Holes to be filled
Questions remain for Pats on Law, the LBs, and backup QB
FOXBOROUGH -- Judging by the e-mails sent by fans over the last few weeks, these are the top three issues on the mind of Patriots followers:
-- Is Ty Law coming back to town?
-- Should the team's fans be concerned with the linebacking corps?
-- Who might be brought in as a backup quarterback?
Let's get right to the questions.
What are your thoughts on Ty Law returning to the Pats? Do you think there is any way Ty would take less, and should he return how do you see him best utilized here?
I believe if all things are equal financially, Law would return to the Patriots. My reasoning is that it gives him a great chance to win another Super Bowl ring and -- assuming he plays a key role in the team's success -- earn Hall of Fame consideration. Based on the teams involved (Chiefs, Titans, Buccaneers and Patriots) at this time, I don't see a market-busting offer in the offing, which also makes me think Law could be back. Law has spoken personally with Bill Belichick, although Law's agent, Carl Poston, has yet to become involved. The Patriots and Poston have had some differences in the past. I think the Chiefs are the prime competition right now for Law, and believe they have already started talking contract numbers. As for where Law would be best utilized in New England, I think he'd immediately become the team's No. 1 cornerback in 2006.
Should we be concerned with the Pats' linebacker unit? Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel are both getting somewhat long in the tooth and with the departure of Willie McGinest, is Belichick looking to add linebackers via free agency?
The question "Who is the fourth starting linebacker?" would be on my list of most important areas for the Patriots in 2006. I see Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin and Tedy Bruschi as sure-fire starters, so the concern would be who steps up after them. A few players among the following group must emerge as either starters or top reserves: Monty Beisel, Tully Banta-Cain, Ryan Claridge, Barry Gardner, Eric Alexander, Freddie Roach and Pierre Woods. Since none of them have started consistently, there is some question as to how things will unfold. The one point I would make is that probably every other team in the league has similar "concerns" at some place on their roster. The Colts would be one example. They lost highly productive linebacker David Thornton in free agency and are hoping 2004 third-round pick Gilbert Gardner can replace him.
It appears that the Patriots aren't making any more moves on defense. Given that, and the loss of McGinest, what are the probable slots for starting linebackers? Last year we ended with Colvin and McGinest outside and Bruschi and Vrabel inside. Since McGinest is gone, will Vrabel move back to the outside and will Beisel get another shot inside?
Don't count out the possibility of the Patriots making a personnel addition on defense, such as the 2003 trade for nose tackle Ted Washington that went down in August. I think the Patriots would like to move Vrabel back outside, and believe that a bulked-up Beisel (up eight pounds from his playing weight of 238 last year) will be running with the first string when training camp begins sometime in late July. As for who will be inside when the season begins, that's going to unfold in training camp. One great story would be the emergence of Ryan Claridge as he hopes to make his late brother, Travis, proud.
Do you feel now that Ryan Claridge's absence from the Patriots during the 2005 season may be explained as a family issue regarding the tragic death of his brother? If so, what is his current status with the team and is he ready for the 2006 season? What's your take? It appeared that he could really help the Pats at both inside linebacker and outside linebacker.
Hil Carney, Belmont
This May 14 article from the Las Vegas Journal-Review, which includes comments from head coach Bill Belichick, helps shed some light on Claridge's situation in 2005. After Claridge was injured, he reportedly received the team's permission to train and rehab at home in Las Vegas. I think Claridge fits solely at inside linebacker in the Patriots' defense and will be one of the more intriguing players to watch in training camp. A 2005 fifth-round pick, he had experience in the 3-4 defense from UNLV and has the size (6-foot-2, 254 pounds) necessary to absorb, and deliver, a physical pounding in the heart of the defense.
How many QBs will the Pats go to camp with? Brady is a no-brainer and Matt Cassel and Corey Bramlet are both nice young options to groom behind him. However, wouldn't a guy like Jay Fiedler -- with plenty of NFL experience and familiarity with the AFC East -- make a lot of sense? Your thoughts on a potential veteran backup QB?
DJ Sturtevant, Bradford
Fiedler would make a lot of sense for exactly the reasons you mentioned, DJ. In the past, Bill Belichick has pointed out that the team has always carried a veteran quarterback - whether it was John Friesz (2000), Damon Huard (2001-2003), Jim Miller (2004) or Doug Flutie (2005). I'd be quite surprised if the Patriots don't add another quarterback, but I have also wondered in recent days if they might be inclined to grab a "younger" veteran because Tom Brady is now in his seventh year. My thought is that the Patriots probably had older veterans at QB to help Brady through the early years of his career, and maybe now they're comfortable with someone a bit younger. If I had my choice, though, it would be Fiedler.
Thanks for the article on Bethel Johnson this week. Do you think he will indeed step up and have a breakout season in 2006? Maybe the Pats know something we don't, and he's one of the reasons they haven't been more active seeking another receiver?
Johnson has a chance to emerge due to the current depth and youth at receiver, but it's hard for me to imagine he's ready to break out. The vibe I got from him was that he hasn't fully accepted the accountability for his disappointing, declining production in the first three years of his career. Until that happens, it would be hard to expect much from him. I do believe he has the talent to catch 30-40 balls in a season, and be a game-breaking threat when on the field.
Do you think Laurence Maroney will get as much as 10-15 carries per game and if so how will Corey Dillon feel about that?
Robert Mac Pherson, Brighton
I believe Dillon will remain the lead back in the early going, so 10-15 carries might be a bit high for Maroney. The Patriots averaged 27.4 carries per game in 2005. If the average were to be the same in 2006, I'd give Dillon 17, Maroney 6, and Faulk 4. The reason I'd start with Dillon getting more carries is the importance of pass protection. I'd expect a bit of a learning curve for Maroney in that area, as would be the case with any rookie.
Do you see the Patriots picking anyone in the upcoming supplemental draft? One player who has had problems in the past but could be a tremendous player is Ahmad Brooks out of Virginia. Many scouts compare him to a young Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher. Would the Pats risk a draft pick on a player like Brooks?
Ken Araujo, New Bedford
If Bill Belichick were to answer this question, my guess is that he'd say: "If we think it will make the team better, we'll consider all our options." The supplemental draft is tentatively scheduled for July 13, according to NFL.com, and Brooks is the top player likely to be picked. Brooks played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at Virginia and has a rare physical make-up (6-4, 249) that the Patriots generally like. Assuming Brooks checks out medically and in the character department, I think the Patriots would risk only a second-day pick (fourth-to-seventh round) to select him. It would mark the team's first supplemental draft choice since Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli combined to run the football operation in 2000.
Just a simple observation but doesn't it make sense that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli would base their draft on the offensive side because of the run on defensive players? To date I have not read anything about the value on offense instead of drafting less talented defensive players.
Ernest Perroncello, Marathon, Fla.
This is a solid point, Ernest, as the nine players selected before the Patriots' pick at No. 21 were all defensive players. There was more value on offense. My understanding is that Bill Belichick holds a card in his hand during the draft that includes the names of a few players the team would select in the first round. Maroney was apparently the name left at the top of the card.
Could one of the reasons the Pats held off on linebackers (other than they did not see value at the point in the draft) is that they see the flexibility of Vrabel being able to play inside and outside on different downs/situations. For example, you develop a large inside LB (Roach or Claridge or other) for running downs. Here speed is not a big concern, but instead the ability to diagnose plays and stack and shed guards. Then on passing situations you move Vrabel inside and put an edge rusher on the outside. This gives you protection against runs; a set of linebackers that is more difficult for the QB to read because Vrabel can blitz or drop back and keeps your best players on the field. What do you think about this scenario? Could it of been a factor in how the Pats see their LBs? Could it have affected their evaluation of value of LBs?
Tom, Dushanbe, Tajikistan
This could have been part of the team's thinking, but I don't believe it's the ultimate reason they didn't invest a high pick at linebacker in 2006. Even going back a few years, I think the reasons the Patriots haven't gone with a first-day linebacker can be boiled down to a few factors: 1) The talent pool at inside linebacker (for a 3-4 defense) has been thin, with 2004 first-rounder Jonathan Vilma one of the few high-round players the Patriots would have taken if he was available to them; 2) Taking an outside linebacker entails making a projection that the player will make a transition from defensive end, and that's risky. Because of that, I don't believe the Patriots were ever serious about taking Manny Lawson in the 2006 first round; 3) The team's system is complex and expecting a rookie to make an immediate impact -- both mentally and physically -- is probably unrealistic.
Why haven't the Patriots sent Matt Cassel to play in Europe and get more seasoning? Seems like he would need it, especially if he is going to back up Brady this year or in the near future. Fear of injury?
Jim Rhodes, North Haven, Conn.
The Patriots felt that Cassel's time was better spent working out at Gillette Stadium alongside Tom Brady, learning the intricacies of the playbook in a very complex offense. Doug Flutie was recently talking about how the Patriots ask the quarterback to do more mentally than most teams with which he's been associated. I'm thinking that ties in to the Patriots' decision to keep Cassel in-house, and I also wouldn't be surprised if former Patriot Rohan Davey's experience -- when he starred in Europe but didn't pan out in New England -- had something to do with it.
Besides signing the draft picks, what do you think are the most likely plans for the Patriots' remaining cap space?
Contract extensions for players whose contracts are scheduled to expire would seemingly get top billing, with receiver Deion Branch, tight end Daniel Graham, center Dan Koppen and cornerback Asante Samuel a few of the top names on the list.
Was wondering if you have any info about Laurence Maroney's jersey number. I know he wore No. 39 in minicamp, but can he change it or will he change it? After some guys in the secondary get cut, it will open up more numbers.
Jim Dreher, Montclair, NJ
Maroney said his first choice would have been 22 (Asante Samuel) and his second choice 27 (Ellis Hobbs). But since those were taken, Maroney was given a list of available numbers and decided on 39. That's not set in stone, but given Maroney's first two choices -- and the fact Samuel and Hobbs will probably will be on the club -- I'd say No. 39 is about as close to final as can be. One example of a player changing his jersey number recently was Tully Banta-Cain, going from 48 to 95.
I know it's early, but based on what you have seen so far, can Chad Jackson have an impact as a rookie? Do you think he could start by the end of the year?
Michael W., Griswold, Conn.
Sure. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Jackson is just 21 years old. Not only is he a rookie, but he's a young rookie. I do think he'll make an impact this year, and believe he's off to a strong start.
Why is June an opportunity for NFL teams to pick up players? Do you feel there will be some quality players released? I believe the Pats have money to spend, but want to see how the Ty Law scenario plays out. Your thoughts?
Marvin and Irene Kestenbaum, Sunlakes, Ariz.
After June 1 is a time that some teams release players because it allows them to spread out any salary cap hit that might result in letting the player go. In recent years, as teams have become adept at managing the salary cap, fewer players have become available. Especially this year, when the salary cap increased dramatically due to the league's new collective bargaining agreement, I wouldn't expect many players to be released. I do believe the Patriots have money to spend, and are interested in Ty Law. I don't think the team would have given Law a physical if it wasn't interested.
Do you think that in terms of Belichick's coaching staff development that players such as Troy Brown, Doug Flutie, Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer, or Rodney Harrison may one day remain a part of the team in an advisory role or coaching capacity? It seems they would have experience in the system and experience at particular positions which tends to help coaches relate to their players.
Russell, Olympia, Wash.
Flutie previously said that he has no interest in coaching in the NFL, due to the long hours and grind. I'm not quite sure where the others stand. Another name to add to the mix is linebacker Don Davis, who has worked in the past as a strength/speed coach with the team, in addition to his playing duties. As we've seen with someone like defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, Belichick will hire former players if he feels they are a good fit.
I just noticed that Stanley Morgan is not inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. How is this possible given his career numbers -- 534 receptions, 10,352 yards, 67 touchdowns and an eye-popping 19.4 yards per catch in a 13-year career, all with the Patriots?
Andrew Gallo, Ashland
I'm a terrible judge of Hall of Fame credentials. One thing I do know is that the Patriots have been looking into creating a "Ring of Honor" type of setup that is seen in some opposing stadiums. This would allow the team to honor players like Morgan for his accomplishments. For those curious, the following players are in the team's Hall of Fame: Offensive lineman John Hannah; cornerback Mike Haynes; linebacker Nick Buoniconti; offensive lineman Bruce Armstrong; receiver/kicker Gino Cappelletti; defensive end Bob Dee; quarterback Steve Grogan; defensive tackle Jim Lee Hunt; linebacker Steve Nelson; quarterback Babe Parilli; and linebacker Andre Tippett.
Is there any chance that Doug Flutie will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Yes, his NFL numbers don't match a John Elway or Dan Marino, but his character, love of the game and career achievements certainly merit a special category admission, don't you think?
Paul, Hampton, NH
I don't think Flutie has strong enough credentials to be inducted into the Hall. I've heard the argument that it's the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so Flutie's stellar career in Canada could help his candidacy, but I don't think he'll make the cut.
With Ted Johnson's decision not to go back to Channel 4, do you think he may be contemplating coming back?
Sean Monaghan, Charlotte, NC
After making his decision not to return to Channel 4 in Boston, Johnson said earlier this week that he hopes to return to school to pursue a graduate degree. He has no plans to play again.
Can you tell me how wide receiver Erik Davis is doing?
Alec Davis, Nashville, Tenn.
Davis, a rookie free agent from Vanderbilt, faces long odds to earn a roster spot. But I thought he caught the ball well in the Sunday practice session at rookie minicamp which was open to the media. Speaking with him briefly, he struck me as a humble, hard-working player.