There is nothing like a big trade to shake up the roster and fill up the Patriots mailbag. Thats what happened over the last week as the Patriots acquired Derrick Burgess from the Raiders.
What does the acquisition of Burgess do for the Patriots?
Thats where this weeks mailbag starts, so lets get right to the questions ...
Hey Mike, now that Derrick Burgess is finally with us, what does this mean for Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable? If we had to pencil in the starting defense right now, would Burgess go ahead of Woods/Crable on first and second downs, or would he be brought in as an exclusive third-down-and-long situation rusher? Belichick mentioned Burgess had versatility, but I don't know if this spells versatility to plan the run and pass, or versatility to play defensive end and outside linebacker.
John Q, Dallas
A: John, I dont see the acquisition of Burgess affecting Woods. Maybe it cuts into some of Crables playing time. More than anything, I think it might affect what scheme/alignment the Patriots play on a regular basis. Id break it down this way:
1) I see Burgess primarily as an edge rusher in a sub package or in the 4-3.
2) I dont think hes a natural fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker at this juncture. Through three practices, I have only seen him head in one direction toward the quarterback. A 3-4 linebacker has to be comfortable dropping into coverage. Maybe that develops, but for now, thats a tough projection.
3) I do think Burgess can drive his hands into a blocker and hold his ground against the run. So that might be the versatility that Belichick talks about. But I see him more as a pass-rush specialist at this point. He has a quick first step.
You wrote last Friday that "... at 6-foot-2-inches, 255 pounds., Rob Ninkovich doesn't have the height the Patriots generally prefer at outside linebacker." Burgess is 6-2, 260 lbs. Obviously, the caliber of player is very different; but, is this lack of size a concern? Also, can you comment on the reports out of Oakland that Burgess isn't the player he was three years ago, and that the effect of coming of the edge against 300-pounders has simply taken its toll?
A: Tony, in Burgesss case, I dont think theyre going to ask him to play stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker at this point. So Id say it isnt a concern. Ninkovich, on the other hand, has been playing in a two-point stance for most of his time at practice. As for Burgess not being the player he was three years ago, the statistics reflect that. The one thing Id point out is that how a player does in Oakland doesnt necessarily translate to how the player will do with another team (e.g. Randy Moss) and I think that should be part of any discussion.
I think the addition of Derrick Burgess will benefit Adalius Thomas. If A.D. stays healthy, this will be his first entire season with the Patriots solely playing outside linebacker and rushing the passer, which is his bread and butter. I also have read that Jerod Mayo will be having an expanded role in blitz packages this year and Richard Seymour looks like he is primed for a double-digit sack year. Who do you think will lead the team is sacks?
Juan, Cicero, Ill.
A: Juan, Id go with Seymour. I think hes primed for a big year as he enters the last year of his contract. Im also not sold that just because Burgess is here that Thomas will automatically be playing outside linebacker. Thomas offers the defense some significant flexibility, playing on the line at outside linebacker and off the line as more of an inside linebacker. A lot will depend on what package the Patriots are employing. In addition to Seymour, it looks to me like Mayo is primed to add more big plays to his resume. Having the combination of Vince Wilfork/Ron Brace in front of him as part of a four-man line could be very tough for opposing offenses.
Hey Mike. Very excited, Thursday kicks us off, and it is a quick roll into the regular season from there. Glad we picked up Burgess, if he can stay healthy, he should have an impact. My question is this: Wasn't Mike Vrabel's salary only $200K more? Being that he knows the system and was a leader for our club, is this really an upgrade over Vrabel? Can you compare their careers?
Bagoon, Los Osos, Calif.
A: Vrabel has a base salary of $2.2 million, while Burgess is at $2 million. That doesnt factor in a $1 million roster bonus for Vrabel. I think they are two different types of players. Vrabel is not as explosive of a pass rusher as Burgess. On the flip side, I think Vrabel is more of a pure 3-4 outside linebacker, versatile, who can play on all three downs. Focusing solely on pass rush, I think the Patriots have upgraded.
Mike, now that a couple weeks of camp have passed, is any theme developing for this year's squad? By that, I mean, are Bill Belichick and the other coaches preaching any philosophy more heavily to the team as a tone for the season in comparison to previous years?
A: Kevin, I think the big focus of this camp has been full pads, double sessions and developing mental and physical toughness as a team. This has been a more strenuous camp for players than what I remember from past years. I think it is geared toward Bill Belichicks thoughts on last years preseason, which did not produce the desired results. Having a longer offseason than they have in the past -- because of not qualifying for the playoffs -- might play into that approach as well.
Hi Mike, I'm wondering based on your observations, do you think there is a chance that Shawn Springs gets cut? It seems he hasn't been able to string practice days together and with the rise of Jonathan Wilhite, could Springs be the odd man out?
A: I dont think so Mike, simply based on the economics. The team would actually take a greater salary cap charge by parting ways with Springs than if he was on the roster, not to mention eating a $2.7 million signing bonus. Overall, I think its early in camp, and its better off to be cautious with a veteran player like Springs. I dont see it jeopardizing his roster spot.
Now that Derrick Burgress is aboard and Shawn Crable is practicing, I think Patriots fans feel better about the depth at OLB. But I am still concerned about the depth at ILB. Has Gary Guyton looked like he can build on his solid rookie year and spell Tedy Bruschi when needed? Would you be breaking any rules if you tell us if Tank Williams is lining up at LB and, if not, how he looks?
David, North Attleboro
A: David, I notice a chemistry developing between Mayo and Guyton, but I am tempering my thoughts until we see some game action. I think that is the best barometer. Tank Williams has worked with the linebackers, and I dont see him as a fit in a base defense. I still see him as a bubble guy.
Mike, How do you rate Terrence Nunn's training camp so far? The only thing I've read he was going long on a Brady pass.
A: Roger, I think Nunn, a rookie free agent out of Nebraska, has made the most of his opportunities. I could envision him sticking on the practice squad. He has good speed, seems to have reliable hands, and has appeared to be consistent as a worker.
Hi Mike. I'm intrigued by the Terrence Nunn story and his training camp performance thus far. With that in mind, please rank the Patriots WRs based solely on what you have seen over the past 20 practices. In other words, neither salaries nor experience can come into play for this hypothetical depth chart. Thanks.
Chris, Stamford, Conn.
A: Chris, Id rank the receivers this way, while keeping in mind that the preseason games will be a better barometer: 1) Randy Moss; 2) Wes Welker; 3) Joey Galloway; 4) Julian Edelman; 5) Greg Lewis; 6) Sam Aiken; 7) Terrence Nunn; 8) Ray Ventrone; 9) Shun White
Mike, do you see Joey Galloway being cut? I don't hear him being the playmaker that we expected. And, what is your prediction on which receivers will make the roster?
A: I dont see Galloway being cut, Thiago. I dont think hes been as explosive as some expected at this point, but I do believe he can contribute 25-35 receptions as a No. 3 receiver and put stress on a defense when paired with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. As for which receivers will make it, Id go for the top six -- Moss, Welker, Galloway, Edelman, Lewis, Aiken.
Mike, from everything you've been posting, it seems like Jonathan Wilhite is moving solidly into the No. 3 corner spot. Who seems to be winning the next spot between Butler and Wheatley? Is Butler pushing him and am I wrong to be excited about the potential of the Pats' secondary? They are looking a lot younger and faster.
A: I think Butler is definitely pushing him, Matt, and at this point Id call it even between the two of them. Butler seems to have a bit more versatility -- playing inside and out -- while Wheatley seems like more of a pure outside corner. I think that will help Butler in the event of a tie when deciding on the game-day 45-man roster.
Mike, Do you have a feel for the DBs and safeties after this last session as compared to last years crew?
A: I badly misjudged the impact of last years secondary with the likes of Fernando Bryant, as I thought Bryant would be a good pickup for them. Given the way it all played out, I dont think its a stretch to say that this secondary is much better. I think Ellis Hobbs would be a No. 5-6 corner on this team right now.
Mike, does Matthew Slater have enough value on coverage teams to give him a roster spot? I was excited when we drafted him because I thought he would be a poor man's Devin Hester, which would still be one of the better returners in the league. Now, I see Maroney the top kick returner with Butler backing him up. Welker the top punt returner with Faulk the "hands" punt returner. Slater is not going to get any reps really as a receiver or safety unless we see quite a few injuries.
A: Im going to say yes, Benny, and Im thinking more than just in the return game. I think Slater is strong at covering punts and kickoffs as well, often the first player down the field in practice. I think Julian Edelman will also make the roster, but I dont see him duplicating what Slater does on special teams.
Hi Mike, are the Pats still planning on pursuing Kevin Carter with Burgess now on the team?
A: Im not sure on this one, David, but my sense is that Carter would still be an option who is appealing to them.
Mike, with the Patriots trading two picks to the Raiders, what does their 2010 draft currently consist of? They have started somewhat of a "youth" movement in some areas, but they are still the oldest team in the league.
A: I think the age statistic is skewed a bit as the Patriots, as youve noted Marc, have infused parts of the team with youth. In terms of the 2010 draft picks, they have the following according to my records:
- 1 first-round pick
- 3 second-round picks
- No third-round pick
- No fourth round pick (could recoup this pick)
- No fifth-round pick
- 1 sixth-round pick
- 2 seventh-round picks
Hi Mike, I have been reading on your blog that in red-zone work, the offense seems to always score and send the defense into a penalty laps. How would evaluate this? Is the offense unstoppable just like 2007 or the defense not getting any better?
A: Mauricio, Im going to give credit to the offense. I think Tom Brady has really been on his game. On the flip side, I think the defense has been in position to make some plays -- linebacker Jerod Mayo specifically -- but the offense has had the upper hand overall.
How does Tedy Bruschi not make the 50th anniversary Patriots list? There has to be room for him somewhere. He was a centerpiece to all of the Super Bowl teams.
A: Tom, I thought the same thing, but when you look at the voting there can be only two inside linebackers. Its hard to argue against Nick Buoniconti, a Pro Football Hall of Famer. The other spot went to Steve Nelson, a three-time Pro Bowler who led the team in tackles in eight of his 14 seasons and had 207 stops in 1984, an unofficial team record.
Mike, I was surprised to read about how, at the end of practice, the defense played offense (with Wilhite at QB), and the offense played defense. What is the point of such an exercise?
A: Russell, I think this was a case of trying to keep things fresh for the players. They are out there in the heat, working hard, and sometimes it helps to cut loose after a hard days work.
Mike: Eagles and Pats have done business a few times. Couldn't you see the Pats offering one of their TEs for a draft pick or two?
A: Only if the draft pick is in the first three rounds, BB, because I think the Patriots will keep four tight ends -- Benjamin Watson, Chris Baker, Alex Smith and David Thomas. Without a pure fullback on the roster, it looks like well see more lead blocking in the backfield from that spot, which justifies keeping a high total of four. I think Thomas, in particular, is having a strong camp. In addition to the Eagles, the Bengals are also thin at tight end.
Mike, What's up with Tyrone McKenzie and his not being signed? Is there a strategy for waiting or is there a real problem? Just curious as it is a bit odd.
A: Jay, since McKenzie is injured and expected to be out for the season, there is not as much urgency to strike a deal. I dont think there are any major problems. He should get a fair contract.
Hi Mike, I'm curious which three opponents present the toughest challenge to the Pats this season, as you see it so far. Who might be a darkhorse?
Joe, Providence, R.I.
A: Joe, Ill go with the Colts, Saints and Dolphins (Dec. 6) as the three toughest games, all on the road. In terms of a tough game that people might be overlooking, I think that Carolina game Dec. 13 would be on my radar.