As I sifted through the questions of this weeks Patriots mailbag, one area that stood out was the tight end position, and how the Patriots might integrate a new look at that spot in 2009.
There is the Y tight end, who is more of an on-the-line blocker. Then there is the F tight end, who is more likely to be in motion and catch passes.
This year might also include an H-back.
The Patriots have Benjamin Watson, Chris Baker, Alex Smith, David Thomas and Tyson DeVree at tight end. With no pure fullback on the roster, someone from that group is likely to be lining up in the backfield at times in an H-back type role. Smith and Thomas are the likely two candidates.
So lets dive into some H-back talk . . .
Hey Mike, I hope that I can provoke you into a discussion about
the H-back position. I first recall hearing mention of this position when
the Patriots drafted Benjamin Watson. To my recollection, the Patriots
intended to employ him and Daniel Graham in the same offensive set, with
Watson lining up in the backfield as the H-back. I don't know if this ever
really came to fruition, with all the injuries at the TE position. Then
came Moss, Welker, and the 3-wide basic set used at the present. However,
with the acquisition of TE Alex Smith, I have heard mention of the H-back
again in association with Smith and his role with the team. I realized that
I really do not understand much at all about this position. Here are some
1) Foremost, how does an H-back differ from a standard TE or FB?
2) What advantages does an H-back provide an offense?
3) What kinds of qualities (such as size, athleticism, an ability to get
open down field) does a prospective H-back player need?
4) Finally, could you give some perspective on the H-back in the NFL (e.g.
what teams employ an H-back?)
A: Denis, I think this is an interesting question on several levels. First, it gives a perspective on how the Patriots offense has evolved. In 2006, one of the big topics of discussion was how Watson/Graham would be a solid tight end combination and the Patriots would be a two-tight-end base offense. Watson wasnt necessarily an H-back, just a second tight end Watson played the F (more pass-catcher) while Graham was the Y (more on-the-line blocker). The Patriots were ultimately hurt by not having enough explosiveness outside the hash marks at receiver, and in 2007, they went to the three-receiver offense and continue with that approach today. As for the answers to the above four questions, here are some thoughts after brushing up on this with a scout: 1) An H-back differs from a standard TE or FB because hes a tweener, a mix of both of those positions. Hes an off-the-line move guy.; 2) An H-back provides an offense an advantage with matchups a defense must decide what type of personnel it will use to defend him is it a linebacker or a defensive back? It gives an offense more value in the passing game.; 3) In terms of qualities an H-back should have, it starts with athleticism, and if he can also be a factor in the run game, its a bonus; 4) In terms of the history of the H-back, the feeling was that it evolved in the Joe Gibbs era, as Gibbs wanted more versatility than just a standard fullback or blocking tight end.
Mike, I wholeheartedly disagree with your
analysis that Ben Watson tops the Pats' depth chart at TE in your snapshot
on Boston.com. If the Patriots were satisfied with Watson, why would
they have A) signed Chris Baker to a big-money deal, and B) traded a 2010
fifth-rounder for Alex Smith? Doesn't add up. Watson is a gifted athlete,
aside from the fact that he can't catch. Please elaborate on your
Neil S., South Boston
A: This is a fair point, Neil. When listing the players at tight end, I really felt they were 1A, 1B and 1C because they all add something different to the mix. At the same time, I thought that would have been too much fence-sitting not to list them 1, 2 and 3 and I picked Watson because I envision him playing in the base three-receiver package where his skills fit more than Baker and Smith because of his speed. I see Baker more as a blocker and underneath receiver, with Smith more of an H-back who could potentially be a factor in the three-wide packages.
Hey Mike, whats the deal with Patrick Chung? He is a
second-round draft pick, and I was curious why he hasnt signed a contract
yet? Everyone else is signing.
Wayne A., New Portland, Maine
A: Wayne, I think this is just the natural progression of going through the process of signing rookies, especially with a team that has a 12-member rookie class. I dont anticipate any major problems with Chungs negotiation. From my experience, the Octagon Sports group which represents Chung is one that can be defined as being deal-makers. Third-round pick Tyrone McKenzie and sixth-round pick Jake Ingram are also unsigned at this time.
Mike, it seems the Patriots are departing from what seemed like
a take-it-or-leave-it six-year deal for draft picks for four-year deals. Is
this solely because of the change in front office? Or is this something
Bill Belichick has decided to change, because of how he views the current
state of things, with all things being considered?
Richard, London, Ont.
A: Richard, its actually for a different reason altogether the NFL changed the rules. It used to be that first-round draft choices, from 1-32, could be signed to a maximum length contract of six years. Now, only picks 1-16 can be signed to a maximum of a six-year deal, with picks 17-32 only allowed to be signed to a maximum of a five-year deal. The rest of the picks -- from the second-round to the end of the seventh-round -- can be signed to a maximum of a four-year contract.
Hey Mike, I was just wondering if Floyd Reese is easier to work with from an agent's point of view than Scott Pioli? I feel like these draft picks are being signed quicker than in years past. Am I right about that? Ryan, Londonderry, N.H.
A: I dont think Id agree with that, Ryan. From my view, a big part of this is that the Patriots had 12 draft choices, which is a high number, so getting started early made more sense. Also, the most complicated negotiations are usually the first-round picks, and the Patriots dont have any of those. One final factor is the agents on the other side of the negotiating table, and the Patriots seem to have selected players who have agents willing to strike a deal quickly (some prefer to wait to see the other deals around the draft slot).
I was wondering if you could ask some of your sources around the
league about some of the players fans should be paying attention to but are
not. Without the benefit of coach's film and an idea of what each team is
specifically trying to do it can be easy for fans to overlook contributions
from some unsung players. For example, Ty Warren could have zero tackles,
never have his name mentioned by the broadcast team and still play a great
game, but get overlooked because of the Pats' scheme. What do you
A: Matt, this is a great idea and it sparked me to call around to some players to ask the question. This is what I came up with, which ran in Sundays Boston Globe: Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Titans defensive lineman Jacob Ford, Cardinals cornerback Ralph Brown, Buccaneers safety Tanard Jackson, and Panthers fullback Brad Hoover. That was just a small sample, but it was entertaining to hear the responses, as players genuinely seemed to be enjoying shedding the spotlight on some players they felt were deserving.
Hey Mike, of the following defensive players, who is the
strongest leader in your opinion? Wilfork? Seymour? Warren? To change gears
on the same topic, do you feel that leadership, while important, is
overrated. Who were the leaders on the Steelers? The Cardinals? The Giants
the year before? Random guys on those teams just seemed to make plays at
A: I think Wilfork, Seymour and Warren are all leaders, but in different ways. If I had to pick one of the three, Id go with Seymour. I think he leads with his on-field performance -- he plays more than the other two, as hes on the field on all three downs -- and by being publicly accountable in both easier (after wins) and tougher (after losses) situations. I think Seymour has a knack for putting things in perspective in tough times. As for leadership on the whole, I don't think it's overrated. I think talent and execution is most important, but every team needs leaders and I think the Steelers, Cardinals and 2007 Giants had plenty of them.
How can anybody trust or even be supportive of the terrible
Patriots O-line? They couldn't protect Brady in the Super Bowl loss to the
Giants, when he took a beating, and then they turn right around and allow
Brady to take that serious knee injury in the first game of the following
season. So now Brady's back, but how could Brady or anybody trust
Mauidan, Pukalani, Hi.
A: A variation of this question was asked earlier this week on our Patriots blog on Boston.com. It was noted that opinions on the offensive line have varied since the Super Bowl, and readers were asked to vote for one of two choices: That it was one bad game for a unit that has rebounded, or if the unit has not recovered from the performance and remains a concern. With more than 3,300 votes in, 34 percent shared your view. The other 66 percent felt the unit has rebounded.
Hi Mike. The Pats have a lot of interesting questions on defense
this year. To me, one of the biggest potential solutions, if not THE
biggest, is Adalius Thomas. If he can stay healthy and be an impact player
-- both inside and out -- he will (finally) live up to his contract. If
not, he is eating up a lot of cap space and his days as a Patriot may be
numbered. He is owed $9.4 million this year and $10.4 next year. Do you
know what the cap hit would be if they cut him?
Chip from Connecticut
A:I dont have that information at this time Chip. I agree that Thomas is the type of impact player who could help the Patriots defense, and its easy to overlook him, in part because his 2008 season ended after just nine games. He finished with five sacks last season, second on the team, and he could have led the team had he played in the final six games.
Will the Patriots make any more trades or acquisitions? And who
do you see for our cornerbacks and safeties starting?
A:I wouldnt rule it out, David, and the spot I think to keep in mind is at outside linebacker/nickel rusher. I also took note of ESPNs Len Pasquarellis comments in his piece from last Friday when he wrote: The once roaring flames have been reduced to embers, but don't be surprised if defensive end Derrick Burgess is still traded from Oakland to New England before training camp. As for the starting cornerbacks and safeties, Id go with Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden at cornerback, and Brandon Meriweather (assuming good health) and James Sanders at safety.
I am still concerned about the Patriots' pass rush. Do you
think it will improve this year?
A:I have questions about the pass rush too, John. At this point, my feeling is that its too early to project if it will be better. Maybe a player like Tully Banta-Cain surprises and contributes, or someone like Shawn Crable or Vince Redd emerges. So Im taking a lets-play-it-out approach with the pass rush at this time.