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Ask PFW: Slow summer season

Matt Light

I believe the LBs have always been a strength of the Patriots 3-4. I think the Pats have a good balance of speed and power at ILB in this current group. I see that with Mayo, McKenzie. Spikes can rotate in while he learns and Guyton has a lot of skills vs. the pass. Spikes should learn the Mike position in case Mayo gets dinged up. It was scary last year when Guyton had to be out there for 82% of the snaps. I think the OLB position will be more productive also, Burgess and Ninkovich are in their 2nd year. Crable is unknown but only has upside since we expect nothing from him. TBC stepped up and Cunningham will surprise some people. He showed that you can get sacks in the SEC, which bodes well for his NFL future. Am I being a bit too high on this group? Or are others too pessimistic about our LBs? There is no question we have a lot of talent there, particularly at ILB.
Dathai Quinlan

I don't think you're being too high on this group. While none of the positive possibilities you mentioned could be considered known commodities, I like your optimism. The group has the youthful potential to be better than it was a year ago and to continue to evolve throughout the season and coming seasons. But the reality is, there are a lot of ifs in the group. (As there are with the rest of the roster as well!) But at this time of year, heading into training camp of a new season, there is nothing wrong with optimism. I'm intrigued by the potential of a three-for-two depth chart on the inside with Mayo, McKenzie and Spikes. That allows Guyton to slide into a role as a versatile sub linebacker that I think he's more suited for. Outside I'm not as high on Burgess or Ninkovich having a big Year 2 jump in the system, but I do think Cunningham is going to develop into a very good all-around outside linebacker. And you are right in that anything, anything at all that the team gets from Crable would be gravy at this point. 'Tis the season for optimism and I'm right with you.
Andy Hart

Love what you guys are doing and good work this eventless summer. With three OK-good teams (NE, Mia, NYJ) how will divisional games decide playoffs? AFC East predictions by divisional record?
Jackson Perry

Obviously division games will go a long way toward deciding what could be a bunched up, three-team race atop the East. My optimistic outlook is that the Patriots will win five games in the division – two against Buffalo, two against Miami and a split with the Jets. I think the Jets will win four games in the division – splitting with the Patriots and Dolphins and sweeping the Bills. I'll say the Dolphins are overrated and only win two games in the East. But considering the out-of-division schedules for all the teams, the Patriots top record in the East will only be a step toward a potential title. Common games against tough teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Minnesota and others will also be quite key.
Andy Hart

A lot of analysts seem to think Jermaine Cunningham will either be a boom or bust in the NFL. Based on what you've seen so far from him, what's your take?
Sam Frankel

Sam, you know I'm always Frank-el with you! I see Cunningham as a solid or boom guy. I don't think there is much of a chance he won't be at least a serviceable NFL player. Will be an impact guy at OLB? Time will tell. But at the very least I think he has all the tools and abilities to be a solid rotational guy or backup. He may not be a star in five years, but he won't be out of the NFL, either. So says me. Of course I'm the same guy who once said, "Chad Jackson will be a Pro Bowler by the end of his rookie contract!" So my thoughts on young players out of Florida should probably be taken with a grain of Gator salt.
Andy Hart

Do you think the Patriots will just hand the starting job to Mesko after what they saw in OTAs, or do you think they will bring in a veteran to compete with him at some point?
Scott Macone

Right now it clearly looks like Mesko's job to lose. He's the only punter on the roster. He was inconsistent in mini-camp and OTA work, but I'm sure the hope is that he'll improve as he gets more comfortable with his mechanics as the summer continues. If, say, he stinks it up in early training camp and preseason action then I do think you'd see New England bring in a veteran as an insurance policy. But right now, Mesko is the one and only at the spot.
Andy Hart

Good day, in a recent Friday debate there was the 'battle' between the 2 logos and, as I expected, Pat Patriot won. Is there a chance the Pats could return permanently with the 'old' Pat Patriot awesome, beautiful logo? I am for it, no doubt. Thanks in advance.Henry

Sorry, Henry, but I don't see much of a chance for a return to the Pat Patriot logo that holds a spot in the hearts of so many Patriots fans. The new logo has coincided with a two-decade run of organizational success. So Pat will always be around on throwback apparel and such, but I don't see him regaining his role as the full-time logo. But Hank-s for the email!
Andy Hart

All this talk of Harvey Unga has me wondering, who from last year's committee will be left behind if we did sign him. Most definitely will not be Kevin Faulk and most likely will not be Maroney, Fred Taylor or Sammy Morris, which leaves BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I liked what I saw of him initially two seasons ago, then he was a complete non-factor last year, even with Taylor banged up. Was there any reason for this? Did he take a backward step in his development? Will he struggle to make the roster even without Harvey Unga in the mix?
Dathai Quinlan

Slow week and a pair of pretty good questions gets our Irish friend Dathai a double-shot in the mailbag. I've never been enamored or intrigued by Green-Ellis. I think he would fall under the category of he is what he is. To me, that's a bottom of the running back depth chart player. I don't think he has much upside, but I feel quite comfortable giving him the ball and expecting him to pretty much maximize his chances. Assuming the team doesn't add another back (I'm all for drafting Unga so I can yell "Unga Bunga!" every time he touches the ball.), I think Green-Ellis has a pretty good shot to stick around. He'll be a bottom-of-the-roster guy, but given the injury histories of guys like Maroney, Morris and Taylor as well as the uncertainty of the future at the position, I'd like to have the Law Firm as an insurance policy. I can't really explain his lack of carries last season, other than the fact that starter Maroney stayed pretty healthy. Green-Ellis was active for 12 games, but only carried the ball in six of those contests. He never had more than seven carries, although he did average 4.4 yards a carry on his 26 attempts for the season. The bulk of his work did come in the middle of the season when both Morris and Taylor were sidelined with injuries. The bottom line is that in a five-man committee backfield Green-Ellis is clearly option No. 5.
Andy Hart

I know training camp hasn't started but I'm hoping you guys can share your thoughts on a "hidden gem" player. For example, Julian Edelman, who completely surprised Patriot fans last season. I see Taylor Price as another guy to step in. So who do you guys think will step up and surprise patriot nation?
Alex Hyun

Hey Alex, Hyun doing? Like you, I'm intrigued by Price. I think he as all the makings to potentially contribute as a rookie – good hands, solid route running, very good speed and seemingly adequate football intellect. While we haven't seen much work in pads, another guy who might have a chance to theoretically surprise as a rookie is seventh-round defensive lineman Brandon Deadrick. Should injury or other issues necessitate, Deadrick's experience in Nick Saban's Patriots-similar defense at Alabama might give him a step up early on as we saw back in the day with guys out of LSU like Randall Gay or Eric Alexander. As we've noted here before, as have others elsewhere, little-known linebacker Thomas Williams could get some action given his versatility as a backup, special teamer and, at least in OTA and mini-camp work, occasional fullback. I'm sure I'll we'll see some other guys emerge as we get into the early stages of camp.
Andy Hart

I'm sure I could figure this out myself, and I think I know the answer, but eh...If team A wins all 6 division games and ends the season 6-10 and team B loses all 6 and ends 10-6, assuming the other two teams end with less than 6 wins, who wins the division?
Pascal Rawls-Philippe

Pascal my pal, this may be the easiest question I've ever answered. And your history and loyalty as a reader and Ask PFW participant keep me from what would be my usually snide response. The team with 10 wins takes the division. 10-6 is always better than 6-10. As we all learned in elementary school with the greater than/less than symbols, 10 is greater than six. The open alligator mouth faces the 10.
Andy Hart

PFW Crew, I'm looking at the 2010 schedule and it looks very tough. With six playoff teams (Jets, Ravens, Chargers, Vikings, Colts and Packers) on the slate, what is your prediction for their record? Will they win the AFC East, or is another wild card berth in the cards for the 2010 campaign? Thanks.
Bob Malloy

There is no debating that the Patriots have a pretty formidable schedule this season. I know it's always dangerous to base too much on the previous season, but the Chargers, Colts and Steelers have been a safe bet as a tough team for the last decade or so. The Jets are always tough in the division and the Patriots weren't even competitive with the Ravens last January. Right now I do think that something similar to last season – 10-6 and a game on Wild Card Weekend – is the most likely scenario for 2010. Gun to my head, I'd pick the Patriots as a Wild Card team right now. To me, at this point this team has as many questions or more than it had a year ago. Combine that with the tough schedule you noted and I think winning 10 games is a challenge, and expecting too much more than that might be a bit optimistic.
Andy Hart

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