Opening act approaching
FOXBOROUGH - The season opener is set for Sept. 9 against the Jets and there is no shortage of topics on the minds of e-mailers to the Patriots mailbag.
The top three most prevalent issues were:
I am still picking my jaw up off the floor. Rodney KNOWINGLY took a banned substance? He's sorry? Sorry? That doesn't cut it. And on top of that Seymour is out for six weeks? I know they will survive, but I was so looking forward to having the complete defense for 16 games for a change. So what can we expect from the defense without these two? And if you see Rodney tell him that while the fans can appreciate that he wanted to heal quickly and get back to the game, it was not a fair trade of his character and trust of his teammates. Not worth it by a long shot.
Cynthia Pleach, Canton
A: I would expect James Sanders, the third-year safety out of Fresno State, to take Harrison's place. While the Patriots have played 24 of the last 37 games without Harrison -- and Sanders was his replacement last year -- it's still a step down in my opinion. Harrison was playing extremely well this preseason. As for being without Seymour, sixth-year player Jarvis Green will assume the starting role in the base 3-4 alignment at right defensive end. Green could probably be a starter on most clubs, so it's a nice fallback plan, but any time you lose a Seymour it's a significant blow.
I can't come close to even understanding all that Rodney Harrison has gone through these last two years in regards to his injuries. But before he was even a Patriot, I was already a lifelong fan, and in my eyes it seems he not only cost the Pats a starting safety for the first four weeks, but even had to cut a player they might not have wanted to (Justin Rogers?) and kept an extra safety because of it. Is this a fair assessment of the situation? Also, I love Bam Childress. He reminds me of a young Troy Brown. Do the Pats believe he has a future with the team? And I saw him take some handoffs in the last game, was this a one-shot deal or is converting him to a RB/WR/DB, an option the Pats might be considering?
Howard Titlebaum, New York City
A: I think that is a very fair assessment of the Harrison situation. He let his teammates and coaches and owners down in a big way. I'm not sure the Patriots would have kept Rashad Baker on the final roster if Harrison was active (and perhaps Justin Rogers would have made it). Baker did show some promise, but I looked at his inclusion on the roster as being a result of Harrison's suspension. As for Childress, stranger things have happened, but I don't think the Patriots necessarily see a Troy Brown-like future for Childress. If they had that thought now, I believe they would have kept him on the 53-man roster. In terms of Childress lining up in the backfield, he also did that last year in the regular season against the Jaguars. I wouldn't be surprised to see it again.
Can you please explain how the suspension process works? Can Rodney practice or travel with the team? Can he attend games and watch from the sidelines?
Rhonda Calvin, St. Petersburg, Fla.
A: Harrison must remain away from the facility. He cannot practice. He cannot travel with the team. He can return Oct. 2.
I'm a little confused by this Rodney Harrison situation. I don't understand why he would admit to taking HGH. Currently, there's no test to prove that an athlete has taken HGH. Therefore, I'm left having to assume that someone else must be talking to the investigators and saying that they provided it to him. I can't really come up with any other explanation. Does this seem to make sense in the context of your information and sources?
A: The district attorney's office in Albany -- not federal investigators -- obviously had some pretty damning information against Harrison from its investigation of Signature Pharmacy in Orlando. They shared that information with the league, which then followed up with Harrison. I'm sure Harrison considered his options of fighting it or denying it, and for reasons I am not aware, he chose to own up to his breaking the rules.
For a team that has become a model for the sport, how does this affect Harrison and the rest of the franchise? I loved Rodney (especially for his character), but I'd rather see even more discipline than to smear the Pats any more. Your thoughts?
Kevin Hollingsworth, Los Angeles, Calif.
A: Owner Robert Kraft sometimes talks about how proud he is of the "brand" that the Patriots have created. Harrison's suspension puts a black mark on the brand, no doubt about that.
Was there a condition to Harrison's suspension that prevented him from appealing it? After learning Seymour will be down for 6 weeks, getting Rodney on the field for the first couple of games while awaiting appeal would have been huge in my opinion. Now, the team is left without 2 key veterans against 2 division rivals and 2 formidable conference opponents in San Diego and Cincinnati.
Dan T., Albany, N.Y.
A: Harrison met with the commissioner and admitted to using a banned substance, so there was nothing to appeal. The first offense is an automatic four-game suspension.
Does Seymour have an ACL issue? He seems to have had plenty of time to recover from most knee injuries that happened as far back as last January. Now we hear he is out for at LEAST 6 more weeks? I can't help thinking that his knee injury is much more serious than first reported. Do you think the Pats are having second thoughts about the big contract they gave him?
Don Ludwig, Marlborough
A: Seymour had his knee cleaned out this offseason and it has not responded as he hoped it would. I don't think Seymour's initial injury is more serious than initially reported, but I think the slow pace of his recovery has flown a bit under the radar. Although players routinely come back from arthroscopic surgeries on their knees, sometimes multiple surgeries can take their toll and I think that is the situation with Seymour. In retrospect, I don't think the Patriots are having second thoughts about the contract they gave Seymour. They had to do it. He's a special player. But perhaps they're lamenting that they haven't received much return on the investment since the deal was consummated.
I thought that a player could come off the PUP list at any time, and once they did they could not be placed back on it? I thought the Week 6 deadline was a point you had to activate the player or place them on the IR. Everyone makes it seem as Seymour will be out all six weeks. Can he come back early?
Matt Lyons, Littleton
A: There are two PUP lists -- the active/PUP list in training camp and the reserve/PUP list for the season. A player on the active/PUP can come off the list at any point before camp ends, and cannot be placed back on the list after that. The reserve/PUP means a player is not eligible to return until after Week 6 of the regular season. Players on the reserve/PUP have between Week 6 and Week 9 to start practicing, and once they start practicing, teams have 21 days to decide whether to activate them or place them on injured reserve (lost for the season). Seymour began camp on the active/PUP list and is now on the reserve/PUP list.
Do you think Randy Moss will be ready for season opener? The starting 2 should be Randy and Dante Stallworth and Wes Welker on 3rd downs or three-receiver formations. Do you think the coaches may be use Randy as a decoy to keep the secondary honest?
Mike Goddard, Nashua, N.H.
A: I do think Moss will be ready for the opener, and that he will be employed in two-wide and four-wide sets. I figure they don't want to give him a full plate right off the bat, so they'll use Jabar Gaffney in the three-wide sets. I don't see Moss being used a decoy.
While the chatter about a big-name receiver being released has been going on since free agency, I am very surprised that Reche Caldwell was released and Kelley Washington made the roster. Marcellus Rivers was re-signed, so do you think Caldwell will also be re-signed?
Mike Wilson, New Brunswick, Canada
A: It's a possibility, but if I had to choose yes or no, I'd lean toward no at this time. As for the cut, I think Caldwell was not only making a lot of money for a sixth receiver ($1.55 million) but also had limited value on special teams. Washington is on the books for less and plays on coverage teams. He added more value at that spot on the depth chart.
I know you've written recently about Reche Caldwell's $1.5 million salary being rich for a No. 6 receiver. But with Moss and Stallworth both being very much injury-prone I was glad to see that the Pats kept him initially and now disappointed that they released him. I think they should keep six and even with Bam still around on the practice squad and Troy a possibility down the road, Caldwell should've stayed. What's your take?
Bob Rinker, Mount Joy, Pa.
A: In the end, I look at a player on the roster who would have been cut to keep Caldwell, and the names that come to mind are offensive linemen Wesley Britt, Billy Yates and Ryan O'Callaghan, tight end Marcellus Rivers, quarterback Matt Gutierrez, and safety Rashad Baker. I can see why the Patriots made the move in each case, with Rivers the one player who could have gone the other way. Considering that Rivers offers depth right now, when the team needs it with Kyle Brady having missed all preseason action and David Thomas just coming off the physically unable to perform list, it makes sense to keep him.
A couple quick Asante Samuel questions, in light of recent developments (Harrison, Seymour): 1) Do you think the Patriots agreed to "sweeten" Samuel's deal (agreed not to franchise him again if he meets certain criteria) because they knew about the Harrison and Seymour situations and wanted to make sure they Samuel back on the field to start the season? 2) In their negotiations with Samuel, do you think they could have had a general discussion about a framework or at least parameters ("x" interceptions, "y" tackles, etc.) for a new long-term deal at the end of the season, or would that have been strictly prohibited by NFL rules?
Rob Chafitz, Owings Mills, Mary.
A: I don't think the Harrison or Seymour situations had anything to do with the team's dealing with Samuel. I also don't think they talked parameters for a long-term deal. Both sides are content to let this one play out for the near future.
Any chance the Pats will cut Harrison and go after Donovin Darius? I know Rodney is well liked and well respected in the locker room and around the region, but they need to set an example. This is a veteran locker room and if Rodney is using HGH to get back from injuries, who's to say other guys with frequent injuries, such as Bruschi, Colvin, Wilson, Seymour, etc., won't succumb to the temptation?
A: On Monday, Belichick said the team would see Harrison in four weeks, which to me was an indication he is in their future plans. Harrison's locker also remains intact at the stadium. I don't see a Harrison-for-Darius exchange. Darius is also recovering from an injury and might not be ready to play at this time.
Who will get the ball inside the 5 yard line: Maroney, Morris, or Evans?
George Duffney, Norwell
A: Last year, that was a role that seemingly was carved out for Corey Dillon. I'd pick Morris, but I also think Maroney and Evans will get a chance. Unlike last year, I don't think they'll have what seemed to me to be a designated goal-line back.
How large of a role will Wes Welker play in the passing game this year? I've heard Coach Belichick and Tom Brady really like him so far.
J. Karasch, Scottsdale
A: Welker projects to have a major role in the offense, primarily working as the slot man in 3-wide sets and he could also see time in some 2-wide sets. The Patriots ran a lot of two-wide, two-tight end sets last year but I think we'll see more 3-wide sets, specifically to get Welker on the field. The backup slot man would be Kelley Washington.
What is (or isn't) it about Bam Childress that prevents him from breaking through to the active roster? Is it a case this year of the stacked WR corps, or is there something lacking in general in your opinion? He seems like a good versatile player, cut of the Patriots cloth.
Jim, Bryan, Ohio
A: More than anything, I think it's his size, which leads to durability concerns. Childress is listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but coming from a small guy himself, I see him more in the 5-7 range, 175-pound range. Childress has deservingly developed some support from the fan base, and one scout recently mentioned to me that he roots for guys like Childress. I think he'll eventually find his way onto a roster this year, probably the Patriots, and will make a play that will help win a game (like he did last year against the Jaguars).
There were a couple of personnel moves that surprised me: 1) Any word on why rookie Mike Elgin didn't make the practice squad? 2) What about outside linebacker Justin Rogers not earning a roster spot?
Mike Bond, Georgetown
A: I watched Elgin closely in the preseason finale and felt he was getting pushed back into the pocket regularly. I think it was a matter of physical strength with him, which might have been harder to judge in camp because there wasn't a high volume of contact. There remains one open practice squad spot and I wouldn't be surprised to see it go either way with him. As for Rogers, I thought that was a case of the team trying to slide him through the system, as I noticed he hardly played in the preseason finale. I might be misreading it, but it looked like a risk that didn't pay off, as the Cowboys claimed him on waivers.
Now that the roster has been "settled," which players do you feel will be part of the core of the special teams? Finally, why did the Pats cut Mills if they wanted to keep him and left roster spots open?
B.C., San Jose
A: Safeties Mel Mitchell and Willie Andrews and linebackers Larry Izzo, Pierre Woods and Eric Alexander, and running backs Sammy Morris and Heath Evans look like the core special teamers to me. As for Mills, the Patriots might have wanted to keep him, but there is a difference between keeping a player on the active roster and practice squad. They rolled the dice that he would clear through waivers and they could bring him back to the practice squad and the gamble did not pay off. If they wanted him that bad, they would have kept him on the 53-man roster.
Are you as surprised as I am that Tory James made the team? I haven't seen a veteran get toasted so much by second stringers in preseason in a couple of seasons. Thanks again for all of the great information.
Dave Moreau, Pittsfield
A: I was somewhat surprised, but with Asante Samuel's availability still somewhat in question, it made sense that they protect themselves with defensive backs on the initial roster. The roster continues to evolve, so there is no guarantee that James will stick for the long-term.
I don't get the punter moves by the Patriots. If they didn't think Danny Baugher was consistent enough, why didn't they keep Josh Miller? Plus they paid Miller his $100K roster bonus. If they wanted a stronger leg with more experience, why didn't they re-sign Todd Sauerbrun after last season? He had great games in the playoffs against the Chargers and the Colts. Hanson doesn't seem like any improvement over either Sauerbrun or Miller. All of these punter moves leave me scratching my head.
Bob K., Cambridge
A: The Patriots did want to keep Sauerbrun but lost him on a technicality. They wanted to see how Miller would respond from a shoulder injury, so they paid the $100,000 to make an informed decision with more time behind it. As it turned out, Hanson is the best of the lot right now, but as you noted, he's struggled of late. His 40.6 average ranked 31st out of 32 punters last year and his 33.4 net ranked 32nd.
My question concerns the practice squad. You talk about players still having eligibility. What are the rules for placing a player on the practice squad? If a veteran player is not picked up by any team, can they be signed to a practice squad if they agree? Are there any conditions that other teams have to satisfy if they sign a player off the Patriots' practice squad (i.e. like the "rule 5" draft in MLB)?
Joseph King, Andover
A: A player is eligible for the practice squad if he had no more than nine games on an active list in a previous season. A player can spend a maximum of three years on a practice squad, and in the third year the team must keep 53 men on the active roster for the player to remain on the practice squad. The only condition a team must meet by signing a player off the Patriots' practice squad is placing the player on their active roster.
With all the cut/signed players moving around the league this time of year, does every team sign players from future opponents just to "steal" the playbook/audible signals/line calls and the like? If not, why? Seems like the easiest and best way to scout.
Adam Schaye, Ithaca, N.Y.
A: Those playbooks don't leave the facility, so it's not as if the player is walking into the other team's facility and handing it over. And the signals can change from week to week. I think some of the information a player could pass on would be helpful, but generally I find this aspect of the game to be a little overstated.
I wanted to see if you would address the waiver rules for the players that were cut. I know when a team claims someone (ex. Justin Rogers) they have to put them on the roster but I knew were other factor and things that needed to be followed when another team claim someone. Can you talk about what the rules are?
Eli Patterson, Kansas City
A: When a player is waived, the other 31 teams can put in a claim on the player. The player is awarded to the team with the worst record from the previous year. The waived player must be placed on the 53-man roster. Take the case of Quentin Moses, who was waived by the Raiders on Saturday and was claimed by both the Cardinals and Chiefs. The Cardinals were granted Moses because they had priority based on their 5-11 record last year compared to the Chiefs' 9-7 record.
Can you help us understand why the Pats could cut Marcellus Rivers on Saturday and re-sign him on Sunday? They had roster space all the time. Is it because they wanted to see who they might claim off waivers from another team? Or a negotiating ploy? Surely it can't be a change of heart.
Jim, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: Rivers stayed around the area, so I think he was going to be part of the team's plans regardless. I'm not sure why it happened that way. I do know that the Patriots did not put a waiver claim on any other player other than David Herron.
My question is in regards to earning a year of eligibility. What would happen if, for example, Asante Samuel came into camp hurt and was put on the PUP and then only was active for 5 games for the rest of the season because of a lingering injury? Would he or any player in that situation not receive a year towards their time served? I realize this is not an issue but thought about it when I saw Seymour get the PUP.
Scott Conroy, San Diego from Brockton
A: In that scenario, Samuel would get credit for a season. Seymour will as well.
Even though they are not on the roster, do players get paid and count against the cap when on IR or PUP?
Bill Allard, Sudbury
A: The answer is yes to both -- the players get paid and count against the cap.