Worth worrying about Moss?
Roster chatter highlights this week's mailbag
FOXBOROUGH - The regular-season opener is Sept. 9 against the Jets, and Patriots fans are looking ahead and wondering whether some of the team's injured players will be ready.
That was the main theme I picked up in e-mails sent to the 'bag over the last week. Will Randy Moss be recovered? What about Richard Seymour?
There was also some follow-up on some of the personnel news of the last week -- from Ty Warren's contract extension to the release of veterans Josh Miller (punter) and Artrell Hawkins (safety).
And, as has seemingly been the case over the last six months or so, there is some Asante Samuel chatter.
On the football field, there seems to be concern about the performance of the offensive line, and quarterback Tom Brady.
Until next Tuesday, here we go ...
Should we begin worrying about the status of Randy Moss? The knock on him is that he is getting older and his legs are starting to fail. Is Moss's recent injury and inability to get back on the field a reality check for us fans who wanted to see him and Brady connect on deep routes? I am getting nervous about seeing spend more time on the sideline than on the field.
Michael Spalinger, Torrington, Conn.
A: I don't think so. I'm assuming he has a hamstring injury based on what we saw in that Aug. 1 practice and those can be tricky. I don't think it's anything out of the ordinary to have held him back this long based on the injury. The concern would be that hamstrings can linger over time, but based on what I saw from Moss before the injury -- and the limited movement from him that I saw in walkthrough practices -- I think he'll be OK.
Randy Moss hasn't seen the field for more than two weeks. Is he going to make this team? Doesn't he need to get on the field by the third game against the Panthers to show he can still contribute? Timing needs to be developed between Moss and Tom Brady and the rest of the receiving corps. Also, will the signing of Ty Warren have an impact on Asante Samuel? Will Samuel dig his heels in and be angry over a perceived slight of not dealing in good faith with him? After all, Warren got more up-front money and more total money than the Pats offered Samuel. Could this cause more friction between the parties?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: Moss will make the team, without a doubt. I don't think that he needs to play this Friday to show he can contribute. While it would certainly help, based on what I saw in training camp practices, there is no doubt that he can be a vital cog of this offense assuming he's healthy. I know it was only a handful of practices, but he is the best receiver I've seen on the Patriots since I first started covering the team in 1997 while at Patriots Football Weekly. As for the Warren deal, I don't think it will have an impact on Samuel, although I can see your point where it could cause more friction between the sides. In the end, I'm of the belief that Samuel won't turn away $7.79 million, and that he will show up before the opening game of the season.
I know the Patriots are consistently quiet about injured players, but what's up with Richard Seymour? Is he still recovering from a surgery that took place right after the close of last season? He's the one injured player that I'm most interested in and concerned about.
Hiram Pines, New York City
A: Seymour is recovering from offseason knee surgery. He was a guest on sports radio WEEI as part of "Patriots Monday" programming this week and noted that he was not yet 100 percent. On Monday, the question was posed to Bill Belichick that if a player doesn't start practicing around now, does that mean the player would likely not be ready for the opener. Belichick said that wasn't necessarily the case, so there's a chance Seymour could be ready for the opener.
Do you think that the five players on the physically unable to perform list will be ready for the season?
Jim, South Boston
A: I don't think we'll see receiver Chad Jackson, cornerback Eddie Jackson, or tight end David Thomas for the regular season opener. Receiver Troy Brown appears to be getting closer, as does Richard Seymour. I'd say we're getting close to a breaking point, as I expect preparations for the season opener to shift into another gear by this point next week. If these players aren't back by then, they'd have to be considered in jeopardy of missing the opener.
On the surface, the switch of Adalius to ILB covers all the bases and makes the D an awesome unit. My question is whether he is embracing or fighting this change? He seems unhappy and is not playing well at ILB. Is my perception off base?
Tom Williams, Vernon, Conn.
A: I wouldn't say Thomas is unhappy, but it hasn't been a seamless transition. Thomas has had some initial struggles at inside linebacker, which I think was to be expected. One NFL coach I spoke with Monday night was surprised to see Thomas at the "Mike" inside linebacker spot, because he believes his skills were best suited to outside linebacker, but we both agreed that it's too early to make a final call on how things will unfold. My guess is that Thomas, who said he came to New England with an open mind, will be moved around a bit more once the regular season begins.
It's interesting to see the Pats front-office rework Ty Warren's contract. You can only wonder if this is a new approach by the front office. After all the problems that have been created by losing Branch and Givens, you'd have to think this is a much better approach. Our future Hall of Fame QB should have never been put in this situation of trying to break in a half a dozen new WRs over a two-year period. Your thoughts?
Ron Freeman, Buellton, Calif.
A: I don't necessarily see it as a new approach, because I do believe the Patriots explored this type of possibility in the past. If there is a slight difference, it might be in the aggressiveness of their initial offer with two years remaining on the contract. From my view, usually the team throws out a line with two years remaining on a player's contract to get a feel for where negotiations might head. If there is a nibble on the line, a rare occurrence in most situations, the sides might try to hammer out a deal. Otherwise, they revisit it a bit later, perhaps with one year left on the contract. It's not as if the team hasn't re-signed players before their deals were expiring (e.g. Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Jarvis Green, Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Tom Brady). The other point to consider is that the team isn't the only party involved in a negotiation. There is a player on the other side of the negotiating table, and they also have a significant say in whether a deal gets done. For example, if Warren was looking for $25 million in guarantees -- instead of the $18 million he received (based on union calculations) -- I don't think there would be a deal right now.
Yes, the Patriots CAN Learn and adapt! Signing Ty Warren NOW was brilliant! The whole concept of the team not negotiating with players with years left was no longer effective and cost the team key players like Branch, Graham, and Samuel. It is bad business to not lock down key assets at below-market costs, and it has been frustrating watching a team owned by a great businessman like Kraft blow it. I have written to you many times about how Warren and Wilfork needed to be locked up NOW before they can even sniffed free-agency. Do you have any insight into what has changed the front-office position? Was it my e-mails? Kidding. Regardless, this was an amazing move to top off what has been an amazing offseason.
A: As I stated before, I don't think it's a change in position. That would be overlooking the fact that the team has signed numerous players to extensions before their contracts expired. I also think this overlooks the fact that the Patriots did negotiate with Branch, Graham, Samuel, and others before their contracts were up, and for a variety of reasons, the deals couldn't get done. Was it that the team didn't offer enough? Was it that the player was demanding too much? I'm sure there is a little bit of both in a lot of the situations -- and in retrospect, the Patriots haven't always made the correct decision (you can put the other 31 teams in that category, too). Still, I can't say it enough -- negotiations are a two-way street, and whenever a deal gets struck it is usually because there is a compromise involved. It's not just on the team. It's not just on the player. Sometimes a team has to be proactive, sometimes it has to be reactive. Sometimes a player takes less to reduce risk and ensure financial security, other times a player rolls the dice and looks to strike it ultrarich in free agency. You can never tell how things will unfold because the strategy is ever-evolving. I just think the point of view in this question is too black and white and doesn't account for the complexity of the situation.
Do you think that Tom Brady has gotten a free pass on his poor performance in the Titans game? On both interceptions, I think he should have held the ball instead of throwing up ducks that were easily taken away. In the past, he would take the sack, but he seems less careful with the ball now. The O-line deserved plenty of blame; but Brady should accept some himself.
Scott O'Neil, Chelmsford
A: Brady did not play well. There is nothing more important than the ball and he was careless with it, so I agree with your assessment. But since it's the preseason, I think there is a little less scrutiny and a little more understanding that the offense is working out some kinks at this point.
Why would the Patriots play Tom Brady for two quarters when he was getting knocked around? Wouldn't you think Belichick would not take the risk?
A: After the game, Belichick said he had Brady scheduled to take about 40 snaps. But I personally think that it had less to do with hitting 40 snaps and more to do with trying to build some positive momentum and confidence. You take Brady out after his second interception, for example, and you carry that downer into the rest of the week. Like anything, you try to strike a balance. Are 40 snaps and positive momentum more important than possibly getting knocked out? It can be a tough balance and a fine line to walk.
Could you touch on why the Patriots released Artrell Hawkins? Any chance they re-sign him after they (assumingly) assign Gutierrez to the practice squad?
Glenn Williams, Brighton
A: Bill Belichick touched on this during his Monday radio appearance on sports radio WEEI, answering a question on the release of Hawkins and punter Josh Miller. Here is his response: "We just saw other people, at this time, had moved ahead of them. We wanted, out of respect to them, to give them the opportunity before everyone was going down to the final cut to find an opportunity with somebody else. The hardest thing for a veteran player is to go on that last cut when all the rosters are trimmed down to 53 and there is really no space available. That can change in a hurry. There have been players on our roster that we've released and we've re-signed. Both those guys have done a lot for us over the last couple years, so who knows what will happen in the future."
With Artrell Hawkins being released, where does the safety position stack up? While Hawkins could best be described as average, at least he has some game experience. Other players like Willie Andrews, James Sanders, and Rashad Baker are all pretty green. Granted that Meriweather gives them flexibility at Safety or CB, but I see little to no depth beyond Harrison and Wilson. With the Pats having sustained many injuries in the backfield over the past few years, I would think that they would have done a better job at bringing in solid backup safety. You've previously written that Dante Wesley is a longshot to make the team, but he appears to have the size and some experience to play safety. Does the release of Hawkins make you feel any different about Wesley?
A: The Patriots have been running Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson as their starting safeties, with James Sanders and Rashad Baker the top backups. Willie Andrews and Mel Mitchell round out the third group, and both should make the team based on their special-teams prowess. Like you said, Brandon Meriweather could also be a factor there, especially if Asante Samuel returns at cornerback. And that doesn't account for someone like Randall Gay, who would play safety in a pinch. My thoughts haven't changed on Wesley. While he is impressive from a physical standpoint, I don't see him doing enough to make the roster unless injuries strike.
With the cutting of Josh Miller, I began to wonder where you consider the most competitive positioning for player slots in the preseason to be and what other common names to Pats fans may not be on the team at the end of August.
A: I'd put receiver as the most competitive position. In terms of common names to Patriots fans that might not be on the club, I'd put receiver Reche Caldwell and his $1.55 million salary on the list. That's a lot of money to pay a fourth or fifth receiver. In my opinion, he's on the bubble right now. I'm also not convinced that veteran cornerback Tory James, who signed with the team in free agency, will be here although that's probably contingent on Asante Samuel coming back. I also think Garrett Mills, a 2006 fourth-round draft choice, is on the bubble.
Do you think Vinny was brought back to be the actual third-string QB? As of right now, do you think Matt Cassel is comfortable and ready to be the second-string QB? What do you see happening to Gutierrez?
Wayne Simmons, Fredericksburg, Va.
A: In terms of Testaverde, I do think he was brought back to be the third quarterback. But there is a wrinkle that I think is important to consider: If Gutierrez continues to show the poise, strong arm, and ability to move the offense in game situations, I think he could change those plans. The idea would be that Gutierrez is a nice candidate for the practice squad, but if he continues to play well the Patriots might not want to risk losing him. So that could change plans with Testaverde if the Patriots want to keep three quarterbacks or fewer. As for Cassel, I think he's ready to be the No. 2 quarterback. To me, the question is whether he could be a No. 1, which I don't think anyone has the answer to at this point, not even Bill Belichick.
Why did the Patriots invest a long-term deal in Matt Light. He is the weak point on the line, as speed rushers like Jason Taylor or Dwight Freeney eat him alive. Even against the Titans on Friday night, he was unable to protect Tom. His sloppy play could end up in a Brady injury. Any chance of going in another direction next year?
John Kruszyna, Housatonic
A: Light does have struggles with speed rushers from time to time, but that's pretty much the norm around the NFL, especially when it comes to Taylor and Freeney. My question would be: What type of left tackle does one think the Patriots can acquire? Players like Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, and Levi Jones -- arguably the three best left tackles in the game -- are rare. Light started at left tackle for three Super Bowl championship teams and has played in 93 games with 91 starts (including playoffs), so he's obviously done something right. I don't necessarily think Light is a Pro Bowler, but I do think you can win with him at left tackle.
Holy Swiss Cheese! That was my reaction watching the preseason game against the Titans. Our offensive line looks terrible in pass protection. So, my question is this: Is Brady going to be able to get the ball in the hands of his new receiver corps if he's always on his back? This has got to be a major concern right now.
Chris Allen, Tiverton, R.I.
A: I agree on the offensive line. That wasn't a good performance and it will need to improve. First, the Titans have a solid defensive line, so I'd give them some credit. But the Patriots also had some major breakdowns that could have gotten Brady hurt. Looking ahead, I would be surprised if we see a similar performance from the line Friday night in Carolina. I see it more as an isolated incident based on the fact this was the same line that I felt protected extremely well in the playoffs last year.
Can Maroney be effective without a lead blocker?
A: I think Maroney will be most effective running out of a three-wide set, with no lead blocker. In training camp, he has been quite explosive when making one decisive cut and finding the hole quickly.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher implied that Pats DBs should be OK because of the pressure exerted by the front seven. Meriweather, Gay, or maybe even Richardson might rise to the challenge and take Asante's position for good. Every morning I hope to see an announcement that Asante is coming to camp, placated by some minor inducements (such as some up-front money), but there has been no change in the franchise tag. Why is Asante playing Russian roulette with his career and leaving most of $7 million-plus on the table? Bad agent advice?
Pete Clark, England
A: Samuel hasn't left any of his $7.79 million on the table just yet. Veterans don't start earning their salaries until the regular season, and instead collect $1,100 per week during training camp, with an additional $200 on game weeks. I still think Samuel will show up before the regular season, and is staying away to show his displeasure and to limit his risk to injury.
Since Asante Samuel cannot be traded or even sign a long-term contract at this point, what possible reason would he have to forgo approximately $4 million by sitting out until week 10? What leverage does he have? What would he be looking for from the Patriots at this point that they can actually deliver?
Jamie Sultan, Arlington
The reason Samuel would wait to show up until week 10 is that it represents the minimum amount of time he could be on the team and receive a credited season toward his pension. He would, in theory, be limiting his risk to injury so that he could hit the free-agent market in 2008. In terms of what Samuel is looking for from the Patriots, mainly it would be a promise that the team won't franchise him again next year. With Eugene Wilson as the top starter scheduled for unrestricted free agency (not including Randy Moss), Samuel is a candidate to get the tag once again next year.
I thought Le Kevin Smith played well against the Titans. We haven't heard much about him. The announcers said very little about him. What do you think? Is he a part of the Patriots' future?
Andrew O'Malley, Holyoke
A: Smith, a 2006 sixth-round draft choice, got the start at left defensive end with Ty Warren and Mike Wright held out of the game. I thought he played well there. Right now, Smith is the Patriots' top backup at nose tackle and he didn't look as good there in the second half on Friday night (fatigue could have been a factor). I would put him sixth on the team's defensive line depth chart, which means he makes the club and shows promise for the future.
Another lineman (Russ Hochstein) lines up as fullback and gets injured. Klecko, Seymour, Hochstein -- why keep risking it when we're thin on the line anyway?
Jim, Bryan, Ohio
A: I see what you're saying, Jim, but to me it's OK if you're lining up Klecko or Hochstein in that role. Seymour is a different story. In short-yardage and goal-line situations, where there are a lot of big bodies, it takes some mass to move the pile. It looked like Hochstein's injury could have happened at any point on the field, as Stephen Neal appeared to land on the back of his leg.
My question is in regards to the defensive position names in the Pats system (e.g. the "Mike" linebacker). Does every defensive position have a name? If they do, could you list what they are?
James Vooys, Chicopee
A: A lot of positions simply go by their traditional name (e.g. left defensive end, nose tackle), and some of the names depend on the package the Patriots are using. For example, in the team's base 3-4 defense, the strong side inside linebacker is the "Mike" and the weak side inside linebacker is the "Will.'' The outside linebackers are simply left outside linebacker and right outside linebacker. But when the team goes to a different package, such as a 4-3, the middle linebacker is the "Mike,'' the weak side linebacker is the "Will" and the strong side linebacker is the "Sam." Another example is at cornerback, where rookie Brandon Meriweather has been in the slot at the "Star" position.
During the offseason, the Patriots hired a coach, Bill O'Brien, and created a position called "offensive assistant." What was the reason for this hiring and the creation of a new coaching position?
Mike Allen, Phoenix
A: As I understand it, each year head coach Bill Belichick assesses his staff and decides how to best divide the work. O'Brien's official title is coaching assistant, and most teams have that position (the Patriots now have three coaching assistants). Coaching assistants break down tape, chart games, and do a lot of the grunt work behind the scenes. It's more of an entry-level position -- at the highest level of football -- and is often considered the first step toward becoming a position coach.
What happened to Barry Gardner? He played so well last training camp before breaking his leg?
Mark C., Nashua
A: That was a severe break for Gardner, and as of earlier this year, he had been focused more on his quality of life than a return to the football field.
In the majority of the preseason rankings, I have seen place the Colts at or very near to the top, despite losing several starters. Free agency subtracted three starters from the roster: linebacker Cato June and cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David. Not to mention the team might be without its starting OLT, starting a rookie instead. Why do the Colts seem to get a pass in the media? This was a team whose rushing D was ranked in the low 20's for most of the season, until the playoffs where they somehow put together 4 good games in a row. I think if other teams had this kind of turnover in roster, caution flags would be raised. I expect the Colts to struggle defensively this year, maybe more than Peyton can make up on offense.
Matt, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: I feel that many prognosticators have noted that the Colts face an uphill climb to repeat -- from their free-agent losses, to the retirement of left tackle Tarik Glenn, to the season-ending injury to defensive tackle Booger McFarland. The Colts still have an explosive offense and that should keep them in the mix, but they're a shaky defending champion in my view.
This is not a direct Asante question, but I have always wanted to know the answer: It just seems that every player despises the "franchise tag," yet doesn't the players union have to approve the franchise tag for it to exist? If that is indeed the case, why on earth don't the players just stop whining about being tagged and get rid of it?
Patrick Flanagan, Milton, Vt.
A: Good question, Patrick, and one that was addressed in Sunday's Boston Globe football notes. The reason is that if owners agreed to get rid of the franchise tag, they'd be looking for something in return, likely adding another year before players could become free agents. That's not a trade that players are willing to make.
What is behind the green sticker on the back of the quarterbacks helmets? I have noticed them in all the preseason games I have watched.
Jim Barnard, Severna Park, Md.
A: The green sticker is to indicate that the player has a communication device inside his helmet, and is there for the referees. NFL rules state that only one of the 11 offensive players on the field may have a communication device. But there was a situation last year where two quarterbacks were on the field at the same time, and it was difficult for the referees to decipher that they both had communication devices.
What does the #91 on the Patriots' helmets mean?
A: The No. 91 is in memory of defensive lineman Marquise Hill, who died in a jet ski accident this offseason. This would have been Hill's fourth year on the team.