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Patriots Replay Fri May 29 | 12:00 AM - 11:58 PM

Ask PFW: Training camp in full swing

Seems the Pats will start their exhibition schedule in 11 days vs. the Falcons with a patchwork line that will be minus Dan Koppen at center and possibly without Matt Light at left tackle. Will Hochstein replace and start at center for Koppen? Also, will the changes on the line effect the running game as it did last season with Dillon finding few holes to run through as Kaczur and Mankins were learning the system?Chip Heard

I'm not sure who will start in the first preseason game, and let's be honest, that doesn't really matter. However, I see no reason why Light won't be in the lineup on opening day. He's been practicing pretty regularly and he says he feels good.

Koppen is a different story. He just started practicing this week, so it's hard to say if he'll be ready for opening day. Sure, it would be great if he could go but if he can't, at least the Patriots have a dependable, experienced backup in Russ Hochstein. If that's the only change on the line, the Patriots should be fine. Last year it seemed like they had a new starting five on the line every week. With that much turnover from week-to-week, it's going to have an effect on both the running and passing games. I think the Patriots offensive line will be much improved in 2006 and they'll end up having one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL. I wouldn't be too worried about who plays against the Falcons. I doubt the Patriots are losing sleep over it.
-Tom Casale

With the 2006-2007 season, coming up do you feel Tully Banta-Cain has it? I've watched him for years and I feel he'll bring the heat. Can he play full time? I see a lot of impact players on both sides of the ball but Tully Banta-Cain to me will be noticed. Kevin Faulk will also show big improvement or am I wrong?Travis Peterson

First, let me say that I think Faulk will catch 60 balls this year in this offense. Not too many people are talking about it but one of the ways the team is going to offset the loss of David Givens is to use Faulk more – both out of the backfield and split out as a receiver. Faulk is having a tremendous camp and I expect a big year from him.

As far as Banta-Cain goes, I think he can be a contributor, just not full-time. He's not having the best camp to date and that's a problem for a guy fighting for a roster spot. However, with the Patriots lack of depth at linebacker and Banta-Cain's value on special teams, he should make the final cut. If the Patriots use Banta-Cain for 8-12 snaps a game, I think he can be a productive player. But if injuries hit the linebacker position and the team needs to rely on Banta-Cain to be an every-down player, I'm not sure he can handle that role from what I've seen out of him in training camp so far.
-Tom Casale

Hi Guys: I'm a huge Garrett Mills fan and was wondering if you had any input on whether or not you feel he'll make the final squad. He's a local (Tulsa, Jenks HS) product and had an excellent career at the University of Tulsa.Paul Babb

I'm confident that Mills will make the team but it's hard to give you my thoughts on him because I've only seen him practice a couple of times. Mills has a lot of versatility and he could be a big part of the Patriots offense some day, but it's probably not going to be in 2006. He's learning a lot of different things right now and missing practice time isn't going to help his development. Some rookies come right in and contribute and some take a while before they make an impact. I would put Mills in the latter category at this point.
-Tom Casale

I have no doubt, that our offense will put up big numbers this year, but the defense has me a little concerned. The defensive line is very solid with great starters and back-up guys. The linebackers worry me. I think we have great starting crew but no one on the bench. The db also concern me only because of the last few years. We have had so many injuries at this position. Do you think the Patriots made a mistake not getting Law? I think if we got law it would have stabilized this defense a lot. What do you think?Steven Melo

I think the Patriots offered Law a contract based on what they thought he was worth and he took a little more money to play some place else. That's how the Patriots do business and it's hard to argue with the results. I like Law and he's still a good corner but I wasn't one of the people screaming for his return. When you look at the Patriots defenses that won Super Bowl titles, they were good because they played great TEAM defense, despite what Willie McGinest says. You can even go back to last year. The entire defense played like trash early in the year. Sure, it's easy to single out one or two guys but virtually no one was doing their job well early on in the season. It was the exact opposite at the end of the year. It helps to get guys like Bruschi back but he was really never his old self at any point last season. However, just having his leadership and experience on the field improved the entire defense. That's what I expect to see in 2006, a return to solid team defense. Like I said, having a player of Law's ability certainly isn't a negative, I just don't think he would have made a difference in whether the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year or not.
-Tom Casale

Am I the only person who has ever wondered why it is that athletes' salaries are made public in the first place? Nobody but Mrs. M knows how much I make, and I'm sure Andy Hart doesn't know how much Paul Perillo makes, much less the Managing Editor of Patriots Weekly or the Boston Globe. Where is it written that a guy has to have his salary broadcast to the world? Any organization can structure reasonable salary deals behind closed doors, and I'm sure other players could be told to mind their own business. Other than the top money list in Forbes, where they just round up to the nearest billion, there is no other class of employee whose salary business is so public. But, if it's a complex situation, with these guys I suppose it just comes down to one thing: ego. I gotta be dreaming if I think TO could keep his yapper shut about anything.Phil Mosley

First of all, I know how much Andy Hart and Paul Perillo make and it Hart's case, it's way too much. Having said that, the salaries of public officials, members of government agencies, entertainers and athletes are available to the public. I'm sorry but I have to disagree with you on this one. As a fan, I want to know what my team is doing with all the millions of dollars it earns from being a part of the NFL. There's no way anyone can be in the spotlight like NFL players are and not have their salaries known. If a player is holding out for more money or a team doesn't want to pay a player, fans have a right to know about it. There's something all sports fans need to do. We all need to bond together and stop comparing professional athletes to everyday people. Tom Brady is not the same as someone who works at The Gap. No offense to anyone who works at The Gap but it's true. Brady has the hopes and dreams of thousands of people riding on his right arm. That's a little more pressure than whether or not I misspell a word. If you think I'm over-exaggerating, remind again of what happened when the Red Sox won the World Series? I wasn't in Massachusetts at the time but didn't I hear stories of people crying together in the streets and going to the graves of loved ones that had passed away and toasting a drink with them? That's why I don't buy it when we compare pro athletes to Tom Casale. When people care about Tom Casale as much as Tom Brady, then we can talk. Also, I would tell you how much I make but I don't want you to fall on the floor laughing.
-Tom Casale

I went to camp on Tuesday and was watching Brady throw and he didn't look good at all, he under-threw and over-threw a few passes, and some receivers helped him out with nice grabs. He didn't really seem himself. He had his head down a lot of times and he did miss two days of practice. Is there any concern for him? Is his shoulder hurt or is he just rusty? Another question is do you think Matt Shelton may make the roster or at least the practice squad? He looks pretty good out there. He seemed like he was keeping up with Jackson and Caldwell. I saw him line up to return kickoffs too. Could he be another return man?Joe Hedglin

Brady hasn't looked great in training camp quite yet but if I made a list of concerns for the Patriots going into the season, Brady's name would appear somewhere around No. 3,456 on that list. I'm concerned with the group of receivers he currently has at his disposal but once Branch and Jackson come back, that should help alleviate a lot of those worries. As I've said many times, I believe Brady to be the best player in the NFL and once they line up for real, he'll be the same old Brady throwing darts to whomever is playing receiver.

You must be seeing a different Matt Shelton than the rest of us. I'm sure he's a nice a kid and I don't want to rip him but in absolutely no way is he in the same class with Reche Caldwell. It can be argued that Caldwell is having the best camp of any Patriot so far. I don't think the same can be said for Shelton. Not only is he small and not very fast but Shelton drops way too many balls for an undrafted free agent who is trying to make an impression. As I'm writing this I just received an e-mail saying Shelton has been placed on IR and is out for the season, so that makes this a moot point. However, if you want a guy to watch, keep your eye on Kelvin Kight. I really like his chances to make the practice squad. He's shown tremendous work ethic since arriving in New England by routinely staying after practice to get extra reps. Now that hard work is paying off as he's starting to make an impact on the field as well. I'll be interested to watch Kight in the preseason games to see how he makes performs.
-Tom Casale

Your answer to a recent question on Ask PFW (pasted below) regarding linebacker terminology was wrong. In a 3-4, Sam (strong) and Will (weak) refer to the outside linebackers, while Mike (strong) and Jack (weak) refer to the inside linebackers. Also, it's fairly common among other teams and leagues for Mo to be used instead of Jack for the weak inside backer.Bob Dunlay

You are wrong Bob. My colleague Paul Perillo was correct. In a 3-4 defense, the inside linebackers are the Will and Mike linebackers. Teams use different terminology sometimes but in the Patriots system, the Will linebacker plays inside, not outside.
-Tom Casale

Hey guys, great camp coverage. Am I the only one who feels that we let the better receiver leave when we let Givens go? He was bigger, stronger and definitely more durable than Branch. Granted at the time no one knew Branch would cop out on his contract, but I just feel that Givens had more potential to be a true number one receiver than Branch. I feel that the reason Branch is holding out is because with the loss of Givens, he can expect a lot of double coverage and knows his numbers will decline big time this year. In my opinion he wants to cash in on the success he enjoyed in no small part due to being on the other side of the field from Givens. If Givens was still here do you think Branch would even be holding out at all? Do you think that Branch is even capable of being remotely as successful as he has been in the past without the safety blanket that was David Givens?Francis Brown

I am in the camp that believes Givens is a guy who works hard, gives maximum effort, takes full advantage of his physical ability but isn't the caliber of a No. 1 receiver. Watching games up in the press box, you can see that Givens doesn't get much separation from defensive backs. You can also see Brady deliver the ball before Givens even makes his break, almost always putting it right on the money. This is the problem I think Givens is going to encounter in Tennessee. When a receiver doesn't have a Hall of Fame-type quarterback like Brady delivering the ball, he has to get more open and I'm not sure Givens can do that. I agree Givens is a better blocker than Branch and I also agree that Branch struggles when he's double-teamed, but I think he has more physical ability than Givens. Branch runs crisp routes and his speed and quickness make him a difficult matchup for most defensive backs. One thing I know for sure: players like Givens, Branch and David Patten should pick up a phone and thank Brady for all the money getting thrown their way. Patten saw what happens when Brady isn't throwing him the ball and I think Givens is in for the same rude awakening.

Also, I don't think Branch's holdout has anything to do with Givens. Like any holdout, I think it has to do with money.
-Tom Casale

In my opinion, the most boring play in football is the extra point attempt. What is the conversion rate for a PAT-98% or so? The NFL should consider changing this very predictable play by extending the distance of the attempt. If the attempt were 45 yards or so, the success of the extra point conversion would be determined by the skill of the kicker, the weather elements, and the game situation. This would also affect on-the-field strategy in the form of more 2-point conversions attempts and coach's decision-making. I really can't find a downside to this rule change. What do you think?Rob Grasso

You have an interesting idea Rob. I kind of hate the extra point as well but I don't see any big rule changes on the horizon. It's not a bad idea. I agree the extra point is boring but football is the most successful sport in the United States, so there really is no reason to change it right now. Usually there are only rule changes in sports like soccer that usually bore the heck out of people.
-Tom Casale

Hey, I know you guys are probably going to think I'm an idiot for even suggesting it, but what if Tom Brady quit practicing until the Front Office resigned Deion Branch? It seems like that would kind of force the hand of the administration.Chris Brownlee

Actually, I think Brady would be the freaking idiot if he did what you suggested. Brady has a contract and a job. His job is to quarterback the New England Patriots no matter who is playing any other position on the team. He may not like some of the personnel decisions the team makes on a personal level, but that's irrelevant. He plays quarterback and gets paid well to do so. If he were to quit practicing, he would be letting down his teammates and his fans, neither of who have any control over what happens with Branch. In my opinion, this scenario wouldn't make Brady a good teammate; it would make him one of the worst teammates of all-time because he's defending one player while letting down 51 others.
-Tom Casale

Always tune in to ask PFW. It's interesting to get other fans perspectives and learn something new. In Wednesdays training camp notes, Tom Casale mentions that, "If Caldwell looks as good in the regular season as he does in training camp, he's going to make New England fans ask, "David who?"" As a cautionary note weren't people really excited about David Terrell last camp including Tom Brady? As for David (Givens), people often overlook how good a blocker he was/is. My question is are there any receivers in camp now that can block as effectively as David Givens did? As much as I like Deion Branch and want to see him in camp, you won't see him taking on blocks like Givens anytime soon. Also on a separate note, if you have any more info on why Ryan Claridge was released I would appreciate it. I know that he had a bad year outside of football and perhaps he just wasn't mentally prepared coming into camp?Special K

Well Special K, since I wrote the phrase you're referring to, I'll answer the question. First let me state that I wasn't here last year but I wouldn't compare Caldwell to Terrell. I never liked Terrell – even while he was at Michigan – and when the Patriots brought him in, it wasn't to be a starter. It was to add some depth at the receiver position. I think the Patriots and their fan base are expecting bigger things out of Caldwell than they were Terrell. Like I said, I wasn't here at this time last year but that's the impression I get from the people who were here.

You are correct when you speak about how good of a blocker Givens is. He's a fine blocker. To be completely honest, it's difficult to answer your question right now. We really haven't seen these receivers in game situations yet. It's hard to evaluate them on their blocking in practice because most of the time the players aren't going full speed. I don't think Branch blocks as well as Givens does, I know that much. However, when it comes to the other receivers, I'll have to watch them more this preseason and see how they make out. Caldwell may not block as well as Givens but I think as far as production goes, he's more than capable of putting up the 45-60 receptions a year that Givens did while he was in New England.

When it comes to Claridge, Belichick said all that needs to be said at his press conference following Claridge's release. He said the team had a number of players ahead of him on the depth chart. Reading between the lines I would say that means he didn't fit well into this system and had no shot of making the team, so the Patriots parted ways with him so both parties could move forward. I know this doesn't provide you with any new information but it may just be that simple.
-Tom Casale

Two quick questions about training camp, first one being about those caps you see players wear over their helmets. What are those for, and why are they used? The second question is about Raymond Ventrone. Where is he? He isn't listed on PUP and he's never mentioned on the list of players not in practice. We heard a lot about him in the off-season but now nothing.Kacper Kosinski

Ventrone injured his shoulder over in NFL Europe and is on the NFL Europe exemption list. Each team has to be at 80 players but they also have exemptions for the guys who were over in NFL Europe. Once a team cuts down to 75 players, those exemptions go away. A decision has to be made on his future with the team by that point. Ventrone has yet to practice and it's very doubtful he'll make his way onto the final 53-man roster. However, he does have one more year of eligibility remaining on the practice squad, so that's his best chance to remain in New England at this time.
-Tom Casale

I don't know guys but the questions are not being answered at this point. It must be the hot humid weather. From the reports I have been reading about camp, the biggest questions seem to be at linebacker and receiver. You know there will be injuries during the season, not "if" there will be an injury to our key players. What should the answer be at this point in time with the seeming dismal poor plays so far in camp? To me the Pats need to bring in at least one veteran from somewhere in back-up roles at LB and WR--guys who have at least started games at those positions. If not, then what are the answers?Phil Cressey

Those are definitely the two weakest areas on paper, no question about it. However, when, and if, Branch comes back and Jackson returns, the receiver situation won't be as bleak as everyone is making it out to be. Sure, it looks bad now but we have to remember that the Patriots aren't playing with a full deck at the present time. As long as Branch is on the field when the season starts, the Patriots should be okay. If he isn't…well, let's not even think about that right now.

Linebacker is a much bigger concern in my opinion. Not only are the starters up their in age but there doesn't seem to be anyone waiting in the wings to contribute should one of the top four players at that position go down. Now, I could be wrong. Maybe someone like Banta-Cain is ready to explode on the scene, I just don't see it though. I think the team is pretty much set at receiver but I wouldn't be shocked if they brought in another linebacker. However, then that new player would have to learn the complicated Patriots system and that's a whole other can of worms. Just ask Monty Beisel and Chad Brown how easy that transition is and they had all summer to learn the system last year.
-Tom Casale

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