Since we started our new Ask PFW forum last week, the overwhelming majority of questions have dealt with Antowain Smith and the running game. A rather conservative estimate would be in the neighborhood of 50 out of the 150 some odd responses we've received.
Obviously with so many to deal with, we've chosen to answer a select few and when dealing with similar topics have opted to answer those just once. As far as the running game is concerned, the Patriots certainly need to improve in that department. (Our first installment last week had some of our responses on the subject).
Andrew in Salem, Mass., had perhaps the best assessment of Smith's so-called drop off in production last season, citing his lack of opportunity and similar statistics from 2001 to 2002. Andrew points out that Smith's average per carry dropped ever so slightly (4.0-3.9) and with 35 less carries his total would have been similarly slightly off (1,157-1,119). He did score half as many rushing touchdowns, but again that was due to lack of opportunities as well.
We agree with Andrew that the Patriots need to rely a little more on Smith's strong legs this season. Handing the ball to him more often will see a rise in production. Andrew adds that if the coaching staff believed the running back was the main problem, they surely would have addressed the position with one of their 10 draft picks.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves … Now on to this week's mailbag …
I certainly like Ted Johnson as a run stuffer in the 3-4 and Roman Phifer played well from the outside in recent years. However, I don't understand why Tedy Bruschi, arguably the Patriots best linebacker over the past five years, seems to be the odd man out in the 3-4. I know Belichick is famous for mixing personnel, but I think Bruschi should be on the field to start games. Why have recent depth charts shown Bruschi coming off the bench?
Mike, while it does appear that the Patriots will head into the season with Johnson and Phifer as the starters at inside linebacker, the idea that Bruschi will be the "odd man out" is a bit extreme. As you mentioned Belichick is a big believer in taking advantage of the many strengths of his personnel, and in terms of the depth that is necessary at linebacker to successfully run the 3-4, Bruschi will be one of those strengths. By the end of the season expect all of the group of the top six linebackers to be big contributors to what should be an improved defense. And as we all know, if one of the starting four isn't doing their job Belichick won't hesitate to plug Bruschi into the lineup, as thanks to his unique package of skills he could probably play either inside or outside when needed.
My big concern is the offensive line, but I know we have a lot of tough veterans here. Will they be able to form a consistent unit this year, or is there even enough competition for the 5 spots?
Christopher your worries on the offensive line are warranted. After using seven different starting lineups there a year ago and in the course of those changes struggling in the running game, ideally the coaches will be able to settle on a group of five starters for 2003. But since the world of the NFL isn't an ideal one, the road to that single, cohesive unit could be a curvy one. With Joe Andruzzi, Kenyatta Jones and Stephen Neal all dealing with injuries, and the unproven abilities of other options like Adrian Klemm the battle for jobs on the offensive line, specifically right guard and tackle, could be one that continues at least into the early part of the season.
Why did the NFL schedule teams to play in the preseason and again in the regular season? The Patriots play Philadelphia, Washington, and the N.Y. Giants twice this year. Why not let the fans see some different talent?
Salt Lake City, Utah
Justin while I can understand your desire to see a few other teams play the Patriots, or any other team for that matter, the teams themselves and not the league make up the preseason schedule. I am not sure all of the factors that are considered when trying to put together a list of opponents but I am pretty sure that geographical proximity, team talent levels and scheduling availability all come into play. If you have noticed in recent years the Patriots have tended to play teams like the Giants, Redskins, Eagles and other east coast teams quite often. It just so happens that because they are also playing against the NFC East this regular season Patriots fans will see a number of repeat preseason-regular season opponents in 2003.
Is there such a thing as a sophomore jinx in the NFL? Tom Brady didn't seem to be affected by the "so-called" jinx. Should we expect better seasons from Deion Branch and Daniel Graham, especially Graham?
No there is no sophomore jinx, the actual jinx doesn't set in until your fourth NFL season. Just kidding, Jim. But while many like to point to the sophomore jinx as a reason for second-year struggles, it is usually based in a more physical nature such as injuries, opponent scheming or raised expectations. Luckily for the Patriots Branch and Graham had their jinxed seasons as rookies. For the New England offense to reach its potential, Branch must have a full, more consistent 2003, while Graham needs to show some production to go along with his can't-miss ability. Whether you should expect it or not depends on the fan perspective. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Seeing as you live in New England and are probably also a Red Sox fan, I will assume you are a pessimist.
I have two questions for you about the linebackers. Who do you think WILL start at the linebacker positions? Also (if they're different) who do you think SHOULD start?
Good question Kevin. The Patriots switch to the 3-4 obviously changes some things defensively. For openers, Roman Phifer will likely move inside. He'll start with Ted Johnson with Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel playing outside. Belichick will use a three-man rotations at both spots with Tedy Bruschi alternating with Johnson and Phifer inside and Willie McGinest likely switching with Vrabel outside. Colvin will probably see the most playing time of that group of six.
I want to ask you three questions. For how long did the pats sign Rosevelt Colvin? Do you think Ty Warren will earn a starting spot? Do you think Willie McGinest has a good chance of starting at either linebacker or at defensive end?
Edgar, I want to give you three answers. Colvin signed a six-year deal with Patriots this March. Eventually I do believe Warren will be a starter, but not right away. Considering there will be such a young player at nose tackle, whoever it ends up to be, it is unlikely that the coaches will put two inexperienced players next to each other unless Warren really wows everyone this preseason. McGinest's days as a starter are long behind him. While the 10-year veteran can probably still contribute as a pass rusher and in sub packages, there are number of other much more well rounded options for this team at both linebacker and end.
Who picked up Tony Hollings in the supplemental draft?
The Houston Texans selected Tony Hollings in the second round of the supplemental draft.
After a quasi-lackluster season last year from Otis Smith, is it smart of the Patriots to keep him aboard? I mean, we've done some mincing of the team as to bolster trouble spots, by bringing in Colvin and Harrison, so do we now move to remove an older, and sometimes ineffective Otis Smith?
John Beatty Jr.
West Roxbury, Mass.
I don't think this is the time to cut ties with O-T-I-S. He may be getting on in years but he's still a savvy veteran with a lot to offer in terms of leadership and guidance – the latter point especially relevant with rookies Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel on board. Smith will definitely be in a fight to keep his starting job, getting a real push from Tyrone Poole. But even if it's as a nickel back, the Patriots need his experience.
What's the likelihood of Otis Smith moving to safety? He's a sure tackler with savvy that's lost some speed -- seems a natural fit for free safety, or the Patriots equivalent.
San Antonio, Texas
Very interesting scenario, BT (by the way, what happened to the L in the middle?). Smith definitely has the skills to play safety (he did so periodically in 2000). His experience and knowledge of Belichick's and Romeo Crennel's system seem to make him a perfect fit for a switch. And the Patriots lack depth at that position, which could facilitate a move. The question is do the Patriots have enough talent at corner to afford it?
Ken Walter is one of the worst punters in the league. He was not most helpful last season. It seems like he's an extreme weak point on the team. Why aren't we doing anything about this problem?
Obviously Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick agrees with you Sharon as the team brought in free agent punter Daniel Pope this offseason. While Pope isn't exactly a big-name, the three-year NFL veteran does have 33 games in the league and should at least push Walter in training camp.
A few months ago I thought I read that the Patriots had invited a former San Diego Chargers running back to camp. He was said to be a BIG back and the last game he played he had close to 200 yards rushing. Is this fact?
Good memory Steven. The Patriots did invite 6-2, 262-pound running back Jermaine Fazande to their May rookie mini camp. Fazande played previously in 18 games with the Chargers and posted career totals of 210 carries for 733 yards and four touchdowns, with his best game coming in a 183-yard performance against the Broncos in his rookie year of 1999. Injuries derailed his short career and while he is looking to get back into the league the Patriots did not offer him a contract after the tryout and according to the NFLPA website he has yet to sign elsewhere.
How can I find out who is on the Patriots practice team? Is there a list anywhere?
Amy practice squads are only available during the NFL regular season. Once teams make final cuts before the start of the regular season and all those players clear waivers, teams will sign five players to perform on their practice squads. The list of the players on the Patriots practice squad will be available on Patriots.com when they are announced in early September.
Is it too much to expect Bethel Johnson to put together a rookie season like Terry Glenn did back in '96? If he really is that fast should he be able to catch up to Brady's often slightly overthrown long passes?
Yes. Although Bethel Johnson is "scary fast" he is still a bit of a project. He comes from a college system that didn't throw the ball as frequently as an NFL team would and he must work on his hands and route running. Expecting him to catch 96 balls right out of the gate in his NFL career would be unfairly unrealistic.
What role will Tyrone Poole play this season and is his tenure with the Patriots long term or still questionable?
Poole will get every opportunity to win the starting job alongside Ty Law at corner. If he can beat out veteran Otis Smith, the job should be his. If not, he'll likely occupy the nickel back role, which for the Patriots requires a lot of playing time. Depending on his performance, Poole could stick around for a while. He received a $1.8 million signing bonus so it's doubtful he'll be a one-and-done free agent. More likely he'll stick around at least until the rookies (Wilson and Samuel) are ready to assume increased roles. By the way, Herman, I recently bought a house and got to know your brother Sherwin fairly well.
With so many players fighting for so few roster spots I think it is surprising that teams do not use one player for their kicking and punting duties. I recently read that Jason Elam would compete for the role of punter as well as kicker for the Broncos in the upcoming training camp. Considering the disappointing year that Ken Walter had and Adam Vinatieri's punting experience in NFL Europe do you think that he would be a more viable option to push Walter for the role than free agent signing Daniel Pope? Personally I think Vinatieri seems to be talented at whatever he tries and has a naturally strong leg. If indeed he not only pushed Walter but became the starting punter this would not only save the team money but would also provide a valuable roster spot opening.
Bangor, Northern Ireland
Wow, Northern Ireleand! Got to love the Internet. I have to admit, you're premise is pretty sound provided that Adam is capable of punting at the NFL level. My guess is that he is not. I can tell you that he rarely if ever punts the ball during practice – mostly only when working on pooch kicks from the no-man's-land inside opponent's territory but not quite close enough for field goal range. One reason NFL teams don't have one kicker serve in both capacities is the injury factor. If something were to happen to Ken Walter during a game, Vinatieri would certainly allow the Patriots to get by. Without a kicker to fall back, a team would be in serious trouble. Maybe having two is as much for insurance as anything else.
First, what are rookies expected to know when they come to camp in terms of the playbook and any film study of the team? Second, what is the status of Charlie Weis in his quest for the University of Washington head coaching job? Third, the guys who played in the European league, how can they be expected to perform well in the NFL with such a long season and no rest?
South Burlington, Vt.
Rookies are expected to be up to speed mentally once camp begins. The work throughout the spring and offseason is geared to them in a lot of ways. Certainly that doesn't mean they're expected to have the same knowledge of the system as the most experienced veterans, but lacking in that department can really hold a player back. Last year, wideout Donald Hayes (although not a rookie) really struggled in that department and never got untracked all season.
Charlie Weis' dreams of coaching Washington this season have to be considered dead. He'll be the offensive coordinator at least for another year.
Making an NFL roster after playing in Europe is a long shot anyway, but those lucky enough to do it need to find a way. There is very little recovery time between the NFLE season and the start of training camp. Plus they miss out on a lot of offseason instruction time. But Belichick often sites the balance between needed playing time and offseason preparation and how important it is to make the distinction. Those who play during the spring simply need the reps to improve their chances.
When the Patriots take the field on August 7th against the Giants (I can't wait), most of us will be keeping a close eye on the nose tackle position. With the starting NT job up for grabs in training camp, what should we fans be looking for in the preseason games to evaluate the players? What signs can we look to as indicators that a player is succeeding in this system, or failing?
While I won't exactly be breaking down game film with Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, there are a few signs to look for in the exciting play in the trenches. If whoever the nose is is getting blown off the ball like he is on rollerblades, if linebackers are getting knocked off their pursuit angles and if in general the opponents are running up the gut at will the nose is probably not playing well. If on the other hand teams are having trouble running the ball and the Patriots are controlling the line of scrimmage that probably points to decent play at the nose. But don't exactly expect the best guy for the job to be obvious to the lay fan. Don't expect Dan Klecko, a guy who already has a cult fan following in New England, to be batting down balls, leading the team in tackles and forcing all kinds of fumbles. Successful play at the nose just doesn't come with those sort of fame inducing stats.
With Bill Belichick, New England has arguably the best defensive mind in football. Now that he has relinquished his QB duties to John Hufnagel, will that afford him more time to evaluate the defensive strategies with Romeo Crennel, or will we see him get more involved in the offensive schemes? The Pats came out flying last year, and as soon as the opponents' defensive adjustments quieted them down, they seemed to go flat and not make adjustments. What will Bill do, and more importantly Charlie Weis, to change that?
Belichick will still be heavily involved in the offense. Weis will still be largely responsible for the play calling. Having Hufnagel simply gives both more time to focus on their specific duties. Making adjustments within the offense will fall on all three. I wouldn't expect Belichick to be more or less involved with that process. Two things I'd like to see are more of a commitment to the running game and more downfield passing.
I always ask myself who's calling these plays? Can you tell me who the coaches are and how the offensive plays are called in general? Who are the booth guys upstairs, who tells them to run or pass and who has the final decision on the play?
East Walpole, Mass.
Charlie Weis is the offensive coordinator and he's responsible for calling the plays. He sometimes does this from the press box and sometimes opts to stay on the sideline. Many of the other offensive coaches – John Hufnagel (quarterbacks), Ivan Fears (running backs), Dante Scarnecchia (offensive line), Jeff Davidsion (tight ends/assistant offensive line) and Brian Daboll (wide receivers) sit in the press box and relay their thoughts down to the field (usually to Weis). Belichick obviously has the authority to overrule any play and might decide to call them on his own at any time. In a specific situation (say, third-and-one from the opponent's 20) the head coach makes the decision of whether to go for the first down or the field goal and may even decided if the play will be a run or a pass. But the specific play is called by the offensive coordinator more often than not.
This is not a football question- it's a fan question. Will there be Patriots vanity plates from the RMV? Every other Boston team has them, and I have been waiting for my Pats!
The vanity plates are something the Patriots are definitely considering. Look for some type of movement on this issue this fall.
Why did the patriots change their uniforms? Is there any chance they will change back to the old ones? It was nice to see the old uniforms on Thanksgiving Day last year.
Bowling Green, Ky.
Pretty much all teams change their uniforms in some way every now and then. For the Patriots, the big change came in 1993 when James Orthwein bought the team and brought in Bill Parcells to coach. He felt a fresh start was needed for the franchise and that included the uniforms. It's also an economic issue for teams. A change in jersey means fans have to buy new ones to stay current.
As far as going back to the old red jersey, it was nice to see them on Thanksgiving but don't count on them ever returning to full-time duty.
When is the "Fan Day" at camp? And what day is the "Kickoff" in August?
Everyday is "fan day" at Patriots Training Camp! But if you're actually referring to the day designated for season ticket holders only, that will be July 28. If you are a season ticket holder, you'll be getting more info on that this week.
The Kickoff Gala will be held on Mon., Aug. 25. There's a link to all the details on the home page of Patriots.com
I would love to get the details regarding Bill Belichick's charity dinner. I miss it every year, because I never see it advertised. I know that it is sometime in August. Could someone please post the info regarding: Date, Ticket Price, where to purchase tickets and location of the event. I would sincerely appreciate the information.
Not sure, but I think you're referring to the Kickoff Gala that includes the team as well as the coaches. That's on Aug. 25. Check out the home pager of Patriots.com where there's a link to all the info you're looking for.
Can we get regular, offseason workout programs that the Patriots players use? It would be helpful to Pop Warner and High School football players to learn what the Pros do. It would also be nice to know what each player's workout stats are for comparison ie: 40 times, power clean max, squat/dead lift max, bench max, mile times, shuttle times, etc.
Buzzard's Bay, Mass.
The Patriots don't make public their workout programs – competitive advantage, you know. I do know, however, that the programs differ by position. For example, an offensive lineman's program is much different than a wide receiver's.
As far as what the pros' numbers are in the various areas, check out the PFW post-draft issue. There, we published the rookie's numbers. You can also go online to any number of draft websites where they publish those numbers. Don't let your kids get too discouraged, though, when they start comparing!
As a season ticket holder I was wondering if you will post the time and day of the General Admission ticket we received in our ticket book this year? It's been a long time since we had a preview for ticket holders and I just cant wait! GO PATRIOTS!
Fall River, Mass.
The day will be July 28. It starts in the evening. Again, if you are a season ticket holder, you will be receiving all the details this week.
I have followed the Patriots since the early-'60s. I moved from N.H. to Arkansas 30 years ago and do my best to follow the team. I found out NFL Sunday Ticket will no longer be available to me. My question is can you tell me if any radio stations broadcast the game live on the internet?
Delta Junction, Ark.
That's a question we get a lot. The Patriots and around nine other teams' radio rights are owned by CBS or a CBS affiliate. Unfortunately they don't allow us or anyone else to re-purpose the audio. That might change soon but it's up to them, not the Patriots.
My best suggestion (and I hate to say it) is to go to our opponent's site for the game and if their radio rights are not owned by CBS, chances are they will broadcast the game. You'll have to deal with their announcers but at least you'll be able to hear the action.
Over the past couple of years I have been getting into numerous arguments with other fans regarding standing up in my seat and getting loud on every play. I am nervous next season it will end in perhaps a physical fight. How do I go about telling these fans to get as into the game as I am or go home and watch the game?
If you are standing up at the appropriate times and not during the entire game, they shouldn't have a beef. If someone yells at you for simply being a good fan, instead of yelling back, I would inform one of the yellow-jacketed security workers of the situation. That way you're covered and they can keep an eye on things so they can see you're well within your fan rights.
On the other hand, if you're up on every single play (even when the Patriots are on offense), shame on you.