Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Caserio's future, WR depth and more

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Nick Caserio’s contract is up in before the next football year starts. This means if he walks he takes with him all the Patriots thoughts on free agency and a heavy dose of the draft knowledge. If he is signed by the Pats, no problem. If not, his intimate knowledge would sabotage their plans for both free agency and the draft. If he hasn’t signed by the end of the season, how can they let him function in his current capacity? To me it seems that he would have almost no value to the team by playoff time. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to swing a deal with the Texans now rather than lose him for nothing? The Texans are in dire need of a GM, hello Jadeveon Clowney and Desahun Watson, and appear to share a mutual interest in Caserio. Houston should be drafting late so perhaps a second-round pick or a third this year and fourth next year would be acceptable to both parties.
David Brown

It looks like Caserio will be staying put this season in New England with last week’s news that the Texans are content to play out the season without a general manager. That could obvious still change, and truth be told I wouldn’t be stunned if the parties worked out a deal before the season. At this point that appears unlikely, however, and Caserio will remain with the team. I’m not overly concerned about that because I feel Caserio is a highly prepared professional who will do his job to the best of his ability. It will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick makes any changed to his responsibilities during the course of the season if Caserio does indeed intend to leave after the season. Caserio is normally very involved in on-field practice and is up in the booth talking to Belichick on game days. If some of these responsibilities are changed it could mean the Patriots know he’s leaving after the season and they will be preparing to replace him. But again, just because he is leaving doesn’t mean he can’t do his job. Doing a poor job intentionally wouldn’t be the best thing for Caserio’s career and he understands that. There are many layers to this story and it will be interesting to watch it play out this year.
Paul Perillo

I understand that the Patriots will hold joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans this summer. With Mike Vrabel and Matt Patricia, I get the close ties to BB and I know Bill has been doing this for years with various teams. How long ago did this approach first take hold? Was Bill the first coach to do so? Do all the teams in the league now do the same thing? Seems like a great strategy for Patriots staff to evaluate players and it gives players a better opportunity to show off their skills.
Rick Malec

Teams have been practicing together for as long as I can remember watching football, but I honestly couldn’t tell you which coach or team was the first to do it. Belichick used to tell us stories about his first year in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 when they would practice regularly with the Washington Redskins. I’m sure the practice goes back even further than that, but there’s no question teams have really made it a point to work together over the last decade plus. Coaches feel the nature of these practices are more beneficial than preseason games because they can control the tempo and create situations they feel are necessary to prepare for the season. Coaches work together to create an environment and script the day’s activities in a way that best prepares the teams for the season. Coaches also get the chance to look at opposing players, which is something Belichick has used to his advantage often over the years in terms of picking up lesser-known players from opposing teams. Most years pretty much every team participates in at least one set of joint practices assuming the logistics can be worked out. Last year the Patriots weren’t able to do it but this year there will be two sets so training camp should get a little extra jolt next month.
Paul Perillo

Hello and thanks for some great football talk during the excruciatingly slow offseason. It looks like the Patriots have a really good bunch of linebackers this year, and the down linemen remain a bit of an unknown at present. Do you foresee more of an emphasis on the 3-4 defensive alignment to take advantage of the abilities of the linebackers to get to the opposing quarterback and shore up against the run? I suspect, and camp will prove I think, that Chase Winovich will evolve into a down lineman whose style will be reminiscent of Rob Ninkovich.
Ian Hayes

The Patriots defense has always had the flexibility to employ a variety of looks up front and that will be the case once again this season. Depending on how one labels specific players, four and three-man fronts will once again be prevalent. As an example, John Simon could be considered a defensive end or a linebacker. The same could be said of Winovich. I look at both as linebackers but as you stated we’ll know more once we get to watch camp. The depth at linebacker has absolutely been upgraded with the return of Ja’Whaun Bentley and veteran Jamie Collins joining Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. That will provide a lot of flexibility for Belichick and the coaches to use in terms of front, blitzes and coverages underneath. I could see a lot of versatility with Hightower, Collins and Van Noy being used as rushers, in coverage and against the run. It will be one of the more interesting things to watch when camp starts next week.
Paul Perillo

What are the odds that Austin Seferian-Jenkins does get another chance with the Patriots if he decides to return to football? And if the Patriots are interested, would it hurt him to miss training camp considering he was new to the team?
Jason Bickel

I still haven’t heard anything definitive on Seferian-Jenkins’ personal issues that caused him to step away from football. If those issues are/will be resolved, then I could see the Patriots welcoming him back into the fold if they still felt the depth at tight end was lacking. But if the issues are still pending beyond training camp, then I’d say that would make it much less likely. Seferian-Jenkins needs some time on the field learning the system and it would be less likely that Belichick would want him if he’s unable to get on the field this summer. Obviously things can change if the season is underway and the offense is still lacking at tight end and Seferian-Jenkins is a candidate to return. But ideally Seferian-Jenkins would return in time to get some extensive work in camp if he is to return at all.
Paul Perillo

Why does everyone say Rob Gronkowski had a diminished role? He wasn’t thrown to as often because he was double covered a lot. He was a blocking machine in the run game all season. I saw him many times make a block to open the up a hole and then get upfield and block a linebacker, safety or DB while playing hurt. He made huge plays in many very pivotal games during the season. He made almost the exact same catch in the AFC Championship as the Super Bowl to set up the tying touchdown in the AFC Championship game and set up the only touchdown in the Super Bowl. I’m glad he retired and I think the tight ends that are currently on the roster have some unique talents.
Richard Abbott

People talking about Gronk’s diminished role last year are referencing the passing game. He finished with just 47 catches, which is the fewest he had in any full season since he was a rookie. His blocking was outstanding and he was a big part of the success enjoyed by the running game. He’s always been double teamed so that wasn’t really a factor in his lower-than-normal receptions total, and he was definitely dealing with some injuries that slowed him down as well. But it’s hard not to say that his role wasn’t diminished, especially in the second half of the season when he caught more than three passes in a game just once over the last eight games. He came up huge in the playoffs, as he normally does, and he was a big part of the team’s success – just not to the extent that he normally is. Replacing him is impossible and the Patriots don’t currently have much in the way of proven commodities at tight end at the moment.
Paul Perillo

What are your thoughts about the Patriots defense this year being better than the offense, at least early in the season? I just have this strange feeling that the offense will struggle but the defense will save the day._
Tom Blazejowski_

The defense should be the stronger of the two units this season based on the amount of proven talent returning on that side of the ball. There are questions at receiver and tight end on offense, but really every level of the defense has front line starters as well as some solid depth to turn to. Up front Michael Bennett replaced Trey Flowers and Mike Pennel replaced Malcom Brown. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins join Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy at linebacker while rookie Joejuan Williams and Duke Dawson are added to the secondary. Cornerback in particular appears to be quite deep with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones returning as well. The defense has a good mix of talent, experience, youth and depth, which should add up to a solid unit. As long as Tom Brady remains at the controls the offense will be fine, but it’s hard not to argue that the defense seems better positioned for success in 2019.
Paul Perillo

I know Demaryius Thomas is still recovering from his injury. I see him making the roster and starting on PUP. He brings another big body element to the offense. He definitely lost a step but is still very capable. What do you think of the Josh McDaniels playing him at tight end, having him against linebackers? Also as far as production what do you expect? Final thought imagine if all goes well we have Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Thomas, N’Keal Harry and Phillip Dorsett as receivers.
John Roy

I can see Thomas starting on PUP and we should find out if that is a possibility at some point next week. If he’s eligible for PUP he will have to open training camp on that list, and then we’ll wait to see how the summer goes and if he’s back on the field. PUP would be a reasonable option though. As for tight end, I’m not sure that makes much sense. Thomas is listed at 229 pounds, which is incredibly small for a tight end. Opposing defenses would certainly treat him as a wide receiver and would cover him with regular defensive backs so the matchups you envision would be hard to come by. It’s hard to imagine what to expect from him until we see him back on the field. The same could be said of Josh Gordon. If he’s reinstated then I’d expect him to build off his work from last year. But so far he hasn’t been so it’s tough wonder what the offense will look like. To me Harry is the key. If he can get up to speed quickly and become a reliable option on the outside, the pressure of wondering about Thomas’ health and Gordon’s status lessens greatly. We know Edelman and Harry are the only locks at receiver, but having a productive Harry would be a huge boost to the offense.
Paul Perillo

If Isaiah Wynn can’t stay healthy or doesn’t pan out at left tackle, what do you see as the Patriots contingency plan? To me this is New England’s biggest area of concern on the roster going into this season._
Sean Sturtevant_

Based on what we watched during the spring, the contingency plan would be for Joe Thuney to move outside from let guard to left tackle. That would likely mean Ted Karras, James Ferentz or perhaps rookie Hjalte Froholdt would step in at guard. Like Wynn, Thuney played tackle at a high level in college and he took all of his reps there during the spring. Wynn is progressing well from his torn Achilles and we’ll figure out his health status next week when camp opens. I’m operating under the assumption that he will be the starter at left tackle when the season begins until I see or hear otherwise.
Paul Perillo

Rumors out of San Francisco have it there’s a small chance that the 49ers move on from Jimmy Garoppolo if they don’t do well this season maybe for Kirk Cousins or someone else. While I realize that’s a long shot to happen would the Patriots bring him back or would it not be feasible financially?
Josh Winters

I don’t see that happening and it definitely won’t happen with Cousins taking his place unless some kind of trade can be made. Cousins’ contract is fully guaranteed and Garoppolo’s deal isn’t too cheap either. Those are just the financial reasons why it would be unlikely. More importantly I’d wonder why the Niners would want to cut bait with a guy they invested heavily in so quickly. He was injured early last year so basically you’d be saying you want to get rid of him after one season if things don’t go well. It’s not impossible, but I just can’t see that happening. Then you’d want the Patriots to take him if he failed so badly in his one and only full year as a starter. I never like to completely dismiss anything, but this scenario would seem pretty close to impossible.
Paul Perillo

There are those who theorize that Rob Gronkowski will return at some point midseason. Recent pictures reveal he has lost a lot of weight, though. One take is it’s proof he plans to stay retired. But the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if getting leaner is by specific design to restore the speed gear he lost last year, should he opt to return. Do you think Gronk could still be Gronk, but 30 lbs. lighter?
Charles Johnston

I have been asked about a potential return for Gronk pretty much every week this offseason and my answer has remained the same – non-committal, but the same. I don’t think he’s coming back but I won’t be shocked if he changes his mind at some point during the season. However, if he is in fact 30 pounds lighter, and I’m not sure he’s lost 30 pounds since last season, I don’t believe he can be nearly as effective at his position. Blocking and physicality is a huge part of his game. While he is deceptively fast for a man his size, it’s his strength and hands that separate him, not speed. So if he’s that much lighter it would stand to reason that he would lose a good portion of that advantage. Now, there’s no reason why he couldn’t decide to return in September, start working out to regain his football strength and return sometime in mid-November and be back to his beast-like ways. But to answer the specific question, I don’t believe he could be Gronk at 240 pounds.
Paul Perillo

Which division is the worst over the past 5 years, or even since 2010? And which have been the best? I did the math, and by wins, the East is a close second over 5 years and first since 2010. But everyone says it’s the easiest. Why do people think the AFC East is easy?
Gary Mattson

This is always a hot button topic for Patriots who sometimes believe that when people claim the AFC East is weak that it proves the Patriots aren’t as dominant as they appear. Obviously this is foolish because the Patriots have won six Super Bowls and last time I checked they didn’t beat any teams in the AFC East to win any of them. In fact, they only have one playoff win over the last 20 years against an AFC East opponent. So clearly New England’s success is not based solely on the division. That said, I do believe the division is weak and here’s why. Since 2001 when the Patriots shot atop the NFL, the other three AFC East teams have combined for six playoff wins, and they all belong to the Jets. None from Miami. None from Buffalo. The Bills have only made the playoffs once in that time and Miami just three times. Compare that to other divisions that have featured plenty of postseason success. The Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers have all been strong at various times. The Colts, Titans, Jags and Texans have also had some measure of postseason success. The Steelers and Ravens have won titles in that time. Meanwhile, the AFC East has just the Jets wins in 2010 (one against the Patriots) to show for this decade in the postseason. It’s not the Patriots fault that they have dominated the division to the extent they have, which has certainly hurt the others’ chances for success. But other divisions have been more competitive over the years.
Paul Perillo

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