It's definitely a mixed 'bag this week.
The questions delivered into the Patriots mailbag cover a variety of topics, from contract negotiations with rookies to roster battles, to a day-in-the-life of a Patriots reporter.
From a pure football perspective, it was energizing to watch some of the Patriots' passing camp last week, and to see the players digesting elements of the playbook. Just watching the coaches can also be revealing, as they are demanding and precise in what they are teaching (e.g. watching Ivan Fears teach rookie free agent running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis where to place his hands on a blitz pickup, keeping them inside so they don't slip off the player).
I felt like I saw a glimpse of how some players might fit into the Patriots' plans, and two names stood out: Victor Hobson and Tank Williams. I think both players, who signed one-year deals as free agents, are going to help the club.
In later talking to Williams, he reflected on the Jan. 10, 2004, playoff game between the Patriots and Titans. Williams was playing for the Titans that season, and fans might recall it was ice cold.
"So cold," Williams remembered, "that when you took out your mouthpiece and put it on your facemask, it stuck there."
The Patriots won 17-14 after Drew Bennett couldn't handle a long pass near the end of the game. Now Williams is on the other sideline, and I think he's going to be someone to keep an eye on.
On to the questions....
Hi Mike, I recently read that the Dolphins had signed almost all their draft picks, but I can't remember hearing anything about the Pats signings. Are they making any progress?
A: Glad you asked, Todd, because I don't expect much news in this regard until closer to training camp. The reason is that rosters are capped at 80 players this year. This is different from past years when teams had up to 86 as part of NFL Europa roster exemptions. Because of that, once a draft pick signs a contract, he goes against the 80-man limit. So I think it's smarter business to wait until the last minute possible to consummate these rookie deals, because it gives you more time to work with other players, and evaluate them. A few coaches I've spoken with are concerned about the lower player limit, noting that it could overtax some players while also rushing the evaluations of some younger players, thus leading to more personnel mistakes.
Mike, do you expect any holdouts among the rookie class? Also, I heard that one of the undrafted free-agent linebackers (Guyton?) was signed to a 3 year contract - if true, that seems to be a very strong commitment by the Pats.
Patrick, Palmyra, N.Y.
A: I don't expect any holdouts, Patrick. First-round pick Jerod Mayo is represented by Mitch Frankel of Impact Sports, and from what I know of him and his company, I don't expect a contentious situation. As for a three-year contract for a rookie free agent, I would caution anyone from looking at that as a major commitment. I made that mistake a few years back with a quarterback from Wyoming, Corey Bramlet, who inked a three-year pact with New England as a rookie free agent. I wrote that the deal probably meant he had a chance to stick around. It was later pointed out to me that three-year contracts are common and shouldn't be looked at as anything more than standard operating procedure. Also, NFL contracts aren't guaranteed and players can be cut at any time.
Opinion RE: your answer from your most recent mailbag to the question about steroids: "My sense is that human growth hormone is more prevalent, because it's more difficult to detect in the testing process." I don't believe that there is a test for HGH at all. I seem to recall that when Rodney Harrison was suspended, he got punished though there is no test for it because he admitted to it even though there was no "proof" other than receipts showing he purchased it.
Hsanders, Cleveland, Ohio
A: Hsanders, I spoke with Dr. Gary Wadler, who is a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List and Methods Committee, for a piece in the Boston Globe last September. In the piece, Wadler disagreed with the NFL's stance that there is no test for HGH. "They have twisted and distorted the facts," Wadler said. "They have reiterated their assertion that there is no test. That is just not the case. There is a test and it will be on line at the end of this year." The test to which Wadler was referring is a blood test. As I understand it, the NFL Players Association will not agree to a blood test, only the possibility of a urine test.
Hey Mike, I noticed that CB Mike Richardson was present at the team's passing camp. Of course, he can use all the practice he can get after missing last season. My question is this: How do you think he will do this year? I know the CB depth chart is wide open at this point, and Richardson impressed at camp last year. Do you think he could step in as a serviceable nickel back? I'm really excited for this guy to play.
A: It's a tough one to predict, Matt, because I could legitimately see it go either way - contributor or cut from the roster. I thought Richardson, a 2007 sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, was going to make the club last year before his left hand/arm injury. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's in the clear this year, with increased competition now in the fold. He is not as fast as the rookies brought in this year (Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite), and thus, brings a little bit of a different skill set to the team. I'd put him on the roster bubble at this point, with his status contingent on not only his performance, but also potential injuries at the position.
Haven't heard any news about Sammy Morris. Has he been working out? What's the status of his injury? Do you think he'll be his old self anytime soon?
A: Hi Paul, Morris has been working out in the offseason program. He generally spends his weekends in his native Dallas, before traveling up to New England on Sunday nights to take part in the program (he leaves Fridays). I think he's progressing nicely, although even Morris himself acknowledged that he won't know for sure until he takes a hit. The Patriots did visit with free agent running backs Kevin Jones and Samkon Gado, so perhaps they are just covering their bases in case Morris' recovery takes a step in the wrong direction.
My question for you is about the DB situation with the Patriots. Losing Asante Samuel was a big loss but not one that I think will hurt the Pats in the long run. I've often thought that Brandon Meriweather would be better suited as a cornerback rather than a safety; with his speed and the way he played in Miami I always felt he'd be a great, albeit physical, cornerback. Obviously Rodney Harrison's time is coming to a close at some point, but until then is there any chance we could see Meriweather playing opposite of Hobbs?
A: It's possible, Thomas, but I'd say it's unlikely. I personally like Meriweather more at safety. Meriweather does give the team flexibility to drop down and play a corner spot against multiple-receiver packages, but I don't envision him in a full-time corner role. Based on what I saw last year, I think he moves around better on the field from the safety spot.
How is Gary Guyton doing in camp? Has he stood out at all? From his combine numbers, it seemed he has the physical tools.
Eric, Hinesville, Ga.
A: It's tough to tell at this point, Eric, because the players don't have pads on and there is no hitting. I think the Patriots are obviously high on Guyton because he received a $12,000 signing bonus, which is pretty rich for a rookie free agent. I've seen him working at both inside and outside linebacker, but I ultimately see him more as an inside guy who could play some outside in sub packages, with his potential roster spot contingent most on special teams contributions. I think the smart approach is to leave it at this right now: The true test for Guyton, and most of these players, will come when the pads are on.
Mark my words. Jason Taylor will be a Patriot before the start of next season.
A: Consider them marked, Jon. I'd be surprised if the Dolphins trade him within the division. As a hypothetical, let's say the Patriots are the only team to offer a second-round pick (they have their own, and the Chargers' pick), but other clubs are offering a third-rounder or a fourth-rounder. If you're the Dolphins in this hypothetical situation, what do you do? Take the best pick but trade Taylor within the division? Or take the third-rounder and hopefully ship him to the NFC, where technically, everyone is a contender? Just a hunch, but I think Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland pick the second option.
Mike, is there any possibility that the Pats could trade for Roy Williams of the Cowboys (if not this year then next, his contract expires in 2010)? It's public knowledge that he doesn't fit the Cowboys' defensive scheme and in my estimation would fill in for an aging Rodney Harrison almost seamlessly when Rodney moves on. What are your thoughts?
Cory, Las Vegas, Nev.
A: I don't think the Patriots and Williams would be a good fit, Cory. I envision the Patriots working to extend James Sanders, whose contract expires after the 2008 season. If they do that, and pair him with Brandon Meriweather, I think those two represent the safeties of the future.
Call me crazy, but I'd love to see Kevin Garnett lineup with Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the Patriots' offense. With his size, great hands and athletic ability, he would be an unstoppable monster at wideout. What do you think of a little offseason tryout? Of course, it's totally hypothetical and would never happen, but I'd pay anything to see him in a Patriots uniform catching passes from Tom Brady for one day...assuming they could find a uniform big enough. A penny for your thoughts?
A: Josh, you'd be willing to pay anything to see Garnett in the Patriots' lineup, but are only willing to give me a penny for my thoughts? Ouch. That hurts. Here is what I would say about this hypothetical situation: I think one of the most overlooked aspects to being a top receiver is the ability to get off the line of scrimmage against contact, and create separation down the field. While Garnett is an amazing athlete, I am having a hard time projecting the skills we see on the basketball court to football receiver.
Is there a precedent for how Bill B. and the organization treat marijuana possession by a player?
A: I don't think there is a precedent, Dano in NJ. This is what I would imagine Bill Belichick's answer to this question would be: "We look at each situation individually, and try to make the best decision for the football team." I think precedents, in general, are very dangerous because it's rare that any two situations are the same.
I read your blog on Boston.com, and the entry "Watson and TEs in focus." Do you really think the Pats are a lil' thin at TE? I always liked Watson and Thomas (whom I thought has shown some real potential before injury) and Marcus Pollard (I was under the impression he was a quality veteran starting TE). Is Pollard really 4th on the depth chart? I wouldn't think he would beat out Watson to start but I thought he might be the second TE and Thomas would really have a tough time beating him out for 2nd.
A: I do think the Patriots are thin at tight end, Kevin, mainly because I don't rate Pollard as highly. I'm not sure he'll even be on the club coming out of training camp. I see him as an on-the-bubble player, similar to Marcellus Rivers in last year's training camp. I also think that with Watson and Thomas coming off injuries, there is a bit more of a cloudy forecast at the position, because you just don't know how they'll respond physically. If Thomas stays healthy, I think he could be a major contributor. I'm sure the Patriots would have liked to have addressed the position in the draft, but from what I am told, there weren't a lot of combination tight ends (blocker and receiver) with solid off-the-field credentials in this crop.
Hi Mike, I have been trying to get my head around the whole defensive players having communicating helmets rule. It's my understanding that two players are allowed to have these helmets on, but only one is allowed in the field. What happens (especially with the Pats defense) if both players are required to be on the field? Also, I read your thoughts on Brady's absence in the earlier part of the off-season and him jetting around the planet, I thought it was a great idea for him to get away from all the hoopla and clear his head, get back when it really matters. Do you feel there was more to the situation than meets the eye?
A: Mrinal, if both players who are eligible to wear the helmet are on the field at the same time, one of the players must wear a backup helmet without the communication device. Since those players must report to an official upon entering the game, and the helmets will be marked, the official will be able to ensure that only one player is on the field with the communication device. If both end up on the field with helmets that have the communication device, the team will be penalized for an illegal substitution. As for Brady, hopefully I can add more insight to the question after this weekend's minicamp (June 6-8) when I think Brady will answer questions from print reporters for the first time since the Super Bowl. Without hearing from him, it's difficult to determine the mindset he's taken this offseason.
Mike, is there a reason the Patriots OTA's, mini-camp sessions, etc are all closed to the public? Is it simply a logistics thing in terms of accommodating the public, or is it competitive secrecy? I share season tickets with a couple of friends, and I've found I have more fun coming down to the training camp sessions and watching the team practice than I do the actual games. For a die-hard fan its a treat to see the players in practice. Last summer I could see that Jabar Gaffney was much more impressive than I thought. It was neat to see that carry over into the season. Curious as to your thoughts?
A: I think it's both parts that you mentioned, John, but mainly the second part. No team that I'm aware of opens its OTAs and minicamp sessions.
Hey Mike, when will the Pats go to those red throwbacks again? I remember someone asking this before and just wanted it to be confirmed.
Dorian, Takoma Park, Md.
A: I think the 2009 season would be the likely time to see the red throwbacks, Dorian, because it will be the 50th anniversary of the American Football League. It seems like that would be the perfect time to bring them back. As we know, teams must request to wear a different jersey at least two years in advance, and I believe the Patriots have made this request.
Mike, could you take your loyal readers through a typical day in the life of a Patriot beat writer? I think you would find we are very interested in what goes on as you interact with coaches, players, owners etc over at Patriot headquarters - from access to the locker rooms, interview rooms and common areas, not only on game day but also on practices days. I have heard, for example, you can never approach players engrossed in their daily domino games or when they are on their cell phones. What challenges do you face and how does the team react to you. I know you try to be fair and balanced, but I am sure they don't always take it that way, how do they react? Any such information might be fun to read.
A: This will be a tough one to wrap into an answer that is just a few hundred words, Frank. During the season, I'd start by saying that I usually try to read a variety of articles in the morning, then I head to the stadium for Bill Belichick's 10:45 a.m. press conference. That usually lasts until 11:10. Then we have locker room access until 11:55. In terms of how to "work" a locker room, I think it's what most would expect. You treat the players the way you'd want to be treated. Sometimes there are uncomfortable moments, because players can take exception to some questions, or the reporters can take exception to perhaps not being treated with respect. It can go both ways. One uncomfortable moment for me last year came when a player pulled me aside from his locker because I wrote something that he didn't like. We hashed it out. We do not approach players at the game table, or when they're talking on the cell phone, but usually when they are at their locker either passing time, or perhaps dressing for practice. That time from 11:10-11:55 is generally our only contact with players. We go to see a portion of practice around 1 p.m., and then we come back to write, blog etc. A regular day could include re-watching a game, making other calls etc. But that's sort of a general snapshot.
Hello, has Ty Law signed with the Patriots again or is he looking to go to another team?
A: Ty Law remains a free agent, Barbara. What that tells me is that none of the teams that have spoken with him (Browns, Jets, Patriots) are offering a deal to his liking.