The nitty gritty
Answering your questions about Maroney, Samuel, Seymour, and other camp topics
Editor's note: The start of camp marks the return of Mike's weekly mailbag. From now until the end of January, Mike will check in with a new edition of the 'bag on every Tuesday.
FOXBOROUGH -- Fifteen practices into training camp, and based on the e-mails that have arrived in the Patriots mailbag, these seem like the hot topics that fans are curious about:
We'll get right to the questions, as we begin our "mailbag season" with a new entry every Tuesday through the course of the year.
Last year Maroney's performance really suffered after he was injured. How has he looked in camp? Is he back to full strength, speed, quickness, toughness?
Roger Freeman, Hingham
A: Maroney has looked excellent, and as long as he's healthy, I believe he will put up big numbers this year. He's a big-time running back who really explodes through the hole. Maroney has been in a red, non-contact jersey for the first 15 practices of camp, so he's not technically back to full strength, although I think if the season were to start tomorrow, he would be in the lineup.
Do you think the Pats will consider signing a free agent at running back? Even with Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk, they seem to be asking Maroney to carry a large load -- maybe more so than other backs in the league (it seems to me that most teams have either two backs, or at least a clear-cut backup).
Jim C., Boston
A: If the season were to start tomorrow, I'd expect Maroney, Morris, Faulk, and Heath Evans to be on the roster. I don't think they'll bring in another back unless one of those players gets hurt. In terms of the load Maroney is being asked to carry, I don't think it's heavier than what you see with some of the other top contenders, like San Diego, Indianapolis, or Denver. As for Morris, I would say he has not impressed me as much as I thought he would in training camp.
It seems like Sammy Morris isn't having the best camp. Is it beginning to look more and more like he will end up being a bit player along the lines of Mike Cloud in 2003? If so, how heavy of a workload will we be seeing out of Maroney? Will it be 80 percent Maroney, 15 percent Faulk, 5 percent Morris?
Matt Butler, Wilmington, Del.
A: I wouldn't write off Morris just yet. There is a reason he's played seven NFL seasons; he's a good football player. I'd also stick with my initial thought on the running game: the Patriots averaged almost 32 carries per game last season (including kneel-downs), and if that number is the same this year, I see Maroney with 18-20 and the rest divided evenly between Morris and Faulk depending on the situation.
With all the focus on Randy Moss and the receivers, I haven't heard much about why Richard Seymour is on the PUP list. Any reason for long-term concern?
Angus, Los Angeles
A: Seymour had offseason knee surgery. I wouldn't want to minimize the importance of being on the field at practice, but I'd also put Seymour in the class of player that can afford to play it safe when coming back to make sure he's 100 percent. Last year, he missed the first 13 practices of camp before returning. If he's not back in two weeks, then I would shift your thoughts toward concern mode.
With Seymour on PUP, who's taking his reps on the first string D-line and how has his performance been so far?
Paul Oliveira, New York City
A: Jarvis Green has primarily been the replacement for Seymour, and I haven't noticed him in a good or bad way. Mike Wright would be the next in line, and he showed some flash in Monday night's season-ticket-holder practice, drawing a holding penalty on right tackle Wesley Britt. Overall, there hasn't been too much live contact, so assessing the linemen has been a bit of a challenge. Obviously, the Patriots lose a lot when Seymour isn't on the field, but Green is a solid player who could probably start on a lot of teams.
Who do you think is going to be the biggest surprise on the final roster?
James Fachin, Boston
A: Injuries will play a factor in this one, but if I had to choose one player right now, I'll say punter Danny Baugher. Another candidate is defensive lineman Santonio Thomas.
How is Danny Baugher doing in camp? I followed his career at the University of Arizona and he was outstanding.
Robert Walsh, Sahuarita, Ariz.
A: Baugher looks like he has the strongest leg of the punters, but that competition is going to come down to the games. There are plenty of punters and kickers who get the job done in practice, but can't duplicate the performance in the pressure game situation. So let's wait until the preseason games to get a better feel on that one.
Why would the Pats bring in a fourtth punter (Mitch Berger) for a tryout? Have Miller, Baugher, and Malone not done well? Is Miller still not 100 percent and the others being looked at as not NFL-experienced?
Paul Spina, Bridgewater
A: Every team has a "short" list of players at each position should the need arise (i.e. Ray Mickens at cornerback in 2006). I would assume Berger is on the Patriots list and Scott Pioli and Co. wanted to see what type of shape he is in. If this year is similar to last year, we should see more tryouts in the coming weeks along those lines. This is the time of year to update those short lists.
Why was Garrett Mills out for those initial days of training camp. Was that ever addressed?
Barry Jaye, Clearwater, Fla.
A: Mills said he had a physical setback, but did not disclose what it was. After practicing twice on the opening day of camp, he missed 10 non-walkthrough practices before returning. He looked rusty, but I think he still makes this team given the personnel shortage at tight end with David Thomas still on the physically unable to perform list.
I was wondering how David Thomas is doing and if he will make the season opener. Oh, and how come Mills isn't lining up at FB?
Dorian R., Takoma Park, Md.
A: My instinct tells me Thomas is the furthest away from being ready of all the injured players. Part of the reason I think along those lines is that he hasn't been present at any practices, while every other injured player has at least shown up at the walkthrough practices. So I'd say he won't be ready for the opener. As for Mills at fullback, I believe we will see him there from time to time, but less as a blocking-type and more as a pass catcher. The blocking chores usually go to Heath Evans in that role.
Where has Kyle Brady been? Will we see him soon?
A: Brady has been limited by an undisclosed injury that he called "very manageable and workable." I think he will be ready by opening day. I would put him into the Richard Seymour category in a sense; not to diminish the importance of practice, but the fact he is a 13-year veteran lessens the hurry to rush him back.
For a number of years, it seemed clear Belichick was a full stride ahead of the rest of the competition in terms of innovation and game-planning for a given opponent. Now that Mike Shanahan's Broncos knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs in 2005 [and have won 5 of the last 6 vs NE] and the Colts in 2006 to win their third straight against the Pats, averaging 35 per vs. Belichick defenses in the bargain, is it possible that the Pats now have to be more reliant on the quality of their players?
Bryan Kelly, Portland, Ore.
A: I see what you're saying, Bryan, but I don't think Belichick has suddenly lost his innovative touch, and I don't think the teams he previously coached had lesser talent. Those teams were really talented, especially the '04 and '05 clubs. Good coaches need good players, and I think the Patriots have that mix this year. Even a genius coach will struggle without talented players.
As I see it, there really is only one question this year. Is the revamped Patriots defense going to be good enough to stop the Colts? Our offense should be very good, but I worry about getting into a track meet with the current champs.
Alan Alexander, Tucson
A: Fair question, and while I believe it's one of the more important ones to answer, I don't buy into the fact it's the only one. I always put injuries as a top factor in any discussion. You just never know with the health element -- a team can look a lot different Nov. 4 than it does Aug. 4. As for if the Patriots' defense will be good enough, assuming it's the unit lining up at training camp, I believe the additions of Adalius Thomas and Brandon Meriweather put them in position to stop the Colts. But that's just part of the package. I think the Patriots' offense is better as well, which will help the defense.
I am not hearing much about the o-line. Is no news good news?
A: Part of that is because there hasn't been a lot of live contact work, which is essential for evaluating line play. But another part of it is that the Patriots returned their top eight players on the line, and the group works well together. The main competition is at right tackle between Nick Kaczur, Ryan O'Callaghan, and Wesley Britt. The games will be key in determining the starter, but if the season were to start today, I'd say it's Kaczur.
You had mentioned several times during the offseason that the Patriots might change their offensive line scheme to make their running game more effective and to prevent those three-yard losses on first down. I know it's early, but have you been able to detect any changes in their scheme since training camp opened?
Speros Zakas, Salem
A: With Maroney projected to get most of the running back work, he seems to be a perfect fit for a zone-blocking scheme. The Boston Globe's Christopher L. Gasper touched on this in an article in Aug. 5 editions of the Boston Globe, detailing some of the intricacies of zone blocking.
I have a compromise on the Asante Samuel's situation. The Patriots agree to not franchise Samuel next year and Samuel agrees to the Pats being able to match whatever offer he gets next year.
Neal Finnegan, Bedford
A: Sounds like a fair compromise, Neal, but I don't think the Patriots will do it because of the precedent it might set for future cases. Also, I don't see the team giving up the leverage.
I think the Pats have only two concerns heading into this season: depth at corner and running back. Any news on Asante Samuel, and do you think the Pats are happy with the RB situation the way it is? I know they were trying to sign a free agent in the off season, is there any chance Corey Dillon returns considering he never got any large offers from any other team?
Peter Longtin, San Diego, Calif.
A: The Samuel situation is now in a holding pattern. My view on the situation is that Samuel is staying away to show the team his displeasure with how his situation was handled, but that he will return at some point before the regular season begins. I do think Samuel would show up if there was an enticement, such as an advance on some of the $7.79 million salary he will receive over the course of the year. That has not been offered to my knowledge. As for Dillon, I don't think he'll be back. Here were some of his most recent comments, from the Aug. 5 editions of the Boston Globe.
It's been very quiet on the Asante Samuel front. Is this a sign he's thinking of coming in to camp with about two weeks left to get ready to open the season on time? Passing up almost $8 million would not be a wise business decision. What are his agents advising him to do? The Pats probably won't franchise him in 2008 at over $9 million so he shouldn't have to worry about that. If they were to franchise him again, isn't that 17 million about what he wanted in guaranteed money over two years?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: I think his agents are advising him to show up and have a solid 2007 season, putting himself in position for free agency after the year. If the Patriots franchise him again, it would be at a salary of slightly more than $9 million. Indeed, that would mean Samuel earns around $17 million over two years, but it overlooks a key part of the equation from Samuel's view: Which side is assuming the risk? Samuel would rather have the $17 million up front because he could suffer a serious injury over the course of the 2007 season and never see the $9-plus million in 2008. Also, I'm sure that Samuel sees the potential candidates for the franchise tag next year -- Reche Caldwell, Tedy Bruschi, and Eugene Wilson are the top players scheduled for unrestricted free agency -- and realizes he'd be a likely option for the tag once again if the Patriots used it.
If Asante doesn't sign the tender offer before the end of camp, say, with two weeks left to get some work in, the Pats should withdraw the offer, try to trade him, and if not, franchise him again. Why jeopardize Asante's value by allowing him to play in the 10th week and possibly get hurt or look bad because he's not in shape? Why should the Pats let Asante earn time toward his eventual free agency when he can't be bothered coming to camp or start the season with the team? That doesn't make sense. Why let Asante dictate whether and/or when he is going to play or not?
Dan, Pukalani, Hawaii A: A couple of things here, Dan. A player can't be traded unless he has a signed contract, so the option of withdrawing the tender to trade him does not exist for the club. If the Patriots withdraw the offer on Samuel, that would mean Samuel immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any club. As for the reason the Patriots would let Samuel come back in the 10th week, it's because he's a good player who could help them reach their goal of a Super Bowl championship. I think the team separates the sometimes unpleasant business side of things with the pure football side of it.
With Chad Scott out for the year, and Asante Samuel holding out, how do you think the opening CB lineup will look like? And what will be the depth since every year it is a key issue due to all the injuries at that position?
A: I do think Samuel will show up before the season begins, but if he doesn't, I think we'll see Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay at cornerback, with Brandon Meriweather and Tory James the top backups. If the Patriots need to go to a fifth player at corner, I think sixth-round pick Mike Richardson would be next in line.
How much longer will Tom Brady play? Do you ever see him playing for someone other than the Patriots?
Eric Winnestaffer, Columbus, Ohio
A: Brady touched on this Monday, saying: "Vinny Testaverde is 43, so if Vinny can play until he's 43. I hope I can play at least half of that until I'm 37 or 38. I'll play as long as I can. Everyone always says: 'Don't you want to retire? Aren't you afraid you're going to get hurt,' but there's nothing more fun than this. I'm going to play as long as I can. Until they take my locker down, I'll be coming in every day." I don't see Brady playing for another team other than the Patriots, although I couldn't have imagined Drew Bledsoe playing for other clubs. So I'd file that thought into the anything-can-happen category.
Tell me about Pierre Woods. Is it too soon to rave about him?
Tom Williams, Vernon, Conn.
A: Woods, who made the club as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan in 2006, was one of the team's nine offseason award winners. I see him filling the role previously held by Tully Banta-Cain as the team's top backup at outside linebacker. I wouldn't start raving about him until there is more of a body of work. It seems like he has put himself in position to take the next step in his career, but practice is one thing, games are another.
With the passing of Bill Walsh, I start to think of where Bill Belichick stands in the history of NFL coaches. No doubt, Bill is very aware of the history of the NFL and the legacies of coaches like Lombardi, Halas, Brown, and Walsh. Do you think that he has a desire to be considered in the pantheon of NFL coaches, and is this enough to drive him to continue with the Pats for the long term (5-plus years into the future)? Walsh told Sports Illustrated that his biggest mistake was walking away too soon. Let's hope that Bill doesn't do the same and leave potential championships "on the table."
Jim Bonica, Leominster
A: I personally believe Belichick will be in New England for the long haul. When asked about his contract status on the second day of training camp, this was Belichick's response: "I don't talk about contracts, but I would say I like working here, I like the organization -- ownership, coaches, scouts, player, and the guys I work with. I appreciate the opportunity to work here and it's a good situation. I don't see that changing any time soon."
I've heard several references to how well the players are treated on a daily basis, specifically the meals provided. It seems like every other aspect of the organization has been covered, but I am curious why I have never seen a piece on the cafeteria, food, or mealtimes? Is this off-limits to the press?
RD, Orlando, Fla.
A: Rodney Harrison and former Patriots receiver Tim Dwight are players who have spoken about this from time to time. They both noted how the players get three solid meals a day, which makes them want to stay at the facility and work. The media does not have regular access to this part of the Patriots' organization, although it's possible a member of the media could explore this area if granted permission.
Do the Patriots plan to wear a patch on their uniforms throughout this season with Marquise Hill's number on it?
Bert Forest, Norwood
A: The Patriots are wearing a No. 91 decal on the back of their helmets throughout this season in memory of Hill.
Are there any plans to honor Darryl Stingley this year?
Neal Swartz, Ashland
A: The Patriots are planning a moment of silence prior to their preseason opener next week, remembering those lost during the offseason, including Darryl Stingley, Marquise Hill and Bucko Kilroy. The team will also have a special part of the The Hall at Patriot Place that pays tribute to franchise's past.