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Ask PFW: The count down is on

We all know the veterans of this team, but we never seem to get stats and progress from undrafted rookies such as BenJarvus Green-Ellis of Ole Miss. True of all NFL teams. All you hear of is Rodney Harrison, Tom Brady, etc. Are there any surprises in the undrafted ranks?
Larry Fletcher

We try to do the best we can to cover every member of the team in Patriots Football Weekly, not just the starts like Brady and Harrison. Since training camp started, we've run some features called "Getting to know …" where we profile the so-called lesser-known players and try to introduce the fans to them. In fact, our most recent issue (No. 11) features a look at BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the very player you used as your example. During training camp, we watch as much as we possibly can and write about what we see. In terms of statistics, we run the full stats after every game – preseason, regular season and postseason. Through the first three games, Green-Ellis had rushed eight times for 22 yards (2.8-yard average) and had one catch for 18 yards. As far as any possible surprises, I think Gary Guyton and Vince Redd could be in line for roster spots. Both are linebackers – Guyton inside, Redd outside – and they have shown speed and athleticism throughout camp. Even if they don't make it, they could be candidates for the practice squad.
Paul Perillo

Last year we saw teams blitzing a lot more toward the end of the season (especially the game which shall not be named) and getting pressure on Brady much more. How do you see us combating that this year? In this copy cat league you have to expect that teams will be sending in more defenders this year. Do you see us changing the blocking schemes or change the play calls? Do we try use the short passing game and the screen plays that we employed in the 2003 season when we did not have the best running game? Do we try to run more up the middle and try to have linebackers stay home to open up the outside passing lanes?David Dyckman

I think all of those suggestions make some sense and I'm sure Bill Belichick will do a variety of things to help the offense adjust. That's really what the league is all about – figuring out what you do well and then adjusting once other teams do something to take that away. Teams blitzed the Patriots a lot in 2007 and for the most part the offense handled it well. The things the Giants did well in the Game That Shall Not Be Named was they got pressure without necessarily having to blitz. When that happens, you can go after the quarterback without leaving yourself vulnerable to big plays. The Patriots didn't register many that day as a result. The screen pass has been a staple of the Patriots offense ever since Belichick came here in 2000. I'd expect that to continue. I'd also expect the offensive line to handle the pressure better than it did against the Giants, whether that's by winning one-on-one battles or by changing blocking schemes. The line was pretty solid all year and picked the wrong day to turn in a subpar performance. But I don't think there's any need for a major overhaul. They just need to get everyone healthy and continue to protect Brady as they generally have in the past.
Paul Perillo

Don't you think that after watching those games, the Patriots defense should improve their safeties? Harrison is now at the end of his career as well as John Lynch, so isn't it essential for the organization to start searching for an All-Pro safety?Arturo Garcia

Well I think they've already started that search, Arturo. They drafted Brandon Meriweather in the first round in 2007 and figures to be the heir apparent at one safety spot. James Sanders is entering his fourth season and should be settling into his prime. Those young guys, coupled with veterans Harrison and Lynch, should make for a productive group at the position. The Patriots also have Antwain Spann, who is making a switch from corner to safety this year. Spann had an impressive camp, and even though he hasn't been as strong in game action, he could provide some depth should injuries become a concern. I'm not overly concerned about the safeties, especially if Meriweather's injury (he hasn't played since Tampa) is nothing that will keep him out of the regular season.
Paul Perillo

Why are the Pats playing at Indy again this year (2008)? Besides the obvious division rival schedule, what determines where teams play (home vs. away)? Seems like this will be our fourth game in a row at Indy. Doesn't winning count for anything?Daniel Regan

It just wouldn't be the start of another season without question wondering why the Patriots seem to play all of their "tough" opponents on the road every year. I wrote "seem" because while it might appear that the Patriots are always playing in Indy, lately that just hasn't been the case. Prior to last year, the Colts had visited Foxborough three straight times in the regular season with Indy winning two of those games. The teams have also met in the playoffs three times in recent years and two of those took place in Foxborough with the Patriots taking two of three. The NFL's rotating schedule is set up in advance for 14 of the 16 games. The two that change are based on order of finish from the previous year and that's how the Pats and Colts always match up. Because both teams consistently finish atop their respective divisions, they play each other no matter what.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering why New England was so intent on spending a third-round choice on a guy who really only emerged just last year in Kevin O'Connell. Personally if I had to draft a quarterback I would have waited until the later rounds and went with a possible steal like Colt Brennan.Pat Robinholt

First, O'Connell was a four-year starter at San Diego State so he didn't just emerge last year. In terms of overall prospects, O'Connell was regarded more highly than Colt Brennan. Now, I liked Brennan and a former member of the scouting department told me last summer that the Patriots did too. The person I spoke with talked a lot about Brennan's makeup and leadership qualities and those are characteristics that certainly would weigh high on anyone's list for a quarterback. He's a little smaller than O'Connell at 6-3, 201 compared to O'Connell's 6-5, 225 and he doesn't have anywhere near the arm strength. I like what I've seen from O'Connell thus far and I absolutely loved the scouting tape I watched of him before the Patriots drafted him. Next year he'll be Brady's top backup and in two years he'll be ready to take over if need be. I'm not sure when the day will come, but I believe O'Connell will one day be Brady's successor.
Paul Perillo

I know there's a new rule regarding the coin toss where you can now defer the decision to the second half (I've seen a lot of teams deferring their decision to the second half so far this preseason and I know people do it in college all the time) but I don't understand what's so great about it? Let's say you defer, the other team chooses to receive the ball and you choose the side. Come the second half, are you going to choose to kick and give them the ball again? I'm clueless about what's so great about giving the opposing team another possession (even if your offense sucks and your defense is great i.e. Baltimore I still think they would try to get their offense in there). I know I sound very frustrated over nothing, but it's just that I don't get it, please shed some light on this.
Alex Quezada

You're right about teams choosing to defer their options to the second half, but you're missing part of the reason why. Deferring the option to the second half means the team gets to choose whether or not they want the ball to open the second half instead of the first. By winning the coin toss the team has the option of choosing the option of kicking or receiving for the first half or the second half. Deferring means they choose to do so in the second half. The loser of the toss gets to decide which side of the field to defend. Belichick said earlier this preseason that he expects virtually every team that wins the toss to defer to the second half, thus ensuring possession to open the second half.
Paul Perillo

Why wouldn't the Patriots think about taking a chance on Usain Bolt? His stature physically resembles Randy Moss. He is 6-5, 200 pounds and runs even faster than Moss.
Mike Doman

Mike I'd expect several teams to inquire about Bolt potentially giving football a try. I haven't seen anyone run that fast since Andy Hart found out there was a buffet available on our last road trip. Olympic-caliber sprinters have been a part of the NFL periodically over the years with Bob Hayes, Renaldo Nehemiah and Willie Gault quickly coming to mind. I have no idea if Bolt has any interest in playing football, however, and it may be rather presumptuous of us all to assume he would. He certainly has the size, unlike most sprinters, and if he possessed the skills in terms of catching ability it would make a lot of sense to give it a try.
Paul Perillo

I can't believe nobody's talking about this. Matt Light is nowhere to be found. I've been watching Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk getting clubbed in the backfield all preseason, and I've been watching our quarterbacks run for their lives on a regular basis. What is going on with the offensive line? Where on earth is Matt Light?Brian J.

I'm not sure who you've been listening to but the state of the offensive line has been a major storyline all summer. Light's been out with an injury (although he did return to practice this week and could be ready to go for the opener) as has Stephen Neal. Without two starters, the Patriots offensive line has struggled. I'm sure that has plenty to do with the struggles in both the running and passing games. Light is certainly a big part of it since Wesley Britt has been filling in at left tackle in his absence. But you're by no means alone when it comes to expressing concern over the situation. The problem is, there's really nothing anyone can do about it until he gets back.
Paul Perillo

Unless I missed it, no team report on the status of Brandon Meriweather's injury a week ago?
John Connors

John, teams are not required to issue injury reports during the preseason and that's why you haven't seen anything official about Meriweather's injury. He suffered a leg injury against Tampa Bay and there was one published report that indicated he would be OK for the regular season, although that has not been confirmed. Like the case with Light, we'll just have to wait to see what happens next week when the games start for real.
Paul Perillo

Is Ray Ventrone a wide receiver now, I thought he was a safety?
Joseph Villabroza

Ventrone still handles duties as a defensive back but he's spent this entire offseason working as a receiver. Belichick said he served as a wideout last year while on the practice squad and he felt Ventrone did so well that he might give it a try full time. During camp he still saw some reps as a safety but overall I'd say he spent 90-percent of his time working as a wide receiver, and that's where he's been every game.
Paul Perillo

Any thoughts on obtaining Daunte Culpepper as a backup QB? He's out there somewhere, can offer a lot to rookie Kevin O'Connell and God help if Brady can't start. Nice to know there's experience behind him.Marguerite Michaelson

My thoughts on that would be pretty simple: right now, I'd take Matt Cassel over Culpepper. If we're talking Culpepper from a few years ago, that's a different story. But ever since he ripped up his knee in Minnesota, Culpepper has been a different player – and not a very good one. He's mistake-prone and has lost a lot of his mobility as a result of the injury. Cassel is coming under fire from all parts because he hasn't been able to move the ball very well this preseason, but in terms of managing the game and understanding the offense, I think he's a clear winner over Culpepper.
Paul Perillo

I think that people are overreacting with the secondary not playing to its full potential. I think that if we have a strong defensive line and a strong linebacking cops to pressure quarterbacks then as long as we have cornerbacks that can stick with their man like Ellis Hobbs, Brandon Meriweather and some of the new guys then they will do fine. What do you think?Tom Granese

I would agree that if the front seven can get a lot of pressure that the secondary should be fine. But I'm worried about what would happen if they don't. The secondary is still a work in progress with several newcomers working their way into the mix. Terrence Wheatley, Fernando Bryant and hopefully Jason Webster, who just returned to practice after missing several weeks with an injury, will need some time working with each other but have the ability to form a good secondary. I believe Meriweather could be a key among the safeties – if he's healthy. I like his combination of speed and physical play and he could really factor into an overhauled secondary if he's ready to go. But overall, I do have some concerns about this group's ability to cover without the aid of a strong pass rush.
Paul Perillo

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