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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Pass rush, WR, LB depth and roster decisions

This week's mailbag is looking at the roster and searching for some depth.


How do the Patriots wide receivers produce against the Dolphins and Bills defense?
Joshua Johnson

To be honest I'm more concerned with how they might produce against everybody, not just the Bills and Dolphins. I understand why you asked the question the way you did – Buffalo and Miami are AFC East rivals – but the state of the receiving corps is definitely something that needs to improve. Beyond Julian Edelman I'm not sure where the offense can turn to for answers. N'Keal Harry has struggled to gain separation. He showed signs of improvement as camp progressed but isn't anything close to a certainty. Damiere Byrd provides some intrigue given his size, and Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski and Devin Ross are youngsters looking to find their way. Bill Belichick may need to make a move here to add to this group in order to provide some help for Edelman.
Paul Perillo

With the season quickly approaching, do you see the Patriots seeking to add some extra pieces in free agency? I've still heard Jadeveon Clowney's name being connected to the organization every now and then, but I wonder if you all expect any kind of move not just a big one like Clowney? Lastly, if no names were added via free agency do you still think that some players could be released or traded to free up more cap space for later?
Justin Phillips

I would expect to see additions along the way, just as has been the case virtually every season for Belichick around the time of the initial cuts. The Patriots almost never stand pat with the first 53-man roster and I wouldn't expect that to be the case next week either. I don't see Clowney coming in at this point, but if his price drops and the coach views the pass rush as a significant area of concern then I guess I wouldn't rule it out completely. I feel linebacker and wide receiver are two others areas that need some help. It will be interesting to see how the moves unfold next week after cuts, especially with no preseason games to watch and help scout the other teams' players. But definitely expect some movement. As for the latter point, cap space is not a concern at this time. The Patriots have plenty to work with now, as well as carry into 2021. So, no need to release anyone strictly for cap purposes. If a veteran is let go, it will be due to performance and not just salary.
Paul Perillo

My favorite all-time player is Steve Grogan. Yes, I'm a golden retriever but my life coach was born in Boston and started watching the Pats in 1978 when he was 7-years-old. So, do you see any similarities between Grogan and Cam Newton? Any chance the coaching staff might look at old film to see how they could utilize similar plays to help Newton succeed? I want to see more naked bootlegs to the left for touchdowns.
Teddy Gee

I do see a lot of similarities between Grogan and Newton. Both are tremendous runners, both love to scramble and both have/had really strong arms with accuracy sometimes a problem. In fact it was Grogan's record for single-season rushing touchdowns (12) that Newton broke in 2015. Newton is much bigger at 245 pounds as compared to the 210 or so that Grogan played. That allows Newton to be much more of a power running threat than Grogan, who was excellent in the open field and, as you said, made the naked bootleg an artform. Newton operates in and offense that caters to his running ability and I'd assume we'd see a lot of those plays this season – zone reads and RPOs and such. It might look different from the vintage Grogan running of the '70s but I expect Newton to keep the ball plenty this season.
Paul Perillo

Will the Patriots be looking to sign another wide receiver and will they make any changes at the linebacker position?
Darris Robinson

I feel additions are needed at both spots and would be surprised if Belichick didn't feel the same. The next week or 10 days should be telling in terms of how the coach feels about the current state of the roster. Cuts need to be made September 5, and once waivers are settled the following day I expect to see some movement on the Patriots transaction wire. We'll see which direction the team goes, but I feel you've identified two positions that New England needs additional bodies and would be surprised if at least one wasn't addressed.
Paul Perillo

How come the Patriots didn't even try to land Everson Griffen? I don't get it, also some good starting linebackers are still there, but all he's going for is UDFA scrubs from other teams. If Ja'Whaun Bentley goes down what happens?
James Blanchard

I certainly would have been interested in adding Griffen to the stable of edge players. The pass rush is a concern at this point and Griffen is a proven commodity. He signed a one-year deal with Dallas for just $6 million, so it doesn't appear that the contract was a huge impediment. I haven't seen anything indicating the sides spoke at all while Griffen was available but that doesn't mean there weren't conversations. And there were many reports indicating the Patriots targeting would make sense. The short answer to your question is I'm not sure why it didn't happen. I share your disappointment as I feel Griffen would have been a solid addition.
Paul Perillo

The guys who accounted for 25.5 of last year's 47 sacks are not on the 2020 roster. This is the biggest question mark on the D in my opinion. Who will generate pressure? As good as our secondary is, asking them to cover for a few seconds more every passing play will lead to them looking pedestrian. It's tough enough covering quality NFL WRs for 2-3 seconds, let alone 3-5. Will they drop more guys into coverage and forego the sacks, or is there a diamond in the rough on the roster? It's un-Belichick-ian to think they won't find someone to help here who isn't currently on the roster. Thoughts?
Elliot Kramer

The pass rush is obviously an area of concern based on the amount of questions we've received about that area this week. Many others weren't included as well. The one thing that gives me some optimism is the way those 47 sacks originated last season. You are correct when you mention the team lost 25.5 sacks off last season's roster. Most of those came from the linebacker trio of Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. While all three are solid players I don't think of any of them as pure pass rushers. Instead I felt Belichick and the defensive coaches did a tremendous job of scheming their way to those gaudy sacks numbers, finding ways to free up the linebackers in particular to get pressure. So my optimism comes from the fact that scheme can help in that regard this year as well. I'm not suggesting Chase Winovich, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche and Anfrenee Jennings are as talented as the linebackers that departed, but if they can work together and in concert with the guys up front perhaps the pressure will emerge. Winovich managed 5.5 sacks as a rookie in limited playing time last year, and it's possible he could improve on that total. But there's no question a pure pass rusher would make things look a lot better.
Paul Perillo

In your opinion do the 2020 Patriots have someone who can play at the level of Willie McGinest in 2001? And do they have someone who can play at the level of Richard Seymour in 2001?
Steve Parker

More concerns about the front seven … and with good reason. The depth up front is lacking, and even the projected starters and key contributors are inexperienced at this point. The answer to the question about McGinest and Seymour is probably not. Seymour is on the precipice of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and McGinest probably deserves some consideration. Comparing players to those guys is tough. McGinest was in his prime in his eighth season in 2001 so it's unfair to expect anyone to play at that level. Seymour was a rookie that year but immediately proved to be an absolute force. Lawrence Guy is a solid player but not the type of game disruptor that Seymour was back then.
Paul Perillo

In recent years, how many rookies have made the initial 53-man roster? Will this year be more or less?
Kenn Scott

Last year the Patriots had eight rookies on their 53-man roster for their Week 1 win over Pittsburgh. Among those were punter Jake Bailey and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The year before there were six rookies (or first-year players) on the opening day roster. I would expect the number to be in that area again this time around – six or seven would make sense. At this point I would put Uche, Jennings, Kyle Dugger, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the lock category and at least one rookie offensive lineman (Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron) will stick as well. Depending on what happens with Justin Rohrwasser that could be another rookie. And there's always an undrafted rookie who sticks around, so I'd expect the number this year to be right in line with past seasons.
Paul Perillo

It seems concerning that we haven't heard a ton about Jakobi Meyers. It seems as though he could be getting lost in the shuffle, but he was a solid contributor last year who seemed to earn Tom Brady's trust maybe more than N'Keal Harry. How has he been connecting with quarterbacks and has there been a noticeable second-year jump?
Jack Carlson

How is Jakobi Meyers looking this year? He was the undisputed star of preseason last year but haven't heard his name mentioned much this year.
Tom Hutchinson

Meyers got nicked up about halfway through the training camp practices that we've had access to, and although he was out there most days he was often limited. At the start of camp he didn't seem to be showing a huge improvement over last season. He looks to be a guy that can make some plays in the middle of the field, as he did last summer, but is a little limited in the variety of routes he has success with. I think he has ability and his size offers a different element in the slot. He has a chance to stick around given the lack of depth at receiver but by no means is he a lock. I like Meyers and feel he should be given more time to develop but he projects as a complementary piece.
Paul Perillo

Since training camp has been without fans, are teams allowed to play crowd noise on speakers to simulate a real game feel? It'd be beneficial to have it without considering what will most likely be limited attendance for the year, but having some crowd noise could help teams like the Patriots who have a new cast of characters.
Jason Bickel

Belichick pumped in crowd noise during several practices that we got to watch, mostly to simulate crowds but at times there was loud music too. It's a tool the Patriots have used at practice often over the years, but the crowd noise was a bit different this year given the possibility that stadiums will be empty and the idea of teams being allowed to pump in artificial noise has many coaches preparing for such scenarios. I don't like the idea of teams being able to do that but it seems that's the direction we're headed.
Paul Perillo

With the emergence of Cam Newton as the projected Week 1 starting QB, do you foresee the Patriots standing to gain any competitive advantage in terms of the early weeks of the season on offense? Typically teams would have years upon years of tape to prepare for the Patriots scheme with Brady behind center, but with the lack of preseason games is it foreseeable the Patriots offense could catch their opponents by surprise to an extent with different looks/scheme on offense?
Bren King

I think the lack of a preseason will offer more of an element of surprise to all teams this season, especially the ones with new coordinators and personnel. So, yes, Newton's addition to the offense gives the Patriots a chance to do things they haven't in the past, and that in turn could be difficult for opponents to prepare for. Obviously it would be foolish is Miami hasn't spent any time getting ready for Newton's ability to run, but it's still a change from what the Patriots have done and how that will look in Josh McDaniels' attack also is unknown to opponents. So I do think there will be a competitive advantage, especially early in the season. We'll see how that plays out on the field moving forward.
Paul Perillo

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