Patriots hard at work
This week's Q&A tackles minicamp, positional battles and Kaczur
The Patriots concluded their mandatory three-day minicamp over the weekend. The minicamp capped off a three-week stretch of organized team activities (OTAs), which I was told were attended by every member of the team.
I wanted to lead off this week's mailbag with that point, noting the full attendance for OTAs.
While the minicamp was mandatory, the OTAs were voluntary. Yet every member of the team was present.
I think that point was probably undersold, and highlights the work ethic and approach the Patriots are taking entering the 2008 season.
Some wonder how the team will respond to the tough Super Bowl defeat. Based on the attendance at OTAs, and the intensity and focus seen at the minicamp, the feeling here is that the Patriots won't be suffering from any hangover effect.
On to the questions. ...
Mike, can you give a quick breakdown of the defensive secondary and where you think the guys fit? We lost 2 corners and a safety and we brought in 6-7 players to replace the 3 we lost. Obviously special teams could be a factor also, but of the guys we have, which do you feel are likely to stick around? Barring injuries, we can't keep all our draft picks and the free agents we brought in, right?
A: Watching the Patriots at their recent minicamp helped shape the picture on the defensive backs, Rick. One thing I'd say is that it's dangerous to read too much into non-pads minicamps, so what I think coaches look for is that the defensive backs are at least close to the play, that they're not 10 yards behind. With that in mind, at this point, I think the Patriots are going to be OK in the defensive backfield. I think Fernando Bryant is going to be one of the starters at cornerback, and I'd put Ellis Hobbs on the other side, assuming he's healthy (if not, put Jason Webster there). I see rookie Terrence Wheatley and second-year man Mike Richardson next in line, followed by rookie Jonathan Wilhite. At safety, I see Rodney Harrison starting, with Brandon Meriweather challenging James Sanders at the other spot. I also envision Tank Williams being a factor, at this point in sub packages. Veteran Lewis Sanders can play both safety and corner, and he adds another layer of depth. Injuries will factor in to who is kept and who isn't, as well as other needs on the roster.
Hi Mike, with training camp a little more than a month away, how do you see the injury situation playing out? With nine players not participating in the minicamp, is there a possibility that some of them will start camp on the physically unable to perform list? Who might they be? Looking further down the road do you feel any others might start the regular season on the PUP list? Thanks.
Jim C., Seminole, Fla.
A: Jim, the players who did not participate in on-field work at the recent minicamp were receivers Kelley Washington and Wes Welker (he was at the final walkthrough session), cornerback Ellis Hobbs, guard Stephen Neal, offensive tackle Oliver Ross, tight end Benjamin Watson, inside linebacker Bo Ruud, defensive lineman Jarvis Green and defensive lineman Mike Wright. I think it's fair to say that a few players on the list could start on PUP. I wouldn't put Welker on that list, though. As for others who could start on PUP, it would be a player who does not pass his conditioning test. I'd take a stab at a rookie free agent to make the list, as it's often hard for them to get up to speed with conditioning in a short period of time.
Hi Mike, I don't believe you've done a comparison between Jerod Mayo and Patrick Willis. Considering where they got chosen in the draft in 2007 and 2008, one spot, I think it would be nice to hear how your sources/football experts would compare these guys. Thanks.
A: The first thought that came to mind, Sean, was speed. Willis was a bit faster coming out of Mississippi, running in the 4.4s. Mayo was in the 4.5s. Both have similar physical make-ups, with their height (6-foot-1) and weight (242 pounds), but I think Willis was more of a polished product having stayed in school through his senior year. Mayo, on the other hand, entered the draft after his junior season. I think scouts felt good evaluating both players knowing they competed in one of college football's best conferences, the SEC. To sum it up, I think if you looked at both players from when they were entering the draft, Willis would be the pick. But as we know, "being the pick" is only part of the equation. How a team develops a player and brings him along is a major part of football. Along those lines, I often wonder if Tom Brady would be the star he is today if he was a sixth-round draft choice with another club. I'm not saying one way or another, just trying to highlight that I think a huge part of players' careers is getting to a place where coaches stick around for a few years and know how to highlight players' strengths, compensate for their weaknesses, and have a commitment to developing them. So in this case, because I believe the Patriots are top-notch in this regard, Mayo could turn out to be the better pro in a long-range view.
I read a comment from Brady that he still is not lifting much weight this offseason. I'm not sure what he means by this. Has Brady had some type of injury that has prevented him form undertaking his normal offseason workouts?
Tom, Medford, Ore.
A: Tom, the confusion stemmed from a Saturday minicamp interview with Brady in which he was joking, but the comments were taken as if he were serious. Brady said the ankle that bothered him in the playoffs was now feeling great, and then Brady joked that he still couldn't lift or jump. It was self-deprecating humor. But for about four hours, a story was published from the Associated Press saying that Brady was still limited due to his injury -- and it was picked up by various national news outlets. I think the AP's mistake was perhaps from reading a transcript of the comments and not realizing they were a joke. Mistakes happen to all of us -- for example, in Sunday's Boston Globe football notes I wrote that Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins played at Central Florida, when it should have been South Florida -- and this was a case in which a mistake was made.