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Ask PFW: Sizing up the offseason

A lot of roster questions in this week's Ask PFW.

I was wondering who could play other positions should the need ever arise? Hopefully, this never happens! For example, if the Patriot place-kicker AND punter should go down to injuries in the same game, then who would be their player replacements?
John Moore

I love these kinds of interesting questions that are almost impossible to answer without input from the coaches. If both Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen were injured in the same game it would certainly cause some problems. Without having any inside knowledge of what kind of kicking skills any of the regular players may possess, I'm going to guess that Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Shea McClellin would be some candidates to handle those duties based on their athleticism. Edelman obviously played some quarterback in college and Hogan played Division I lacrosse while McClellin has displayed his versatility leaping over the line to block kicks in the past. I'm sure there are many other versatile athletes who could be candidates as well. Honestly, if both kickers were injured I wouldn't be surprised to see Bill Belichick decide to have Tom Brady punt and not do any place-kicking at all and instead for two-point conversions and forgo field goals and instead go for it on fourth down.
Paul Perillo

It has been speculated that Vince Wilfork may sign a one-day contract with the Patriots to retire as a Patriot. I can't recall that ever happening in New England before; am I wrong?
David Beckett

The last I heard about Wilfork was that he was still deciding whether or not to retire. He still believes he could play for the Texans this season and until he officially hangs them up it's tough to sign a one-day deal with New England. The Patriots have signed players to one-day contracts in the past as a symbolic gesture. Willie McGinest and Otis Smith signed one-day deals with the Patriots and I remember Ty Law talking about his desire to do so as well.
Paul Perillo


With the incredible talent level the Patriots have assembled this year do you think it's time to rethink carrying players that are essentially special teams-only contributors? I'm thinking Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner in particular. Now I know Slater is a many time Pro Bowl special teamer, but if he is one of the six receivers the team carries, then a seriously talented option on offense will have to be released. Slater did call heads at the OT coin toss of the Super Bowl and we will be forever grateful for that, but can the team afford to keep him on?
Len Carmody

I think there will always be a spot for players who are special teamers only, and Slater and Ebner certainly fall into that category. Those two don't really factor into the depth chart at their respective positions and are generally considered special teams players only. In other words, a wide receiver won't get cut because Slater is taking a spot. Players like Slater and Ebner are instrumental in keeping the special teams together and are leaders on and off the field and their professionalism is evident every day. I think Belichick likes to have players like this in his locker room every year and my guess is he'll continue to have those veterans around.
Paul Perillo

Just been watching the first "3 Games to Glory" and before the start of the Super Bowl one of the Rams says "tonight a dynasty is born baby." How right and how wrong he was! My question is this, are there any other players apart from Brady from the 2001 season who are still playing? And who from that team would you most like to have on the roster today as well as Brady? For me it would have to be Mike Vrabel or Tedy Bruschi, paired with Dont'a Hightower either of those would solve our second LB spot straight away. Thanks for a cracking offseason coverage.
Mark Collier

Here is a very unofficial list of players who were active in 2001 who are still playing: Adam Vinatieri, Phil Dawson, Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski, Drew Brees and Julius Peppers. All but Brees and Peppers are kickers/punters so that makes it even more impressive. If I could have just one player in his prime from 2001 I'd take Richard Seymour, who was a truly dominant defensive lineman and would wreak havoc with Belichick being able to use him in a variety of roles.
Paul Perillo

With the selections of both Conor McDermott and Tony Garcia in the draft and Nate Solder's contract expiring at the end of the year, do you think the Patriots will flip him like they did Jamie Collins to ensure they get a third-round pick?
Michael Rochman

I think the selections of Garcia and McDermott were made with Solder's future in mind but not necessarily for this season. Solder will be the left tackle in all likelihood and his future could depend on a variety of things including his play, the development of the rookies and what kind of contract Solder might want going forward. If Solder leaves as a free agent after the season, chances are the Patriots would be in line to get a compensatory pick regardless so dealing him now wouldn't make much of a difference. Garcia in particular seems to be a developmental guy the coaches are watching to see how important Solder will be in 2018.
Paul Perillo

How do you think the running back situation will shake out?
Dwight M. Lee

Interesting question that I will try to give a simple answer. Mike Gillislee will be the lead back, for lack of a better term, while James White will handle the passing back role. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are both versatile backs who can run and catch the ball and Belichick will likely spread the carries among those two and Gillislee. D.J. Foster has some pass catching ability as well and he could factor into the equation. Lewis could be a wild card because he could be a candidate for a veteran trade during training camp depending on the overall health of the group. It's a deep position and I feel Gillislee will lead the team in carries while White will be the most useful pass catcher.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys long time Pats fan from Ga. with a question. With the depth at DE is it possible we see Derek Rivers off the line more than on, and if that's the case could we see the Pats giving him a legitimate shot at flanking Hightower in one of the starting outside spots?
Khii Rainey

During mini-camp we saw some of rookie Deatrich Wise dropping into coverage during drills but so far I haven't seen Rivers doing any of that. But either way I expect Rivers and Wise to rush the passer off the edge more often than not, whether they're being used as defensive ends or outside linebackers. At least initially I don't think either of them will be true linebackers as rookies.
Paul Perillo

Coach Belichick is always talking about the guys making their biggest improvement in Year 2. So which players do you feel are set to make the biggest Year 2 jump?
Sydney Jackson
Hanover, N.H.

There are a lot of candidates for this with guys like Joe Thuney, Malcolm Mitchell, Cyrus Jones, Elandon Roberts and many others entering their second season. I'm going to choose Jonathan Jones, and part of that is based on a small snapshot of practices we've seen thus far this summer. Jonathan Jones has worked as the third corner in the slot with Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler, and based on what I've seen he's been competitive and could be in line for a huge Year 2 jump.
Paul Perillo


What do you think the Patriots plans are for punt returners and kickoff return men? Seeing Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola back there is scary for guys that take as many hits as they do as receivers.
Steve Breitzka

I could see James White and or Dion Lewis working in that role but I'd be surprised to see Edelman and Amendola doing so on a consistent basis. Those guys may be forced to return punts depending on Cyrus Jones and how he bounces back from his struggles from a year ago. But in terms of kicks I could see one of the pass catching backs – maybe Foster could jump into that mix as well – taking back kicks.
Paul Perillo

There's no question that Tom Brady has been given an awesome arsenal of offensive talent this season. TEs, RBs, WRs ... the whole package. So, if you're the opposing team and trying to defend against this offense would you not attack the offensive line and try and make Brady release faster than he would like? Is the offensive line of the Patriots the weakest link in Josh McDaniels' offense?
John Ritchie

I would agree that the offensive line could be the weakest link but not necessarily because I think the group will struggle. I worry a bit about the depth especially on the interior and there have been times – like the postseason last year – when the pressure caused Brady to make some mistakes. In order to even hope to contain the Patriots offense the opponents will need to get pressure on Brady with just four or five rushers and if they are not able to do so then I believe the Patriots offense will be next to unstoppable.
Paul Perillo

My question is directed toward running backs. One of the bigger questions this season is that we no longer have LeGarrette Blount as our big power back for that third-and-one, so how do answer this issue.
Jason Willett

I spoke about the running back group a little earlier and I feel Gillislee will be the lead dog. That will probably also be the choice when it comes to short-yardage running. Blount was excellent at the goal line scoring 18 touchdowns last season and I would be surprised to see any Patriots back score that many this year. But I won't be shocked to see the Patriots record 19 rushing touchdowns as a team, which is the total they had as a team in 2016. Blount was solid in his role for the team in the past but it was time to move on and I believe the backfield as a whole will be more productive this season, overall and in short-yardage situations.
Paul Perillo

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