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Ask PFW: Ready to go

With the offseason nearing an end, the loyal legions appear to be on edge and ready for the start of camp judging from the cranky nature of many of the posts.

With the offseason nearing an end, the loyal legions appear to be on edge and ready for the start of camp judging from the cranky nature of many of the posts.

I just have one question about Roman Phifer, who by the way I think performs very well day in and day out and is a very underrated tackler which most people know by now so in fact he may not be so underrated after all. Anyways After the Pats won in 2001 and Roman was thinking of hanging them up has his production declined in any way since? I did read last week that you expect him to be a starter for this season but he is getting up there in terms of age and I was just wondering if he has lost a step in the past year or so and if any younger guys are close to winning over his position in the near future? And also have you heard anything about the Pats maybe signing a veteran backup quarterback at all?
Scituate, Mass.

Phifer is quite simply a physical freak. At 36, he still looks younger than half of his teammates. Belichick often refers to Phifer's incredible athletic ability and how that makes it possible for him to stay around as long as he has. He is also a very well rounded linebacker in that he is equally adept against the run and in pass coverage. He even showed he could rush the passer a little bit back in 2001. My guess is Phifer will hold onto his starting spot for another year. I really don't see any of the young guys being able to fill his shoes. Even if Klecko can make the transition to linebacker he's probably more of a traditional inside guy. Banta-Cain and Chatham seem better suited for strict outside play. Most of the other linebackers would fall into the veteran category.
The backup quarterback spot remains status quo. The Patriots spoke with veteran Neil O'Donnell a few weeks ago to gauge his interest but the former Titan said no thanks. I would keep an eye on the transactions listing in the paper once training camp begins and look for any veterans who become available. Although it might be tough to bring in a quarterback who doesn't know the system so late, Belichick has proven he's not afraid to make moves right up to and even during the season.
Paul Perillo

What is the current status of Bill Conaty, who was on IR last year for the whole year? I was a friend of his when we were kids, until his family moved from the Baltimore area. I have enjoyed watching his career in the NFL, but I have not heard any news of his whereabouts since last year. Was his injury that ended his season last year also career ending? If not, has he caught on with another team in the league?
John Conley
Bel Air, Md.

Hey, John, when you and Bill were growing up did he call you The Fresh Prince? Sorry. Conaty actually did not spend the entire 2003 season on injured reserve. He injured his right hamstring during training camp with the Patriots last summer and was placed on IR on Aug. 26. But he reached an injury settlement with the team on Aug. 31, which allowed him the freedom to sign elsewhere. He eventually hooked on in Dallas on Nov. 3 and spent the rest of the season with the Cowboys. He's not listed on the Cowboys roster and his name didn't come up when I searched for him on some league sites. So I'm not sure if he's retired or simply waiting for his phone to ring.
Paul Perillo

What it the difference between training camp and mini camp?
Davie, Fla.

David in Davie, I like that. Anyway, the difference is pretty simple. Mini-camp is just a week of workouts with pads so the players can go through the plays and formations. It's more for instruction rather than evaluation. Training camp lasts about a month and most of the practices are in full pads. This is where the competition for roster spots kicks in. Since everyone should know their assignments at training camp, there's more evaluation from the coaches.
Paul Perillo

Which CB do you think has a better chance of making the roster, the tall Christian Morton or the speedy Randall Gay?
Coral Springs, Fla.

To be honest, for a seventh-round pick and an undrafted free agent, I was fairly impressed with both at mini-camp. Gay showed terrific speed and make great breaks on the ball while Morton looked very athletic and physical, which considering his size is not surprising. There's still so much time to watch these battles that it's almost impossible to say now. Once training camp comes you get a better read on these players. But if I had to pick one now, I'd go with Morton.
Paul Perillo

You ask for us to name one FB off the top of our heads. I can name one, does the name Jim Brown ring any bells?
Norwood, Mass.

Sure, Jim Brown rings plenty of bells since he was the greatest running back who ever played the game. And my guess is Bryan was asking if anyone could name a quality fullback who is currently playing. It's not exactly a position teams put a high priority on nowadays. There are some great pass-catching guys like Richie Anderson, Tony Richardson and Larry Centers, and some running backs masquerading as fullbacks like Mike Alstott and Mike Anderson. But as far as pure fullbacks go, there aren't many guys with the skills to run, catch and block with equal effectiveness, which is what the position requires. Instead, teams have shifted to more spread formations with multiple receiver and one-back sets.
Paul Perillo

I just read that Len Pasquarelli, the football writer for ESPN, says "there are whispers that Rosevelt Colvin will start the season on the PUP list" (6/25/04). This is the first I have heard that his rehab is not going well. What have you heard?
Bruce Manchester
Amherst, N.H.

First, this is not the first time someone has speculated that Colvin will open the season on PUP. It seems like the logical course of action given his injury. Shameless plug alert In fact we jokers at PFW have talked about that on "PFW in Progress." I'm sure Len heard it from us. (Just kidding). But even if he winds up on PUP, that doesn't mean Colvin's rehab isn't going according well. By all indications he will be back; it's just a matter of when. If he's not ready to go for Week 1, Belichick might decide to hold him back for six weeks while Colvin makes sure the hip is stable. Starting the year on PUP would not be a disaster for Colvin. There are worse outcomes from a fractured hip.
Paul Perillo

Paul, do you feel that Corey Dillon will get his act together and stop being a problem like he was in Cincinnati or do you feel the reason why he acted up like he did was because of the losing atmosphere? Also I think Bruschi, Johnson and McGinest will set Dillon straight if he does act up. Your thoughts?
Paul Baranofsky
Waltham, Mass.

From talking to Dillon at mini-camp he appears as if he's approaching his time with the Patriots as his last chance. That's good news for Patriots fans. My guess is he will stay out of trouble as long as things are going well. I don't just dismiss all of his problems in Cincinnati with being related to the Bengals constant losing. There are plenty of players who haven't won much in their careers who don't act that way. Our own Roman Phifer had never even played in a playoff game before coming in 2001 and he's one of the classiest people in the Patriots locker room. But as long as Dillon is running well and the team is having success, I wouldn't expect him to fall out of line. But if the team struggles and he's not getting a lot of carries, I think he could be a problem. However, I don't expect that to happen.
Paul Perillo

I was just wondering when the supplemental draft is if it hasn't already happened. If it hasn't are there any players that the Pats could be looking at? And I was wondering if any superstars have come out of it?
Greg K.
Weston, Conn.

The supplemental draft usually takes place in early July (last year it was July 10). With Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams out, at least as of now, there don't appear to be any notable names the Patriots might be interested in. Some of the bigger names from supplemental drafts in the past include quarterbacks Bernie Kosar and Steve Walsh, linebacker Brian Bosworth and wide receiver Rob Moore.
Paul Perillo

Being champs puts a huge target on a team's chest around the league. Every team is gunning for you. Knowing this, who do you think will seriously challenge the Pats for the AFC title in 2004. The Titans and the Colts are the betting man's picks, but what other teams seem to have an outside shot at winning the AFC? (My personal picks are the Jets and, gulp, the Jaguars.)
Dorchester, Mass.

For starters, with the way the NFL is today, the AFC champ could literally be anybody. I agree the Patriots should be the prohibitive favorite based on last year's results and a pretty solid offseason in terms of additions/subtractions. But really any number of teams could take the conference title. I agree about Tennessee and Indy, although not about the Jets. Even with Pennington I don't see them posing a huge threat. In addition to your Jaguars pick, don't overlook Houston. That team is making huge strides. Out west, I expect Oakland to bounce back and Kansas City and Denver will be tough. The only division I can't see the conference champ coming from is the North. If you want me to pick one team other than the Patriots, I'll go with Indy.
Paul Perillo

So … I figure one of these weeks you are going to humor me and post my question. But, until then I will continue asking you about P.K. Sam and how he is doing/his potential with New England. Any thoughts/feelings on this topic? In case you are wondering, I am in fact a social worker and that is why I am asking about your thoughts and feelings.
Tallahassee, Fla.

My thoughts and feelings???? Are you sure you're a social worker and not my wife?? Sam is doing fine so far. He's shown good hands and great speed and athleticism in the passing drills during mini-camp. He's facing a tough task to unseat a productive veteran to carve out a roster spot, but I'd expect the Patriots to do whatever they can to keep him in some capacity, whether that means the active roster, the practice squad or injured reserve.
Paul Perillo

I believe that a large part of the Patriots upcoming season will be based on how we open against the Colts (despite the 2003/2004 Buffalo situation). I think the benefit of coming out fast and beating the Colts cannot be understated. Beating the Colts would send a league wide message that we are once again "for real." Do you agree that for reasons of player morale, respect throughout the league, keeping the winning streak in place, and "starting out on the right foot," that winning the nationally televised NFL season opener is significantly important to our 2004 season?
Brett Loehr
St. Johnsbury, Vt.

How do I put this delicately … I completely disagree with you, Brett. OK, so maybe that wasn't so delicate. In addition to you shooting down your own theory with last year's example (Buffalo), an even more accurate comparison came the year before in 2002. People were saying everything you said about the Colts game back then about Pittsburgh. The Steelers were coming in for a Monday night opener and the Patriots "needed to prove to everyone they were for real." (As if somehow winning Super Bowls doesn't prove it.) The Patriots sent a "message" by pasting the Steelers 30-14 in front of the entire nation. The "message" proved so strong that the Patriots finished the season 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Season openers are like every one of the other 16 games – each equal in importance. I don't think the Colts game is any more important than the Cardinals game the following week.
Paul Perillo

During the AFC Championship game the Colts were punting on fourth down from deep in their own territory. The snap sailed over the punter's head onto the turf. The punter kicked the ball through the end zone to prevent the oncoming Patriots rushers from picking it up and carrying it in for a TD. The call from the ref was illegal kicking of the ball, penalty declined, safety. The Pats got the two points and received the kick. Is this a penalty the Pats could have declined and if so what would be the outcome. I'm sure Belichick made the right call but I have been wondering since the call what the options are, no one seems to know. If any of you think I am so desperate out here on the wrong coast that I have nothing better to do than review Patriots tapes, you are correct. Miss being with all the great fans of New England. Thanks PFW.
San Francisco, Calif.

Actually, the Patriots did the decline the penalty. If they had accepted it, the Colts would have been penalized 10 yards and the down would have been replayed. By declining the penalty, the Patriots opted to take the result of the play, which obviously was the safety.
Paul Perillo

I here a lot of talk about Ben Coats on how good he was(and I think he was) but can you break down how Russ Francis stacks up against Ben. I'll always remember Russ with those great one-handed catches and over the shoulder catches.
Honesdale, Pa.

Had Russ Francis remained in New England he likely would have approached Ben Coates' production. Coates played nine seasons in New England (1991-99) and currently ranks second on the team's all-time receptions list with 490. Francis played eight years (but two of those came very late in his career when he returned after a successful stint in San Francisco (1975-80; 87-88). He ranks 12th with 207 catches (393 total). But a closer look shows just how dangerous a receiver Francis was. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch for his Patriots career, more than 4 yards greater than Coates' 11.2-yard average. Coates had far more touchdowns (50-28), but Francis had 12 TD grabs during parts of six seasons with the Niners. And who could forget Howard Cosell referring to him as "my All-World Tight End" after one of those over the shoulder catches you talked about. Both were terrific players.
Paul Perillo

What happened to Damon Huard? I know that he signed with the KC Chiefs as a third string QB at the minimum salary. Why did the Pats let him go and then try to get Neil O'Donnell to come out of retirement as a veteran backup QB? I don't know why Damon would give up a second string job to take a third string job at minimum salary. Did the Pats cut him for some reason or did he just want out of NE?
Westerly, R.I.

This is strictly my opinion, but my guess is Huard did not want to return to the Patriots, where he would have to sit behind Brady for another year. With all of the quarterback openings popping up around the league this offseason, I'd assume Damon felt he could sign somewhere he felt he'd have a legit shot at being the starter. That obviously didn't happen so he wound up in KC. I don't believe he'll end up being the Chiefs third QB, though. I feel he'll back up Trent Green. But the Patriots didn't cut him; he left as a free agent.
Paul Perillo

"As far as his rookie year, I thought it was decent. He had a nose for the goal line, but he wasn't a Pro Bowl back." Robert Edwards appeared to be the second coming of Curtis Martin. Give credit where it's due. Who else has put up good numbers in this offense? He had 1,115 yards rushing, 9 TDs on the ground and 3 in the air, and didn't he tie some record for most consecutive games with a TD as a rookie? I mean, I was devastated when I learned of his beach volleyball injury. Robert Edwards was going be our guy prior to that injury!
Tim Machan
Medicine Hat, Alberta

Hey Tim, are you sure you're not really Bobby Grier or Pete Carroll??? As much as it pains me to admit this, I have to agree with Bryan (and I almost never do that, especially not publicly). Robert Edwards had a very fine rookie year. I think, given his lack of experience as a running back, he likely would have improved. But I don't believe he was the next Curtis Martin (or anything even close to that). To answer your question … who else put up good numbers in this offense? How about Antowain Smith? In 2001, he had 1,157 yards, 12 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving. Did you think Antowain Smith was as good as Curtis Martin after the 2001 season?? Numbers are numbers and good teams are going to have players with pretty good stats. Edwards had some really good games in 1998, but my impression watching him was that he lacked instincts at times and didn't always make the right cuts and decisions. The injury was indeed devastating and no one deserves more credit for the work he did just to make it back to the league. He's a super nice guy who got a raw deal with that injury. But I just didn't see him ever being one of the premier backs in football. Unfortunately, none of us will ever know for sure.
Paul Perillo

I am a born and bred New Hampshire man, Patriots fan since I could watch football. Loved Grogan, hated Eason, and remember Steve Nelson speaking at my Pee Wee football banquet! My question is: Do you think that the increased competitiveness on the Pats roster causes the draft choices to have increased incentive to sign with the Pats and get into camp sooner so they can better compete to make the team, or get playing time?
Montreal, Quebec

Wow, you got Nellie to speak at your banquet … I got Vagas Ferguson. Remember him?
To answer your question, no, but I think Bill Belichick gives them that increased competitiveness to sign on time. Rookies don't ever want to hold out from a football perspective. They understand they need all the time in camp they can get. Whether or not a team is talented or not doesn't come into play. Teams that have a lot of holdouts every year are usually not very well run from the top. Cincinnati is probably the best example of that. The players don't hold out because they figure it doesn't matter when they get to camp. They hold out because the organization tries to make them sign for next to nothing.
Paul Perillo

OK, I give up. No one will post my lowly questions see yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa jumps off bridge into quagmire of endless patriot ignored fans a native Ludlow mass fan to top it off.
Williamstown, N.J.

See ya, Pete. If your other posts were as good as this one, it's hard to figure out why we haven't used any of your questions!
Paul Perillo

I'm no Broncos fan, but I must ask why Denver is never mentioned when discussing the longest winning streak. We all know that the Patriots need three wins to tie the 72-73 Dolphins win streak of 18, but the 97-98 Broncos actually share that record as well. After winning their last regular season game in 1997, the Broncos won four games in the playoffs, including SB 32. The next year they started 13-0, thus making the streak 18 wins. My guess is that the same writers who pick the Dolphins to win the Super Bowl EVERY SINGLE YEAR, are the same ones who conveniently forget to mention the Broncos.
Providence, R.I.

Wow, that was kind of mean Ian. After all, we can't all be perfect. But there is a logical explanation. You see, the NFL only counts regular season wins for their record book. Therefore, the 1933-34 Chicago Bears actually own the longest winning streak in NFL history at 17 in a row. The 1941-42 Bears, the 1971-73 Dolphins and the 1983-84 Dolphins are next with 16 straight. Currently the Patriots have won 12 straight so they actually need to win five more to start the 2004 season to match Chicago and six more to break the record. Counting the playoffs, both of the aforementioned Bears teams, the 1972-73 Dolphins, your Broncos teams and the 1989-90 49ers (you left them out!!!!) all won 18 straight. With 15 in a row, the Patriots indeed need three wins to tie and four to break that mark.
Paul Perillo

First of all Obiwan says "Run Luke, run" after being slain by Darth not before. My question pertains to Injured Reserve and the Practice Squad. You commented that Cedric Cobbs might go on the injured list. If he is better by the middle of the season can he come back at any point? Does the NFL have a similar rule to MLB's 15 day DL? Can there be any movement between the practice squad and the active roster during the season? How about between the practice squad and the injured list? Basically, how does all that work?
Mansfield, Ohio

It doesn't surprise me that Bryan screwed up a movie line. He knows about as much about movies as he does football. Anyway, injured reserve in football is not like the disabled list in baseball. In the NFL, once a player is placed on IR, he is lost for the season. That's why you see a guy like Ted Washington break his leg in Week 3 but not placed on IR while a player can pull a hamstring in Week 15 and get put on IR. Washington obviously had enough time to return to health while later in the season he wouldn't have. So if Cobbs gets injured in training camp and winds up on IR, he would be ineligible for the season. As for the practice squad, there can and often is movement between that list and the active roster. A team can sign a player from the practice squad to its active roster anytime it has a roster spot available. If the team wants to put that player back on the practice squad, the player must clear waivers first.
Paul Perillo

Josh B
Charleston, S.C.

Wow, Bryan really irritated a lot of folks last week. Now you see what Andy and I contend with every day. But once again, I have to say Bryan may have a point. Samuel may be ready to take that starting job. While I agree Poole was pretty good last year (although not so good in the playoffs), Samuel showed flashes of being more than a spot contributor. We won't know for sure until camp, but if he improved enough in the offseason he could step in as the starter. I also think getting Samuel more meaningful playing time, thus determining how effective he can be, will help the decision-making process on Ty Law next offseason.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots play their first regular season game against the Colts on Prime Time ABC Thursday night football. Have the Patriots played a prime time game in the first game of the season before and what was their record Win-Loss? I think they played and beat the Steelers at the new stadium in 2002 but am not sure about any other games). Have the Patriots ever played a Thursday night regular season game before?
Wayne German
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The Patriots have opened the season on "Monday Night Football" three times in the past. In addition to the 2002 opener against Pittsburgh that you remember, the Patriots also kicked off the season at Denver in a 27-21 loss in 1998 and at home against Pittsburgh in 1979 in a 16-13 overtime loss. They also have made two career appearances on ABC Thursday night games – 1986 at the Jets (20-6 win) and 1979 at Miami (39-24 loss).
Paul Perillo

Why did the Pats not look into the services of Kurt Warner at the time of availability? An added veteran QB would make me feel a little more confident on this coming season's outlook.
Al B.
Chicopee, Mass.

Is this Al B. Sure! I think he was born in Boston and was a football player, so maybe he's living in Chicopee now and reading Ask PFW. Hey, it could happen. (For all of you Andy Hart types out there Al B. Sure! was an R&B singer in the late '80s.) Even with your extensive football background, Al, I don't think Kurt Warner would make much sense. Warner still wants to start and I doubt he'd have been interested in sitting behind Tom Brady. In New York, he likely will get at least a few games as the starter to show his stuff while Eli Manning develops. If he plays well, he can either keep playing there or go somewhere else next season. But in New England, barring an injury to Brady, he would never have stepped off the bench.
Paul Perillo

Wow, 12 questions not one answered, although all of them were good, if I do say so myself. I wasn't aware drunken sailors, and what to do with them were a hot topic in Foxboro. Gimme a break here. You guys are pathetic.
Disgruntled PFW Reader
Belchertown, Mass.

Another satisfied customer the week after Bryan answers the questions. Drunken sailors??? Come back next week, Disgruntled.
Paul Perillo

Who is the head trainer for the Patriots?
Coconut Creek, Fla.

I'm guessing these are the kinds of questions that put Disgruntled over the top. But that doesn't mean we can't answer them. The Patriots head trainer is Jim Whalen. The assistant is Joe Van Allen.
Paul Perillo

In your opinion, did the Patriots sign Marquise Hill to a 5-year contract because they see a strong potential for a young player and/or to prepare for a possible Richard Seymour departure when he is a free agent? (Which I believe is not too far away). Will the Patriots do everything to keep Seymour or do you think he will go elsewhere?
North Oxford, Mass.

The Patriots have signed many of their draft picks in the Belichick era to five-year deals. In fact, Seymour actually signed a six-year deal. I think their philosophy is to keep the players away from free agency for as long as they can. That way the player doesn't have the leverage to seek the over the top big money deals the Patriots wisely stay away from. Seymour won't be a free agent for another three years. If Hill develops he could make it easier for the team to say goodbye, but there a chance another player not even on the roster right now could come in and do the same.
Paul Perillo

You better post my question or I'll become a jets fan. Hahaha, anyways I really want to know if Dillon can get 1600 rushing yards if he is really healthy into the season? Do you think the o-line is good enough?
Sai T.
Fresno, Calif.

I think Dillon will be a solid every down back, but 1,600 yards is asking an awful lot. Last season there were only four players in the league who had more than 1,600 yards rushing – Jamal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ahman Green and Deuce McAllister. I think he can have an excellent season and still not pile up that much yardage. I see him somewhere closer to 1,200, especially with the way the Patriots offense usually revolves around Brady and the passing game.
Paul Perillo

Hey its me again, if you remember my more belligerent post from a few Ask PFW's ago. Well this time I actually have something to say: I went to cast my votes for the ESPY awards like subliminally instructed me to, and I was faced with quite a dilemma on one category. The best game of the year came down to Sox/Yankees game 7, Saugus/Texas little league World Series, and Patriots/Panthers Super Bowl (and some other game that New Englanders don't care about). I was all flustered and didn't know what to do. I immediately ruled out the Sox/Yankees game because although it may be the most historic of the three, its the one I'd least want to see again. The Saugus game was definitely a great game and so I feel bad because I didn't vote for them. I was working in Saugus when the game was going on and the whole city, myself included, was so proud of those little buggers. I'm sure the rest of the state was too. In the end I went Patriots/Panthers because that 4th quarter adrenaline ride just kept me at the edge of my seat. Also that game was the big one, the Super Bowl, it left me happy for the whole offseason. So anyway my question is, who would you guys vote for? I know this is, but I expect and unbiased answer just like the rest of this column.
Jack Dolabany
Medford, Mass.

I'll say now what I said immediately after the Super Bowl … that was the best sporting even I've ever seen. It was an incredibly exciting game with both teams playing very well. I remember the Saugus Little League game – in fact, Bryan, Fred and I watched it from a hotel together while on one of the preseason road trips last summer. That was great too, but a Little League game can't beat a Super Bowl. As for the Sox-Yankees … just too painful to give that game the nod. For me personally I might put the Sox-Oakland Game 5 up there, but I just can't see anything beating the Pats-Panthers game.
Paul Perillo

Marquise Hill and a few other rookies have recently signed contracts with their new teams. Most rookies will participate in training camps and other workouts while their agents work out the final contract, but what happens if a player gets injured at a team sponsored event? Can the team just not sign the player or argue for a reduced salary. I'm surprised legally that a player can participate without officially being an employee of the team and is there an insurance policy in place for all rookies in case it's a career-ending injury?
Brian T.
Centreville, Va.

First, a player wouldn't take part in training camp without a contract. That's where holdouts come from. But as far as mini-camps and other non-contact work, rookies are insured and taken care of in the event of an injury. Brock Williams, a third-round pick in 2001, actually injured his knee in mini-camp but the team still signed him and he was paid even though he wound up on an injured list. As far as I know, that's standard operating procedure around the league.
Paul Perillo

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