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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Tracking Patriots development and surprises

Mike Dussault answers fan questions in this week's Patriots Unfiltered mailbag.


Who are the 3 most surprising players thus far in your view? @KellyLoewen

I don't think anyone ever expects too much from a low-round offensive guard, but Michael Onwenu has easily been the most surprising player this season. He's played four different positions along the offensive line before settling in at right tackle. With Onwenu, the Patriots run blocking has been dominant for large portions of their recent games, with the rookie often leading the pancake parade. Still not sure if he's a better guard or tackle, but either way they found themselves a gem with big Mike.

Jakobi Meyers showed some flashes in 2019, but I didn't expect that he'd become Cam Newton's favorite target. I'm not sure where the Patriots would be if Meyers hadn't emerged and made so many plays over the last few weeks. There are still questions about the Patriots wide receiver group, but Meyers isn't one of them. He'll continue to be an important target, but they still need more from the others, with Isaiah Ford starting to work his way into the group.

I was pretty sure Adrian Phillips would be a good fit in New England but I didn't expect him to be quite this good. Phillips is very involved just about every play, he has excellent lateral quickness and fluid hips to quickly close. Combine that with his special teams value, he took over as the personal protector when Cody Davis was out, and he is a perfect fit, especially with his defensive versatility. –Mike Dussault

Do you think we will ever see Rohrwasser? Or may he become a mere myth a little like Beau Allen? @clazzyclare

Nick Folk's missed extra point against the Ravens was his first blemish since Week 3 and luckily it didn't end up costing the Patriots. I think the team has to be happy with how Folk has delivered this far. The bigger question is whether the Patriots knew Rohrwasser would need a redshirt season, or if they've just been afforded some developmental time with the rookie because the veteran has been fairly reliable. Certainly, Folk has been more reliable than Stephen Gostkowski has been in Tennessee. As long as Folk keeps it up and stays healthy, we likely won't see Rohrwasser kick again until next summer. –Mike Dussault

Once active, where does Sony fit into the run game moving forward? Rex and Harris have solidified their roles. @ChriswithaTIAN

I don't think anybody wants to see Harris take a back seat and it was great to see him get 20-plus carries and a chance to really find a rhythm. His two big carries to start the second half were huge. But the holes were there, and they should be there for Sony as well, so we'll see. On the last drive Harris had two carries for two yards, so there still could be a chance for Michel to either keep Harris a bit fresher, or serve as the game-ending hammer. With the way the offense is blocking I'm actually excited to see how Michel does running behind them because he really should be another boost. –Mike Dussault

I'm curious about Uche. How is he performing and how are they using him? @superbuffundo

Hi Mike, what are your mid-season scouting reports for Dugger, Uche and Jennings? Thanks and best regards from Austria. @Pats1988_

I was excited to see the Patriots put Uche at his best position, a sub-rusher coming off the edge. When I spoke with his high school and college coaches this spring, both mentioned Uche's burst around the corner and combination of speed and strength as things that would immediately be a problem for NFL offensive tackles. Against the Ravens I think we saw some evidence of that with his sack and another pressure. Still, he had a rookie-like penalty jumping offsides, so it will continue to be a process with Uche. But he's definitely flashing a bit. It's undeniable with Uche and Winovich, the Patriots defense had a lot more speed on the field and it showed up.

Dugger had a similar performance to Uche's and with 56 snaps, he had a lot more plays to break down. Dugger's strength continues to jump off the screen. On the second play of the game, Dugger took on excellent blocker Nick Boyle and stonewalled him, spinning the big tight around to the ground. Those are the kind of plays that get you excited. In coverage, he's close and actually closer than he probably should be given the jump in competition he's facing. After bouncing back from an injury that derailed his season a bit, it looks like Dugger will be a big part of the Patriots defense.

It's tough company for Jennings, who played 11 snaps compared to 21 from Uche. Jennings is strong and has good length, but has moved outside his comfort zone. Had Jennings been given some edge pass rush snaps like Uche, there might be similar good things to say about him. That's where both played in college, now Jennings has been asked to play more inside and off the ball than Uche. It hasn't been surprising to see him look a bit slow to process things inside. With more experience Jennings should make some significant strides, he has all the tools, he just has to get ahead of the play. –Mike Dussault

It's clear Harris is the Pats lead back & showed his ability to catch in camp. Burkhead continues to show versatility, having his best year. So do you think the Pats will let White go in FA? Can Harris become a 3 down back? It would make the Pats less predictable on O. @ThePatriotsGuy

Making decisions on the Patriots free agents next offseason is going to be tough. Both Burkhead and White are up and I'm wrestling with how things might play out. I do think that the team values significant depth at the position, so I hesitate to think of Harris as a potential three-down back. I just don't think that's sustainable over the course of the season. They need at least one reliable third-down back and one early-down work horse. Burkhead is the perfect balanced second-down back.

Without much depth and no clear succession plan behind White I tend to think he'll be back. And with Burkhead's versatility it's not hard to see him sticking around too, but if they choose to replace one of them it might be Rex. –Mike Dussault

Of the folically challenged players, who is the best baldie in the squad? Burkhead, Devin, Jason, Slater or..... Hoyer? @april29ste

I have to go with the two finalists as the only ones that I've never known to never actually have hair. That would be Brian Hoyer and Rex Burkhead. I've caught Hoyer with some scruffy head here and there over the years but never with Burkhead so I'm going with Rex as the best baldie. –Mike Dussault

Do you think after last night's performance, against a good running team, Wino may have shown enough to be trusted and used as a three-down player instead of just a pass rusher?? Or will his snaps fade away again? @Tomhilbilly

I think we have to look at this question through the lens of the offenses left to matchup with. Against the Ravens, I think the Patriots benefitted from having his speed and pursuit on the second level instead of up front where he can get lost behind the play. Therefore, I think he has to be useful against Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray. Would his role be more conventional against Jared Goff and the Rams? Hard to know exactly what the coaches think. But in my view, Winovich is a disruptive player with a motor. That might get him in trouble some times, but I think it will help the defense more than it hurts them. The more that Winovich and Dugger are on the field, the better long-term for the Patriots defense. –Mike Dussault

What do you think happens with JC Jackson next season? Do the Patriots pay him or use the 1st round tender? If they go the tender route and someone signs him to an offer sheet, the patriots could end up with two first round picks which could be ammunition to get a top quarterback. –Len Carmody

I think it's a pretty good bet that the Patriots will use the first-round tender on Jackson, as it would appear we could be in for some transition at the position next year around him and Jonathan Jones. The Patriots usually don't get ahead of themselves, and with a lot of different free agents and contracts to consider, keeping it simple with Jackson seems like the best choice. He's certainly earned the top tender and he's one of the best assets the team has, I'd prefer to keep him around and maybe figure out an extension. –Mike Dussault

Is Josh McDaniels gimmicky play calling hurting this offense who's already lacking talent? Or is his gimmicky play calling helping BECAUSE the offense lacks talent? @ChadxMartin

Yes, I think he's working with what he has and let's face it, it was extremely effective last night. If the Patriots can run the ball like they did against the Ravens they'll run right over plenty of opponents. The addition of Newton as a threat is needed in certain situations and besides, McDaniels was running gimmicky plays against the Ravens even when it was Tom Brady out there.

There's no question, the emergence of Harris, Meyers and Burkhead has transformed the last few weeks of the season. They need that core to continue to contribute, but I'm sure McDaniels is looking for ways to get the other pieces like Harry, Ford and Byrd more involved. –Mike Dussault

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