Of all the questions that came into the Patriots mailbag over the last week, one was easily the most popular: Will the Patriots sign safety John Lynch?
Lynch was released by the Broncos, and several fans remain curious if that means he might be coming to New England. The Patriots have visited with Lynch in the past.
So well start with Lynch this week, before getting into a true mixed bag of all-things Patriots...
Mike, I recall John Lynch considering the Patriots when he left Tampa Bay, although he ultimately decided on Denver. What are the odds that he would sign here now that Denver has released him? He would seem to be a good fit for the Patriots in terms of both need and their overall philosophy - a savvy veteran that can play in situations to help in pass coverage or attack on the safety blitz.
A: I really like Lynch, Peter, and think he can still help a club despite some of the talk Ive heard that he cant run anymore. Probably the biggest question Id have is where he fits on this roster. I say that because you only have 53 spots on the roster, 45 players active on game day, and when you consider all the different parts needed with special teams in mind -- there is no sense bringing in Lynch if hes not going to be active on Sundays. Id put Junior Seau in the same category right now. I would imagine the Patriots have an interest in Lynch just as they do in Seau but its all about the fit on the roster. Because rosters are ever-evolving, and one injury can change the picture in an instant, it wouldnt surprise me if Lynch ends up here. But as of now, to my knowledge, the team has not set up a visit with Lynch.
Any update on the status of Junior Seau?
A: Kim, the latest update I have is that Seau is surfing in California, and isnt exactly rushing to pick up his cell phone. But if the Patriots called and said they had a spot for him, I think he would be ready to return. That hasnt happened at this point.
Whats the scoop on Victor Hobson? Haven't seen or heard much out of the press about how his camp is going. Is he injured? A lot of the ink seems to be on the CB position. Glad to see Ellis Hobbs off PUP and practicing. Who do you see as having the inside track for the No. 3 spot -- Wheatley?
A: Hobson has been working with the second-unit at inside linebacker, although one day when Tedy Bruschi had a day off, Hobson was with the top group. I spoke with him after one practice last week and he mentioned that he was still adjusting to a new defensive scheme. He was particularly hard on himself for making some mistakes. Overall, I dont think Hobson has done anything to make onlookers take notice. On the flip side, Id note that its still early. One area of potential concern that I detected is his ability to diagnose a running play through traffic from the inside linebacker spot. It caught my eye during a recent practice as his height (6-feet-0) seemed to make it a challenge for him to see where a running play was headed because of the traffic of burly offensive and defensive linemen in front of him. Although Tedy Bruschi is similar in height, his instincts for the position seem to help him overcome that type of situation. It will be interesting to see if Hobson develops that Bruschi-like feel at inside linebacker. As for the cornerback spot, I think Wheatley will be one of the top three on the depth chart when all is said and done, along with Fernando Bryant and Ellis Hobbs.
Hi Mike, I'm not trying to bash anyone, and am sympathetic to Kaczur's problem, but the whole OxyContin situation seems to be glossed over.
Oxy is very hard to kick and I hope for Nicks sake its taken serious and he continues to get help, both NA and AA are great supports. Your thoughts?
A: Chris, I appreciate the thoughts here, and obviously its a sensitive issue. Im not sure I agree that the situation has been glossed over, at least from the perspective of media coverage. I felt Kaczurs situation was covered aggressively. What I cant speak for is if its been glossed over behind the scenes. My sense is that it hasnt been, but I dont know that for sure.
Mike, who do you think is going to have the biggest turnaround from last season for the Pats? I think it is going to be Brandon Meriweather.
A: Meriweather does seem to be carrying himself with more confidence, Joe, but when I think of a turnaround player, the first thing that comes to mind is someone who didnt perform up to standards the previous year. While he wasnt a full-time starter in 2007, I thought Meriweather performed generally solid when on the field, minus some shaky hands at times. With that in mind, my vote is going to Richard Seymour, who with a cleaner bill of health should be back to his dominating ways.
People are almost unanimously declaring that the Patriots offense will not match last year's output - which is most likely true. However, with an extra year to allow invaluable chemistry between Brady and his receivers (particularly Moss and Welker) to develop, do you envision the passing attack to be more precise and efficient? Have you seen evidence of this growing chemistry in camp?
A: Like others, Kevin, I have my doubts that the passing attack can be much more precise and efficient than it was last year. I have a hard time imagining that it could get better than it was. My thoughts are also due in part to some concerns along the offensive line. The unit has been shorthanded in camp, and while that can change, the current picture looks a bit shaky to me. As we saw in Super Bowl XLII, an offensive line that falters can paralyze an entire offense. Im not necessarily saying the line will falter, but I just think that overlooking that aspect of things would be a mistake. So while I do think its valuable that Brady will have another year with Moss and Welker, I dont think that alone is enough to make the passing game more precise and efficient.
I see that Anthony Clement has been put on IR due to injury. My question is if a player is injured while under contract, I don't believe he can be cut. Is this correct? If so, do you think Pats will try to pay him an injury settlement to get him off their books. I am also wondering if, based on what little was seen of Clement in camp, he showed anything?
A: You are correct Dave, injured players can not be cut. In the case of Clement, he would either get an injury settlement, or be paid a split salary (a lower salary than he was scheduled to make) due to his injury. This is why teams often include a split in certain players contracts. For example, running back LaMont Jordan signed a one-year deal with an $850,000 base salary. The deal includes a $500,000 split if he is injured. As for Clement, I didnt think he showed much in training camp. He is a big guy, and I did see him lean in to a few defenders to keep them away from the quarterback, but he just didnt seem to be moving well. I was surprised that the Patriots kept him out there, although that might have been a reflection of the teams depth concerns up front.
Hey Mike, with the question marks at cornerback I find it puzzling that the team doesn't appear to have made any effort to acquire Ty Law. He knows the defense and can provide solid veteran leadership to the young guys so to me it seems like it'd be worth a shot. Any insight?
Tim, Clifton, Va.
A: Tim, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the cornerback situation. Barring injury, I think this years cornerback crop coupled with better front-seven play will match last years group and perhaps exceed it. Fernando Bryant has been solid, as has second-round pick Terrence Wheatley. Ellis Hobbs returns, and I see promise from fourth-round pick Jonathan Wilhite and some toughness from 2007 sixth-round pick Mike Richardson. Thats not to mention potential contributions from nine-year veteran Jason Webster, specifically in the slot. I had cornerback as a top storyline entering camp, but at this point, the concerns along the offensive line trump those. As for Law, he is seeking a contract that the Patriots and other teams, for that matter arent willing to put on the table.
Hi Mike, over the last few days, based on reports of the training camp, a lot of unrest over the defense has been quelled. However I noticed that we are very weak at the tight end position. For a team that has so many plays designed around tight end routes, dont you think that we are stretched too thin there? Also baffling is the signing of Jordan at RB (although one can never be too thin at RB), but I figured we would be equipping ourselves more at tight end. What do you think?
A: Mrinal, I can understand why youd see it that way. I see Benjamin Watson and David Thomas making the initial 53-man roster, and the Patriots forgoing a third tight end in favor of a fifth running back (Jordan). Then, if the situation arises that another tight end is needed, Marcus Pollard and Stephen Spach can be kept on speed dial. The way I see it, there simply arent many tight ends out there who could immediately upgrade the roster and there werent many in Aprils draft either.
Hi Mike, for those who can't make it to training camp, I was wondering if you could describe how physical the practices get. For instance, are defenders tackling so hard they're trying to force a fumble? How does it compare to a regular season game, or a practice during the regular season? Does Tom Brady actually get sacked like he would in a "real" game?
A: Cegeon, I would describe the full-pads practices as controlled contact. Players are not tackling much at all, except on the goal-line. Quarterbacks are off limits. I do think the banging at the line of scrimmage rushers against linemen is at game-like speed much of the time. I think understanding this adds to the context of some of the media reports from practice.
Mike, I was just wondering, we haven't heard much on Chad Scott. Did I just miss something? Obviously, the CB situation is still shaking out, that's why I'm surprised to not hear much on him. I thought Chad would be in the thick of things because of experience and versatility. I thought the Pats took a major hit last year when he went down. Is he still recovering?
A: Tim, you nailed it in regards to Chad Scott. He is no longer on the Patriots roster and remains a free agent. He wasnt fully healthy when free agency began in March. Im not sure his health status at this time.
What's up with Troy Brown? Any chance he'll be on another teams opening day roster or come back to the Pats if the injury bug hits?
Aroon, Orlando, Fla.
A: Aroon, I think Troy Brown is a bit conflicted right now. I dont believe he can envision himself in another uniform; hes loyal to the Patriots. At the same time, hes a football player and feels he still has something to offer, with a few teams showing some interest. Those two worlds are colliding, and with the Patriots not having a spot for him, my hunch is that Troy will retire.
Hey Mike, whatever happened to LB Oscar Lua?
A: Lua was waived by the Patriots in the offseason, Rich, and he has not yet signed with another team.
Do you think Jabar Gaffney is good enough to start at wide receiver with Randy Moss? And how to you see as the starting cornerbacks on opening day?
A: Esrom, we know that the Patriots were in three-wide or four-wide personnel groupings on 68 percent of their offensive snaps last year, so when we talk about starters, Id include the top three receivers. I do think Gaffney is a quality No. 3 type of receiver. As for the cornerbacks, a lot will be contingent on Ellis Hobbs return to health. Assuming Hobbs is back, I would project Fernando Bryant and Hobbs as the starters, with Terrence Wheatley the third man in.
Mike, with the roster being limited to 53 players (80 in training camp), I don't see how the Pats keep 4 QB's. I think BB/Pioli are planning ahead. Many teams are looking for a good back-up QB just before the regular season starts (due to injuries at training camp, young QB's just not coming along etc). BB/Pioli could trade one of our back-ups for a draft pick or two. Do you think this is likely? Or is there too much worry that trading one of our three back-up QB's might put knowledge of our playbook out into the rest of the league?
Dave, Berlin, N.H.
A: Dave, I do think the Patriots would consider trading one of the backups primarily Matt Cassel or Matt Gutierrez but those players have to show something for a team to want to give up a draft pick. Right now, I dont think either player would yield a draft pick. If either has a solid preseason, then the picture changes. I dont believe the playbook aspect of the question is an issue.
Hi Mike, on the elimination of the force-out rule, can a defender now "catch" a receiver who has gone up in the air and carry him out of bounds? Secondly, with the addition of Dom Capers, do you think we will see the end of the "bend but not break" defense the Patriots have used in previous years?
A: In regards to the forceout rule, Ron, a defender can not catch a receiver who goes up into the air and carry him out of bounds. If that happens, the official can rule the play a catch. But a defender can simply push the receiver out of bounds before he lands, and that is legal. As for Capers presence, I do think the Patriots will attack a bit more this year. I think well see some new wrinkles in the rush packages. At the same time, I believe many of the same principles that were in place from previous years will remain.
Mike, What role will Dom Capers play as an assistant coach with the Pats and how much of an impact do you think he will make on the defense?
A: Ron, I think Capers is a fine addition to the staff, and I do think the Patriots will tap into his expertise in secondary play and rush packages. At the same time, I have to mention that while coaches can have a significant impact on the game, in the end, you have to have the players to be successful. I think the combination of an excellent coach in Capers, plus excellent defensive players, will lead to a better defense this season.
I read in one of your notes that Vince Redd, the undrafted rookie, did not participate in a long stretch of practices to open training camp. I was wondering if there is information regarding that situation. Also, how will that affect his chances of making the patriots roster?
A: Redd returned to practice in the 14th session of camp, Colby, and the time he missed will certainly play a factor in his hopes of making the team. He missed time due to an undisclosed injury. In the end, I think Redd is likely a candidate to be placed on the practice squad.
Mike, what's happening with Kelly Washington? I've not heard his name mentioned at all during training camp. He was amazing on special teams last year and I thought he might see more play at WR this year. Also, should we be worried that James Sanders hasn't been on the field yet?
A: Washington continues to play a regular role on special teams, Joseph, so I think hell make the club. As for his chances at receiver, Id put him in the mix for reps as the No. 4 or 5 receiver. The way I see the receivers, its Randy Moss and Wes Welker 1 and 2. I think the Patriots would like to see Chad Jackson be the 3, but theyd be OK with Jabar Gaffney in that role. Then its Washington and Sam Aiken leading the next group. I did notice Washington drop a pass in one-on-one work on Monday, but I dont think that play was reflective of the camp hes had at receiver. He just hasnt done anything off the charts to stand out in that role.
Mike, Coach Belichick is famous for having a gag order preventing rookies from talking to the media. This year, however, I have seen many quotes and interview with our exciting crop of rookies. Has the gag been lifted or does it not go into effect until the regular season?
A: Bruce, the motto is that rookies are better off being seen and not heard, and the Patriots usually adopt that in the first preseason game. I remember the scene vividly two years ago, going to the Patriots locker room after the first preseason game after watching what I felt was an impressive performance by first-round pick Laurence Maroney. When reporters went to talk to Maroney, we were blocked by members of the teams football operations staff literally. Those guys stood in front of the lockers of the rookies to ensure they wouldnt talk. Until that point, I think the idea is that rookies are heard from sparingly.