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Ask PFW: Spring football fever

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.

I am kind of disappointed that the Patriots chose Isaiah Wynn with their first round pick. We needed a left tackle and instead [head coach Bill] Belichick picked a guard. Wynn doesn't fill a need nor has the athletic ability or talent to play tackle and that bothers me.Harry Mann Jr.

You might end up being right, Harry. Wynn might not be an NFL-caliber offensive tackle, but on what are you basing your evaluation? Because I believe Wynn's ability to move seamlessly from guard to tackle in his senior year at Georgia, where he faced some of the nation's best collegiate defenders in SEC competition and acquitted himself quite well in the process, speaks volumes about his athleticism and talent.

Furthermore, just because Wynn may or may not end up being New England's starting left tackle, that doesn't mean his selection didn't fill a "need." Nate Solder's free-agent departure left a gaping void at left tackle, no doubt, but that doesn't mean the interior of the Patriots o-line has been water-tight the past few years. If Wynn winds up playing guard and is an improvement over, say, incumbent Joe Thuney, his selection will have been worth it.  

Certainly, scouts don't always get it right, but I'm more willing to give New England's personnel department the benefit of the doubt, having watched countless hours of film and conducted interviews with players like Wynn, than I am some average outside observer with no apparent qualifications to make such a statement. Erik Scalavino

Now that I've had a week to think about it, I'm still not a big fan of the Patriots draft. Some moves I loved (Wynn, veteran Trent Brown, rookie Sony Michel), but it felt odd to watch us trade back and back, not adding players in key areas like pass rush and linebacker. Lots of questions heading into next season, but the one I want to know is: how do you project our starting O-line? Could [right tackle Marcus] Cannon or Brown flip sides? Will Wynn move to tackle? Who are our strongest five as you see it? I'd like to see [l-r] Brown, Wynn, Andrews, Mason, Cannon, although I think Dante Scarnecchia could make magic from anyone.Alex Marr

Just because they're incumbent players, I might expect LaAdrian Waddle and Joe Thuney to be the first-team left tackle and guard, respectively, at the outset of training camp, but the line you project might end up being the starting five on Sept. 9 versus Houston. There's a lot of football to be played between now and then to determine what the best combination will be, and you're right, I have full confidence in "Scar" to work with what he's got and make that decision. Erik Scalavino

Please help me understand why a young, proven RB Dion Lewis wasn't retained for $5 million/year. Would it not have been better to keep Lewis and have a first-round draft pick not spent on another RB? Personally, I would've liked to have seen a TE to complement Gronk or an edge rusher taken in the first round. Long-time fan from Canada. Alan Davidson

Has it occurred to you, Alan, that a first-round talent might actually be better than a former fifth-round player who was a journeyman in the league until he got to New England? Lewis has since proven himself, you're absolutely right, but the Patriots haven't drafted a running back in the first round in a dozen years, and Michel could be a formidable one.

I agree that pass rusher remains a more urgent need for this team, but the one New England may have wanted was probably already off the draft board by the time the Patriots selected. What's more, I don't think the tight end crop was good enough this year to warrant taking one in Round 1, just for the sake of adding a complement to Gronk.

Meanwhile, let's be fair to Michel and give him a chance before you decry his selection. Erik Scalavino

After this draft, there are many unknown commodities on the Patriots defense (Harvey Langi, Christian Sam, Derek Rivers, Ja'Whaun Bentley, etc.). Who do you see having the best chance at actually making a big impact for this team? Who do you want to see make a big impact? Love what you guys do. I respect you guys a ton. Matthew Haff

I'm not partial to any of these players, other than to say I hope at least one of them emerges as a viable contributor on the 53-man roster, because this defense sure could use the help. As far as anyone's chances, you'll have to give us at least a week or so of training camp practices to make an informed judgement. Check back with us in mid-August, Matthew. Erik Scalavino

When can we expect the names of free agent signings? James O'Loughlin

I assume you mean the 2018 undrafted rookies. Normally, the Patriots PR department issues a press release right around the time the entire rookie class arrives for orientation and such, which is expected to be by the end of this week. We already know, however, that some 10 players reportedly inked deals with New England following the draft (see last week's News Blitz for details). Official word should be coming soon. Erik Scalavino

Any chance patriots could sign TE Antonio Gates and S Kenny Vaccaro? I think they would be great additions. Marco Silveira

With practically everyone passing on Dez [Bryant], would the Patriots sign him for cheap? Zach Flowers

I am loathe to say the Patriots will or won't do anything for sure, because with Bill Belichick, just when you think you know what he'll do, he does the opposite. I wouldn't rule out New England's signing of any of these players prior to or during training camp, if they're still available. A Patriots offense with either Gates or Bryant (or both!) would be even more fun to watch. Vaccaro, meanwhile, would add some young talent to the safety position. I'm not going to get my hopes up, but I won't rule out any of them out until or unless they sign elsewhere. Erik Scalavino

Hi, guys. My question is about lineman rules. When an offensive lineman blocks, he clearly grabs the shirt of the defensive player. He holds and then releases. What are the limits on how long the OL can grasp the shirt without being called for a penalty? Thanks fellas. John Rawinski

That's hard to say, because it's such a subjective call. Holding could conceivable be called on almost every play. It's also difficult to say with certainty because it seems to vary from refereeing crew to refereeing crew. Erik Scalavino

First off, many thanks for the service you provide. As a UK-based fan, I really appreciate it. On the basis of the draft, do you see any serious threat to the Patriots in the AFC East this year? I don't. And what about the wider AFC? Robert Whittaker

You're very welcome, Robert. It's been an unusual offseason for the Patriots, to say the least, but now that the dust is settling (namely, Brady and Gronk seemingly happy to be back for another title chase), it's hard to imagine another division opponent being able to challenge New England.

Of course, I'd feel even better about the Patriots' chances if they show improvement defensively, but elsewhere in the conference, Pittsburgh remains a worthy opponent. At this point, I'm also wary of Jacksonville and possibly Houston as potential threats. My instincts tell me that, like 2017, this coming season's AFC playoff picture will again be determined by the Week 15 Patriots-Steelers showdown at Heinz Field. Erik Scalavino

Hi, guys. Always eager for this column. I have great expectations for Deatrich Wise, Jr. this coming season. He had a very decent rookie season and defensive ends often make a great jump in year 2. Of course he was thrown in the mix because of injuries and other factors which greatly increased his playing time, but I think he has the size and talent to be a force opposite Flowers. Am I overly optimistic? David Aubertin

It's not overly optimistic to expect a year-two jump from Wise, who made some solid contributions last season. I might temper the enthusiasm about Wise becoming a "force" at defensive end, but he should be better in 2018 after his experience a year ago. Erik Scalavino

What is the health status of [LB Harvey] Langhi, [OL Tony] Garcia, and [DE Derek] Rivers? Nader Behbehani

For those who need refreshers, all three players about whom you're inquiring were 2017 rookies whose first seasons were all cut short due to various injuries. Langi was the only one of the three who actually appeared in a game (Week 2 at New Orleans) before he and his wife were involved in a serious October car accident. Garcia reportedly dealt with blood clots in his lungs that limited him to little more than a cameo in training camp (although he frequently attended practices later in the season to perform rehab exercises). Rivers was having a solid summer until he blew out his left knee chasing down a kickoff during joint training camp practices with the Houston Texans in West Virginia.

All three are believed to be in various stages of their recoveries. Garcia, who'd slimmed down considerably last season as a result of his condition, actually announced this offseason (via social media) that he's been cleared by doctors to play football again. However, until we see any of these players on the field this spring and summer, we won't be able to say for certain just how good a shape they are in, or whether they'll be able to contribute meaningful minutes to the Patriots in 2018. Erik Scalavino

I have been a Patriots fan since 1960. My question concerns the Patriots Hall of Fame. Houston Antwine was one of the best Patriot players of the 1960s. He is one of only two Patriots named to the first team All-AFL (Nick Buoniconti was the other) yet, per my Google search, he does not appear to be one of the nineteen current members. On the other hand Wikipedia says he is in the Patriots HOF. He deserves to be there and was clearly a superior defensive player to Jim Hunt and Bob Dee who are in. What can be done to get Antwine enshrined?Dave Perry

Antwine is, indeed, a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame. He was posthumously enshrined in 2015 along with Willie McGinest. Here is the story I wrote from that August day when Antwine and McGinest were honoredErik Scalavino

Who decides on "Coach of the Year?" Why is it, that [Bill] Belichick has never been given that title? Isn't it kind of ludicrous that the possible greatest coach of all time was never Coach of the Year??? Gerry Krug, Stratford, Ontario

It would be quite curious if Belichick had never been named NFL Coach of the Year (as voted on annually by eligible members of the Associated Press), but he has, in fact, won the award not once, not twice, but three times, following the 2003, '07, and '10 seasons. Erik Scalavino


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