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Ask PFW: The offseason blues

We can tell it's May as our incoming e-mails have slowed to an unusual snail-like pace. Luckily, I was able to find a few that hit on important topics like Cedric Cobbs, P.K.

I e-mailed last week, regarding receiving, and Andy Hart disagreed, saying that our receiving is too unproven to be good. I understand this but I think it has tremendous upside. So much so, that I would say our receiving on a whole has more upside than most other NFL teams. Yes, Branch has never had a full season but, IF, he did, he could easily have 1000 yards, OK, Watson, isn't the finished product, but, IF, he has a break out season, then he could have almost 1000 yards, and Graham is about a 500 yard contributor. Then, IF Caldwell does benefit from the switch, then he could be at least another 500 yards and the same 500 from Jackson and the rest could add 1000 yards. I know it's all ifs, but that's 4500 yards, which Brady is capable of. Yes, they could all play badly, but when it comes to sports, positive thinking is always good and Brady is a top 3 QB, so he'll help the receivers! Need I say more?Tim Hart

Man, that's a whole lot of "ifs." First of all, do you know what kind of season a tight end needs to have to put up over 1,000 yards receiving? They have to have an Antonio Gates-kind of season and while Watson looks good with his shirt off, he has not shown that kind of ability on the field as of yet. Sure, he has upside but a 1,000-yard season is just too much to ask from a tight end when the team could possibly have four good players at that position on their roster.

Then you asked if you needed to say more. I am going to say yes if you want me to know what you mean by "the rest could add 1,000 yards." The rest who? You named virtually every receiver on the team other than Bethel Johnson. Let's give him 75 yards so where is the other 925 coming from? I think you can do this with any team. I can say "If" Michael Vick becomes a better passer, Michael Jenkins and Roddy White could both be 1,000-yard receivers."

The bottom line is receiver is not one of the Patriots strongest positions but luckily for them, quarterback is. "If" Tom Brady can throw for around 3,500 yards and "if" the combination of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney can ramble for 1,500 yards on the ground, the Patriots offense will be just fine. Watson getting 1,000 yards (when he had 441 last year) and 4,500 yards from Brady seems unrealistic to me, especially when you consider the Patriots should have a much more effective ground game in 2006.
-Tom Casale

Great job guys, I was wondering if I can get my hands on a Rodney Harrison highlight DVD? You know, all his greatest hits and tackles dating back to his days at San Diego until now? He's my favorite player and I would love to see all his crushing, jaw dropping hits. Thank you in advance.Michael Montrond

I'm not sure if a DVD like that exists yet but I'm sure one will come out at some point. You know how I know that? Because sometimes the NFL can be a hypocritical league and while they either fined or suspended Harrison for some of those hits, they'll gladly put those vicious shots on a DVD for the world to see as long as they are making money off of it. That's one thing you can always count on from the NFL. If they can make money off something, you can be assured it will be available to the public.

It reminds me of when they were showing all the dances they wanted to outlaw and all the NFL executives were laughing their butts off every time Chad Johnson and Steve Smith did something. Then the next day they voted to ban end zone celebrations because it delivers a bad message to the youth of America. You know, the same youth that's playing NFL endorsed video games where players do similar dances every time they make a play? I guess they forgot to mention that at the meeting. Either that or video games don't influence the thousands and thousands of kids who play them. Summing up: even though the NFL doesn't like the way Harrison plays, they'll exploit his style of play if it means they can make a dollar. Look for the NFL presents "Rodney Harrison's Greatest Hits" available in stores soon.
-Tom Casale

I remember hearing when the patriots drafted James Sanders last year that he was one of the best players that Pat Hill had coached. I was just wondering what you guys expect from him this year, what his role will be? Though obviously he is no Rodney Harrison, do you see him getting more playing time this year if Harrison is not 100 percent?Rich D

I like Sanders. I think he was hurt last year because of injuries and sometimes we don't fully appreciate how far an injury can set a rookie back who is trying to digest a complicated system like the one the Patriots run. Sanders is a big hitter and he can bring back some of that intimidation the Patriots lack with Harrison out of the lineup. Harrison, himself, took time out to mention Sanders on more than one occasion to the media after he was injured last year. Sanders didn't do much as a rookie but that can be said about a lot of players in the NFL. I really like his upside and I'll be watching him closely during training camp. If you are looking for a player in the Patriots defensive backfield who can possibly emerge this season and play a big part in the team's success, Sanders could be your guy.
-Tom Casale

After your excellent coverage of the Pats' mini-camp thus far, Pats fans are naturally slobbering over Kool-Aid (Laurence Maroney) and Gator-Aid (Chad Jackson.) Going on the assumption that the Pats stay moderately healthy at their respective positions, do you see either of them taking on big roles in the coming season? For instance - are we in for Maroney grabbing 5-10 carries a game, or is it more like spot duty, with Faulk in the third down role, and Dillon playing through the game? Can we expect to see Jackson lining up opposite Branch, despite his tender years, or are we looking at Branch/Caldwell/Bethel Johnson, with Jackson waiting for those empty backfield sets to get in the game? I know a lot depends on training camp - just trying to keep sane during the long, long spring and summer months.Dan Halberstein

I think you can expect a lot of the rookies to come in and contribute. Maroney is likely to contribute the most based solely on his situation. Running backs traditionally have more success than receivers in their first year because Jackson has to take in so much more of the offense, where Maroney can come in and do what comes naturally to him: run with the football. Plus, Corey Dillon is going on 32 and has battled injuries in recent years, so he may not be able to take the pounding of a 16 game season anymore. My guess is you will see a lot more of Maroney than you might think at this time. I suspect he's going to be a big part of the Patriots offense this year, whether Dillon is healthy or not.

Jackson showed amazing hands at mini-camp but he also showed that he has some work to do with his route running. What worries me is some in the media are making this guy out to be Jerry Rice already and that's going to put extra pressure on the kid. Rookie receivers rarely come in and dominate. I think the Patriots want Jackson to just be part of their system this year. If he can come in and catch 50 balls as a rookie, that would be a successful season in my book. Jackson has all the physical tools in the world but he needs time to learn the NFL game like 99 percent of rookie receivers do. Hopefully fans and the media won't expect too much from him right of the bat.

One guy I think is seasoned beyond his years is David Thomas. He's going to come in and make an impact right away. Not only catching passes and blocking but allowing the Patriots to move Ben Watson all over the field and create mismatches with the defense. My guess is all these rookies will play a role in the team's success this year. I just hope the local media doesn't put pressure on Jackson to put up Randy Moss-like numbers in his first year because that's just not the norm when it comes to rookie receivers in the NFL.
-Tom Casale

Hi guys great job as usual. I have a quick question and a comment. First why do teams pay so much attention to the combine? I look at stuff on Freddie Roach and the guy can play football, and we all know of people who were football players who did not have great combine numbers (Tom Brady). My comment is though I know we will not be able to tell with this draft class for sometime but I personally believe that this class will be one of Bill's best. To me I believe six of our picks and free agent pickups will be starters and or very good back ups.Donald Chisholm

What can you tell me about this linebacker out of Alabama?? (Roach) I have heard great things about his athletic ability and football smarts. Why wasn't he drafted, do you think? He played in a high profile position in the SEC; I am surprised he wasn't drafted.Thomas Raymond

Donald, I hate when players get overrated because of their combine performance but I think that happens a lot less than fans think it does. Take a look at Vernon Davis. That guy was going to be a top 12 selection no matter what. However, he had a great combine and his stock rose a little bit. That's what usually comes from the combine. Not many times does a projected 5th round draft pick end up going in the top 15 just because of his combine numbers.

Another good example of how the combine doesn't mean everything is Chad Jackson. He had one of the best combine performances of any player there, yet he slipped into the second round. Most people thought he had secured a spot in the top 20 but that wasn't the case. For fans, they pay attention to the bench press, the shuttle and the 40-yard dash but as Bill Belichick told me in Indianapolis, the most important thing about the combine for NFL teams is they get to sit down with these kids for maybe the first time and get to know them. Teams put way more stock in that than how many times a player can bench press 225 pounds. Just ask Mike Kudla.

As for Roach, just because the Patriots signed him doesn't mean he's going to be good. Every team – including New England – passed on Roach for seven rounds in the NFL Draft, so there must be some reason why he wasn't drafted. What is that reason? I have no clue. I thought Roach was very impressive for a dominant Alabama defense last year but a lot of the middle linebackers in this year's class went undrafted. My guess is it was an extremely weak crop of players at that position this year. Roach is a tough, physical player but his lack of speed and prior knee injuries may have knocked him down a lot of team's draft boards.
-Tom Casale

As part of your draft coverage each year, it would be interesting if you guys picked one of your favorite undrafted kids and paid (food, a place to stay, travel and a small payout for just going through with it) for him to come up and try out for the Patriots. This year you could start with Oliver Hoyte from N.C. State. I'm not joking or busting your chops. I think fans would be interested in following the story and you guys would eventually pick a gem. How cool would that be?Aaron Taylor

I would be all for it Aaron but perhaps you think I make more money than I actually do. While the Patriots pay well, they don't pay well enough for me to set up Oliver Hoyte for a week but it was a nice thought.

One last thing on Hoyte: he's with the Dallas Cowboys. There was some confusion to if he had signed with the Cowboys or Vikings but he's in Dallas. I have a gut feeling Jerry Jones paid Hoyte a lot more than Tom Casale could offer him. I have a mole down there who is going to keep me updated on his progress. Like I said with Roach, there must be some reason why he wasn't drafted. I have no idea what it could be because he's big, smart and has great instincts.

Hey, maybe he will never pan out but I have a hard time believing there were 255 better players in this draft than Oliver Hoyte. The Raiders – who are desperate for linebacker help – took a receiver out of Maine with the last pick in the draft. I'm sure he'll make the team. Then again, with Al Davis you never know, so I should probably shut up.
-Tom Casale

Hello, I just read that WR Javon Walker was signed by Broncos, as he was ready to fly to NE, probably to talk to Pats. We did it again - let our competition grab a quality player ahead of us. Isn't it apparent by now, that quality players are not going to sit on the market especially with higher cap space? If we were champs, who needed not any holes to fill, I'd stick to strategy of building the team's depth with the draft picks. Why not replicate some bold moves of 2003/4 seasons when we brought guys like Washington and Dillon who made a huge impact on getting us the SB rings the following year? I am sorry if I sound critical, but I just want to see Pats display more NFL leadership in the front office, as they were known in the past for.Sam K

Well Sam, some would say that the Patriots stole a receiver from the Broncos. New England traded up to get Chad Jackson right before the Broncos were about to pick. It may or may not be true but a lot of people think that move by the Patriots then caused Denver to make the deal for Walker. What do the Patriots get out of it? They get a talented, young receiver who could be as good as Walker in a couple of years and they get a conference rival shelling out $40 million for a player coming off knee surgery. Listen, if the Patriots didn't get any receiver help and lost out on Walker, I would agree with you but I think the team has done a pretty good job of addressing a position that was in chaos only a month ago. Not only did they add Jackson and Reche Caldwell to the mix but also two more pass catching tight ends in Thomas and Mills. Throw in Watson and maybe the team thought this was the better route to go instead of forking over $40 million to a player who never seems be happy.

I admit I was concerned with the Patriots receiving corps before the draft but I like the way they went out and got Tom Brady talented receivers for the next few years. Is Jackson as good as Walker right now? No but as the Patriots have proven in the past: patience can pay off in a big way. Don't worry my friend; the team is on the right track to building a squad that will not only compete in 2006, but for many more years to come.
-Tom Casale

Many think that Bethel Johnson never really got a chance to play at WR. Would you agree?Sladjan Ilic

In my opinion Bill Belichick is one of the best coaches in NFL history and because I believe that, I can say that I think he gives every single player on his team a chance to compete and he puts the guys on the field who give his team the best chance to win. Johnson has been given every opportunity in the world to succeed in New England and he hasn't taken advantage of it. One thing you can say about the Patriots: very few players who underachieve here ever go to another team and set the world on fire. That tells me that Belichick and his staff knows what they're doing and if Johnson is on the bench, he's there for a reason.
-Tom Casale

I've tried looking everywhere, and I have had no luck... But do you know what jersey numbers Laurence Maroney, Chad Jackson, Dave Thomas and Gostkowski will wear? Also is too early to predict what possible June 1st cuts that the Pats might possibly pursue to fit their scheme... possible linebackers, cornerbacks, backup QB's, or any other possible surprise moves that the Pats themselves could make in the cut department. Please post this question because I cant get that answer ANYWHERE...Thanks.Matt Greenwood

As of right now, Maroney is 39, Jackson 17, Thomas 86 and Gostkowski 3. All the numbers should be available on the team roster here at

I have no idea who is going to get cut after June 1st but like I've been saying all along, don't expect this group of superstars to be available all of a sudden. The June 1st date is proving to be less and less meaningful every year. The way contracts are structured now, teams don't have to wait that long to let a player go. You might get a guy like Keenan McCardell every now and then if the Chargers want to continue to go with their youth movement but overall, the quality of the June 1st cuts has been going down drastically in recent years. For instance, two years ago the biggest player released after June 1st was Eddie George. Enough said. I don't think the Patriots are sitting back waiting for June 1st to come. I think they have already improved their team dramatically this offseason and should another quality veteran become available during the summer that the Patriots are interested in, they have enough money to bring him to New England give him a look.
-Tom Casale

Hey, you guys are the best. If the kicking competition in training camp doesn't work out in Stephen Gostkowski's favor, could he be placed on IR (for a hangnail or some such minor condition) and have another year to improve while not being available to other teams as he would be if placed on the practice squad? Consequently, would the first missed clutch field goal of the season then be reported as a Gramatical error?Paul B

My colleagues Andy Hart and Paul Perillo think the practice squad is a possibility for Gostkowski but I don't and I'll tell you why: I think he's going to win the kicking job and win it easily. In my opinion, Gostkowski will have the job nailed down before preseason is even over with. A lot of people think this competition is going to be much closer than I do. I would be shocked is Gostkowski isn't the Patriots opening day kicker but if he isn't, don't be surprised if I steal your "Gramatical error" line in one of my future stories.
-Tom Casale

Hey guys great job. Whatever happened to Cedric Cobbs? I can't seem to remember seeing him released. Thanks, and keep the faith.Tim Hoops

Cobbs is an interesting story. I said earlier that not too many players who underachieve in New England has much success elsewhere but Cobbs may the exception. This kid has always had a ton of talent but his heart was really never into playing the game. Football just didn't seem all that important to him. That was his problem at Arkansas and that was his problem here. The Patriots gave him time to get his act together but he just never came along they way they hoped he would.

Now Cobbs is in Denver with the Broncos and from what I'm hearing, Mike Shanahan loves him. I guess he has grown up a lot and taken on a new attitude. He's currently third on the depth chart but don't be surprised if he sees some action this season in the Broncos backfield. Cobbs is actually one of the reasons why the Broncos decided not to take a running back early in the draft. That's how much the team likes him. I watched Cobbs play a lot in college and his cutback running style is perfect for the Broncos offensive system. If he finally has his head on straight, Cobbs could end up having a decent career in Denver.
-Tom Casale

Can someone please tell me what happened to P. K. Sam?David Ronzello

Sam was signed early this offseason by the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed a basic two-year deal and will battle to be the Bengals fourth or fifth receiver. With Chris Henry's recent problems, Sam's chances of making the team increased slightly but he's still a long shot to make the final roster.
-Tom Casale

These questions apply to all coaching movement to some degree, but given that Mangini has essentially all his professional coaching knowledge and experience from a single source, I'm particularly curious about how he puts together a playbook for the Jets. What restrictions, legal or by league rule, exist in his ability to publish a playbook almost identical to the Patriots (assuming he wanted to)? Is all his knowledge of terminology, system, and methods implemented by the Patriots protected in any way by copyright law or some other legal perspective? How does Bill strategize against coaches like Mangini and Saban whom Bill knows know his system as well as he does? Do they use new terminology on the field when they play the Jets, or do they devise new on-field communication structures for the team for the new season as a whole?Gary Wolff

This is what they call, "The price you pay for success." There are no legal limitations or anything like that when it comes to a playbook. Mangini or any other coach can put together any kind of playbook they want to. Take a look at all the coaches who came from Mike Holmgren or even Bill Parcells for that matter. The bottom line is each coach is his own person. While I'm sure the Jets will run similar sets and schemes as the Patriots run, Mangini will also put his own personal touch on things. No two people are the same. Look at Saban. He coached under Belichick and they believe in a lot of the same principles but Saban likes to blitz more often. I think where Mangini will resemble Belichick the most is in the structure he'll bring to the Jets organization.

There is no way you can control playbooks. You know, Charlie Weis seems to have a pretty good playbook going at Notre Dame. What if he took all his plays with him and the Patriots weren't allowed to use any of them? These things are going to happen in the NFL when you experience the kind of success that Belichick has had but lets not make it seem like he's getting a raw deal in all this. It's happened to coaches in the past and it will happen to coaches in the future. The difference is good coaches are always changing things up and I'm sure that's what Belichick does on a game-to-game basis, no matter what team he's playing. So despite the fact that Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini both coached with Belichick, my guess is they'll have no idea what he's going to do when they play the Patriots.
-Tom Casale

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