What's in your five
Reiss reveals his top five Patriots preseason questions
If you were listing the top five questions facing the Patriots this preseason, what would your five look like?
That's where this week's mailbag starts, and it seems like a good breaking point.
Patriots players are scheduled to return to Gillette Stadium starting July 26, with the first public training camp practice July 30. That means the next few weeks represent the final stretch of vacation for many players and coaches.
We'll join in the mix, taking a break from the mailbag until July 14.
With that in mind, let's get right to the questions. ...
Will Tom Brady play more this preseason? Last season, I think the big question was if Matt Cassel would make it without being cut. What are the big preseason questions this time?
A: I think Brady will play more this preseason, Shriram. Some reporters tried to pin Bill Belichick down on that one at the team's mandatory minicamp, and while Belichick wouldn't commit one way or the other, the sense I got was that Brady would play. As for the big preseason questions, here are my top five:
- How is Tom Brady's recovery progressing?
- Has Vince Wilfork's situation been resolved one way or the other?
- Who steps up at outside linebacker and are reinforcements needed there?
- How is the secondary coming together?
- Does Kevin O'Connell show promise as a solid backup quarterback?
Mike, I asked this a few times and you may not want to comment on it publicly, but it looked to me like Vince Wilfork was considerably heavier in the OTA that he participated in compared to last year or the year before. I know he's always been a big guy but just wondering what kind of shape he looked to be in relative to last year.
A: I personally didn't notice much of a difference, Richard. But given that Wilfork has talked in the past about his "abs diet" and the importance of being disciplined with diet and a working regimen, I think it's an issue to keep in mind if he's not working out consistently in the team's program.
Mike, you have been a vocal supporter of Wilfork and the need for a big-dollar contract to keep him. While I like Wilfork, I do not agree that the Pats should allocate mega cap money to the nose tackle position. This is not based on the importance of the position in the Pats system, but on the potential ability to get a serviceable replacement. I remember freaking out when Ted Washington left, then freaking out again when Keith Traylor left ... would it really be that hard to find another big man? He might even be on the current roster.
Sits on Metal Benches
A: All fair points. It looks like we respectfully agree to disagree, although one point that I would make is that I don't think I ever said the Patriots should allocate mega cap money to the nose tackle position. My point was more "What is a fair market deal for a player like Wilfork?" and my feeling is that it's a contract in the $7 million-$8 million per year range. I don't think that's mega money when considering that this year's salary cap is $128 million. The Patriots very well could find a replacement for Wilfork, but I'm not as sold as you that it will be that easy. I thought Jets center Nick Mangold nicely summed up what makes Wilfork an important part of the Patriots' defense in January at the Super Bowl. As for those metal benches, I used to stand on them, because we were in the last row at the old stadium. When we turned around, we saw writers like Ron Hobson, Kevin Mannix, Jim Donaldson, and others. Those were some great times.
Looking back, does Bill Belichick regret taking Brandon Meriweather over Jon Beason when he had the opportunity to do so in the first round of that 2007 draft?
Ryan, Londonderry, N.H.
A: Ryan, I thought the Patriots would have selected Beason when he was available to them in the first round (24th overall), as he filled a need and seemed to have all the intangibles the team would want at the hard-to-fill position in their system. In the end, I think the team didn't pick him because his testing numbers (e.g. 40-yard dash) weren't great and there were some questions of how he'd hold up physically in a 3-4 defense. If they could do it over again, knowing what they know now, I'd be surprised if the Patriots (and as many as 15-18 other teams) passed Beason (25th overall) over. I was recently watching a replay of a Panthers game on NFL Network and Beason was consistently around the ball. Some of the tackles did come downfield as it was common to see him drop 15 yards into pass coverage on one snap, and then be playing more downhill on the next. Overall, Beason is probably a better fit for Carolina's 4-3 alignment, but I still thought he could have fit here -- his instincts are excellent. Meriweather could still have a nice career, but to me, Beason has been the better player to this point.
Mike, I understand the importance of long snapping, as I used to do it, but why don't the Patriots find a long snapper who can be a backup player at some other position or on other special teams to save a potential roster spot?
A: This is often a balancing act for teams, Dan, because of the injury factor. If a team is counting on a long snapper to also back up another position, there is always the concern that the snapper could get injured when pressed into regular duty. I remember it from the 1990s with long snapper Mike Bartrum. He filled a third spot on the depth chart at tight end but if I recall, he missed some time in 1997 with an injury. There is no right or wrong answer, but I think for teams who do it like the Patriots have under Bill Belichick, it's the injury factor that is driving their decision-making.
Hey Mike, I was just wondering what the percentage was of players that were invited to the combine vs. the ones that actually got drafted? I can't believe that all combine invitees got drafted. Julian Edelman is not on any combine list that I can find as a QB or a wide receiver. I just think it would be an interesting statistic to look at.
Philip B., Braintree
A: Phil, when I first read this question, I was thinking that this would be a tough stat to dig up. Then I remembered that the venerable Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News was all over it in late April, and thanks to the World Wide Web, it can be passed along here. As Gosselin pointed out, 42 of the NFL's 265 draft choices were not invited to the combine. A total of 330 prospects were invited to the combine. The Patriots drafted three players who didn't attend the combine -- offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (second round), center/guard Rich Ohrnberger (fourth round) and Edelman (seventh round).
Hey Mike, this question may not have any answer right now, especially with the potential uncapped year, but I was wondering about your take on Brady's upcoming contract situation. I know as of right now it's probably not their immediate concern, but I was curious if you think that Brady will ask for record breaking figures in his next contract negotiation. You can't fault him if he wants to get what he deserves, but if I remember correctly, in the past he has been willing to sacrifice a little bit of money with the implicit understanding that the savings will be used to upgrade the team around him. Just curious to know if you have any input on the situation and what your hunch would be about his general expectations.
A: Rob, while I don't think anything is imminent, I do believe it's on the radar for both sides. I expect it to work out; the only question for me is "when." As for what Brady is looking for, my sense is that his approach won't change. He'll want to be compensated fairly - and that means a top-of-the-market type of deal -- but he's not going to be holding them ransom. That is my opinion without knowing any of the behind-the-scenes discussions.
Every one lately seems to be giving Shawn Crable praise and that he will be the new outside linebacker, but in my opinion I think the spot belongs to Pierre Woods. He has more experience and more ability from what I've seen in the games he did play in. When I think back to this troubled spot I always remember the New York Jets game Week 11 last year where he did well. Don't you think Woods should take the spot?
A: This came up in our weekly Patriots chat on Boston.com last week, and I think what we're going to see is a 2-for-1 deal at that outside linebacker spot. Last year, it was Mike Vrabel at the position, and he was on the field for 87 percent of the snaps (a figure which would have been even higher if he wasn't rested at the end of clear-cut victories). I don't see anyone on the roster that will fill that 87 percent void. So I think it will be Woods on early downs and either Crable or Banta-Cain in passing situations. Redd could also mix in with either role in mind. Just a hunch that it's going to be a combination-type approach.
Hi Mike, I asked the question at Nick Cassario's Q&A as part of the Hall of Fame Speaker Series as to why the Pats passed on/didn't draft an outside pass rushing linebacker. At this point, I'm left to assume that, in the coaches' eyes, linebacker wasn't the problem in getting off the field on third down. It was the secondary. Accepting that premise, the secondary appears to have been upgraded with a lot of proven and potential talent. Should we assume that the third down problem has been solved?
A: Ralph, you were on fire if I recall that night. A handful of writers were over in the corner, ready to jump in the fray and ask some questions, but you were bringing the heat in asking Nick Caserio some very topical stuff. That was an enjoyable evening. As for the thoughts about the third-down problems (26th out of 32 teams last year, opponents convert 44.4 percent of the time), I look at it a little differently. I do think the secondary was obviously looked at as a weak spot, and that has been upgraded. But in terms of the linebacker spot, I think it was more of a case of there not being the right fit and having a shallow pool from which to choose. Had Tennessee's Robert Ayers been there at 23, for example, I do believe the Patriots would have strongly considered that possibility. While I believe the team is happy with the young players it has at outside linebacker, I also think the idea of adding a veteran rusher is very much in place if things fall into place.
Hey Mike, I saw your 53-man roster prediction and I was wondering why Brandon McGowan wasn't on it. I though he might be in a four-man rotation with Sanders, Meriweather, and Chung?
Chris S., Lexington
A: Chris, McGowan was one of the tough cuts when I was projecting the roster, and certainly a player who could be there in the end. I think the fact McGowan is a bubble guy -- at least from this perspective -- reflects how deep of a roster the Patriots have. In my projection, which assumes perfect health across the board, I gave the nod to Slater as the fourth safety because he is likely to be more of a factor on special teams. On those roster projections there are two important points that I think must be stressed: 1) You have to respect the competition that will unfold in training camp, which could result in some changes; 2) These things can change based on health issues and other factors as the preseason process evolves.
Everyone talks about where we're weak from a positional point of view but I think there will be some big changes in leadership on the field. We're losing Vrabel, Harrison and Izzo in one fell swoop. To me, leadership is one of the most important ingredients to making championship teams successful. It's the fabric of the team and can get players to play over their heads and it's usually overlooked when looking at positions. I know we have Brady and Moss but who will take the departed players place? How do you think this affects the team this year and who do you think steps up to be a leader who wasn't last year?
A: The leadership issue has been brought up in past weeks, Wayno, and I can understand why. I personally think the Patriots still have a lot of experienced leaders in that room, even guys who are new to the team like Fred Taylor, Shawn Springs, and Joey Galloway. Players like Jerod Mayo can also now start to evolve more as leaders, or someone like Adalius Thomas, now in his third year in the system, can step up in that type of capacity. I don't see the Patriots being hurt in this area.
What are the chances that the Pats un-retire their numbers and make the team Hall of Fame the ultimate honor? I like the idea of seeing new players in the old numbers. The only thing beyond the team Hall of Fame that would be neat is to have a Ring of Honor. I think it would be cool to see HOF's names displayed around the stadium.
Aroon A., Orlando, Fla.
A: Aroon, I think this is where the team is ultimately headed, and it could get tricky when deciding which numbers to un-retire. But from this standpoint, it's the right thing to do. I'd endorse the idea that I've heard from other fans -- for a Patriots player's number to be retired, he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That would make it fair across the board. I also like your thinking of having the names of Patriots Hall of Fame inductees visible somewhere in the stadium.