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Ask PFW: Roster breakdown

I know that this is totally irrelevant to current events but something occurred and I don't know who else to ask: What happens if a team that wins its division gets to play in the Super Bowl in its home stadium (e.g., the Arizona Cardinals this year). Doesn't this negate the idea of a neutral site?Joe Paretti

It's definitely possible that a team could play the Super Bowl in its home stadium, although in 41 years it's yet to happen. If the Cardinals surprised everyone and managed to win the NFC, then they would indeed get to play for the title in their home stadium. But it wouldn't necessarily give them the type of home-field advantage that is normally associated with playing at home. Each team would receive the same amount of tickets so fans of the AFC team would have every right to go to the game as Cardinals fans would. That's not the case for road teams otherwise. It certainly would be advantageous for a team to play in a place they're comfortable in, but in terms of the external advantages like the crowd, it would still be a neutral site.
Paul Perillo

I have been frustrated trying to find a list of what count at each position the Pats, or any NFL team, will generally have when they finally reduce to a 53-man roster. I know the final count is heavily affected by special teams, but can you guys give the PFW audience a general guide on how many spots we should expect for each position and how many extras for special teams? This would help me to keep track of, and understand the more meaningful matchups for position at each position.Daniel Brennan

One reason you haven't been able to find this is because there are no set rules for how many players a team can keep at each position. I can give you a rough estimate for the Patriots based on what they've done under Bill Belichick during his seven previous years here in New England. It can vary from year to year, but in general terms he's kept three quarterbacks, four or five running backs (counting fullbacks), five or six wide receivers, three tight ends, eight or nine offensive linemen, eight defensive linemen, eight or nine linebackers, five cornerbacks, four or five safeties and one each at kicker, punter and long snapper. If you add up the high end of those estimates you'd wind up with more than 53 players. If you keep more at one spot obviously you'd have to take less at another. That's why the numbers change from year to year.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering why Bill Belichick hasn't substituted more players on defense in order to keep things fresh and fast on the front seven. Guys are practicing as if they're going to start the next game. Why not get a fresh body in there when guys start wearing down late in the game? Better yet, platoon during the game to keep everyone engaged and feeling like they're contributing more. Do you think this has any merit?
Hal Surawski

I think it has a lot of merit, and I think Bill does too because for the most part that's exactly what he does – at least at the spots where he thinks the dropoff isn't too high to negate the benefits. On defense, there's a ton of substituting, although it's not necessarily done to keep players fresh. There are constant personnel changes depending on the situation. If it's an obvious passing down, some of the linebackers are replaced by extra defensive backs, and some of the defensive linemen (Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork in particular) are replaced by players with better pass rushing abilities (Jarvis Green). This isn't meant to be a platoon but rather to give the Patriots a better chance to succeed. It wouldn't make much sense to take a guy like Adalius Thomas off the field just to keep him fresher and replace him with a lesser player. Obviously if Thomas is tired and needs to come out, that's a different story. Same thing with Richard Seymour when he's healthy. You keep your best players on the field as often as possible because their performance, even when they're tired, is likely better than a fresh reserve.
Paul Perillo

What happens to contracts such as Marquise Hill's? If a player passes away, is the contract considered null and void?James Marshall

The team is responsible for whatever remaining portion of the signing bonus on the cap. For example, if a player receives a five-year deal and gets a $5 million signing bonus but tragically dies after the third year, the team would still have $2 million to deal with on the cap. Obviously whatever base salary the player was set to receive would not be paid or assigned to the cap. In other words, the contract is treated the same as any released player's would be.
Paul Perillo

I am a bit concerned with the depth at running back. I think Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk are both great but I don't have much faith in Sammy Morris or Heath Evans. My wish is for the Patriots to sign one more half decent halfback. Am I right to be concerned with the depth? Tell me I'm wrong and that Quinton Smith is the next Willie Parker. I don't believe that there are many half decent free agent running backs out there, so our best chance of signing one is after the rosters are cut. Do you know if there are any teams who are having a very competitive battle for roster spots at the running back position like we are having at the wide receiver position, where some good players may get cut? Do you see the Pats picking up another running back before the season? Sorry about the rant … I think I've had a little too much to drink.
Owen "Ice Man" Costello

You must be drinking … who else besides Tom Casale makes up a nickname for himself? That's right, Ice Man, I am dangerous. Anyway, I don't share your concerns about the running back situation. Injuries are always a concern for most every position and if Maroney gets injured then maybe I'll feel differently. But as long as he's healthy I believe this corps is solid. He is the lead guy and should get 15-18 carries a game. Morris can handle somewhere between 5-7 and Faulk will pick up a few of his own while continuing his work as a receiver. Evans is capable of chipping in as a runner and receiver too. All together this group is fine … even if Quinton Smith fails to turn into the next Willie Parker, which that astute football talent evaluator Andy Hart believes could be the case, by the way.
Paul Perillo

Every time I saw Rohan Davey play, I always thought to myself, "he stinks." Last year, Casey Bramlet and the Todd Mortensen showed me nothing. However, when watching Matt Gutierrez in Tampa, I came away impressed. His throws looked accurate and had a tight spiral. If the team risks losing him by putting him on the practice squad so they can keep Vinny Testaverde, they are making a big mistake. Matt Cassel will be a FA after 2008?Mark E. (Mark)

For the most part, I agree. I never saw what the attraction was to Davey and couldn't understand how he lasted so long here. And certainly there was nothing about Bramlet or Mortensen that led anyone to believe either had much potential. But I'm not going to get too carried away with Gutierrez either. He looked OK against Tampa and even had a nice moment on his touchdown run against Tennessee in the second game. But in training camp practices he really struggled and often looked lost while trying to run the offense. If the coaching staff feels there's some potential there worth working with, I don't think they'll have much trouble getting him on their practice squad. Vinny is here as an experienced backup with loads of knowledge to pass along to Tom Brady and Matt Cassel, and Cassel has two more years in New England before he can go anywhere. So making moves with an eye toward replacing Cassel as the backup at this point would be premature.
Paul Perillo

I was reading a story on Matt Cassel and got to thinking: What ever happened to Rohan Davey? I know he was released a few years ago but is he still in the league?
Ryan Currier

Two Rohan Davey mentions in back-to-back questions. Davey went to Arizona for a short time after the Patriots released him prior to the 2005 season. He finished that year with the Cardinals but was released before the 2006 season. He played for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football league last year.
Paul Perillo

I was looking around online and saw that Cedric Cobbs was released by the Broncos. I remember thinking highly of him when he played here before being traded to the Steel City. What do you guys think of him, and would he fit back in the offense?
Sarah M.

You must not have thought that highly of him because you've mixed up two running backs names Cobbs. Cedric was released by the Patriots before the 2005 season and hooked up with Denver, spending time on the practice squad and being injured. Patrick Cobbs was in camp with New England last year before being traded to Pittsburgh. The Steelers released him shortly thereafter and he was signed to Miami's practice squad. To answer your final question, I don't think either would be a great fit in the Pats offense. Cedric is injury prone and can't seem to stay healthy while Patrick is undersized and not over fast.
Paul Perillo

This is my first question. I am a big fan of the Pats. I follow your answers every week and I watch all the games I can see in Mexico. I have 2 questions: 1) Which receivers do you see staying with the Patriots and who gets released? 2) Which players are becoming free agents after this season?Fernando Barron

I see how it works … you tell us this is your first time writing in and say how great we are, and then you slip in two questions on us. But since you're a rookie and all I guess we can help you out. Total guesses here on the wide receivers, especially given the tenuous health status of several of them, but I see Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker, Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney and Kelley Washington making the team with Chad Jackson starting the year on PUP. I think Jackson will be activated when he becomes eligible six weeks into the season. Reche Caldwell could easily make it over Gaffney or Washington, but the I feel pretty confident about the first four, provided they're all healthy and ready to go at the start of the season, which right now is not the case. As for pending free agents, here's a partial list: Asante Samuel (assuming he ever comes back), Randall Gay, Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi, Eugene Wilson, Tory James, Larry Izzo, Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney, Lonie Paxton, Mel Mitchell and Reche Caldwell.
Paul Perillo

Just wondering how long the Patriots will be able to wear Marquise Hill's number 91 on the back of their helmets? I ask because it would be cool to have it all year long, as they are dedicating the season to him however, I remember when players (I think Jake Plummer) tried to keep Pat Tillman's number on their helmets they were told to take it off. So is this just a preseason thing or what?
Carlos

They will be able to wear the number all season. The reason Jake Plummer wasn't allowed to wear Pat Tillman's number was because he was not a member of the Arizona Cardinals at the time. Plummer and Tillman were close friends from their time playing together in Arizona, but Plummer was with Denver at the time of Tillman's death, so the league allowed only Arizona player to honor Tillman for the entire season.
Paul Perillo

I noticed the quarterbacks are sporting a red dot on the back of their helmets. What is its significance?Tim Cook

Well Tim, I'd say the biggest significance would be that you need a new TV because if you're seeing red dots there's either something wrong with the color on your set or with your eyes. The dots on the helmets are green, and they let officials which players have the communication device inside their helmets to talk to coaches. Only one such player is allowed on the field at a time.
Paul Perillo

Is the amount of salary cap room that the Patriots have left for this season a matter of public record? If so, how must do they have left? When money is "guaranteed" in a contract, does that mean it must be counted against the cap in the year in which it is initially guaranteed, or is that negotiable later?
Bob Lyman

It's not a matter of public record, although there are ways to get rough estimates on how much room a team has. Agents, teams and league sources sometimes leak the information but most times you read in the media about cap space the writer is usually using an estimate. Every team has to leave a certain amount of space under the cap for signing additional players due to injuries, etc. As for the second part of the question, guaranteed money doesn't mean it has to be counted on that year's cap, unless it's guaranteed salary. If a player receivers a $10 million signing bonus, that's guaranteed money but it can be spread out over the life of the deal.
Paul Perillo

Surprised, to say the least, that I just read the Pats released Artrell Hawkins. How can they do that? Isn't he the guy who took over for Wilson last year and did a pretty good job? Who's the backup at that spot now? I suppose this either means that Wilson is back to his very good form, or that Meriweather is about to learn the FS position. What are your thoughts guys?
Andreas P.

I was mildly surprised with Hawkins' release but only because of the timing of it. I thought Hawkins would be on the bubble (my projection in the current issue of PFW had him on the team but being vulnerable) but I figured if he was cut it wouldn't be so early. My guess is the Patriots wanted to give him some time to hook on somewhere else he there was an opportunity to do so. As for the backup, James Sanders is playing at a high level and Belichick recently said his presence in the lineup is no different than Wilson or Harrison – any two of those three would basically not be much of a difference. Meriweather also can play safety so if there are injuries, I'd expect to see him move back there. And Hawkins could return as well, who knows?
Paul Perillo

First question - what is the difference between a "rookie" and a "first year player"? I never understood the difference.Nelson Durcaneau

This is a very common question at this time of year. A rookie is anyone playing in the NFL for the first time, whether he's drafted or signed as a free agent. An example of a first-year player is someone who spends time in camp with a team his rookie year but doesn't earn a year of service time, and then signs somewhere (whether it's the same team of not) the next year. He's not a rookie because he already took part in training camp and he's not in his second year because he didn't make a team or spend enough time with a team to earn a year of service time. Therefore he's referred to as a first-year player.
Paul Perillo

After seeing our franchise quarterback get beaten and battered several times against the Titans last week, I really think Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff needs to find a solution to this problem, a problem that could turn catastrophic if not fixed. I think the problems at the O-Line position have been masked a little bit due to the fact that Tom Brady has arguably the best pocket presence in the league. If Brady wasn't our starting quarterback, this offensive line is giving up 4-5 sacks per game at least. I know there isn't much time till the Patriots have to head to the Meadowlands for the season opener, but with our problems at the tackle position, why won't they at least try moving Logan Mankins to either LT or RT. I know he has made himself into one of the best guards in the NFL since being drafted in 2005, but he did play tackle at Fresno State. At least experimenting him at tackle during training camp doesn't seem that unreasonable.Alex Fox

I share your concerns about the occasional lapses in protection recently and I agree wholeheartedly that the problem would seem a lot worse if not for Brady's amazing ability to avoid pressure and buy time in the pocket. But I'm not sure your solution is the best one. Mankins played tackle at Fresno State and I believe he could probably do a pretty good job there. But that would still leave another hole to fill, and not all the problems in pass protection could be traced to the tackles. By moving Mankins they'd have to fill in someone else at guard and they'd lose a potentially dominant player in the meantime. And there's no guarantee that Mankins would be as good on the outside as he is on the inside. So in theory you could be weakening two positions by making that move. The Tennessee game showed a lot of communication problems in terms of missed assignments, etc. I'd rather see that then guys flat out getting beaten in one-on-one situations. Communication issues are going to happen from time-to-time in the preseason. Dante Scarnecchia won't allow that to continue. He's one of the better line coaches in football and his preparation is outstanding. I don't expect to see that kind of stuff happening regularly during the season.
Paul Perillo

I think that injuries might be the main obstacle to us winning the SB this year. I would go out on the limb and say that it is better to have a healthy team going into playoffs than ranking. If we had Rodney, Eugene and a healthy Laurence on the field against the Colts, we could have been champs last year. The season has not even started, yet Moss, perhaps the biggest weapon, is injured. Do Patriots tell key players not to overextend yourself during practices or preseason games? Even guys like Gay or Scott can save their best jumps for Chargers and Colts. What do you think about managing injuries this way?
Alex Crane

I don't think you can play football that way. There's no way to prepare for the rigors of an NFL season without practicing hard and that's what the preseason is for – to prepare for the regular season. Injuries happen. They're a major part of the game and no team is exempt. Belichick made a comment recently that he could rest the entire team during the summer and give everyone six weeks off but he didn't think they would be a very good football team. I agree with that sentiment. And as for your ranking vs. health question from last year … do you think the Patriots, even at the depleted state they were in, would have beaten Indy if the game was played in Foxborough? I don't even think it would have been close. So winning games is pretty important to this equation too.
Paul Perillo

On Friday night's game, the Tom Brady play was reviewed whether it was a forward pass or fumble. It was ruled a fumble, but it appeared to me that it was recovered by the defense. If the Pats recovered it who was it?
Paul Levesque

Stephen Neal recovered the ball for the Patriots despite several Titans having their hands on it before he got there. At least two Tennessee players had a chance to pick it up and return it but neither was able to, and that allowed Neal to alertly get in there and recover it.
Paul Perillo

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