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Ask PFW: Reporting for duty

The waiting/recovery period is finally over. Players are in the process of reporting and training camp 2008 will officially open to the public Thursday morning on the practice fields at Gillette Stadium.

What is the usual number of players in each position that BB (Bill Belichick) usually keeps on the roster? And if you had to take a guess, how many and which rookies do you think will make the team?
Scott Macone

Funny you should ask, Scott, because we here at PFW always keep an eye on roster numbers by position as we try to project how things will shake out at the end of training camp. At most positions, Belichick's rosters have varied by one or two players over his previous eight years. We'll start with the more consistent numbers. He's always kept a single kicker, punter and long snapper. He's always had either seven or eight defensive linemen, five or six wide receivers and two or three running backs. While he's kept as many as four and as few as two quarterbacks, he usually opts for the traditional three passers. In the early days he'd keep two or three fullbacks, but he's dropped to just one over the last four years. He kept four tight ends in 2006, just two in 2001, but also generally keeps three tight ends. Offensive line ranges from eight to 10 bodies, but on five occasions he's broken camp with nine guys to work the trenches. Cornerback has ranged from a low of three players (last year) to as many as six (2005), but the traditional number is four or five. Safety also generally falls in at four or five, although he's kept as many as six, as he did last September even though Rodney Harrison wasn't on the roster due to a league suspension. Finally, linebacker has been the toughest spot to predict with Belichick going with as few as six to open the season (2000, 2002) and as many as 10. But a number in the range of nine or 10 is generally practical for prediction purposes.
What does it all mean? Not much. As always Belichick will make his decisions based on his specific roster this year, injuries and which 53 players give him the best chance to win. And as always it's likely that we'll see as many as 60 or so of the players from camp spend some time on the active roster at some point this season. As for the rookies, they are an even tougher crop to predict as we've yet to see them in any sort of padded NFL action. But at this point I'll guess that Jerod Mayo, Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable and Kevin O'Connell, if healthy, make the active roster. Jonathan Wilhite, Matthew Slater and Bo Ruud are in line for practice squad duty. And my sleeper pick remains undrafted free agent outside linebacker Vince Redd. I think he's got a chance to make the roster, and at the very least will remain with the team in some way.
Andy Hart

Like it or not, some people truly believe that the Patriots dynasty is now in a slow decline. What are your views on this, and what Patriot weaknesses would make some people really believe that the Patriot dynasty is now in decline?
John Moore

The first thing that gives people reason to say the dynasty is dead is the fact that the team hasn't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season. I don't agree with the reasoning, but it's out there. The team has continued to make the playoffs, and has been in the Super Bowl hunt each of the last two years. I don't think the dynasty is dead. If New England wins the Super Bowl this year I'd consider the '00s as a continuous era of success. At that point the team would have five Super Bowl trips in eight years, four titles and by far the most playoff wins of any single team in any decade in league history. In the end, though, dynasties are a very subjective topic. Different people have different criteria. It's sort of like the Hall of Fame process. But even fewer teams are considered a dynasty by all (see the Bill Russell Boston Celtics) than is the case with virtually unanimous Hall of Famers.
Andy Hart

I heard the Pats were going to resign Ty Law in the off season but I have heard nothing, is this still a possibility or has he signed elsewhere?Charles Croston

Law has not signed elsewhere. My understanding is that he did have discussions with the Patriots this offseason, but that his asking price was well beyond what the team was looking to pay the aging cornerback. He's been in talks with other teams, but the asking price is likely what's kept him unsigned as teams head to camp. He might just wait until later the summer for some team to lose a cornerback to injury and therefore be more motivated to pay the former All-Pro. I still think he has something left and could help a number of teams, including the Patriots. I'm just not sure I'd be looking to pay him something ridiculous like $5 or $6 million a year at this point. But my best guess is that at some point, in some uniform, we'll see Law again in the NFL.
Andy Hart

I know that games are played on the field, that we won't know about the new guys until we see them in games, etc. - but in your opinion, which teams in the AFC - or even, just in the East - helped themselves the most in the offseason?Michael

I think the Jets had a very solid, aggressive offseason. I like the bolstering of the offensive line and addition of playmakers to the front 7 on defense. The problem is they still have a major question at quarterback. That's not a good place to have major questions. They should be a better team and may compete for a wild card slot, but they're clearly not ready to challenge a healthy Patriots team for the division.
I'm not as high on Buffalo and Miami. I think the Dolphins are in a huge rebuilding mode and I'm not sold on some of the draft picks the team has made over the last few years. (That's forgetting the franchise's terrible drafts before that.). They don't have a quarterback and traded their best defensive player, a guy who almost single handedly willed them victories over the Patriots in recent memory. And Buffalo has a young quarterback (assuming Trent Edwards is the guy)/running back duo that needs to prove it's legit. I like head coach Dick Jauron. I like some of their young players on defense. But in the Patriots league at all? Not even close. And outside the East, I like what the Steelers have been doing. The added playmakers on offense in the draft and have always done a good job restocking the cupboard on defense. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the top QBs in the game (after Brady and Manning, of course). If Mike Tomlin can prove he's a good head coach and keep the team moving in the right direction then I think Pittsburgh could be a tough out in the AFC.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, should we be worried that draft positions 1-4 haven't been signed yet? Is this typical for this time of year? Cheers.David O Malley

The Patriots have often come down the wire with draft picks over the years. I generally don't worry about it until I'm on the practice field when camp opens and there are guys missing. I have faith in the front office to get the job done. I know some issues with the CBA and financial landscape of the league have made things a little more interesting with rookie contracts across the league this year, but in the end I expect Patriots draft picks to be in camp. The last big issue the team had was with Benjamin Watson and that seems like it ended up being as much of a debate between the player and his agent as it was an issue with the player and the team. My guess is the rookies will be on the practice field this Thursday, although if Mayo is missing that will certainly not be a good thing. No matter how football-savvy he is, a rookie linebacker expected to contribute from Day 1 needs as much time as possible to get comfortable in Belichick's 3-4 defense.
Andy Hart

One thing that always strikes me when watching the NBA or MLB is that many of the coaches and front office people also had good to distinguished careers as players as well. Some examples that jump out are Jerry West, Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, Kevin McHale and Phil Jackson to name a few. I don't follow baseball all that closely but it seems to me many good players have developed into good coaches as well. But when I look at the NFL it's very difficult to find good players that have become good coaches. Jack del Rio and Herm Edwards com to mind as the only two that had decent playing careers as well as (head) coaching careers as well. Toss in Matt Millen as a GM, but the results are questionable at best. So it seems to me that very few good NFL players become good NFL coaches or GM's. Any comments on this?Rick Soden

While I think there are more managers/coaches and GMs in basketball, baseball and hockey that are former players, you are missing a number in the NFL. Off the top of my head former players as coaches include Jeff Fisher, Dick Jauron, Tony Dungy and Jim Zorn. Another GM would Ozzie Newsome. I'm sure I'm missing a few. But in general I think the NFL is a tougher place to work and it's harder for an ex-player to put in the time necessary to have a top-level job. The commitment to work up the ladder and become a top coach or GM is more than most ex-players are willing to invest after a long playing career. In other sports, those that require less sophistication in coaching and decision making I think it's easier to make a shorter, less strenuous, less time consuming transition from succeeding in a uniform to succeeding in a suit.
Andy Hart

When do the Pats get to play the Colts at home again? Earlier in the decade it seemed they played a few in a row at Gillette--seems we've been there for a few in a row. Thanks a lot.
James Siegel

The earliest it could happen would be this postseason, if New England earned home field advantage in a possible playoff matchup. Otherwise, the Patriots are scheduled to head to Indy again next season. Beyond that, the NFL has not released a schedule moving forward beyond 2009. The NFL has been using a pre-set schedule since 2002 that had all opponents set in advance (including a yearly rotation through AFC and NFC divisions) other than two games per year that were based on a rotation through the divisions of the two conferences based on the previous year's standings.
Andy Hart

Wondering if there's an interesting side story here. Ortiz, who was apparently cut by the Seahawks at the end of camp last year and out of football since (?), seems to have been one of O'Connell's favorite targets at San Diego State. I don't remember seeing when the Pats picked him up. He might be worth following in camp and through the pre-season.
Steve Warren

I don't know much about Ortiz or his arrival in New England. I'll be talking to him at some point to dig up some dirt on his former college teammate. Other than that, I'm not sure how much an impact Ortiz will make in New England. My guess is you won't have a chance to follow him beyond the preseason. Call it a hunch.
Andy Hart

Hi, I'm just curious what a long snapper has to do to get in the Hall of Fame. Are there any? It seems as though Lonnie Paxton has been on the unglamorous end of most, if not all of the Patriots monumental field goals of recent years. I can't even remember a bad snap since he joined the team. Am I wrong about this? Paxton for the HOF! Or maybe Brady could throw him a TD pass. I think he just needs a little more recognition.
Peter Rokel

I am as big a Paxton fan as there is. He's a good guy, a very good long snapper and enjoys life to the fullest. But Hall of Fame? Are you nuts? There's only one kicker in the Hall and no punters. He's never even been invited to a Pro Bowl. He's got no chance at the Hall. Less than zero. I have a better chance of becoming President. But he does deserve some recognition and I think sooner or later he'll get a Pro Bowl nod. He's definitely one of the best long snappers in the game. And I'll pass along the idea of getting him a TD pass to Belichick and Brad Seely. I'll let you know what they think.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW I was wondering, with all of the supposed 'problems' with the Pats current roster at the corner position, why don't we bite back at the Eagles and make a trade for Lito Sheppard. They took our best guy, and Sheppard is a proven player with a lot of talent, and someone of his stature I assume would not like to be a nickel corner. It seems logical (to me anyway) that we give up one or two draft picks and give ourselves a proven guy to cover the loss of Asante, bolster the corner position, strengthen the defense and give us 2 or 3 more solid runs at a Super Bowl title. As good as the Pats are, our run cannot go on forever and we may as well make deals so that we have the best possible chance of winning one or two more titles before everyone retires. Cheers!Mark Wheeler

G'day, mate. Throw another shrimp on the barby. The dingo ate my baby. That ain't a knife, this is a knife.
Anyway, if the questions in the secondary are only supposed problems, then why do we need to go after Sheppard? Just wondering.
Sheppard is a good, young player. He's probably available for the right price via trade. The problem is he would likely be looking for a new contract, with big money like Samuel was looking for and subsequently got. Sheppard is a two-time Pro Bowl selection. He's young. He just hired Drew Rosenhaus as his new agent. So even if you could work out a trade with the Eagles, you still have to deal with the contract issues. If you wanted to pay a young cornerback a lot of money you should have just re-signed Samuel. No?
Clearly Belichick and Scott Pioli have gone with the plan of bringing in young, talented draft picks and aging, experienced veterans at the position. They will let the less expensive options all battle things out this summer and in the end Belichick and Dom Capers will have to piece together a championship-caliber secondary, something Belichick has done with less talent to work with in the past. I am among those who think the secondary is one of the few real weaknesses on this team, I just don't think at this point it is the difference between winning and losing.
Andy Hart

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