-- John Murray, Weymouth
Kicking off a new season
Welcome back to "Ask Nick." I have to say that I was overwhelmed by the several hundred e-mails I received here in Week One. Glad to be back after an off-season hiatus in which I had the pleasure to return to my old beat - the Red Sox.
The good news is the quality of the questions continues to be unbelievable. The bad news is, I can't answer all of them and for that I apologize. What I hope to do in the interest of fairness, is to answer as many as time will allow. That will mean shorter responses, so I hope you understand. I try to take a cross section of topics as well as a cross section of the country and the world, but I'll always answer more questions from the New England region.
In the future if I have not answered one of your questions for couple of weeks, rest assured it's not because I've ignored you because I do read every question. Please insert a note saying "Nick, you haven't answered one of my questions for a couple of weeks" and I will make a special effort to post your question with an answer. There will be times I don't know the answer, and I will write that because I certainly don't claim to know everything.
You can certainly e-mail me at Cafardo@Globe.com if you would like to receive an individual answer.
Let me also add, that as someone who is not an "Internet person" I am truly impressed with the professionalism shown by the e-mailers. It shows me that Patriots fans are very knowledgeable, smart, and classy people.
Let's move on to other topics:
1. Running backs. The majority of questions this week were about the concern of the running back situation. On Thursday, the Patriots released information that Mike Cloud, the former Boston College star, had undergone surgery. It appears to be on his calf and he'll miss a good chunk of the season. Cloud had looked pretty well in drills, but as has been reported, he would not have been able to play until the fifth game of the season due to a suspension for testing positive for a banned supplement. This leaves the Pats with Antowain Smith, Kevin Faulk, J.R. Redmond (who has also been hurt), and Antwoine Womack, who hasn't been on the field yet as he completes the rehab of his ACL innury which kept him out of last season. Do the Patriots have enough at this position? Don't be surprised to see someone added, but I think they're going with Smith with Faulk getting a lot of reps. Question is can Redmond make a splash?
2. Team speed. The Patriots have improved their overall team speed, according to Bill Belichick. Is it Tampa Bay or Philadelphia speed? Don't think so. Belichick does agree it is better than last year, and that's great news.
3. Gillette Stadium. Having the camp at Gillette appears to be more convenient for most fans rather than Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., but there have been some fans who lived closer to Smithfield, who feel it's inconvenient for them. There are obviously better facilities here, with state-of-the-art weight rooms and meeting rooms, etc. Not to mention the staff here is setting up the stage for the Bruce Springsteen concert this weekend.
4. Who do I like so far?
Ty Warren looks like a solid young player who should be decent when he learns how to play in this league.
You see by my responses to questions about Daniel Graham, that I feel he's going to be a very good player in this league.
Rookie receiver Bethel Johnson is really fast.
I get the feeling free-agent receiver Dedric Ward is going to have a big role on this team.
Rosevelt Colvin is really disruptive on the field. He's been in Tom Brady's face a few times all ready.
Brady's shoulder is fine. Don't worry about that.
Good to see Troy Brown healthy.
Yes, the workouts are not nearly as demanding as they were back in the Tuna Days. But they are very organized.
There's still some concern about injuries on the offensive line, but Brendan Sai and Bill Conaty provide nice depth at guard and center.
Celebrity restaurant review
In tribute to the great season by the Sox:
Jerry Trupiano, Red Sox radio broadcaster: "Acapulco" in Franklin. Jerry loves the steak fajitas.
Joe Castiglione, Red Sox radio broadcaster: "Luciano's" in Foxboro. Joe usually goes there with former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. They love the appetizers and the chicken with olives in pasta. Joe also loves "Barker Tavern" in Scituate, where he has the swordfish and an ice cream puff for dessert.
Don Orsillo, NESN play-by-play: McCormick & Schmick in Boston at the Park Plaza: Don loves the lobster and the raspberry crème brûlée.
Jerry Remy, NESN color: "Capital Grille" in Boston. Jerry dreams about the Porterhouse steak, done medium-well.
Here's the mailbag.
Do you agree with the article that says the Pats have one of the deepest LB corps in the league? I think they are good, but top five? Come on.
-- John Murray, Weymouth
Why do the Pats have so much trouble finding a good running back and fullback? I have been a Pats fan from day one and they have only had a couple.
-- Paul Burke Sr., Palm Coast, Fla.
Do you see Kevin Faulk as an every-down back in New England some day? Smith struggled last year and Faulk showed signs of greatness. How hard is it to go from a third-down back to an every-down back? I think if given the chance again, he might be the answer to the Patriots running game problems. I'm not knocking Smith as a running back but if Faulk is producing and Smith isn't, why wouldn't you put him in as a starter?
-- Jeff Hanouille, Southwick
If the Patriots chose to keep Mike Cloud, does he take up a roster spot when he is on suspension?
-- Bill McIsaac, Brookline
I'd appreciate a qualifying anecdote to what I believe is a significant local sports story: Ted Johnson, All-Pro when healthy, regarding his success in overcoming the "NFL grind," as well as coach Belichick's demoralizing benching early last season. All of us would do well to handle our business affairs as well as he did-his two-day sabbatical not withetanding. In my opinion, Johnson is a model of integrity and perseverance within the constraints and rigors of professional football, and New England fans have been fortunate to have him compete for and lead the Pats these many years. His breed, professional athletes equally endowed with brains and brawn, who manage to be affable, intelligent, and appreciative of their good fortune, are ever in short supply. For that, I'm certain he'll be missed when his "hat" is finally dusted and boxed.
-- Brian McHugh, Santa Monica, Calif.
Nick, Do you know what happened to Kevin Watson, the DL from Occidental? I thought the Pats had signed him as an undrafted free agent back at the end of April. He sounded like he had good size and given the Pats need for a NT, I was wondering why he doesn't show up on the Pats roster anywhere. There is also no info out there to indicate that they cut him.
-- Greg Timbol, Boxborough
What was the internal attitude to the running back situation? Were there any draftees they were interested in? Was Justin Fargas ever considered? Do you think Antwoine Womack has a chance to start? Who do you think will be taking most snaps in December?
-- Peter Sununu, Los Angeles, Calif.
I have been a die hard patriots fan since I was 14 years old. I was very happy to see the acquisition of Colvin in the linebacker spot, but I am very concerned about the running back position. There were virtually no changes on the offensive line and none in the backfield. Where do you see our running game going this year?
-- Don Warner, Paramount, Calif.
Nick, This could be the toughest, most competitive group of teams in the AFC East ever. Who do you honestly think is best positioned to win the East this year? I guess I'm asking for your prediction.
-- Peter O'Keefe, San Francisco, Calif.
Congratulations on a new season of Ask Nick! Last year was a smashing success, I thought. I enjoyed your e-column very much and looking forward to your analysis on the new 3-4 defense and the running back contest during Patriots camp. Speaking of, will you be attending the Patriots pre-season workouts on a daily basis? It would be great if you could provide the Ask Nick faithful with a Patriots pre-season journal. In closing, good luck this year and what do you think contributed to your success last year particularly as it relates to online sports journalism?
-- Kelly Henderson, Webster
Hey, Nick, fess up: is Bill Belichick the worst interview on earth? I've heard earth worms with more to say. I admit the medication is working and I hear them (the worms) less often but...come on! I've never heard a quote for Bill worth hearing. I want to go on the record as an overall Bill supporter (the guy is brilliant and entertaining on the field) but is he as bad as he seems in an interview?
-- Scotty Shannon, Calgary, Ga.
I know Otis Smith is very experienced, but doesn't anyone else out there want some speed on our defense? Also don't you think Deion Branch is a better option at No. 2 than Patten? And when do you think the right time is to let Daniel Graham start?
-- Andrew Johnson, Groton, Conn.
What are your thoughts about putting Damien Woody at guard and having Daniel Koppen, the draft pick from BC, at center?
-- Bill Perry, Dudley
Nick, wow, another exciting year to look forward to! I've been a big fan and this is my first time writing to you so here goes: the Patriots first four games are against some pretty tough defenses. Do you think we'll actually be able to put a running game together in time for our season opener at Buffalo?
-- Mike Maccini, Santa Monica, Calif.
As a very long time Patriot fan, I was very pleased to see the Pats draft Derek Watson. I know about the baggage but he the best back I had seen and all everything in South Carolina. Last chance for him but he was cut before camp. What happened?
-- Bill Clendenin, Pawleys Island, S.C.
Does Bruce Armstrong wear two different size shoes? I know this sounds weird, but I won a pair of "game used" cleats at auction from a reputable source (NFL Auctions) and the left shoe is at least one size bigger than the right. By the way, welcome back! Your mailbag is one of the best sources of info for a military fan away from New England.
-- Kevin Stewart, Harrisburg, Penn.
Does Antwoine Womack, Mike Cloud, or Kevin Faulk have any chance to take over the starting running back job?
-- Patrick Foley, Windham, Maine
Nick, Really enjoy this Q&A interactive format, and looking forward to following all season. Speaking of looking forward, where do you see the Patriots' looking in the 2004 draft, especially since they have another year of numerous picks. Don't want to look past this season, but next year's draft could cement several years of dominance in the league.
-- Jim Pendergast, Lynn
Nick, love this chat. I am concerned with the O-line. What are your thoughts?
-- Mark Dresner, White Plains, N.Y.
Nick, Last year you offered an impressive positional analysis of where the Pats needed to upgrade through the draft and free agency. It differed from the conventional wisdom and I felt it was insightful. I thought you had listed offensive guard as the number one position to upgrade. Do I remember that correctly? What is your feeling on the current status of the offensive line? I realize Bill & Co. could not have known that Stephen Neal would still be injured.
-- Dave Pomerantz, Marshfield
A: I think guard is a key position because they have older players in Mike Compton, and Andruzzi who has had some injuries there. I like the veteran pickups of Bill Conaty and Brendan Stai, from the standpoint that they are serviceable veterans who can step in and play if need be. I think Neal was coming on to the point where he could have been special. I think he's a big loss.
Nick: What's the current status of Antwoine Womack? Do you think if they knew in April 2002 what they know now they'd still use that pick for him again? Is his knee OK? Can he cut on it? Did he take the conditioning test? pass it? Is he not practicing for medical reasons, conditioning reasons, or phsycological reasons? Rehab / PT? Maybe I'm too impatient but it seems like Robert Edwards came back faster from a worse injury.
-- Marc Stringer, Connersville, Ind.
Nick, Certainly the Pats have improved on defense. The real question is have they improved their offensive line enough to run the ball consistently. Any thoughts?
-- Tim Hurlburt, Cambridge
I don't see how the most glaring need from last season -- nose tackle -- has been addressed. Warren, Seymour, Green, Pleasant, and Hamilton are all optimal ends in the 3-4. Klecko and Kelley are true but longshot rookies. Clearly, with the massive upgrade in team speed and quickness on both sides of the ball there is some plan, but how can it make up for this hole in the middle of the D?
-- Timothy Cardozo, New York, N.Y.
Hey, Nick, great to have you back! How much do you think the 3-4 alignment will effect our opponents in the AFC East? And considering our apparent depth at linebacker, and in our secondary, have we done enough to secure a solid nose tackle? While Seymour could always move in, I'd like to see Klecko in that role. He seems to be a good fit there. What do you think? Go Patriots!
-- Mark Koupe, East Boston
A: Mark, I think any Romeo Crennel scheme is going to confuse the opponent somewhat. Crennel doesn't get enough credit for the work he does in scheming on defense. The 3-4 allows the Patriots to take advantage of their better athletes on the field. If the nose can tie up the center, then one of the linebackers can come up and make big plays. I think Klecko can help there some, but we're already seeing Crennel move him around. It sort of reminds me of when Tedy Bruschi came up and Parcells tried him as a pass rushing end and a sometime linebacker.
I have heard that the Patriots are considering adding Larry Centers to the roster. What is the latest and what is your opinion of that move? How do you think that would effect Kevin Faulk?
-- Harvey Eaton, Bedford, N.H.
Thanks for answering my question Nick, I am a diehard Pats fan living in Florida. I am a little worried in the receiver deptartment after Troy Brown, who is going to step up, David Patten is up and down, and Branch seems to drop to many balls. And Bethel Johnson is the rookie. Who do you see making the impact to take it to the next level? Thanks again, I enjoy reading your stuff very much.
-- Jeffrey Goss, Kissimmee, Fla.
Nick, Great to have you back. I do not recall New England having a Double Barrel Defense since the days of Don Blackmon and Andre Tippett. Do you think the pass rush which the Pats can apply from both the left and right side and from the DE and OLB in combo will cause major problems for the opponents offenses? This will be very interesting.
-- Fred Rider, Agawam
Nick, I think we all know by now that it doesn't matter how good your defense is you cannot win in the NFL if you can't control the ball, by running, or by sustaining offense, unless you have a miraculous turnover ratio. How will the Pats sustain offense this season? How can they prevent the defense from having to be yeomen-like? Can Belichik open things up a bit with the new contract, a more seasoned quarterback, a creative offensive coordinator, and a Super Bowl victory under his belt?
-- Thomas P. Killay, Warwick, R.I.
Nick, How long do you think the Patriots will keep the 3-4 as the base defense considering the lack of experience at nose tackle and defensive end. I think it would make sense to have the youngsters play with at least two experienced defensive linemen. By putting Warren on the field with Seymour you have your top athletic linemen on the field, but I think the leadership and experience of Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant is needed for the Patriots to be sucessful. Maybe combine Warren and Klecko in the middle with Seymour and Hamilton/Pleasant/McGinest on the outside?
-- Eric J. Moss, Warwick, R.I.
Ted Johnson and Willie McGinest have had their ups and downs the last three years. Are they poised to make a big impact this year, or are they more likely to be walking off into the sunset?
-- Tim Griffin, Bangor, Maine
Nick, Priest Holmes is a small running back. Why is Kevin Faulk labled a third-down back? He is about the size of Curtis Martin and is actually kind of big for a guy of his height.
-- Eric J. Moss, Warwick, R.I.
Nick, I am 34 years old and have been a Patriot fan since I was 5. I was born and raised up in N.Y. but have been living in Florida for the past 16 years. I am so tired of hearing about how Dan Klecko is too small to be NT. There are many undersized NT's that have done exceptionally well in the NFL. The guy was Big East Player of the Year. This guy will prove all the critics wrong without a doubt. How long do you think it will take him to crack the starting lineup? Or do you agree with everyone else that he is too small and will change positions?
-- Jimmy Mackin, Cape Coral, Fla.
How are the Pats' backup QB's looking? Who looks the best and could any step in if Tom went down?
-- John Pappas, San Diego, Calif.
Where are the Patriots staying during camp?
-- Joe Vieira, Milford
Nick, Last year was disappointing when the Pats missed the playoffs. Once you get in, anything can happen. Do you think we have enough to make it to the tournament this year? The "experts" are saying Miami will win the division. I'm not sure they are a lock. How many wild cards will come out of the East this year?
-- Dan O'Hara, Derry, N.H.
Hi, Nick. It's good to see you getting back to the groove on the new season. It seems like, on paper, that all the teams in the AFC East have gotten better with the off season acquisitions. I believe the AFC East is the toughe'st division in the NFL, and there is no clear cut who would come out on top. What are your thoughts on the Patriots with its divisional rivals??
-- Nam Le, New York, N.Y.
Now that training camp has begun, and we know it's early, do you see at least some indication that the team has the "no individuals, this is a team" attitude they had two years ago? I think myself and many others feel that was one of the main ingrediants missing last year.
-- Leo Crepeau, Colarado Springs, Colo.
Nick, Good to have your column back. My question: where do you think Lawyer Milloy's mind and body are at at this point in his career? Do you see him coming out and having a good year? He seemed MIA during certain games last year.
-- Mike Cote, Amesbury
Why do the Pats give out such cap unfriendly numbers to people like Law and Milloy? They give out the big numbers and then try to renegotiate every year. Why not back load or rear end load the contracts in the first place? The players feel like they deserve the numbers but it just adversely affects the salary cap.
-- Robert B Casey, Dana Point, Calif.
Can Dan Klecko really be a nose tackle in a two-gap system? Isn't he too small? I think he's going to be blown off the line and turn out to be a wasted draft pick. Why didn't the Patriots go after one of the several behemoth-type free agent nose tackles? Any of them would have been better than Jarvis Green/Klecko. Also, do you see Ty Law and/or Lawyer Milloy gone next season because of their ballooning contracts and their agent's (same guy) clearly stated unwillingness to renegotiate any type of pay cut?. P.S. Please don't publish any more Drew Bledsoe vs. Tom Brady letters, they're getting very boring! People, let it go!
-- Anthony Salerno, Los Angeles, Calif.
Living in Arizona, I don't get as much Patriots news as I would if I still lived in Boston. Could you please tell me some of the differences we may see in the Pats of this year compared to last. Also,how do you think Branch will do this year after showing all of that early promise last year only to fade in the second half of the season?
-- Patrick Murphy Tempe, Ariz.
Do you think the Patriots will be playoff contenders this year and make the Super Bowl? Do you think Tom Brady will have a tremendous year?
-- Mike Dean Uxbridge, Mass.
Should the Pats even bother with Tyrone Poole? This guy needs to see a shrink! He quit football the first time because he missed his family. Now he is acting like can't handle training camp? This guy should either just quit for good or be put on some medication. Boo-hoo, cry me a river! I think losing Terrell Buckley is going to come back to haunt us this season. I hope not but what can go wrong, will! What do you think of this guy?
-- Ryan Braveman Elmira, N.Y.
Nick, I will keep it simple. Did the Pats make any attempt at getting better in the RB position during the offseason, and do you agree with many that the lack of talent at this postion is the teams achilles heel?
-- James Rae Toronto
Hi, Bledsoe and his team look to have really improved for this year. Do you think the Patriots have kept pace with them ?
-- Neil Jones, Southampton
Nick, I see 6 or more veterans who are now starters or serious contributors being cut next June 1, or not resigned. Guys like Law, Milloy, Hamilton, Pleasant, McGinest, and A. Smith could all be gone. Assume this year's draft crop is reasonabley productive. With the number of high draft picks we have next April, plus the cap room such moves would create, do you think such whole sale changes could be made, with the team remaining competative or perhaps even improving?
-- Bob Anderson, Lawrence
Nick, I've read several reports that the Patriots will be lucky to go 9-7 this season. I don't see it. The team isn't coming off any late season action last year and they've had decent draft signings. The division is tough, but if Brady's arm isn't a factor I see them stacking up favorably in the AFC East.
-- Seth Cummings Los Angeles
Nick: Sorry to start the season on a downer, but do you sense a Harrington-Duquette/Jerry Jacobs/Jan Volk feeling of institutional arrogance in the Belicek-Pioli front office, i.e.: evasive, half-truth, non-answers to direct questions concerning player personnel; failure to address canycanyon-esquees at positions such as offensive line (Doug Brezinski? Orlando Brown?), defensive tackle (John Thornton? Jeff Zgonina?) and wide receiver( Ricky Proehl? Frank Sanders?); head-scratching play-calling on offense, i.e.: four wide outs on third and less than four yards; and, last but not least, four below-average drafts with only one second-day pick established as a starter, and a mere handful (if that) contributing anything. (P.S.: Whoever recommended Brock Williams be taken in the third round should be fired. Immediately.) I know this isn't least-common-denominator style, like Brady/Bledsoe, but I believe this is one of the most important questions Pats fans need to ask. Thanks.
-- John Patrick Lane, Hershey, Penn.
Will the Pats release Ty Law after this season or fork over the $9 million to keep him on the roster? It doesn't look too promising for Ty considering the Pats drafted two corners.
-- David Hafner Larkspur, Calif.
Nick, With all the off season defensive acquisitions the Patriots made, where do you think they will rank among the NFL's defenses or AFC east? How about their offense? Do you think that they should have picked up a better running back?
-- Joe Giunta, Everett
This year's camp feels a little too relaxed. How is the intensity compared to previous years? Can we expect a more productive camp now that the team is practicing in their own facility?
-- Scott Anderson Alamogordo NM
Hi there, Nick. Thanks for your column. Trapped out here in "Packerland," your article keeps me up to date on what is important in the NFL. Although my Favre-loving wife would disagree, the Patriots are the only team to follow. Anyway, there have been a lot of off-season moves by all of the AFC East teams. Which do you think improved the most and which has the best chance of capturing the division crown in 2003? I'm very encouraged by our upgrade on the defensive side of the ball. Go Patriots and go University of Maine Black Bears!
-- Ben Lampron Stevens Point, Wisconsin
With significant defensive additions in our rivals across the AFC East, has the Pats coronary-inducing O-line made any real improvements to keep pace or are we just banking on better seasons out of the vets and developing underclassmen?
-- Judson Lamphere Brooklyn, N.Y.
What do you think about the Pats running game this year? Should they try to sign Jamal Anderson if he's fully recovered for his ACL injur? I cant see A. Smith lasting the whole season.
--Joseph Wilkinson, Malden
What kind of shape will the Patriots fullback position be this year?
-- Reg Levesque, Columbia, S.C.
Nick, Will the Pats look at the waiver wires for a reliable veteran runningback? The Broncos released an aged but accomplished back late last week. Do you expect the Pats to look to strengthen their backfield, especially given the state of Smith's third consecutive failure in the conditioning run and moderate performance last year? Thanks. I'd love to see a move made to get a decent veteran to push Smith, though all in all I think Smith is a capable runner.
-- Steve Oleary, Milton
Hi, Nick, Great to have the mailbag back! My question is two words: Ty Warren? With the primary need being a NT, did the Pats overestimate his ability to play NT or were they drafting him to be a DE? And can we get away with Green/Klecko at NT? Thanks, great to have you back!
-- Tim Beary Columbia, SC
OK, Nick, The first year was all success. The second was so-so. How do you think Brady will perform? Do you think his future rides on this season? Do you think the Patriots have given him the right combination of offensive players to be successful? Does the team, offense, and defense express their confidence in Brady? Does he have many team member detractors? Glad to see your column returning.
Jon Beight Allegany, N.Y.
I know we made some good moves in the off season, but do you think Tebucky Jones will be missed more than people think. Also, how will the WR core fill out, still lacking in size, will this hinder Brady. Looking forward to the season.
-- Jeremy Wells Milford, Conn.