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Patriots Mailbag: Adding pieces, looking ahead to camp

With Training Camp just a few weeks away, there are plenty of questions about the roster and overall depth in this week's mailbag.


What do you think of the Patriots not kicking the tires on some obvious fits (OBJ, Trey Flowers, etc.)? Do you think they are truly happy with what they have in house? Or was it a matter of cap space? I figure since Flowers had a down year, and OBJ is coming off a major injury, the price tag couldn't have been that bad. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Anthony Pedota

I wouldn't say the Patriots didn't kick the tires on one or both of these players. I also would not be overly interested in Beckham due to his injury, which would at the very least limit his effectiveness for about half of the season. It's also worth wondering if Beckham had any interest in signing with the Patriots if indeed Bill Belichick came calling. Last year when he was available Beckham said he wasn't interested in signing with New England because he wanted a situation where he could play for a contender with an established quarterback despite his respect for Belichick. I'm not sure anything has changed in that regard so it would not be surprising to see Beckham again looking elsewhere. As for Flowers, he's owed about $1.4 million from the Lions even if he decides to sit out the 2022 season. Therefore, it would likely take something significant to get him to play. For example, would $2 million be worth it for Flowers to come back when he would only be making an additional $600,000? So, I think Flowers might be looking for more money before returning in order for it to be worth it. For the record I would like to see Flowers come back as I feel he would be an upgrade on the edge, especially against the run. Maybe the sides can find a way to come together and make that happen.

Paul Perillo

The defense as a whole seems to have been the biggest question mark this offseason, which group is probably the smallest question mark out of the defense?

Jason Bickel

I would agree that there are probably more questions on defense than offense based on the amount of new players coming in on that side of the ball. With basically a whole new cast of linebackers, there will be some uncertainty. As for which group is the smallest question mark, I will go with safety. There's a lot of depth and experience at that spot with Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers. Also, there are a few younger players like Josh Bledsoe and Myles Bryant who could provide even more depth at the position. I could see a scenario where Belichick used four safeties at the same time with some like Peppers serving in a hybrid linebacker-type role. This should be the strength of the defense for sure.

Paul Perillo

I don't get how the Patriots have not adequately address the defensive line. Since the end of 2019 when Tennessee/Derrick Henry and Cincinnati/Joe Mixon were running over the Pats, the D-line has been pushed off the ball by the better offenses. The Pats added Christian Barmore but he's not an anchor type. Guy has been a good player, but if a team wants to double Lawrence Guy or Davon Godchaux, those guys get pushed off the line of scrimmage. Deatrich Wise and Matthew Judon are OK on the edge vs. the run, but not great. DT to me has been a problem. We need an anchor in there that can hold ground on a double team. Is it possible the speed at LB this season will complement the existing D-line to plug the holes? It just seems like we had (keyword had) a solid secondary the last several years but never solve the run D that is per stats, a problem. To win in the playoffs you can't give up a 150 on the ground in a game and let a solid playoff QB have easy play-actions. I don't see the LB speed as the fix. Am I wrong here?

Jim K.

I don't think you are wrong as stopping the run has been an ongoing problem for the Patriots for the past several seasons. As you stated, going back to 2019 the Patriots front seven has struggled to control the ground game, and anytime an opponent also has the ability to throw things get really dicey. It starts up front where the team is lacking the bulk to contain the ground game on any consistent basis. Guy and Godchaux have been just average in this regard but where I disagree with you is on the edges. I believe this has been a real problem at times and it was especially the case down the stretch last season. Even a team like Buffalo that doesn't run the ball all that often had success with Devin Singletary consistently getting around the corners on both sides in the last two meetings. I am curious to see how things change with virtually an entirely new set of linebackers (other than Ja’Whaun Bentley) now in place. Perhaps the added speed (if that is the case) will allow the holes to be plugged quicker and therefore help out the guys up front. But I am skeptical of that based on the personnel at this point. Overall I agree with you that it has been a problem.

Paul Perillo

Do players actually stay overnight at Gillette - or together somewhere nearby - during any part of training camp, like during the first week? They used to do that didn't they?

Malcolm Widness

The team hasn't stayed overnight together during Training Camp since 2003 when they officially left Bryant University and began conducting training camp in Foxborough at Gillette Stadium. The rookies do stay together in a nearby hotel but the veterans are free to stay in their homes each day rather than being forced to deal with life away from their families. Back when the team trained at Bryant, the entire team stayed together in dorms on campus, but it hasn't been that way for a long time.

Paul Perillo

After getting shellacked by Buffalo in the playoffs how do we defeat them this year to regain control of the division?

Mark Nooth

It's been a couple of years of Buffalo dominance in the division as the Bills have won four of the last five meetings between the teams and the last two division titles. In a nutshell, Josh Allen has become a huge problem not just for the Patriots but for everybody. The Patriots need to find a way to neutralize him (without having to rely on severe weather conditions as they did in New England's lone win during that time). His strong arm and ability to pick up key yards with his legs have caused most of the trouble when it comes to Buffalo. The Patriots appear to be using a smaller, faster group of linebackers and maybe some extra safeties, perhaps as a way to add some athleticism to the field with an eye toward corralling Allen more effectively. It won't be an easy task, but the Patriots need to find a way to keep him in the pocket more consistently, and then they'll need to find a way to cover the Bills deep and talented corps of receivers more effectively as well. But it all starts in the front seven and their ability to contain Allen. Until that happens the Bills offense will enjoy success.

Paul Perillo

The Patriots usually have a UDFA or two make the final roster. What do you think about Brenden Schooler doing so this year? He has pretty good measurables (size, speed and quickness) and has experience on both sides of the ball. With the potential to contribute on offense, defense and special teams, I like his chances. I realize that spots may be hard to come by with a pretty good veteran core and drafted rookies seemingly locked in, but I think Schooler has as good a chance as any UDFA to stick.

Bill Woodward

I agree that Schooler is a good candidate to stick around. He spent much of the spring camps working with veterans Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel on special teams techniques. That's why I believe Schooler has a chance. If he can develop as a special teamer and carve out a role, which I believe he can based on his athletic profile as you mentioned, then I could see him as a leading candidate to continue the streak of undrafted free agents earning roster spots. There are a lot of openings to be earned and Schooler's ability to perform on special teams gives him an opportunity to grab one.

Paul Perillo

With The Patriots not adding a fullback on the roster do you think that opens up an extra spot for N’Keal Harry to stick around and play a hybrid TE/WR role and let Jonnu Smith play a hybrid FB/TE role? With the depth at WR is there a possibility we see seven stick around?

Amir Dennis

I don't think the Patriots will be using fullbacks much if at all this season but instead are focusing on versatile players who can operate in both the running and passing games. One of the drawbacks from having a traditional fullback like Jakob Johnson was his presence told the opponent that the play was almost certainly going to be a run. I think the Patriots are making a concerted effort to have players who can play equally well in both facets of the game. Smith can be used as a hybrid player on occasion, and he did a little of that last year too. I don't believe Harry will be around this season as the team will likely be moving on from him soon. As for the depth chart at wide receiver, I think DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor will be at the top of the depth chart. Tyquan Thornton is a lock as a rookie second-round pick. That likely leaves one other spot with Tre Nixon looking like a strong candidate for that. Lil’Jordan Humphrey has some NFL experience, as does Kristian Wilkerson. I doubt there will be seven true WRs on the active roster but one or two of these guys will be on the practice squad to provide some depth. We'll have to wait until training camp to sort it all out.

Paul Perillo

If Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins don't re-sign with New England do you think they make a trade? Linebacker looks thin to me.

Keith Puopolo

I don't expect Hightower or Collins to re-sign with the Patriots and while I'll never rule out the Patriots making additional moves I don't necessarily foresee a trade either. I think Bill Belichick spoke volumes during the draft when he didn't select any linebackers. The message I took from that was he was comfortable with the players he has at the position. So, for better or worse, it's time to see how Ja’Whaun Bentley, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Ronnie Perkins, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Jahlani Tavai handle their increased workloads. I could see Bentley and McMillan inside with Wilson used more in coverage. I can also envision one or two of the safeties working as linebackers on a fairly regular basis. But in terms of making any major acquisitions, I don't think we'll see much more than what we have at this point.

Paul Perillo

What player will be starting at left tackle this season?

Sam Mitchell

Based on the way things lined up during the spring camps it looks like Trent Brown will be the starter at left tackle while Isaiah Wynn moves over to the right side. Rookie Cole Strange was at left guard with David Andrews at center and Mike Onwenu at right guard. Obviously this lineup is by no means set in stone as we are still about three weeks away from the start of Training Camp let alone the regular season. But if I had to make a pick as of today, I'd bank on Brown playing left tackle, which is where he played back in 2018 when he enjoyed by far the best season of his career.

Paul Perillo

Check out photos of the Patriots in full uniform from 2022 team photo day.

Defense, to me, is a huge question. The D-line was just OK last year. Imagine how good Christian Barmore would be next to a space eater like Vince Wilfork. Who is going to set the edge opposite Matthew Judon? Ja'Whaun Bentley is a thumper but he is too slow to cover and if he picks the wrong gap, he can't recover. Are any of the young linebackers quick enough to go sideline to sideline? It doesn't appear that there is a shutdown corner which has been a big part of the secondary the last several years. Safety looks like a strong point. If creatively deployed maybe that position group can make up for a lot of deficiencies. I'm concerned that several of the good teams that the Pats play, will do to the defense what the Bills did in the last two games that those teams played. Hope I'm wrong. Looking forward to your thoughts.

Bob Eaves

I feel your overall assessment of the defense is pretty solid. I would agree with just about every point you made. I love Barmore and feel he is the strength up front but I do worry if Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy are enough to help him and the rest of the front do a better job of stopping the run. Judon had a great first half of last season but tailed off dramatically after that. And I agree there is no obvious candidate to line up on the opposite side. I believe Ronnie Perkins will get a chance to do so, but he and Josh Uche are unproven commodities at this point. The linebacker group has a lot of bodies with Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, Cameron McGrone and Jahlani Tavai but very few proven performers. I do feel like there is more speed in that group compared to veterans Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy who played last year. But that doesn't mean they have the ability to play at that level. The cornerback spot is thin after losing Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. Rookies Jack Jones and Marcus Jones may need to contribute immediately and that isn't an easy thing to rely on. The safeties are deep and I agree with you in that we will likely see Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips used in different ways perhaps in an effort to mitigate the lack of depth at corner. Overall the defense has a lot of questions, and it's a group that really struggled down the stretch last season. Paul Perillo

With all the moves at wide receiver this offseason bolstering our New England Patriots in that department which will give us needed strength and depth I am most excited to see the second-year growth and understanding between Mac Jones and last season's receiving standout Kendrick Bourne, who I think will be the most productive pairing in the team? What is your expectations and feelings on them in regards to the upcoming season and how they connected together last year?

Marc Saez

I think the Patriots receiving corps has a lot of similarly talented players but no real standouts to rely on. Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers are all capable of chipping in and leading the way in any given week. Meyers was the most productive last season but I could see Bourne emerging as the top threat this season due to his speed and ability to make yards after the catch. Bourne had his moments last season and I felt he was pretty consistent over the second half of the year, so I can see him fulfilling your expectations in 2022 as Mac Jones' new No. 1 option.

Paul Perillo

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