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Ask PFW: Training camp wrap

As training camp winds down it seems most of the fans have gotten their fill of Patriots information. For those still searching for answers, we offer a few camp observation in this week's "Ask PFW" mailbag.

"The team has gotten away from the practice of actually officially retiring numbers" – Ask PFW 8/11. I'm curious about the number retirement issue. I understand the need to have numbers available for rosters into the 80s, but at the same time it seems insulting to players of Andre Tippett's stature (NFL HOFer) that his own team has not retired his number when they have retired seven others, and when only one of those (John Hannah) would be rated a "better" player. How about at least retiring NFL HOFers' numbers? (You could unretire Mike Haynes' number IMO since he played for the Raiders as long as he did for the Pats, and personally I think of him as a Raider anyway). I mean, they have to retire 12 eventually, don't they? So what are they going to say to 56 when they told him for 30 years it wasn't possible, and they then retire Tom Brady's number?
Nate Stafford

The problem the team has in this department is there have been too many numbers retired for players that quite honestly didn't deserve the honor. They're all excellent players to be sure, but in my opinion number retirement should be reserved from only the very best of the best – Hall of Fame players. Mike Haynes' No. 40 most certainly deserves to be retired. He played seven years with the Patriots and was a six-time Pro Bowler. He was great with the Patriots, not just the Raiders. Andre Tippett's number will likely be retired at some point, and Brady's certainly will too. But in general, Andy was right in saying that the team is trying to get away from retiring numbers. There simply aren't enough options to go around to continue doing so.
Paul Perillo

I know the Pats had some weaknesses in their defense last year, but I was still surprised to see New England ranked next to last in red zone defense (RZD) in 2008. (New England was second only to Detroit in terms of TD percentage allowed, giving up 30 TDs in 45 red zone trips.) What group in the Pats defense - secondary, linebackers or D-line - do you think was most responsible for the team's red zone deficiencies in 2008? Have the Pats upgraded that group enough in the offseason to climb out of the RZD basement this season?
Pete Schwartzstein

Not to sound like Bill Belichick here, but the failures last year were a combination of all those areas. The guys up front didn't apply much pressure, the linebackers were occasionally slow in coverage and the secondary was obviously not up to par. I'd say the secondary was most responsible, though. The 2008 Patriots simply lack the cover skills to compete on a consistent basis. Belichick has done a lot of work to try to fix that problem and it seems that plan is working. With the additions of Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, Pat Chung and Darius Butler plus the maturation of Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley should give the team six players who basically weren't part of the problems last year. From the looks of things during camp, the improvements have been evident. Whether that manifests itself in the red zone is far too early to tell but it certainly looks good in practice.
Paul Perillo

I couldn't help but notice, in your 8/11/09 addition of "PFW in Progress" you guys were discussing 25 possible future Hall of Famers, when you guys came to Marvin Harrison's name, you guys unanimously said he was out of the running. Why is that? Do you think his current legal troubles are enough to completely overshadow his career or is it something else? Just curious, even though I'm not exactly a Harrison fan.
Zak Nelson

I remember the conversation you referenced and I was one of the naysayers when it came to Harrison. In truth, we're probably all wrong about him. His resume is such that he should be comfortably in Canton at some point within the next decade. I won't speak for the rest of the guys, but my feeling in saying no initially was because I feel he rarely came through in the biggest games. He has terrific numbers but his playoff totals are ordinary at best. It's easy to put that on Peyton Manning's shoulders, but the Colts quarterback has had his share of big playoff games and Harrison has rarely been part of those. For all of the touchdowns they've teamed up for, Harrison has just two in the postseason. But my personal feelings aside – and I admit my immediate response was likely personal – Harrison is a Hall of Fame player.
Paul Perillo

Can the plaque entitled "The Kick" still be found in the parking lot at Gillette Stadium? I was there two weeks ago and was unable to locate it.
David Andrade

I'm told the plaque still exists but it is not being displayed at the current time. It was moved during the construction of Patriot Place and has yet to be returned anywhere. Perhaps they'll decide to place it inside a store where the kick was made, but as of now no decisions have been made.
Paul Perillo

I believe that the reason the Patriots traded Mike Vrabel is because of Lawyer Milloy. Mike Vrabel was a great player for the Patriots but was not the same player he was in the past. The same can be said for Lawyer Milloy. I believe there was the possibility that Vrabel might have been cut before the season began and the Pats did not want to have what happened with Milloy happen with Vrabel. By trading him when they did they eliminated that problem and rewarded him by giving him the chance to find a new home at the same salary. And the team got used to the fact he was no longer with them before the season starts. What do you think?Ron Ireland

I basically disagree with every part of this premise with the exception that Vrabel wasn't going to be a part of the 2009 Patriots. The reason the Patriots traded Vrabel when they did was because of salary cap reasons. The team needed the space to make some free agent signings and that's why they included Vrabel in the Matt Cassel deal. In 2003 when the Patriots released Milloy, Belichick was actually hoping the safety would agree to a salary cut and stay. That was evident in both the timing of the transaction and the fact that Antwan Harris started in his place in the opener. Harris was awful and eventually was benched in favor of rookie Eugene Wilson the following week. Clearly, Belichick hoped Milloy would stick around and join Rodney Harrison at safety. I'm not sure the Patriots wanted Vrabel back at this stage of his career given his salary. And I also don't think they did Vrabel any favors by trading him to Kansas City. If he had been released he could have potentially hooked on with any team he wanted and would surely have earned similar cash somewhere. So I don't believe there was any similarity with the Milloy situation at all.
Paul Perillo

With the potential the Pats defense has this year, (at least on paper), do you see a "persona" being developed that would take a bunch of talented players and turn them into a well oiled machine ... much like the 2000 Ravens or Steel Curtain or teams of that sort. I am wondering how this defense will gel, and who steps up to be the "face of the defense" like a Ray Lewis or Mean Joe Green.
John Q.

I'm as high on the potential of this defense as anyone but I'm going to slam on the brakes of comparing this team to the 2000 Ravens or the Steel Curtain. There are too many new elements for this group to come together quickly enough to play at that kind of level. I do believe the Patriots will be much better on defense during the second half of the season than they will be at the start. Once everyone gains experience playing together, I feel this group can be pretty good. I'm not saying they'll have a player that will wind up anywhere near the level of Ray Lewis or Mean Joe Greene, but in my opinion Jerod Mayo will be the face of this defense over the next five years or so. He's the kind of athlete that can make a difference in the middle of a defense and that's generally the position that defenses are identified with.
Paul Perillo

There has been no mention of Tedy Bruschi for weeks - he hasn't been at training camp, wasn't at the Eagles game – what's the story from a very concerned fan.Barbara Porter

Bruschi returned to the practice field Aug. 16 and took part in most of the practices over the following days. He said he was dealing with some issues that were related to his age and that he's working hard to earn a role for himself in this defense. He should have a chance to play against Cincinnati in the home opener Thursday night.
Paul Perillo

Why do the Patriots play the Eagles every preseason?
Steve J.

The simple answer to this is, they don't. The Patriots and Eagles have played in the last two preseasons, including the opener last week. The teams hadn't met in the summer prior to 2008 since 2003. Overall Philadelphia and New England have played in five of the 10 preseasons since Bill Belichick arrived in 2000. The Giants, on the other hand, are basically an annual summertime opponent. When the Giants come to Foxborough to close this preseason it will mark the eighth time in 10 years the teams have met in an exhibition game.
Paul Perillo

Lately, our focus has been on the return of Tom Brady and the new weapons brought in both on offense and defense. Although I find it very important to discuss those topics, I also find it necessary to ask, how does our running back situation look? I mean I know we have four in Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris, but which one will be our starter and do any of them stand a chance of having a premier year this season? I've often been hoping for Maroney to just explode out of the gate, but so far, I've been proven wrong, hopefully I'm not this year. Will this be the year of the running back for our offense?Shane Salcedo

I think the running back situation is the best the team has had since Belichick has been here. There's a great blend of young and old with Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis along with Taylor, Morris and Faulk. They have good pass catchers (Faulk, Green-Ellis), power runners (Morris) and home-run hitters (Taylor, Maroney). The only concern would be injuries as each of the top four has missed significant time in the past. I think Belichick will use a committee approach and spread the carries around in an effort to keep them all fresh throughout the season. If there's no room for Green-Ellis on the roster, he could mark the most talented back the team has cut in a decade.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering what you guys think Benjamin Watson's trade value is, and if there is a market for him?Jesse M.

I've been looking for a place to voice my totally irrational, baseless trade rumor for Watson and here it is – Watson to Kansas City late in the preseason in exchange for a mid-round pick. The Chiefs need a tight end after letting Tony Gonzalez go and Watson could join second-year player Brad Cottam and provided some help. Depending on how well he plays in Kansas City, Watson could get maybe a fourth-round pick in return.
Paul Perillo

Hey PFW staff. Love your work. I have a question. Now that the Eagles have signed Mike Vick it would appear that they might have too many backup QBs. Do you think the Eagles would be willing to part with A.J. Feeley? I think from the financials I've seen he has a base salary of $1.3 million for 2009 plus 1/3 of the $2 million signing bonus. So he'd be on the books for just under $2 million. Not a budget breaker if the Pats could dump Andrew Walter (I assume he has no guaranteed money) and could find room under the cap. Although not a religious man, I say my prayers daily that Brady can remain healthy. But I think Feeley would be a much better "game ready" backup who could help you win some games if necessary. He's certainly better that the current backup plan of either Walter or Kevin O'Connell. What kind of offer do you think it would take to get the Eagles interested?
Gary MacDonald

First, the Patriots (or any other team acquiring Feeley) wouldn't be responsible for any of the signing bonus since that was paid by Philadelphia. So the Patriots would be on the hook for just the annual salary. Feeley would make some sense as I believe he's a much better player than Walter and O'Connell is still largely unproven at this point. I'm still quite high on O'Connell and I believe he will be a solid player, but until he plays at the NFL level there's no way of knowing for sure if he would be capable to handling the job as well as Matt Cassel did last year. I'm not sure Belichick would want to bring him in much later than this, however, as it takes considerable practice time to get up to speed on the offensive system. Walter was brought in early in camp and is still trying to learn the ropes. I like Feeley as a backup and I believe in spurts he can be effective. But I also think O'Connell has the raw skills to succeed so making the deal wouldn't be a priority for me – although I can understand the thought.
Paul Perillo

Please speculate after only one preseason game, is there a role for Tedy Bruschi to fill on the field in a 4-3 scheme, barring injuries? How much 4-3 will BB employ?
James Siegel

I'm not sure how Bruschi is going to fit in, and he's not either. I think the 4-3 will be part of the team's scheme, as it always is, but perhaps a bit more so this year than in the past. Bruschi will likely be a part-time player and contribute on early downs, whether that be in a 4-3 as a weakside linebacker or as an inside guy in the 3-4. I think the days of Bruschi leading the team in tackles are obviously over, but he can still be useful in a limited role.
Paul Perillo

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