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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Looking for LBs, kicking problems and more

Plenty of roster-related questions in this week's mailbag.


Ja'Whaun Bentley is a thumper, akin to Brandon Spikes. He's not a Jerod Mayo type but is being asked to be one. Whilst I think a pass rusher (Josh Uche?) needs to step up, LB is a need I'd like to see targeted via trade (alongside WR). If we're going to play a nickel/dime as standard, our solo LB needs to be able to cover a RB in space or stop a QB running. Bentley is a decent player but Russell Wilson picked up chunks when we saw him spying him. Who are realistic trade targets for us to get to stop that going forward?
Leeds, UK

I agree with you that depth at linebacker is a problem. I also agree that I feel the coaches are asking a lot of Bentley, who may be better suited for early downs rather than an every down role. But he also is an improving player and should get more comfortable playing in space as he gains more experience doing so. The fact that Wilson had success should not be looked at as a huge negative for Bentley. Wilson does that to everybody … that's why he's one of the best players in the entire league. That said, I don't think having Bentley covering backs in space and working underneath zones is a great idea. I'd like to see what Uche might be able to provide in that department if he ever gets healthy enough to carve out a role. At this point his rookie season looks like a wash since he will be on IR for at least the next two games and has yet to play. I expect the Patriots to look at some available personnel in the front seven and perhaps find some experienced options who might be able to allow the coaches to avoid having to play with six and seven defensive backs while trying to stop the run. The Raiders turnovers greatly impacted Sunday's game, because prior to the miscues Josh Jacobs was enjoying plenty of success on the ground. It's tough to combat good running games with lighter personnel all the time, and Bill Belichick knows this better than anyone. Specific names of players available are tough to pinpoint, but there are always options and I wouldn't be surprised to see Belichick find one.
Paul Perillo

I'm writing this before the Raiders game so maybe the guy will prove me wrong. Sony Michel is a bust. The guy cannot break though mere arm tackles, he gets only what his blockers clear space for him and not an inch more. I cringe every down he is in the huddle. Damien Harris is back soon, but who is released when he is ready, hope it isn't J.J. Taylor?
Corky Decker

You wrote this before the Raiders game so I won't use hindsight here other than to point out Michel's two long runs against Vegas. I also don't necessarily disagree with your overall assessment, although I'm not ready to cut bait with Michel just yet. I still think he has some ability and I'm intrigued by his inclusion in the passing game against the Raiders. This is what we saw from Michel during his days at Georgia. So, I'm not going to get too carried away with his 117-yard effort on Sunday but at the same time depth is necessary in the backfield, especially for a team that seems built on the running game this season. All three games have featured a run-heavy approach in the game plan and twice that plan has worked quite well. In order to continue to pound the ball, the Patriots will need production from everyone and inevitably there will be injuries at the position. This is a long way of saying I don't believe any running backs will be let go when Harris is activated – all will be needed at some point.
Paul Perillo

Could you tell me what it is the coaches see in N'Keal Harry because I don't see him as a first-round draft pick. He doesn't have speed or separation and can't avoid or break a tackle after the catch. Against Seattle, D.K. Metcalf was streaks ahead of him. Keep up the great work.
Grant Tedro
Sydney, Australia

Harry is definitely still a work in progress. You ask what the coaches see in him and I feel the answer to that is obvious: size, strength and physicality. Admittedly we haven't see those traits used on the field often during his year-plus in New England, but it's apparent when he does get opportunities that he has some ability to make plays. He needs to get tougher – both physically and mentally. He showed some positive signs late in the Seattle game, and then he made a nice run after a catch against the Raiders late in the game to pick up 27 yards. Now we need to see him develop into a consistent threat and maybe the passing game can develop some cohesion as the season progresses.
Paul Perillo

What do you guys think Dalton Keene's role will be this season? Looking at the TE unit, we have a pretty young squad, with Ryan Izzo the only one with prior NFL experience. I know Keene has been limited due to injury but I'm very excited to see him play this year.
John Galbreath

I honestly have no idea what to expect from Keene because it seemed like the Patriots were using him in a number of different ways during training camp. He lined up at tight end, as an H-back in the slot and as a fullback in the backfield at different times. Obviously his neck injury has kept him off the field thus far, and unfortunately for a rookie that likely means we won't see much of him this season. It's very tough for young players to miss significant time early and still make a huge impact when the return. Hopefully he can get back on the field and provide another option as a versatile piece to the puzzle. I just think it might be a while before we get to see if that will be the case.
Paul Perillo

Isn't a significant weakness of the Patriots running game the absence of the big back who pushes the pile and makes his own holes? The Pats have a great history of those guys -- Jim Nance, Sam Cunningham, Craig James, Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon and LeGarrette Blount. I don't see any pile drivers there now: Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, J.J. Taylor (the latest iteration of Danny Woodhead). When he comes back, Damien Harris isn't that, either. Probably the closest thing to a power back is Burkhead. And at the end of the game, Seattle knew that if the Pats attempted to bang it in, it would be Cam Newton with the ball.
Ken Howes

This one is difficult to answer because I really don't believe today's NFL has a great need for the big power backs of yesterday. Smith and Dillon were instrumental parts of the offense, but that was nearly 20 years ago in a much different offense. Blount was a role player and really was never a big part of any postseason success (other than against the Colts), so his presence did little in the biggest games. I also feel like you answered your own question with your reference to Newton. Yes, Seattle knew Newton was keeping the ball on the last play. But it seems like you wish there was a power back (Leonard Fournette?) lined up in the backfield who could have potentially punched it in. But wouldn't Seattle know this "pile driver" was getting the ball as well? I think Newton's unique ability to serve as a power runner allows the Patriots to have great success in short yardage, which was a problem in the playoffs last season. So I totally understand your point about the stature of the Patriots current runners, but I don't view it as much of a factor. Newton can move the pile when needed, and honestly I don't feel that need exists all that often. Most teams win with speed to the perimeter, which the Patriots did very well against the Raiders. But I will keep this one in mind as the season progresses and we will likely revisit this topic if short-yardage becomes a problem as Newton continues to be the focal point.
Paul Perillo

Are we going to look for another field goal kicker? He lost that Seattle game because of his missed 6 points would have been a win.
Patricia Rose

It would appear at this point that Belichick is satisfied with Nick Folk as his kicker. Last week he stated emphatically that Folk was the guy when asked to assess the kicking situation. That could change since Folk added a missed PAT against the Raiders to his pair of field goal misses in the first two weeks. As far as the Seattle game goes, yes it's true that had Folk made the earlier field goal the Patriots conceivably could have had Folk kick another one at the end of the game and won. But that assumes a lot of other factors remained unchanged. The way the game unfolded would have been different had the Patriots had three additional points on the board. And missing from 51 yards isn't exactly cause for dismissal. That said I do believe Belichick has to be getting close to decision time with his kicker. Folk's range seems to be an issue as the Patriots have gone for a couple of fourth downs instead of kicking 45-ish-yard field goals, and at some point that will cost the team in the long run.
Paul Perillo

With players eligible to come off IR this week and one open spot, I guess the two guys brought up last week will revert to the practice squad and all three will be activated if fit? Beau Allen and Gunner Olszewski seem like no brainers, the only one that could be in any doubt is Damien Harris. If James White returns, do they need 5 RBs active? Maybe Bill likes the open spot for flexibility and a future comeback?
Len Carmody

I actually think the no-brainer here is activating Harris. I feel like the coaches were high on him during camp and were eager to get him some work as the lead ball carrier. Then he got hurt and had to wait his turn. Assuming he is healthy enough, I'd expect him to be activated and at the very least split carries with Michel to start. Allen and Olszewski are less certain in my view. Allen would fill an obvious need up front with Lawrence Guy and Byron Cowart to help with the inconsistent run defense. But we haven't seen Allen at all, so that tells me whatever injury he's dealing with must be significant and he will likely need some practice time before being activated. Players coming off IR can practice for 21 days before a decision needs to be made. Olszewski could step in as the punt returner, but would he represent an upgrade over Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd, N'Keal Harry or Jakobi Meyers as a receiver at this point? I'm not sure he would, and I'm also not sure of his health status at the moment either. I think Byrd has done a fine job as the punt returner, so I don't feel there is any urgency to get him back in the lineup at this point. But you know injuries will be coming down the road, so it's good to have some options as you said.
Paul Perillo

What, if anything, can the Patriots do to get a better kicker situation? Folk is obviously not working out very well. I know Justin Rohrwasser struggled in training camp but he couldn't be much worse, could he? He was drafted for a reason so I say let the kid kick and improve. FYI: Stephen Gostkowski kicked six FGs on Sunday, two over 50 yards. Just saying.
Gary Abrams

Well based on the camp practices we got to watch, Rohrwasser was in fact much worse than Folk. It really wasn't even a competition if judging based solely on the kicks we got to see. The rookie struggled throughout the summer, often watching his kicks twist sideways as they missed badly to either side. Belichick has made some references to Rohrwasser dealing with some sort of injury so it's possible it was more of a physical problem than one of ability. But if Belichick opts to stick with Folk, and Folk keeps missing a kick per game as he has through three weeks, that doesn't speak well of the rookie. And as for Gostkowski, he actually made three kicks from 50 yards or better in Minnesota Sunday. He's also missed three field goals and two extra points so far this season so kicking woes haven't been limited to New England.
Paul Perillo

What's the deal with Joe Thuney? He's played at a high level and has filled in at other positions when needed yet the Patriots didn't (or couldn't) extend him. Why pay him at a huge salary this year, then let him walk? I don't understand the logic unless they were willing to overpay to rent him for one more year. Do you have any insight?
Gregg Cassidy

I think the Patriots were very much interested in re-signing him but I also think Thuney wisely kept his options open. He quickly signed the franchise tender, which guaranteed him $14-plus million for 2020. So that was the starting point for any contract extension and Thuney understood this. He likely would choose to get to free agency to he can be paid market value, and I'd be surprised if he signed for much less than that. There are some highly-paid guards around the league at this point, and Thuney projects to be one of them next season. This won't be an easy negotiation but I also don't dismiss the possibility that the sides come to an agreement after the season.
Paul Perillo

The defense is going to have to sack Patrick Mahomes approximately at least three times to have any chance of beating the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tatoana Clearfield

The Chiefs offense looked absolutely unstoppable Monday night and Mahomes has certainly had a lot of success going against the Patriots during his young career. The Patriots have found ways to win some of the games, but the Chiefs have generally been very productive offensively in each game. I agree that somehow finding ways to disrupt Mahomes in the pocket will be a huge key to victory. I'm not sure how many sacks it would take, but getting three – particularly at key times – would be a huge lift to the defense. Mahomes isn't easy to get after, however. Like Russell Wilson a couple of weeks ago, Mahomes moves well in the pocket and can buy time with his legs. It should be interesting to watch how Belichick chooses to attack him.
Paul Perillo

Are there any considerations on obtaining Adam Vinatieri? It seems like kicking could be detrimental in critical games.
Joseph Furgal

There's no kicker I'd rather have in crunch time than Adam Vinatieri in his prime. But the problem is, that time has passed now for Vinatieri. Last season with the Colts he missed eight field goals (17 of 25) and six PATs (22 of 28). Not surprisingly, he hasn't been signed as a free agent as it appears his Hall of Fame career has finally come to an end at the age of 47.
Paul Perillo

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