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Patriots Mailbag: Finding a spot for Boutte, getting the O-Line healthy and more roster talk

With cuts looming just a week away, lots of roster talk highlights this week's mailbag.

Boutte-2022-Mailbag-16x9 copy

Do you think Kayshon Boutte will make the roster following his performances in the most recent practices? - Ori Marcus

I think it's still early to make any final determinations but to this point I haven't seen much consistency from Boutte. He got off to a slow start, then missed a practice, and still appeared a step behind when he returned. More recently there were signs of increased production, especially in the joint practices with Green Bay and then with a terrific touchdown catch in the Packers game. But he has not been at the consistent level that we've seen from fellow rookie Demario Douglas. Boutte doesn't have the same type of explosiveness to his route running, and although he's shown good hands during the practices we haven't seen many impactful plays. Again, there is still some time for things to change but his abundant playing time against Houston and Green Bay at times in the game where many of the so-called regulars on offense either didn't play or didn't see much time likely means he still has some work to do if he's going to earn a roster spot. He is definitely trending in the right direction, however, and Tyquan Thornton's recent injury could help in that regard as well.

Why did the Patriots not re-sign Damien Harris? What happened to the fullback position? Where's the beef? - Joe Sepko

This is a great question considering the trouble the Patriots have had finding a replacement for Harris. I think Harris and the Patriots both felt it was better for each side to move on. As the 2022 season continued it was apparent that Rhamondre Stevenson had emerged as the team's No. 1 back, and it's possible that Harris wasn't happy with that. Harris also dealt with some injuries that kept him out of the lineup down the stretch last season and it's possible the Patriots weren't happy with that. So, Harris decided to leave as a free agent and the Patriots moved on. The modest contract (roughly $1.7 million) Harris signed in Buffalo would indicate the Patriots easily could have retained him if they wanted to, but my guess is neither side was interested in that and now Ezekiel Elliott is Stevenson's backup. As for fullback, the Patriots wanted to move away from that position to avoid being predictable. When the fullback was on the field in the past it almost always meant the Patriots would be running the ball and they felt moving away from that would be the best course of action. We'll see if that changes with Bill O'Brien.

Do you think that rookie first-round pick Christian Gonzalez has shown enough in preseason so far to fill us all with confidence that he will be an NFL caliber lockdown corner at some point in his career, and can you also tell me if it is possible from a coaching perspective to teach the physical aspect of the game to a young player so they can compete and deal with the "grown man" strength and violence of professional football or do you believe that this is something that you either have or do not have to your game and cannot be taught? - Marc Saez

I feel Gonzalez has the skillset in terms of size, speed and athleticism to be a quality cover corner in the league. Does that translate into a lockdown corner? Way too early to say either way at this point. There aren't many true lockdown corners in the league and in general they tend to vary from year to year in terms of consistency. But I feel Gonzalez has the necessary tools to develop along those lines. As for his physicality, I'm not sure that's a trait that can be taught. Obviously the coaches can focus on various areas and players can improve, but it's hard to imagine a player who isn't physical suddenly becoming Rodney Harrison in the secondary. Gonzalez can be physical at the line in terms of his press coverage techniques and that will be more than enough for him to succeed. He doesn't need to be a punishing tackler to do that. He'll have his ups and downs as a rookie but overall I've been impressed with him to this point and I feel he will only get better with experience.

Patriots wide receivers.
Patriots wide receivers.

Regarding the Pats wide receiver room, I have two takes. 1. The projected starting three (JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne) if put together two or three years ago would have been looked at as one of the best WR rooms in the league. Have these three really fallen that far that they are truly the 27th WR corps in the NFL? 2. Do you see a real possibility that the Pats keep six WRs? Parker, JuJu and Bourne are pretty much locks. I'd assume so are Tyquan Thornton and Demario Douglas. Kayshon Boutte is the wild card in my opinion. I'm hearing good stuff but I don't know if it's good enough to make the roster, but practice squad for sure. But can you see Boutte making himself valuable enough to force them to put him on the 53? - Ken Sady

Lots of different aspects to this post but I will try not to get too bogged down in semantics. First, I don't agree that a trio of Smith-Schuster, Parker and Bourne would have been considered all that differently two or three years ago than it is today. Both Parker and Smith-Schuster have dealt with a lot of injuries during their careers, and that was the case two or three years ago for both as well. Smith-Schuster had a monster year with over 1,400 receiving yards in 2018 and hasn't come anywhere near that total since. Parker is productive when he's on the field but tends to miss a handful of games each year. That was the case again last year in New England. Bourne was a complementary piece in San Francisco three years ago and during his two seasons with the Patriots that seems to be where he fits here as well. So overall they are three solid, capable receivers but I don't think at their best anyone would confuse them with say Cincinnati, Miami or Philadelphia in terms of top trios. Now, 27th? I would agree that seems too low. If Mac Jones improves this group should be able to make some plays. As for the depth chart, I agree with your top five (although I don't call anyone but JuJu and Parker locks, and that's only because they just signed contracts). I expect that group to stick and Boutte likely to head to the practice squad. If he continues to emerge as he's done lately, perhaps Bill Belichick will deem it too risky to try to squeeze him through waivers and keep him, at least in the short term. The Patriots have kept six wideouts in the past, and given the lack of depth at running back and tight end it's possible we see that again.

If the Patriots have a disaster year this year, say they go 5-12, would this be Bill Belichick's third and final strike, in lieu of his letting go Tom Brady and hiring Matt Patricia/Joe Judge to run the offense last year? - Mark Harrington

I'm not sure about any strikes but if the Patriots go 5-12 in 2023 it is certainly possible that the team would be looking for a new coach next season. There are a lot of factors that enter into that equation such as injuries that might make the record deceiving, and if that were the case it's possible that Belichick would stick around. I don't think it's a black and white issue when you're dealing with a coach that has had as much success in the past as Belichick has. But without question if the record is that poor it will be a conversation worth having.

I like Fred's hatred for the Jets and I also agree about how the Jets are going in implode. I feel the same way toward Buffalo. I think the Bills are our biggest rivals and the Jets are always going to be the Jets and do Jets things during the season. - Jared Leeper

This seems to be the mantra among many Patriots fans this season. Hopefully the other teams will fall apart and disappoint. I'd feel much better listening to theories indicating how the Patriots will be more successful than many think based on the talent the team has and how it stacks up against various opponents. Instead, it's all about how the Jets will screw it up because they're the Jets. Not exactly the most convincing argument and not one that instills a lot of confidence for the 2023 season. Personally I'm watching the offense develop and I'm hoping they can continue along that road and improve their production, which will lead to more wins.

From what I've been reading the Patriots are very thin, especially at guard. Do you know if they've considered Dalton Risner? He's better than a lot of their current personnel. Is it money or they're happy where they're at? - Michael Veronesi

Risner is currently a free agent and at 28 he likely still has plenty of good seasons left. There have been reports that some teams have shown interest, including Dallas, Indy and Chicago, but thus far he remains unsigned. There have also been reports indicating he plans to retire but those have not been proven to be accurate. So, I'd say Risner is a player who could help a struggling offensive line. However, the Patriots problems up front are more about tackle than guard. Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu have missed time due to injury but are expected to be back at some point and are considered a solid tandem. If Belichick chooses to use Onwenu at tackle, there are a lot of candidates to fill in at guard such as Riley Reiff and Atonio Mafi. So, while I feel Risner is a solid player I'm not sure he fixes the problems the Patriots have on the outside.

Would free agent Jason Peters be an option? - Rick Meyer

Peters has enjoyed an excellent career as a tackle for a long time with nine Pro Bowls on his resume. But he is 40 years old and wants to play his 20th NFL season and is coming off a terrible year in 2022. At this point he seems to be pretty close to done, and I'm not sure he represents an upgrade over anyone on the Patriots roster. I'm all for exploring all options but at this stage Peters doesn't seem like a viable one.

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) and offensive line.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) and offensive line.

After watching Mac Jones play in the preseason, it appears to me that he has worked hard on reading the defense and getting the ball out as quickly as possible. But the offensive line – especially left tackle – still isn't giving him enough time. How in the world are the Pats going to fix their OL problems? - Sandy Bucknam

The offensive line is struggling with injuries and inconsistency for sure but there is still time for some of the missing pieces to return. If Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu can get back on the field healthy, with Trent Brown and David Andrews, that would make four of the five spots set. Those four have proven to be capable players and that should improve things dramatically over what has been the case thus far this summer. The other tackle spot could then be a competition among several plays including Conor McDermott, Sidy Sow, Riley Reiff and perhaps Calvin Anderson, who is reportedly getting closer to returning after spending training camp on the non-football illness list. But assuming the four starters – Brown, Strange, Andrews and Onwenu – are healthy, Mac Jones should have more than enough time to be successful.

Love the show and the pre and postgame shows I never miss. I keep going over the schedule and I have a really tough time coming up with more than five or six wins this year. Is the consensus at PFW the team will compete for a playoff spot? - Robert Connors

There's no question the Patriots face a difficult schedule this season. The addition of Aaron Rodgers makes the Jets more formidable and the Bills and Dolphins have already been tough to deal with. Add in Philadelphia, Dallas, the Giants, Chiefs and Chargers and there are a lot of playoff teams from a year ago to deal with. But games aren't played on paper and we've seen many times in the league that what happens one year doesn't necessarily translate to the same results the next. I also think the Patriots offense will be improved in 2023 and that could make the difference in some of these games against quality opponents. I expect the Patriots to be competitive and find ways to win some games that at this point we're not expecting. How many overall wins that translates to remains to be seen, but I can envision the team being in the playoff race as we get to December. But I admit, it won't be easy.

I think the Patriots find a way for both Kayshon Boutte and Malik Cunningham on the final 53-man roster. My question is how? - Joe Breault

Roster manipulations are always possible but it depends on how Bill Belichick wants to structure things. So, assuming DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton and Demario Douglas are pretty close to roster locks, keeping both Boutte and Cunningham will be tough. However, Thornton is injured and it's possible that he could wind up on injured reserve to start the year, opening up a spot. Belichick has kept six wide receivers in the past, in fact he's done so several times although not recently. So, he could keep Cunningham as a wide receiver/special teams player who could be used as a quarterback at times as well. Belichick might find value in that, and rather than keep an extra tight end or running back he may opt for the receivers. It all depends on how the coach wants to divide up the talent, but anything is possible. For the record, I don't see both Boutte and Cunningham sticking if Thornton is healthy enough to start the season on the active roster.

Team photographers David Silverman and Eric J. Adler present their favorite photos from the Patriots preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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