Back with a brand new 'bag
Some thoughts on minicamp, Moss, Maroney, and more
It's been six weeks since the last Patriots mailbag on Boston.com and a few readers threw a penalty flag my way for delay-of-mailbag. More than anything, I was trying to catch my breath in what has been a dizzying offseason.
After this one, my plan is to be back with another mailbag for the start of July.
Topics are wide-ranging, but I noticed a few themes. There is plenty of curiosity regarding Asante Samuel's "holdout" situation, as well as what type of impact receiver Randy Moss will have on the club.
We'll get right to the questions.
I certainly don't want to beat a dead horse but I must ask your opinion about the Asante Samuel saga. Here we have a very talented kid who made very little money in the last four years, about $2 million (total) if I have my facts straight. How can he and his agent possibly think it's a wise move to turn down almost $5 million by sitting out until week 10? Do you think he's afraid of getting hurt, and thus not ever seeing a huge contract in the future? I just don't get it. Your insight is appreciated.
Scott Bolton, Ayer
A: Assuming Samuel would truly sit out until Week 10 -- and he's not just saying that as part of an overall negotiating strategy -- the injury factor is the most significant part of that line of thinking. The idea is to limit Samuel's exposure to injury so he can be an unrestricted free agent next year and cash in with the contract he desires. Another part of the threat of not showing up until Week 10 is the distraction factor. By coming out and saying that, Samuel potentially creates a distraction for the Patriots, and his hope could be that the Patriots concede something (i.e., they won't franchise tag him in 2008) if he reduces his own demands (i.e., shows up on time).
If the Pats cannot reach an agreement with Samuel, will they trade him? And if that unfortunate occurrence takes place, not to an AFC team! Your thoughts?
Sensai David, Seattle
A: If a team offers a first-round draft choice, I think the Patriots would trade Samuel. I don't see that happening, though.
I hear and read that Mr. Moss is loafing at work. I'm sure it won't be tolerated in a game, but do you think it matters now? Belichick has to be taking note and so must be his teammates. Any grumblings yet?
Tom Williams, Vernon, Conn.
A: I watched the Patriots' minicamp practices and I didn't feel as if Moss was loafing. I'll feel more comfortable gauging Moss's "loafing" once the pads come on in training camp and there is some hitting. I ran my opinion by a few general managers over the last few weeks to see if they felt I was giving Moss too much leeway in that regard, and their feelings were that it's premature to make any definitive statements about a June minicamp, assuming Moss wasn't trailing the pack in drills or sprints by a significant distance (which wasn't the case).
Do you think some in the press are reading the Randy Moss signing a little incorrectly by giving him a guaranteed roster spot and anointing him a key to the Pats' success? Do you think in the coaching staff's opinion he is on trial at least as much as any player on the team, if not even more, and could be let go if he exhibits any behavior that causes concern? And do you think they need him to succeed?
Christopher Bruno, Danbury, Conn.
A: Here is how I read the situation: Moss will be on the team, will be a primary contributor, and reports of him being on a short leash are exaggerated. I think the big thing to watch is what happens during the season when things might not go Moss's way from a personal standpoint. As long as the team is winning, and Moss is getting his fair share of touches in a competitive environment, I don't see any problems. While it's possible Moss could get cut, I think it would be a significant upset if it came to that.
A lot of people criticized the Patriots' decision to let Deion Branch get away, and then questioned acquiring Randy Moss. Let's take a closer look at how Branch led to Moss: Branch got traded for the 24th pick, which allowed the Patriots to trade their own pick (28th) to San Francisco for a 1st next year and a 4th this year. That 4th then got traded to Oakland for Randy Moss. So, to sum up, the Patriots essentially traded Deion Branch for Randy Moss and a 2007 first round pick (Brandon Meriweather). AND they're paying Moss a lot less than Branch! So, my question is, now that one has led to the other, it seems less than questionable, it seems more like ... brilliant, to me. Any validity to that thought process?
Aaron Gordon, Trumbull, Conn.
A: Perhaps there is some validity to that thought process, but I don't think it can be overlooked that the Patriots were short-changed in the deal when it came specifically to the 2006 season. Also, while they are paying Moss a lot less than Branch, they also have him for a much shorter length of time -- one year vs. six years. Overall, my view on this situation is that based on the dramatic shift of the market, the Patriots could have extended more than they did for Branch in 2006. Whether that could have consummated a deal, I'm not sure, because Branch would have had to reduce his asking price a bit. Privately, I think the Patriots would acknowledge they could have extended a bit more for Branch and I believe the team's actions in 2007 -- namely, getting aggressive in the receiver market -- are reflective of that line of thinking.
How's Eugene Wilson coming along? I'm a big fan and hope he steps up this year after the disappointing, injury-riddled season last year.
Bruce Wolf, Tyngsboro
A: After playing in only four games due to hamstring and groin injuries, Wilson had surgery in December and was back on the field in the team's June minicamp, seemingly working without restrictions. Here was what he said about his situation: "From the first day back out here in passing camp, it's right back at it, me and Rodney [Harrison] communicating, doing what we do. It's going real well right now." If the season were to start today, I think Wilson would start at safety. I'm sure he'll also take reps at cornerback in training camp, which opens up that possibility as well. Wilson is entering the final year of his contract, so this is a big year for him, and I think he'll respond.
What rotten luck with our draft picks. Any chance of Chad Jackson reaching potential? I have a bad feeling about Maroney's shoulder. Do you? Now Meriweather has a hammy. I feel like kicking something, or somebody -- where is Samuel?
Tom Williams, Vernon, Conn.
A: I don't think it's been bad luck with the team's draft picks. The Patriots' track record on draft picks is solid, especially compared with the majority of other clubs in the NFL. As for Jackson, the early signs of him reaching his potential aren't positive from my view. Last year, I wrote about the importance of taking time to evaluate Jackson and that rookies develop at different rates. I still believe that, but I'm beginning to wonder if Jackson has fully committed himself to be the best player he can be at this time. And now that he's injured, that further sets the process back. It's natural to have concern with Maroney from a health standpoint, but I believe he'll be fine. Same with Meriweather, who I believe could have practiced if this were the regular season but was held out of the June minicamp as a precaution.
Tom Brady is portrayed as a locker room leader and well-liked. Some press report he is polite and respectful while others write of a prima donna. What has been your experience?
Donnie Q, Berlin N.H.
A: Brady is one of the tougher players to get to know, mainly because of the media demands and the fact he holds a formal press conference each week. I enjoy the process of talking to players at their lockers, or out on the field after practice, and you can learn more about them that way. Unfortunately, it's not as easy with Brady so this is a tough question to answer. From afar, I'd say Brady is more of the polite and respectful type. I do think he's a terrific leader, which is not hard to see at all. There was another question in the mailbag, asking my opinion if Brady's focus might be off due to changes in his personal life, and I don't think it will be a problem.
Do you think the Pats should take a look at free agent safety Donovin Darius? As a longtime Pats fan now living outside the Jacksonville, Fla., area, I think he brings a lot to the game and he fits the Pats mold of players they like.
Steve, Jacksonville, Fla.
A: Darius is going to draw some interest from clubs around the league once he returns to full health. He probably won't pass many physicals right now, but I expect him to land with a team that gives him better opportunity to be a starter, such as Carolina. The Patriots already have two in-the-box safeties who project to make the 53-man roster in Rodney Harrison and James Sanders, and Darius would add a third. While he would be a luxury, I don't see the Patriots extending to outbid other clubs that have a greater need at this time.
In your blog, you cited Chris Canty on the 1997 Pats draft. Looking at the rest of the draft, I can't remember one of those guys sticking anywhere in the NFL. Am I wrong? Had to be the Pats' worst draft ever. Who made those selections?
Pappy, Panama City Beach, Fla.
A: Second-round pick Brandon Mitchell, a defensive lineman, had the longest NFL career of all 1997 Patriots draft picks. Offensive linemen Ed Ellis (4th round) and Scott Rehberg (7th round) would be next in line. Bobby Grier was the Patriots' vice president of player personnel in 1997, and was ultimately in charge of the draft.
Do you think that with all the additions at WR and the departure of a work horse like Corey Dillon that the Pats will become more of a quick-strike offensive team? In the past few years it seems as though we've had a ball-control offense and been able to kill the clock in the fourth quarter of close games. My concern is with Maroney and Morris, if they'll be able to do the same sort of thing that Dillon used to do so well. This, in turn, will also mean that our defense will be on the field more often than before, and for an older group, it may have negative effects on the team.
A: I like the question, Tal, because I think we're going to see more three-receiver sets from the Patriots this year and less two-tight end work. It's just a hunch. As for a quick-strike offense meaning the defense would be on the field longer, I don't see the Patriots going to that extreme. On the ball-control thoughts with Dillon, I really thought Dillon slowed down considerably last year. From an overall perspective, I think Morris will be an upgrade.
What are the chances of us beating the Colts this season?
Allison Floyd, Burnsville, Miss.
A: Assuming the rosters don't change much from what they are now, when I match up the Patriots against the Colts I see two explosive offenses going toe to toe in a game that could go either way. Forced to pick one team, I'd take the home club, which in the case of the 2007 regular season would be the Colts.
First, I am the biggest Patriots fan in Texas! I will be in Dallas on Oct. 14 to watch the Pats kill the Cowboys. What is up with this schedule that we got dealt this year? Is the NFL trying to hold us back? Eight games against playoff teams from last year; five of those games are away; and the Bengals are another of the games where they are always tough to beat. What is the deal?
Mike O'Brien, Round Rock, Texas
A: As you know, Mike, the NFL has a set rotation for its schedule each year, so it's not as if league officials got behind closed doors and said "let's make this as hard for the Patriots as possible." In fact, the majority of 2008 opponents are already set. But as for the schedule, I'd remind you that seven of last year's 12 playoff teams were new, so what looked like a tough schedule heading into last year might not have been as tough as it initially appeared. From a projection standpoint, I don't see the schedule being as tough as you do.
I know that Adalius Thomas got a lot of time at the "mike" position in minicamp. My understanding is that this will allow Bruschi to return to his normal weakside spot? Also, what are the names of the other linebacking positions in the Pats system? I know one of them is the "Sam", but I'm not sure where that position lines up. Finally, what is the main characteristic of the Pats' gap-control defense and are there any other teams that use the same primary system? What makes the gap-control so difficult?
Rich Casey, Denver
A: Quite a bit to digest here, Rich, and it's not all clear-cut. I'd start by cautioning anyone about reading too much into what happens in a June minicamp. Last training camp, for example, Eugene Wilson spent the first 20 practices at cornerback before switching back to safety. I remember talking with former Patriots linebacker Jeremy Mincey (now with the Jaguars) and he said the names of the linebacker positions in the Patriots defense are: Mike, Will, Sam, and Jack. The Mike and Will are inside linebackers, the Sam and Jack are outside linebackers. When we're talking about gap-control defenses, the main thing I focus on is the assignments within the front seven. Instead of having lighter players shooting through one gap to either side of them, in a two-gap defense you generally prefer to have heavier, stronger players accounting for the gap to both sides of them. They're controlling blockers to get the job done, instead of trying to shoot past them. It's never that simple -- in fact, it's much more complex -- but that's a general answer that hopefully sheds more light on it.
My question has to do with a backup to Laurence Maroney (in addition to what we now have). The Patriots inevitably will be releasing at least one good wide receiver before the season starts. Are there any teams similarly overloaded at the running back position? Do you see any running backs that might be released due to the numbers game who the Patriots might be interested in?
Sturg Spanos, New Jersey
A: Former Bengals first-round pick Chris Perry is one name that comes to mind as a possibility. The Bengals have Rudi Johnson and drafted Kenny Irons, so I wonder if Perry's days in Cincinnati are numbered. He's been limited by injuries, so there's no assurances that he'll be an answer for anyone. Possibly Julius Jones in Dallas, but I'd be surprised if he was outright released. Maybe Ron Dayne in Houston if Ahman Green gobbles up all the carries and there's no need for a thumper behind him. LaBrandon Toefield (Jacksonville), Correll Buckhalter (Philadelphia), and Patrick Cobbs (Miami) are a few others, albeit in a lower category, that come to mind. I don't see any team overloaded at the position. As for the Patriots at receiver, I figure that unforeseen injuries will help that situation shake itself out.
Can Sammy Morris get you three yards for a first down or a touchdown in December the way Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon could? Maroney, who was probably injured, could only manage 18 yards in 13 carries against the Colts and the Chargers in the playoffs.
Paul Lynn, Missoula, Mont.
A: Probably not, Paul, but Morris can do other things that Smith and Dillon couldn't: provide backup insurance for third-down back Kevin Faulk in passing situations, give Maroney a breather at times on early downs, and play on almost all special-teams units. So while the Patriots might lose a bit in the short-yardage, grind-it-out game, they gain in other areas. And they'll need Maroney to step forward and provide better results than he did in the playoffs -- and in short-yardage situations -- which I partially attribute to Maroney's ailing health at that time.
I'm not liking the depth at running back, especially given the fact that Maroney is still not fully recovered from off-season surgery. The Pats need a big red-zone back. Let's face it, Corey Dillon had little to no interest from other teams, and who knows, once camp starts he may get the itch to play again. I can see Dillon back here late in the pre-season with a veteran minimum contract. What are your thoughts?
Tom Neves, Dartmouth
A: I would be very surprised if Dillon came back to New England. While he might play again, I don't think he has any interest in doing it with the Patriots.
Are we going to see Randy Moss with Troy Brown in the defensive backfield this year?
Paul Sanner, New York, N.Y.
A: I don't think we'll see Moss playing defense, but the part of the question that interests me more is whether we'll see Brown on the field at all. I had heard last month that things were getting closer to Brown returning, but that information wasn't accurate. I'm assuming Brown's knee has yet to return to full health. He has been working out at Gillette Stadium even though he remains a free agent.
Is Randy Moss going to stay with jersey No. 6? If not, how much longer until we will know his new number?
Brian Crawford. Indianapolis
A: Moss is not going to stay with No. 6. As for how much longer, I don't have the answer. It's possible that he could wear 6 into training camp and then finalize his number closer to the regular season when more numbers become available.
Do you think the Patriots will use one of their 2008 third-round draft choices on cornerback Paul Oliver in the July 2007 Supplemental Draft? It seems to me this move would be a good insurance policy at that position in case CB Asante Samuel decides not to report until the 10th week of the season.
Jerie O'Connor, Walkersville
A: I think this would be a terrific move by the Patriots if they could acquire Oliver with a third-round pick. First, they have an extra third-rounder from their draft-day trade with the Raiders. Second, they have a need at the position and while Oliver represents a bit of a risk and projection (15 career starts), I think a third-round pick is worthy of a roll of the dice for a player who with a solid senior season could have been a first-round type player in 2008. Oliver is working out for scouts this week and his 40 time should help determine where teams will consider drafting him. If he's in the 4.3s, I don't think he'll last past the third round.
Does Daunte Culpepper want to and/or think he should be a starting QB in the NFL? Would the Pats consider bringing him in to go along with Matt Cassel? Or is it another year of Vinny T?
A: I think Culpepper wants to, and thinks he should be, a starting quarterback. Based on that, I don't think he'd fit on the Patriots' roster at this time. The question is an interesting one, though, because Cassel remains a bit of a wild card. I don't think anyone knows the answer to this question: If Brady is injured, can Cassel keep the team afloat? I saw a few Cassel throws in June's minicamp that had me thinking the answer could potentially be "yes" and a few others into triple coverage that had me thinking "no." Like anything else, when the pads come on, hopefully we'll have a better idea of where that situation stands. At the end of the day, I think Culpepper will wind up elsewhere and it will be Brady and Cassel, with Testaverde ready in an emergency.
I have been following all the preseason hype and though I agree the Pats look great, it's still only a paper team. It took Brady almost 12 games to get in sync with last year's receivers. Wouldn't this still be an issue this year with all the new receivers?
Rick, Henniker, N.H.
A: To a degree, Rick, but there are some differences. Brady didn't start working with some of his receivers until the start of the season last year (i.e. Doug Gabriel was acquired at the end of the preseason; Jabar Gaffney was an October signing), whereas this year, he has the chance to work with them in the offseason. Also, I'm not naive to think that talent doesn't have something to do with it. This overall group is more talented than last year's, so the learning curve isn't going to be as steep.
With the Broncos' recent signing of DT Sam Adams, news surfaced that his agent had been in contact with Patriots representatives. Do you feel the Patriots were really trying to sign him (if so, in what role?), or they were merely trying to drive the price up for the Broncos?
A: I think the Patriots were trying to sign Adams, adding a quality veteran presence along the line and protecting themselves at nose tackle if starter Vince Wilfork becomes injured. I don't believe it was a situation where they were trying to drive the price up on the Broncos.
In one of your blogs from June's minicamp, you write that Matt Gutierrez "seems to do OK in that regard." What was behind this? Does "OK" mean to hint that he wasn't that sharp? Or do you just want to tone down the enthusiasm from the top four?
Mark, San Francisco
A: What I was trying to say, Mark, is that you can't really tell one way or the other. I was more trying to point out the idea that when the more experienced players were running sprints on one field, younger players like Gutierrez were running full-team drills on the other field. I was trying to make it less about how those players were faring and more about what they were doing, and jumped ahead of myself thinking "I bet readers will wonder how the young players looked?" And in trying to answer that question in the blog post, I probably created more confusion.
Where does Tory James fit into the secondary, especially with the Samuel situation? With eight interceptions a couple years ago, is he a candidate to start at CB?
Spencer, Williamsburg, Va.
A: I see James as a third or fourth option right now, behind Chad Scott and Ellis Hobbs, and on a similar level as Randall Gay. I'm also keeping an eye on Mike Richardson, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame.
I've been waiting for the Patriots to straighten out their Hall of fame situation for quite a while. Houston Antwine was a six-time All-Pro, (seven according to his bio at patriots.com, which also mentions him being voted MVP by the fans in 1971), and was a big favorite of mine. He's also an AFL Hall of Famer and was defensive captain. Hard to believe he wasn't in, so imagine my excitement when they said they'd be inducting more members. But I don't understand how Ron Burton could be considered before Antwine. I bet you won't want to touch this one, but if you do, and the team is interested in honoring past heroes that deserve it, from a football standpoint, Jon Morris had six Pro Bowls and was the best center we ever had. Fair is fair.
John Shea, Tampa, Fla.
A: Fan voting continues on Patriots.com and for those who aren't aware, the Patriots have made some changes to the Hall of Fame process this year. There are 27 members of a nomination committee (media members, past players, etc.) who narrow down a list of nominees to three. I am a member of that committee. Once the list is narrowed to three, fans make the final call via online voting on Patriots.com. There will be one inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame each year. This year's finalists are receiver Stanley Morgan, tight end Ben Coates, and running back Ron Burton. I can tell you that the candidacies of Antwine and Morris were discussed at our meeting, but those players didn't make the cut when the nomination committee voted. Based on their credentials, I'm personally hopeful that Antwine and Morris make the final-three cut next year and have a chance to be inducted. Based on this year's finalists, I think only Morgan has credentials that are more worthy.
Do you ever read Pats message boards?
Mike, Katy, Texas
A: Yes, I do, as I'm interested to read what fans are thinking and talking about. Patsfans, KFFL and PatsFanTalk are a few that I have bookmarked.