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Ask PFW: Preseason brings many questions

A weekly mailbag of your questions about the Patriots and football in general, answered by the staff of PFW.

Tony Roefaro
Altoona, Pa.

As an undrafted rookie free agent, Mayer is fighting a severe uphill battle to land a job in the NFL, never mind in New England. While there is no question that he put up impressive numbers at Penn State, including 147 tackles as a senior, for whatever reason he simply didn't draw much interest in terms of the draft. Considering the veteran depth the Patriots have at safety and the other young players the team will expect to contribute on special teams, Mayer's time in training camp is likely essentially a tryout for some other team or maybe a chance to earn a spot on the New England practice squad. It's always good to hear positive things about the players off the field and your dealings with Shawn were obviously positive. Based on that and the fact that you chose to express yourself in all caps, I will assume you are a huge Shawn Mayer fan. So while he probably won't make it on the Patriots 53-man roster when the cuts come down, keep your eyes on the NFL transactions in your local paper because a guy with his college numbers, and just based on his staying power, a somewhat successful NFL training camp, is bound to have other shots in the league.
Andy Hart

Just want to start of by saying I appreciate the job you guys do for the fans. Now for my question: Is there any chance of us getting Orlando Pace or Orlandis Gary? Just a rumor I've heard from a few friends, wasn't sure if there was any truth in it. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, and keep up the good work.
Chad Wescott
Lebanon, N.H.

While we all like to play the mock trade game, a deal for either of the players you mentioned is probably unlikely. In the case of Pace (hey, I am a poet) he is simply looking for ridiculous amounts of money, a reported $23 million signing bonus and a total deal for more than $80 million. The Patriots simply would not make such a risky and overpriced long-term investment. Pace may be the best tackle in the game, and that can be argued, but those figures are simply off the charts. And while a deal for Gary would not be as costly either in trade value or dollars, it still isn't likely. Gary signed to be Travis Henry's backup in Buffalo this spring as a free agent, had the Patriots wanted they could have had the former 1,000-yard back then. So my advice is to enjoy the moves the team has made this offseason, including Ted Washington, Rosevelt Colvin and Rodney Harrison, and just hang in there, Chad. (I bet you love those hanging chad references and can't get enough of them.)
Andy Hart

First off Patriots rule and I got a huge monkey off my back after sbxxxvi, anyways my question is with all the additions in miami will this year game be even more of a struggle for power and the right for crown uptop the afc east or is too late for the washout players miami acquired to even make a dent to patriots arsenal and potential success with our acquisitions?!!
Omar Lopez
Austin, Texas

First of all, you have a monkey? I have always thought that a cute monkey would make a nice pet. They just never seem to have any in my price range at the pet shop at my local mall. If you know a good monkey breeder, let me know. And second, having a monkey certainly has made you a positive person based on your views of the upcoming season. While I think the Patriots are a much better team, I also believe the Dolphins will be anything but pushovers. Miami has proven to be a solid team year in and year out. Don't expect that to change in 2003. The two teams should continue to battle for the AFC East title, with each roster holding the advantage in the head to head games played on their home turf. But keep up the optimistic views and get back to me about that monkey.
Andy Hart

Hey Guys,Could you explain to me why Patrick Pass isn't in the running for starting RB? To me, he looks like he's got better forward speed than Antowain (and possibly Faulk), he's a more powerful runner than Faulk, he's more elusive than Antoine, and HE DOESN'T FUMBLE!!

Salem, Mass.

Not to deflate your rather convincing argument Ed, but Pass fumbled in the preseason opener against the Giants inside the five-yard line, ending a potential scoring drive. But more to the point of the running back debate, Pass has never proven to be anything more than a special teams player in regular season action. Granted his career high in carries is just 18 and came as a rookie in 2000, but after three seasons it appears the coaches are confident in the 5-10, 217-pound tweener back's abilities as a role player, and not much more. Pass can backup at both fullback and tailback, return kicks and contribute in all areas of the kicking game, but using his preseason performance against second and third string players is a tough sell in terms of making him your starting tailback over two proven NFL contributors in Smith and Faulk.
Andy Hart

Who will start at the Running Back Position? I heard that Kevin Faulk is becoming a better Running Back than Antowain Smith, is that true? Who will get the starting nod?
Edgewater, N.J.

You are not the only one who is wondering, Peter. Smith and Faulk have split carries to date in the preseason, with neither back really distancing himself in the battle for the lead role. Smith has 28 carries for 75 yards and one touchdown in three preseason games, while Faulk has carried 18 times for 67 yards. As recently as Monday, Bill Belichick said he expects both players to continue to see plenty of reps and that he isn't sure how the load breakdown will go at the running back position. Just straight opinion here, but I think Smith has to be the guy. He has shown flashes this preseason of the decisive, powerful runner he was in 2001. Smith is the type of back that can wear down defenses when he is playing well and getting enough carries. He will never be the game-breaking, super back that many fans are probably looking for, but it has already been proven that a team can make it to the top with Smith leading the rushing attack.
Andy Hart

Hey guys,I thought I read in one of the local papers that Ted Washington is only expected to play 10-15 snaps per game. I would figure he would be in there for obvious running situations (i.e. 1st and 2nd downs), which would seem to be more than 15 snaps. Any explanation?

Framingham, Mass.

Pete I read the same thing. I am not sure exactly where those specific figures came from. But in general you are right, Washington is going to be a two-down player focused on stopping the run. If you assume the an average game will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60 defensive snaps and then take into account the number of snaps that involve situational plays (third-and-long, two-minute, red zone, etc.), Washington can be a major contributor in somewhat limited action. And if the Patriots can control the running game early in games and therefore get a lead and set the tempo of the game, his action could be minimized in that regard as well. Coming off a major leg and foot injury a year ago, the plan is probably to try to be sure of the 365-pound player's health above all else. A Washington that can play all season for a somewhat limited number of plays each game is probably more valuable than one who plays the bulk of the game in just a portion of the games.
Andy Hart

With all of these new "studs" on defense, what in the world is going to happen to "Willy-or-won't-he-play-the-game-today" McGinest? Seriously.
Dan Lacey
Budd Lake, N.J.

That depends on how you view the situation. Fans of the former first-round pick are probably salivating at what he might be able to accomplish in pass rushing situations opposite free agent acquisition Rosevelt Colvin. Others think his role could be diminished based on the new weapons available to Romeo Crennel. One thing is for sure, the days of McGinest being an every-down player are long gone. When healthy and at his best now, he is a sub-package player who can still get after the quarterback and should be able to contribute in the Patriots many varied defensive schemes.
Andy Hart

What is the latest word on the status of Tully Banta-Cain? I watched him last year and he was extremely dominant. I think he is what they need to sure up their D-fence!!
Lowell, Mass.

TBC has been a DNP so far for the NEP. The player who many fans thought could be a draft steal has yet to even practice during training camp thanks to an undisclosed injury. At this late point in the preseason the best Banta-Cain might hope for is a spot on a Patriots reserve list and more time in New England. Otherwise, he may have to take his productive college skills elsewhere in his pursuit of an NFL job.
Andy Hart

In a 2 minute drill in an actual game, when the quarterback spikes the ball to stop the clock why is this not considered intentional grounding? They're still in the box correct? The pass is not in the direction of any receivers.
Tom Moores
Haines City, Fla.

Tom, the act of spiking the ball to stop the clock is a specific note under the rule for Intentional Grounding in the Official Playing Rules of the National Football League. "A player under center is permitted to stop the game clock legally to save time if immediately upon receiving the snap he begins a continuous throwing motion and throws the ball directly forward into the ground." And just so you know as much as I'd like to pretend I know the game of football inside and out, I didn't just get that off the top of my head. It came from page 56, Rule 8, Section 3, Article 1, Note 3 of the rulebook.
Andy Hart

Though both players have stepped up and played well, it seems that 4th round CB Samuel is getting more reps than 2nd rounder Wilson. Is this a case of giving him more reps to prove what he can do or is he playing better than Wilson?
Lincoln, Neb.

You are right, Samuel definitely got more reps toward the end of training camp and in the preseason. Based on practice rotation and game action it appears the fourth-round pick out of Central Florida has passed his rookie counterpart on the depth chart and will be given the chance to earn the starting job opposite Ty Law. But we all know how quickly things can change in terms of playing time in the NFL, especially when you are dealing with rookies. So expect both Samuel and Wilson, as well as veteran Tyrone Poole, to be significant contributors in the secondary this season, especially with Bill Belichick's history of using sub-packages with 6, 7 or even more defensive backs.
Andy Hart

I work with a guy who says he played with the Patriots in the early 70's. Do you have a listing for Danny Hardaway from Texas Tech? Is there a website that I can find archives/stats on former team members?
Denver, Colo.

I checked the Patriots all-time roster in this year's media guide and there is no listing for Danny Hardaway. Unless there is an oversight, that means he never played in a regular season game for the Patriots, although he could have been with the team in the preseason or training camps. I'd ask him for some proof, who knows if you can really trust a Red Raider.
Andy Hart

My question is, what is the difference between a running back, half back/full back. They all carry the ball, some more then others. Why have so many different names?
James Marshall
Saint John, Neb.

The answer to this one is easy, but somewhat complex at the same time. In the NFL there are essentially two types of players that line up behind the quarterback and rush ball. They are both generally referred to as running backs. But the back who carries the ball most often and generally lines up deepest in the backfield is specified with such names as halfback or tailback. The fullback lines up, again generally, in front of the tailback and has the main job of blocking, although he too carries the ball on occasion. These two jobs are very different on some teams and with some players, while in other cases guys like Tampa running back Mike Alstott and Denver's Mike Anderson can fill both roles or a blend of the two. I know that still sounds a little confusing, but at least I didn't get into positions like H-back, third-down back, change-of-pace back or numerous others that are used to describe guys that carry the rock, ball or pigskin. I guess that would be another question for another mailbag.
Andy Hart

After seeing the first two preseason games it seems to me that Larry Centers brings nothing new to the team. In fact it looks like Mike Malan is a better blocker and in NFLEL he had darn good hands. So tell me how is Centers any help if it would seem the team already can do what he is so good at?
Pat Driscoll
Ft. Wayne, Ind.

While I understand that you may be a fan of Malan based on his work at Brown, in Europe or even thanks to his wonderful diary right here on (just a little self promotion and pat on the back there), it is hard to question Centers' resume. As the all-time leading pass catcher for running backs in NFL history he is a guy who adds another bullet to Tom Brady's gun. While you could argue that the 14th-year veteran isn't the player he used to be, the Patriots obviously feel he still has something to add to this team. Malan is a hard working, developing young player, but even if he made the roster he wouldn't be asked to fill the same specialized role that Centers is expected to handle, one similar to that of Faulk, in New England this season.
Andy Hart

Two years ago I moved out here to New Mexico. I never did find out what happened to Andy Katzemoyer (spelled right?) Was he injured to the point of no return? (Like Vincent Brown?)
Norm McKinnon
Los Lunas, N.M.

I am a believer in positive reinforcement, so yes, you spelled Andy right. But you missed the N in Katzenmoyer. Good try though. The former first-round pick was released by the Patriots on June 14, 2002, following a full 2001 season on injured reserve and multiple neck surgeries. The former Ohio State star has not played since.
Andy Hart

I've been a life long Pats fan, I was looking at web site under history. I was wondering what happened in 1968 is it true they played in Alabama? I was just wondering if that was a miss print or something. I was only 2 at that time so I wouldn't know.
Patrick Murphy
Mt. Holly, N.C.

Patrick, I was 10 years away from being born at the time, but I dug up an answer for you. The Patriots Sept. 22, 1968 "home" game did take place in Birmingham, Ala. They fell to the Jets 47-31 in front of a decent 29, 192-person crowd. The game was played down south because at the time the Patriots were sharing Fenway Park in Boston with the Red Sox as a home stadium and had a scheduling conflict that day. The move to Alabama was brought about because Jets quarterback Joe Namath was a graduate of the University of Alabama and was expected to bring a strong crowd to what otherwise could have been an unappealing, neutral site AFL game. Like I said, I wasn't there so I don't know all the details, but I hope that clears it up a bit for you.
Andy Hart

Doc Holiday
Weymouth, Mass.

There are tons of bars that will be showing the game. However, the ones I frequented a decade ago when I wasn't working on Sundays are long gone. Since we don't have any sponsors that are bars, all I'll say is call around and make sure they have multiple TVs with DirectTV so that you can keep up with other games at the same time and have a wing for me!
Fred Kirsch

Will you be doing your weekly PFW show on Comcast again this year? I enjoyed the chemistry between Fred, Brian, Paul, and Andy almost as much as the commentary!
Chris Cardaci
Raynham, Mass.

Glad you asked. In the next week or so, we'll have a major announcement on just that subject. Keep reading PFW or More to come…
Fred Kirsch

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