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Ask PFW: Summer break begins

Fans' questions answered in this week's PFW mailbag.

With [Brandon] Spikes gone and [Jerod] Mayo/[Dont'a] Hightower coming back from injury, who makes the team at linebacker? [Xzavier] Dickson? [Matt] Wells? [Darius] Fleming? Erik L.

Love that you spell your name properly, Erik. Atta boy… but as far as your question, it's difficult to predict who the backups will be this far out from training camp. Mini-camp and OTAs have finished and we're now in the true NFL offseason, where the next six weeks of summer provide the only break from non-stop football. Starting jobs can be hard enough to guess sometimes, but backups are even more challenging, especially on defense. Without having seen anyone in full pads yet, we can't get a proper indication of how well or poorly a player is performing.

However, it's fair to say that the linebacker position is intriguing for the very reasons you mentioned: the ailing starters and Spikes' untimely departure. I would definitely throw returning veteran Dane Fletcher in the mix as well, given his experience here and proven ability to play special teams. Linebacker could be one of the most competitive positions in Patriots training camp later this summer. Pretty much every player at that position has a chance to make the team. I would discount no one at this point. Erik Scalavino

It seems to me everybody is under-appreciating the running backs unit. I really believe this thing is getting blown out of proportion, Stevan Ridley is gone. Shane Vereen is gone. So what? Wish them the best but they weren't studs. Ridley got injured and barely played. Only had one over -productive season with us. And Vereen, he was a good third-down option, no doubt, but I am pretty confident the Pats will replace his production with one of the talents in this current group. Under [head coach Bill] Belichick, the Pats have been known for going with running back committees and it has worked excellently. In fact, the last stud we had at RB was Corey Dillon back in '04, and we have been ok. Let's have more faith in this unit, especially in [LeGarrette] Blount. The guy seems under-appreciated, but when you look at his career totals, and his athletics highlights, then we can see he is not just and average RB. He is a really good one. Regards to Pats Nation! Albert Gonzalez

Well, Albert, there's no denying that this is the least-experience group of ball carriers the Patriots have had in recent memory. For that reason, many observers are questioning how good New England's running game can be this season. Blount has had his moments in a Patriots uniform, for sure, but the rest of the stable of backs is populated mostly by unknown commodities. Yes, New England often uses a committee approach to run the football, but in the past, the Patriots have had enough capable players to be effective doing so. It remains to be seen just how skilled this 2015 group can be. Erik Scalavino

Hey guys, I have two questions about [rookie cornerback] Darryl Roberts. Since we drafted him numerous, articles have come out saying it was a steal. He had 17 PDs and outstanding measurables. Do you have any idea why he dropped so far? Roberts reminds me of Asante Samuel (hard hitting, physical CB with ball skills). Have you seen any flashes from him in practice?Liam Dunne

The NFL Draft is always a flawed exercise, Liam. Players rise and fall based on conjecture and speculation and other imprecise reasoning. Other times, there are legitimate explanations for a seemingly good player's precipitous drop. For instance, when looking at his game film, it may be that his solid statistics were overinflated for whatever reason. Maybe he had a high number of interceptions, but they mostly came in garbage time, at the opposite end of a Hail Mary. I'm not saying that's what happened in Roberts' case, but he wouldn't be the first player with impressive college stats to be overlooked in the draft. However, none of that matters now. Roberts is currently on the Patriots roster and will be given his opportunities to compete this summer for a full-time job. As Bill Belichick likes to say often, it's not how you got here that matters, it's what you do once you get here that does. Erik Scalavino

When are the captains elected? Tom Brady, Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater are almost locks to be re-elected, but what about the deputies? There are usually two offensive and two defensive captains, so would Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder, and Julian Edelman be the frontrunners? Is Rob Gronkowski a wild card?David Beckett

Co-captains are elected after the 53-man roster has been finalized and before the regular season opener. All the names you mentioned are certainly worthy candidates, including Gronk as a "wild card." I must say, though, I miss the old days when there were just three captains on football teams: one for offense, one for defense, and one for special teams. There's no need to have a dozen players out at midfield for the coin toss. Erik Scalavino


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