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Patriots Mailbag: Searching for OL mix, prepping Maye and more

Lots of offensive line questions in this week's Patriots mailbag.


With the drafting of Layden Robinson this year and two guards last year, it seems like Cole Strange has been put on notice. With next year never a guarantee with David Andrews do you think it would be worth it and do you think the Pats would be willing to try Strange at center? He seems to have the right build and the necessary athleticism to play the position. Depth behind Andrews is pretty thin so it feels like they would have nothing to lose to try him at center if he loses his starting spot at guard.
Eric A

I agree that the multiple draft picks being spent on interior linemen over the past two years is likely an indication that the coaching staff isn't sold on the current starters. The guard positions (assuming Mike Onwenu remains at right tackle, as he indicated recently) haven't been solidified and the overall performance of the offensive line in general hasn't been up to par. So, it's a pretty good bet that Eliot Wolf and the coaches are trying to add some competition to the mix and aren't sold on any of the options just yet – including Strange. But in the short term I feel the concern with Strange is more about his health and when he'll be ready to go physically. He injured his knee on December 18 and may not be fully ready to go at the start of training camp, or even into the season. To be fair he also hasn't played as well as the coaches would like, which is evidenced by the fact that he was in and out of the lineup at various times during his two seasons. So, adding Robinson and veteran Nick Leverett, to go along with Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi and Jake Andrews from last year's draft, provides some competition for those guard spots. Let the best players emerge through training camp, and if Strange is ready to be part of that competition, then that makes it an even stronger field. If Strange isn't good enough to be one of the guards, I find it tough to think he'd be a better option at center, but players switch positions all the time so I wouldn't rule it out. I feel like it's an issue with his size and play strength, and while that can be mitigated to an extent at center I still feel if he's not good enough to beat out the competition at guard then I would think there would be a better option at center as well.

Do you think Cole Strange could be moved to a tackle position? He seems to have the measurements and athletic traits.
Charles Stone

Patriots G Cole Strange (69)
Patriots G Cole Strange (69)

We come out of the chute with a pair of Strange questions … see what I did there? OK, it was just a joke. Eric wants to move Strange inside to center while Charles thinks moving outside to tackle is the answer. As I said already I'd rather just keep Strange where he is at guard and hope for a return to health and improved play as a result. But if a transition is to take place then I would think the move to center would make more sense than tackle. Strange's best quality is his athleticism and his biggest weakness is size/strength. Those traits would seem to point more toward moving to center effectively than moving to tackle. At 6-5, 310 he has the actual size to perform at any of the three positions, although 310 is a tad light for tackle. But it's the strength that would be more of a concern to me as Strange can sometimes struggle with power rushers and he would see more talented opponents in this regard playing on the outside. But the most important thing to me when it comes to Strange is his health. If he can get back to full strength he should get every opportunity to earn a starting job at left guard once again.

Do you think there is a good chance that all eight picks will make the original roster?
Robert Freeman

I don't see that happening and honestly I'm not sure it would be a great sign if it did. There are obviously exceptions and maybe this draft class is just so talented that all eight players are better than what is already here, but I'm not counting on that. Starting at the top, and assuming everyone is healthy, Drake Maye, Ja'Lynn Polk and Caedan Wallace are all locks to make the opening roster. Layden Robinson is pretty close to that level as well, and Javon Baker will have every opportunity to supplant someone (Tyquan Thornton?) at receiver. From there things get much trickier. Marcellas Dial, Joe Milton and Jaheim Bell will have to show something significant to stick around on the active roster. Bell may have the best shot of that trio given his position (tight end) isn't overly deep. If he shows some ability he could earn the third tight end spot. Milton's future is likely tied to Bailey Zappe. If the Patriots move Zappe, then there would be an open roster spot if Jerod Mayo opted to go that way. Milton could also find a role on the practice squad as he continues to develop. Dial will be in a battle with other young corners like Alex Austin, Isaiah Bolden, Shaun Wade as well as safeties Joshuah Bledsoe and Brenden Schooler looking for roles on special teams. It's hard to envision all eight finding spots on the opening day roster but given the lack of overall depth on the team it's not impossible.

Here is a letter for you from Hungary. Many things were said and analyzed about the new offensive stuff and about the new players. But let me drag your attention to the defense. Will the defense be as good again? From a player point of view no major changes happened, but the staff is quite refreshed here as well. My gut feeling is that we will miss the Belichicks. Yes, with an S at the end of it, Steve Belichick will be missed much when the D will study the opponent. Bill Belichick was also a master of studying the opposite offense and killing their best options to win. We are going to face plenty of good quarterbacks and I can only hope that DeMarcus Covington will pay as much attention to the details as his predecessors. What are your thoughts about the defense, especially the preparing process for an opponent?
Imre Fejes

I think you have some legitimate concerns when it comes to the defense. Losing the coaching expertise of Bill Belichick I feel has been an undersold element of the offseason when it comes to the defense. As a unit I feel the group did pretty well last year and I feel a lot of that was due to Belichick's ability to scheme for opponents and cover up the weaknesses where his personnel was lacking. I feel the whole of the group was better than the individual parts largely because of that preparation and game-planning that he brought to the table and there's no way of knowing if the unit will be negatively impacted in his absence. Steve Belichick also did a good job of dialing up the right plays at the right time and we won't know if there will be a void in that area as well. I feel the defense will be OK without the Belichicks, but I am expecting a drop-off of some sort because I have so much respect for what Bill Belichick in particular brought to the table. We'll see if Jerod Mayo and Covington can offer a similar level of performance so that the group doesn't miss a beat. But that's a big if.

My big question is by position group is the team better than last year? Is Jacoby Brisset better than Mac Jones? The offensive line is probably worse without Trent Brown. RBs worse without Zeke Elliott. TE better. WR slightly better. Defense better based off of returning injured guys. I think they are better in many positions. Probably not better at coach? You?
Chris Mooney

Pretty tough to gauge most of the positions at this point since we've yet to see any of the players actually out on the field. But I will go position by position and do my best. Starting with quarterback, I'd say it's tough to say as Brissett is a journeyman backup, but Jones is coming off a pretty awful season. Brissett's experience should provide better quarterback play than Jones did, but that's a marginal difference at best. Obviously having a young quarterback like Drake Maye to develop makes the group itself better than a year ago, but he may not play as a rookie. I think the running back room is about the same as last year with Antonio Gibson replacing Elliott, which in my view is a wash. Gibson's pass catching ability is a plus over Elliott's experience. Tight end is also roughly the same with Austin Hooper replacing Mike Gesicki behind Hunter Henry. An argument could be made that losing Pharoah Brown as the third tight end represents a net loss, but that would be minimal. The wide receiver group should be better with a pair of rookies in Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker, assuming they pan out. Kendrick Bourne, K.J. Osborn and DeMario Douglas should join them while Tyquan Thornton and JuJu Smith-Schuster among others fight for roster spots. Losing DeVante Parker shouldn't have much of an impact. The offensive line remains in flux and with Trent Brown gone there is no true left tackle. Rookie additions Caedan Wallace and Layden Robinson may need to contribute immediately in order for this unit to improve. On defense, the front loses Lawrence Guy, but Keion White should see an increase in playing time. Otherwise, the group is largely the same. The linebackers are also quite similar with Matthew Judon, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Anfernee Jennings and Joshua Uche all returning, while the secondary loses Myles Bryant but otherwise is intact. Overall, roughly the same personnel but with an enormous change in coaching as Bill and Steve Belichick are no longer here to lead the group. It remains to be seen how much of an impact losing four-plus decades of coaching experience has on the defense. There's no way to measure how much of their success was based on quality game-planning and play-calling, but we shall see.

I believe our left tackle situation is pathetic. We really don't have one. I didn't want Trent Brown re-signed because to me he was a part-time player. He plays a few good games, others he's indifferent and the rest he's injured. It looks like Chuks Okorafor, who, I believe, has only played right tackle in the NFL (and was cut by Pittsburgh) or Caedan Wallace, a rookie right tackle are the primary options for left tackle. Or should we expect Vederian Lowe, Tyrone Wheatley or Calvin Anderson to emerge as the next Matt Light or Nate Soldier? One of these guys is going to protect our rookie franchise QB's blind side. This is a total failure on Eliot Wolf's part. I have a message for Drake Maye: "Look out, incoming."
Badax Michaud

Patriots T Chukwuma Okorafor (77)
Patriots T Chukwuma Okorafor (77)

Not really a question here but rather a rant about the lack of proven options at left tackle. Can't really argue against that point as both Okorafor and Wallace have played exclusively on the right side. That said, I believe that one of them should emerge as a viable left tackle – likely Wallace – and that Alex Van Pelt's system won't rely as much on pure pass blocking to hold up but rather will incorporate some moving pockets and misdirection in an effort to help out with protection. That should especially be the case once Drake Maye enters the lineup as his mobility is one of his strong suits. But again, I can't really argue with your main point – not landing a proven left tackle remains the team's biggest problem.

Am I wrong or is it worth taking a shot at either Justin Simmons or Stephon Gilmore? How about both to one-year deals? They have the money and drafted mostly offense. Maybe Gilmore does not want to come back but he can still play and knows the system. Insurance policy to help Gonzalez get up to speed. He is basically still a rookie. Simmons would provide veteran leadership with the loss of Devin McCourty. Both are on the plus side of the age of 30 but can have a major impact and leadership on a really good defense. Your thoughts?
John LaFond

I'd be interested in either player, especially Gilmore considering the lack of depth at cornerback. I'd also be willing to give them decent money on short-term (one year) deals if either were interested. But that last part is probably the toughest: Would either of them be interested in signing with a team that isn't expected to be a factor in the playoffs? My guess is no, and that would be particularly true of Gilmore. I haven't followed either of them during the offseason close enough to know why they are still available at this point, but my feeling is they are waiting to see if a contender needs some secondary depth and would be willing to pay a little bit more in the event of an injury or something of that nature. But yes, on paper I feel both would provide some experience in the secondary and would make sense for a team looking to create a new culture.

Is the offensive playbook and systems under Alex Van Pelt completely different than the prior 23 years? Do we know that now? It's intriguing in my view, given there's a lot of new players on offense and a new offensive system, that even the existing players like David Andrews, DeMario Douglas, Hunter Henry etc don't know. If that system is indeed fully new, it's going to be a bit turbulent into October. At least. It's good if at least Jacoby Brissett knows it from Cleveland.
Jim K.

Yes, Van Pelt's offense is entirely different from the one the Patriots have used for the entirety of the Bill Belichick era. Van Pelt likes to move the quarterback and take shots downfield off hard play action looks and uses a variety of run schemes which he relies heavily upon. Primarily it's a lot of outside zone looks but he will also use gap runs and play traditional power football as well. One of the main tenets he spoke about was his belief in running the football, so that alone will be a change from the vast majority of what the Patriots have done for the most part. It will be an adjustment for the entire offense, but that would be the case regardless with a change in coaching. Brissett does have some experience in the system from Cleveland but it will take some time for the offense to develop for sure.

With a brutal schedule and low expectations as we rebuild and create a winning nucleus around our next Pro Bowl quarterback, if the wins don't happen and we are back at/near top of draft. How would you feel about possibility of sending No. 1 or 2 to the Cowboys (self-inflicted cap hell) so they can draft Shedeur Sanders (with Deion's approval - of course) in exchange for Micah Parsons and two No. 1s?
David Kenny

If the Patriots wind up with the first or second overall pick in 2025 and Dallas wants to trade Parsons and two first-round picks for it I would make that deal as quickly as possible. Even if Dallas' pick was in the 20s (assuming the Cowboys make the playoffs), I would take Parsons and the picks in a blink. Of course I don't see Dallas being willing to trade Parsons or move on from Dak Prescott (don't be fooled by an apparent lack of cap space). But that's a trade I'd definitely make if I were in charge of the Patriots.

Why haven't the Patriots invested in one of the top two remaining free agent left tackles just in case their plan doesn't work there? I doubt they've seen enough of the players they already have in-house but better players such as Donovan Smith and David Bakhtiari won't be available forever. What do you think the hold-up is for getting a legit left tackle veteran just in-case?
D. Favreau

We're almost through the month of May and those two players are still available now so I don't see why the Patriots should feel they won't be available much longer. Why not see how Chuks Okorafor and Caedan Wallace look at left tackle before signing a veteran, particularly one with the injury history of Bakhtiari? My guess is the injuries have a lot to do with why Bakhtiari is still available in the first place, although he has said that he intends to keep playing. If the in-house candidates don't look like viable options coming out of the offseason camps, then maybe the Patriots brass will revisit the possibility of adding to the depth chart. But Smith and Bakhtiari come with a lot of questions themselves, which is why they're on the open market at this late stage. Smith would likely be the better option at this point and conceivably would add to the competition on the left side. It would make some sense to try to add depth for sure.

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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