Watching the wideouts
FOXBOROUGH -- Back for our second mailbag of the Patriots season -- the plan is to have a new 'bag each Tuesday -- and one of the main topics is the receiver race.
Several fans are curious how that position will shake out when it's time to reduce the roster. Teams must trim to 75 players by Aug. 28 and to 53 players by Sept. 1.
The other main topic was rookie performance. After seeing the Patriots in the preseason opener at Tampa Bay, some fans wrote in with thoughts on the team's new players. Who looks good? Any surprises?
And, of course, there are a few Asante Samuel questions.
How do you see the receiver race, one of the most contested race on this team, panning out? Washington seemed to be the odd man out after what many characterized as a horrible two weeks, but seemed to play the best in the first preseason game. Caldwell seems to be the guy he is most likely to overtake since Gaffney has been a star at camp. Who do you think makes the cut? Caldwell or Washington? Or do the Pats carry six WRs? Is there any chance for Childress to make the roster? Is it safe to assume both Troy and Jackson start the season on the PUP?
Robert Quint, Quincy
A: I think the Patriots will keep six receivers coming out of camp. I'd put Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and Gaffney as the top four. Then it's a battle for spots five and six, and I'm going to assume that both Chad Jackson and Troy Brown start the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list. In that scenario, I'd put Washington and Caldwell on the roster, and hope I can sneak Childress back onto the practice squad. Childress still has practice squad eligibility left. Every time I look up, Childress makes a play, so I do think it's possible he could be a surprise addition to the roster.
What has happened with Troy Brown? Last I heard is he signed a contract dependent on his knee. What is the latest on his PUP status? Do you foresee him practicing soon?
Chris Schneller, Albuquerque
A: Just a hunch, but I think Brown will open the year on the PUP list. The procedure he had on his knee this offseason was serious to the point where there were no guarantees he would play again.
What's your evaluation of receiver Kelley Washington so far and where do you see him ending up?
Nick Horan, Boston
A: Washington hadn't shown up much in camp, but I thought he was one of the players who helped themselves most in the preseason opener. He had some nice run-after-the-catch yardage and showed toughness after getting popped while reaching up for an incomplete pass. The fact he can play gunner on punt coverage could help his cause for a roster spot.
As someone who early in last year's playoffs predicted in this mailbag that the Colts would win the Super Bowl, I offer this prediction: Samuel will be traded before the start of the season. They will not franchise him in '08 and they would not let him be a free agent after the '07 season because Eric Mangini and the Jets would snatch him. They also don't want someone who is this bitter at management in the locker room. So they will trade him to an NFC team. Your thoughts?
Kevin Quirk, Charlottesville, Va.
A: My initial thoughts are that I'm curious who you're picking for the Super Bowl this year. As for trading Samuel because they wouldn't want someone who is bitter at management in the locker room, I don't buy it. I think both sides will put this behind them when the time comes, and that it shouldn't linger. There have been other bitter players in that locker room (i.e. Ty Law), for sure, but the sides have managed to put that behind them. I'm told that while Samuel is not necessarily pleased, the situation has not been as contentious as it might appear. As for a trade, I just don't see one of the 16 NFC teams dealing a first-round draft choice and then paying the ensuing big contract to land Samuel.
Mike, with Asante Samuel's holdout and all the possible scenarios surrounding it, I keep hearing that he can hold out and rejoin the team after week 10. Why is week 10 "the date" and why couldn't the Patriots simply say; "thanks but no thanks" and either not play him, or suspend him for "conduct detrimental to the team." I guess I'm just not clear on why players have the right to holdout and then dictate what they want to do. I know the Pats hard-line approach to negotiations but this was one of the first thoughts that popped into my head. Yet I haven't heard anyone discuss the possibility.
Glenn Renaghan, Worcester
A: For Samuel, week 10 would represent the minimum amount of time he would have to spend with the Patriots to receive a credited season. The reason Samuel wants a credited season is so he can put it toward collecting his pension, and also so it puts a bit more financial pressure on the Patriots if they decide to franchise him again next year (he'd get a 20 percent increase on $7.79 million). The Patriots don't have to play him, but he'll still get credit for having a signed contract with the team.
Wondering if Coach Belichick has had a change of heart regarding his assistant coaches and the press. I thought he never let them hold press conferences with you guys, but this preseason we've heard from a couple of them. Is this only for the preseason, or is he sharing the podium more as a rule?
A: The NFL and the Pro Football Writers Association came to an agreement on a new set of rules in which coordinators must be made available at times in 2007. So that's part of it. But while Belichick has generally preferred a one-voice approach, we have spoken with the coordinators in the past, often times in the bye week, or for other feature stories.
How's Meriweather doing at corner? Is that the backup plan for Asante at this point?
Cynthia Pleach, Canton
A: The first thing that caught my eye on Meriweather is that the game wasn't too fast for him. He's a solid athlete. I'd put him as the third corner on the depth chart right now, meaning that it's Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay as 1-2, with Meriweather right behind. He's been lining up at left cornerback (behind Gay) and he's been a regular on sub packages. Like the other rookies, I'll be interested to see how he fares against top competition, but to this point, he looks good.
Even though I am in the Atlanta area, I was able to watch the first Patriots preseason game thanks to the NFL Network. It was a welcome respite from the Vick carnival. I think that there are a number of new players -- Brandon Meriweather, Kelley Washington, Justin Rodgers, Oscar Lua, Matt Gutierrez, Kareem Brown -- who may prove to be useful reserves during the regular season. From what you have seen in that first game and during practices, which of these players have the best chance of making the regular season roster? For that matter, what do you think of Randall Gay's performance?
Albert U. Turner, Jr., Smyrna, Georgia
A: After seeing the game in person and then watching it again, I was impressed with the performance of the second-day Patriots rookie class. It reminded me of why I respect the way the Patriots do business -- they pick good players, hard workers, and coach the heck out of them. I saw fifth-round pick Clint Oldenburg at left tackle and left guard and thought he looked like an NFL player, with NFL size. Everyone saw Justin Rogers record a sack, but it wasn't so much the sack I liked (an outside linebacker should overpower a running back most of the time); it was the aggressiveness in which he went after the ball that caught my eye and how he was alert to pounce on a fumble later in the game. Cornerback Mike Richardson blanketed his man down the left sideline to break up a long pass as he continues to show solid ball skills. They ran over the right side in close, where rookie Mike Elgin (7th round) was playing guard, and scored a touchdown. I didn't see as much from linebacker Oscar Lua and right tackle Corey Hilliard, but was particularly impressed with Gutierrez and his poise. As for Randall Gay, he wasn't tested down the field, but proved that he is a sure tackler.
Of the rookies vs. Tampa, I was impressed by Meriweather, Rogers, and Richardson. In your mind, how far does that positive play go with the coaches? Do any of them look to be this year's Patrick Cobbs, a noteworthy preseason for naught?
Chris W., Bronx, N.Y.
A: Those performances certainly carry weight with the coaches, and I think what you'll see is that some of those players will draw some work against better players in the coming weeks as a means to better assess their skills. I believe it's a balance -- while game performance is weighted heavily, the coaches are probably more so looking for consistency and improvement over the entire training camp.
Oscar Lua or Justin Rogers, or both? Who do you think will make the team?
Mike Spillane, Roanoke Rapids, N.C.
A: Of the two, I'd give Rogers the better chance. The Patriots kept four outside linebackers last year and this year I'd put Rosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel, and Pierre Woods as the locks, with Rogers No. 4. I think Lua will wind up on the practice squad, assuming there are no injuries ahead of him before it's time to cut down the roster (Aug. 28; Sept. 1)
Longtime Iowa fan and was curious how Mike Elgin might be doing. Some of the locals think since that he signed a contract he is guaranteed to make the team, but I tell them he has some work to do to make it as only the best 53 (plus 8 for the practice squad) are picked. Any insight you can give me would be appreciated. Thanks for your time & I like your blog.
Dave, Dyersville, Iowa
A: Elgin, one of the team's two seventh-round picks, was bumped to the second team during an Aug. 6 practice when Billy Yates left the field with an undisclosed injury. He's been working at right guard and center. I do think the Patriots would like to work with him for a year behind the scenes, specifically to see him get stronger, but he's still making a push for a roster spot. I could see it going either way at this point.
I know the Pats are very thin at a lot of areas because of injuries and it is still early. But, will you stop saying the Pats o-line is awesome. Once again, Brady had very little time to throw and Gaines Adams had his way with the overrated Matt Light. Don't you think that Peyton Manning has a lot more time to throw then Brady and if the o-line is so good like you say it is, then why is that?
A: Looks like we had a different view of what took place on Friday night. I didn't see Adams have his way with Light. Adams did bat down a pass, but the way I saw the play was that the Patriots were setting up a screen so Light was allowing Adams to rush in, luring him into the backfield to set it up. Adams made a nice play to bat the ball down as he was getting sucked in. I think the Patriots' line pass protects very well. I find the run blocking to be inconsistent. Do I think Light is a Pro Bowl tackle? No. But I do think you can win with Matt Light at that position. As for the time to throw when comparing the Colts vs. Patriots, part of the reason Manning is seldom sacked is because he gets rid of the ball so quick. The Patriots' system is a bit different.
Donte' Stallworth recently said he didn't even know he was going to be on the PUP list or even why. Is that typical of the communication the coaching staff has with the players? To me it sounds like a poor management style.
Acton Ellis, Austin, Texas
A: I wasn't in on that interview with Stallworth, but I find it hard to believe. I remember when the Patriots traded for cornerback Dante Wesley last week, two players mentioned how they knew what was happening - and weren't surprised when Wesley showed up on the field in the middle of practice -- because it was addressed in a team meeting. That, to me, would be reflective of the communication in Foxborough.
Being that I'm a nearby resident of Central Connecticut State University, I was happy to see Justin Harriston from CCSU get drafted. He had good size and speed. What ever happened to him? Why did he get let go so soon? Thank you.
Brian Theriault, Plainville, Conn.
A: Hairston blew out his hamstring in the week leading up to training camp, so the Patriots placed him on waivers, figuring that no team would pick him up. When no team picked Hairston up, he reverted back to the Patriots on the team's injured reserve list. Part of the reason for making the move is that he doesn't take up a roster spot but the Patriots still retain his rights.
Any idea why Kareem Brown was suspended for three or four days early in camp? How has he looked otherwise?
Geoff O'Connor, Boston
A: Brown would not reveal the reason for his suspension. As for how he's looked, I noticed he was bumped up to second-string in Monday night's practice. He seems to be adjusting from playing in a one-gap scheme at Miami to the Patriots' system, which is quite different. When he was drafted, I initially wrote he might face an uphill climb to make the team. I no longer feel that way. I believe he will be on the 53-man roster, and am anxious to see him play against some better competition Friday night to better assess his skills.
Am I the only one who thinks that the Pats are a bit thin at RB? Could you envision a waiver signing or late trade to bring in another RB?
Scott, Jaffrey, N.H.
A: You aren't the only one, as last week's mailbag showed. The main issues last week were running back and cornerback depth. I'd be surprised if the Patriots find a waiver-wire signing or player in a trade who is better than any of the top running backs on the roster - Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Heath Evans. So my hunch would be no.
A lot of focus has been on the passing game. To go all the way you need a dependable, strong running game. Will the Pats be a one-back running offense or is there a number 2 ready to contribute?
Chip Carey, Park City, Utah
A: There is no doubt that Laurence Maroney is the No. 1, and will get the bulk of the carries, but I expect Kevin Faulk to get his touches and Sammy Morris to get a few. Faulk, in particular, looked strong in the preseason opener. He's excellent in smaller doses.
Any chance Belichick and Pioli will inquire about Ricky Williams as a possible addition to running back if Maroney gets re-injured or has problems out of the gate?
T.J. O'Toole, Waltham
A: I would be very surprised if the Patriots went this route. I don't think Williams would be a consideration.
It seems like most people do not consider Heath Evans as a viable contributor at RB other than as a blocker. I've always been impressed that when given the chance he can actually run the ball pretty effectively. Do you think that people are short-selling Evans' potential as another solid option alongside Maroney?
Matt Hines, Brighton
A: I haven't judged the reaction to Evans, but I think he's a 2-4 carry-per-game back if everyone is healthy, while also contributing as a blocker and on special teams. Maybe those numbers could come up a bit if someone was hurt, but I don't see him as a feature style back over a consistent period of time. One thing I do like about Evans is that he plays extremely hard and is a solid teammate.
Mike Richardson looks like a player. What are your impressions? Does Tory James have anything left in the tank? And can Dante Wesley help, or is he just a camp body?
Carl G., Biddeford, Maine
A: My impressions of Richardson are positive, and they go back to June's minicamp when I thought he didn't look out of place lining up across from Randy Moss. I like his ball skills -- when the ball comes into his area, he makes plays. I also feel that he runs better than I was expecting. All that being said, I want to see him more against top competition in a game setting before coming to a definitive judgment. As for James, I'm not sure he was going to make the club if Chad Scott was healthy, but now I believe he will. Not sure how much is in that tank. And I don't believe Wesley will be on the roster, unless injuries hit.
Is it me or does it look like Mike Richardson is the impressive rookie so far? He may not be a replacement for Asante, but if he can make the roster he should see some reps this year and could turn into a quality player after a season in the system. Do you agree? Also, can you see any more trades either to or from the Pats? I think we could see a member of the O-line go. My guess would be Hochstein for a conditional 6th and a RB coming in for around a 5th rounder (Morris just does not look good).
Peter Williment, UK
A: I do like Richardson, but would caution it's still early and I'd like to see him against some better competition in a game setting. On the trades, if I recall correctly, the Patriots swung three deals last year (Brandon Gorin, Patrick Cobbs and Ross Tucker). It's smart business when a team has depth to try to get something for a player who might not make your roster but could make another. The offensive line is probably the deepest spot on the roster and there could be movement there.
Besides severity of an injury, what are the guidelines that determine if an injured player attends a game. Sometimes we see players who are injured on the sidelines and other times they're not even in the state. Also, do they ever go to away games to support their teammates?
Joe Barnett, Worcester
A: As an example, injured linebacker Eric Alexander was present for the Patriots' preseason opener. Otherwise, I didn't see any other injured players on the sidelines. To me, it comes down to being smart health-wise. A player like Randy Moss, who might be dealing with a hamstring, probably wouldn't benefit from sitting on a plane, arriving back in town at 4 a.m. after the game, and possibly having his rehab potentially affected by that. The Patriots probably weighed that against the benefit of having him with them, and more often than not, the decision will be to hold a player in that situation back.
Please clear this up for me. I hear that Moss has a one-year contract. But then I hear that it could be for as many as six. What are the exact terms? Do the Patriots hold options for additional years?
Shaun, Columbia, Md.
A: Sounds like the confusion might be the difference between the contract signed by Moss and the contract signed by Stallworth. Moss has a straight one-year deal with a base salary of $2.5 million. It includes a $500,000 roster bonus and other incentives that could increase the value further. Stallworth's deal is structured so that it is a one-year package, but if the Patriots pick up a large option bonus next spring, it would extend five more years.
In 11-on-11 work, what type of defense does the offense line up against? A Pats 3-4 defense or do they line up against what is the most popular defense alignment that they will be facing during the season? If the focus is 11 on 11 defense, what is the O lined up as?
A: More often that not, it will be the Patriots offense going up against the Patriots 3-4 defense. But if the team is going over details of its opponent that week, you could see the "scout team" defense, which simulates what the opposition runs.
The final regular season game, against the NY Giants, will be televised on the NFL Network. Will the game be televised by another station?
Mark Sullivan, Arlington
A: It is my understanding that if the road team has a game televised on NFL Network, the game must appear on another non-cable channel in that market. So yes, it should be on another channel.
After watching "Hard Knocks" I wondered if you have seen any scuffles in Pats training camp. If so, who participated?
Daniel Lapidus, Los Angeles
A: There have been no scuffles, really not even minor pushing and shoving, in any of the team's 20 training camp practices through Monday.