkowski asserted. "You have to look at the players that were on it recently. You have Odell [Beckham of the Giants], who had an unbelievable year last year. You have Richard Sherman, who went to the Pro Bowl the year he was on it. Calvin Johnson, who broke the receiving record when he was on the cover.

"It's the present now. It's the future of the cover. I feel like I've already went through all my injuries at that time, so I feel like I'm good. I'm blessed right now to be on it. I feel like everything is going to go smoothly."

As you said, Connor… Knock on wood! 

Erik Scalavino*

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