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Patriots Mailbag: Making sense of the staff, Agholor in the slot and more

The Patriots coaching staff remains a huge topic of conversation in this week's mailbag.

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This isn't a question so much as an observation that it seems like many of us are sleeping on. In previous stops, Nelson Agholor played a solid percentage of his snaps in the slot, and actually had some success there. Last year for NE he only played 7.2 percent of his snaps in the slot. I suspect that now that we have some more talent on the outside, Agholor will slip inside a bit more. Not hearing a lot about this possibility, but without a clear slot guy in the traditional fold, Agholor may fill that void. Thoughts? - Joshua Kutts

Agholor has been mentioned often as a candidate to spend more time in the slot this season, along with Jakobi Meyers, who manned that spot last season and led the team with 83 catches. Whether he lines up in the slot or on the outside I'd like to see Agholor get more targets in the offense this season. He spoke earlier in the offseason about feeling more comfortable in the system and believing that will allow him to play faster as a result. If that's the case I feel he could be more valuable to Mac Jones in his second season. But definitely, you're right about the possibility of him getting more snaps in the slot, which should allow him to be more versatile in 2022.

Paul Perillo

Am I the only one concerned about some of the baggage Matt Patricia and Joe Judge bring back home with them? There is no shortage of stories about both of these guys having mouths writing checks that their butts can't cover (Top Gun reference worked in for the week!). They seem to rub a fairly large number of people the wrong way. Should we be concerned about this? - Ted Woody

While I do have some concerns about the overall makeup of the coaching staff, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, those concerns have little to nothing to do with the reputations of Judge or Patricia as head coaches. Both failed as head coaches for sure, and both ruffled more than a few feathers along the way. But the same could be said of Josh McDaniels from his time in Denver, where he is still despised in most corners. McDaniels came back and enjoyed a successful stint as offensive coordinator despite those struggles. So, I'm not really worried about how Judge and Patricia are viewed outside of New England. As long as they're able to fill their roles effectively that's the only thing that matters. Obviously, we'll still need to see if they will be effective in their roles this season, but time will tell.

Paul Perillo

After James White suffered a season ending hip injury and making a return to the Patriots this year on a one-year deal, do you think the Patriots will consider trading him if Ty Montgomery can fulfill the role of being a running back and a wide receiver? How does Pierre Strong fit into the crowded Patriots backfield? Will he be a depth player or will we see him share the backfield in some sort of rotation in the near future? - John Hermann

I don't think the Patriots would consider trading James White this season. If White is healthy, he almost certainly will fill the pass-catching role out of the backfield that he's manned so well throughout his career. If his hip isn't fully healthy, then my guess is he would either retire or wind up on some sort of injury list. It was a positive sign to see him in uniform and active for the first OTA session we got to watch on Monday. Montgomery's versatility definitely makes him a candidate to handle some of those roles as well as special teams. He's been used as a running back and receiver during his career and I see him filling more of the Brandon Bolden role in that regard. Strong has yet to suit up as a pro but I feel he has the skill set to replace White down the road, much like White replaced Shane Vereen many years ago. The pass-catching running back role has been an important one for the Patriots over the years and I expect that to continue.

Paul Perillo

QB Mac Jones
QB Mac Jones

How does the NFL determine when practice squads should be expanded? Ditto, time for the expansion of total NFL teams? - John Moore

The practice squads have expanded in recent seasons mostly due to the pandemic, which increased the likelihood of players being unavailable for a given week. The fact that the expansion seemed to work well may lead to the NFL continuing with those rules, but there haven't been any definitive answers to those questions as of yet. NFL expansion is probably something that will happen at some point, and there have been rumors of another team based in Texas, but nothing official has been discussed. I wouldn't expect to see anything in the near future but down the road (10 years maybe?) it wouldn't be surprising to see more teams added.

Paul Perillo

If you were to invest in a jersey this year besides Mac Jones who would you pick and why? - Darnell Harris

This is always a difficult question because free agency makes pretty much every player a short-term solution for their particular team. For the Patriots right now I have a few options that I'd consider. Kendrick Bourne looks like he's fitting in well in the offense. Maybe Hunter Henry as well. Matthew Judon could be a fit on defense. For a younger guy I'd try Kyle Dugger, who looks like part of the future. But the turnover on the roster each year makes it tough to project who may stick around for a while so it's not an easy question to answer.

Paul Perillo

Does Sam Roberts have a chance at making the roster and if so, does he have any chance of seeing any snaps? - Brady Huffman

The Patriots saw enough in Roberts to draft him so I'd say he definitely has a chance to stick around. He played exceptionally well in college but against a lower level of competition, so he will need to show the coaches he's capable of performing against the best. If he's able to do that, then the idea of his seeing snaps would become an option. Realistically as a sixth-round pick out of a Division II school Roberts probably projects as a practice squad candidate at this point, but I haven't even seen the guy play yet to that is extremely premature.

Paul Perillo

Do you think the Pats will bring in a few vets to look at as depth and security on the offensive line? I was a little concerned when Bill Belichick let a quality lineman like Shaq Mason go without someone on his radar but clearly he must think Cole Strange has more upside at this point. Does Yodny Cajuste or Justin Herron take that next step as solid role players or are we better off looking outside the organization? - Johnny Keough

Mason was traded because the team felt his contract wasn't worth keeping around, and they decided that Mike Onwenu and now Cole Strange were capable of taking his place. I'm not sure we'll be seeing veteran backup offensive linemen coming in to compete with the likes of Cajuste and Herron, as well as rookie draft picks Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber for roster spots. Cajuste and Herron have been around a few years now so they should be in position to man those reserve roles, and if the rookies beat them out then so be it. But the starting unit appears to be set, so I'm not expecting a veteran addition at this point.

Paul Perillo

WR Kendrick Bourne
WR Kendrick Bourne

With Vince Wilfork's induction to the Patriots Hall of Fame, it reminds me that the Patriots haven't had a monster nose tackle in the middle since Big Vince played for the team. Also, the run defense has been terrible the past few years. Has Bill shifted in his philosophy of having big brutes playing two gaps? These current guys are not getting things done against the run. - Andre Williams

I don't think the problems stopping the run have been due to a change in philosophy as much as a change in the caliber of players. Wilfork was an outstanding player, as were Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Ted Washington before him. Davon Godchaux and Carl Davis are big bodies on the inside who are asked to play in the two-gap style of their predecessors but they aren't as effective. Belichick has also used more four-man fronts so there has been some change to the way Belichick employs his defense. In the first part of the dynasty Belichick would use three big bodies like Seymour, Warren and Washington together to shut down the run. More recently he's had two-man combinations of Lawrence Guy and Godchaux together so there has been less bulk. Either way the level of play stopping the run has to improve.

Paul Perillo

With J.C Jackson moving on, some free agent signings and the drafting of several players to inject speed into our New England Patriots backfield I forgot about the potential second-year jumper that is safety Joshuah Bledsoe. What can you tell us about what he might bring to the table? What you have heard in regards to his progress and development and what might be expected of him this year? - Marc Saez

Bledsoe hasn't really been on the field during the time that we were allowed to watch practice so I don't have a great feel for his game. He was getting reps at safety at OTAs earlier in the week. Given the crowded depth chart at safety with Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers I'd say that if Bledsoe is able to make the team his role would be as a special teamer, much like Cody Davis. If he shows some promise, then perhaps he could emerge as a candidate on defense down the road.

Paul Perillo

I just want to know, given all the gloom and doom of people saying we have an old squad and aren't going to be able to compete with the opposition, is there a similar point in the Patriots history to now? I started supporting the Patriots after they lost to Chicago in 1985. Watched them for years going nowhere, until girls and beer took over my weekend pursuits. Came back to find I've missed two dynasties, are we back to where I started? - Lee Malpass

Wow, you've missed a lot. And I'd have to say during the time you were away there really haven't been many times when the expectations haven't been higher than they are right now. I'd say it was similar in 2020, the first year after Tom Brady left, when many folks weren't too optimistic about the Patriots as a playoff team. I'd say the story this year has been more positive than that, mostly due to the presence of a young quarterback in Mac Jones. But certainly since the Patriots broke through and won it all in 2001 the expectations have generally been higher than they are at the moment.

Paul Perillo

LB/Edge Josh Uche
LB/Edge Josh Uche

With the Pats needing cap space, do you see Isaiah Wynn getting signed to a long-term deal to push out some of his salary and make some room? Do you believe he will have any competition? - Eric Daigle

I'm not sure the team is ready to invest long term in Wynn. Perhaps if he's able to stay healthy and perform at a high level this season things might change, but given his inconsistent availability and play, I don't think the Patriots would want to extend him for any significant money right now. Belichick drafted some young linemen last month and it's certainly possible that one of them will emerge as a potential replacement for Wynn at some point. Best case scenario would be for Wynn to overcome the injury bug and eliminate the inconsistency that has plagued him and then sign an extension to remain the left tackle for the foreseeable future.

Paul Perillo

What is your take on the Patriots linebacker corps? Also why didn't the Patriots draft a linebacker or get an undrafted linebacker such as Jaquez Jackson from Georgia Tech? Wouldn't you say that he would be a good addition to the linebacker corps? - Travarius Jones

I think it's pretty clear that the Patriots feel good about some of the young linebackers on the roster who haven't seen much playing time thus far. I would say I'm cautiously optimistic in that regard. I think Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins have shown potential to fill roles in 2022. But the bottom line is players like Cameron McGrone, Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan have yet to play for the Patriots so they're unknowns at this point. But the answer to the question about why they didn't draft one is simple: they think what they have is better than what was available.

Paul Perillo

A lot has been made of Mac Jones' development without an offensive coordinator/play caller named. But the Pats have Brian Hoyer as the primary backup. Seems to me he would have an amazing knowledge of the Patriots offense. Given his years of experience, why are we not hearing more of his role in the development of Mac Jones? - Ali Oktay

Hoyer has been in the Patriots system for many years and there's no doubt in my mind that he has helped Jones' development. But Hoyer is also a player first and his top priority has to be to best prepare himself to play. He has said many times that he prepares to be the starter and knows no other way to approach things. So, asking him to do that while also mentoring Mac Jones is asking a lot. He's not a coach and he shouldn't be asked to serve as one unless he feels it's time to retire. Bill Belichick has often said that it's hard enough to play, so I expect Hoyer to continue to focus on himself while providing a sounding board for Jones along the way.

Paul Perillo

With all our concerns over the staff and/or their assignments in the upcoming year do you think it's kind of a tactical redirection trying to make the rest of the league almost think it's an area of weakness or should we have some real concerns? I am not that concerned. Bill Belichick has always put the right people in the right spots for what's best for the team. So, there's no hardcore titles … who cares as long as the work is delegated and the team is getting stronger by any means necessary? - Paul DiGiorgio

I'm not sure why people believe this is in any way a tactical decision on Belichick's part. Why would any team worry about how the Patriots staff is structured? Regardless of the identity of the Patriots offensive coordinator/play caller teams won't have any experience to study because Joe Judge, Nick Caley and Matt Patricia have never called plays on offense. In terms of concerns, I would agree that as long as players know what's going on there shouldn't be too much to worry about. But just because there's a plan in place doesn't mean it will work. There's concern from many people (myself included) because there isn't much experience on the offensive side of the ball and with a young quarterback that doesn't seem to be a great option.

Paul Perillo

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