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Ask Shalise: Defensive line, playoffs and penalties on readers’ minds

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With the Patriots’ defensive line seemingly growing thinner by the day – Ron Brace went on injured reserve this week and rookie Brandon Deaderick has been suspended by the team – there is a lot of concern over whether the unit will hold up in the postseason. That is why a number of readers asked about the status of versatile Mike Wright, who has missed more than a month due to a concussion.

Also on readers’ minds – potential playoff opponents, the future of a veteran Pats D-lineman, and a quirky choice of words.

Shalise, the playoffs are coming and Mike Wright still hasn’t been cleared to practice. It doesn’t get mentioned much, but I think getting Mike back could be a huge boost for the D-line in the playoffs — I think they’ve missed him more than most people realize–does it look like he’s coming back?
Robert McTague, Tampa, Fla.

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Is Mike Wright in bad shape? It has been 5-6 weeks suffering concussion symptoms, is it possible he will not recover? I know we are not doctors, but how long can symptoms linger? Missing Mike and hoping he recovers fully.
Paul Gauthier, Sacramento

Any update on Mike Wright? It’s been six weeks since he went out with a concussion and I don’t believe has participated in practice since. How serious is this injury?
Jack, Washington D.C.

These three represent several questions received on Wright. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I have not even seen Mike since a couple of days before he got hurt against the Colts, and coach Bill Belichick won’t give any indication on his status when asked. However, the fact that he hasn’t been put on injured reserve yet to me means that the team is holding out hope that he will be well enough to return.

Personally, I’m a big advocate of proper concussion care for players, because while some of them may be short-sighted (talking to you, Reggie Bush and Cris Carter) when it comes to this injury, the effects of concussions can linger for years. Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, the fact that the Revolution’s Taylor Twellman, an otherwise perfectly healthy 30-year old, had to retire to have any chance at a normal life because of seven diagnosed concussions during his playing career is an example of how serious they are. With that knowledge, my educated guess would be that this may have been at least the second concussion of the season for Wright, leading to his prolonged absence.

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I understand people are asking which team the Patriots would not want to play in the playoffs. No one mentions the Kansas City Chiefs. Do you think this could be a challenging match up given the connections with Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Matt Cassel? Who would have the edge?
Christopher Michael, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

I’d give the edge to New England, Christopher. While Weis and Crennel know the Pats’ schemes and Crennel no doubt remembers Tom Brady’s weaknesses as a quarterback, Bill Belichick certainly knows Cassel’s strengths and weaknesses, and I’d give Belichick the advantage there. Plus, Crennel hasn’t been in New England since 2004, while Cassel’s last snap here was just two years ago. Also, while the Chiefs deserve a great deal of credit for winning 10 games, they only beat one playoff team – and that was the 7-9 Seahawks – and only topped one team that finished the year with a winning record, beating the Chargers at home. To be fair, Kansas City only played two playoff teams (the Colts being the other), but a 3-5 road mark doesn’t play in its favor either considering the Chiefs would be coming to Foxborough. The Chiefs do have a formidable run game with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, though that could be mitigated if the Pats took an early lead.

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Tom Brady broke Bernie Kosar’s record (for pass attempts without an interception). Was Bill Belichick the coach of both quarterbacks?
Richard Hargreaves, Mansfield

Belichick was indeed the coach of both men, Richard. Last week, the day after Brady broke Kosar’s record of 308 pass attempts without an interception, Belichick was asked about the fact that he was head coach when each man set the record. In typical fashion, Belichick gave much of the credit to the players. Here’s part of what he said:
“I am fortunate to have been the coach during those two periods where my starting quarterback didn’t turn the ball over. I think a lot more of that is a reflection and a compliment to the player throwing the ball than the coach. They’re the ones that have to make the decisions and see the defenses and make the throws, take the hits from the pass rush and all that. Certainly, Bernie and Tom deserve the credit for those streaks not the coach. Bernie, like Tom, [was] very diligent with his preparation. Studied everything: the schemes, the players, the individual tendencies as well as the overall team, schemes and tendencies. I would say both players are very well prepared and neither one of which made a lot of mistakes in terms of misreading something or not knowing who was going to run a certain route or who was hot or getting fooled by different defensive looks, things like that … I think Tom is kind of the same way. He’s careful, he can read things in a hurry, but when plays break down for one reason or another, when receivers get jammed, there’s a breakdown in protection, or the defense has a good coverage that matches up well against a particular pattern that you had called, that’s when the quarterback really has to be at his sharpest and most alert and not let that become a turnover or a worse play of what is already not a good play. I would say Bernie and Tom throughout their careers have done and do a good job of that, better than a lot of quarterbacks do.”
When the Pats play in the playoffs, who do you want them to face and who do you think presents the most problems for them? I say Pittsburgh or Baltimore. What’s your take?
Gary Smith, Boynton Beach, Fla.

I’m with you on that, Gary. I think Baltimore is a problem mostly because I think the bad blood between the teams now, particularly on the Ravens’ side, would lead to the game devolving into an overly-physical game that wouldn’t really favor the Patriots. I think the Steelers could be a problem mostly because they have an experienced team and a quarterback who has won two Super Bowls. But Tom Brady has played very well against Pittsburgh in his career, and in my experience, anytime Bill Belichick says “they do what they do” about a team – as he does when he talks about the Steeler defense and Norv Turner’s San Diego offense – it typically means he has things figured out. While it seems most fans are expressing a fear of the Colts, I think the end-of-game success this defense had against Peyton Manning in November really did a lot for their confidence and the unit would welcome a rematch against him.
This year there seems to be many more questionable penalties called by the referees, but television commentators and sportswriters will never comment. Stadium screens and TV will not even show replays of questionable calls. Is the NFL exerting pressure on sportscasters, commentators, and sportswriters to ignore the issue? Do they fear some sort of retribution from the NFL if they comment on the officiating?
Steve Shepard, Canton

Personally, Steve, I’ve never heard anything from the league about being critical of the officials – unlike NFL players and coaches, we can’t be fined if we say anything negative. While there are comments about questionable calls, for me personally, I have a great deal of respect for what the officials do. They’re asked to make calls in an instant, with hundreds of things running through their head, and 22 extra-large and/or incredibly fast bodies flying around them. There are bound to be mistakes, which is why the instant replay system is in place: to correct potential errors. Consider also that NFL officials are part-time employees, unlike the officials in other professional sports, and by and large they maintain jobs outside of football.
With Bob Kraft recently talking about the positive atmosphere with this year’s team, it reminded me how far the team has come since Adalius Thomas led a group of malcontents in the locker room last year. While he was a negative influence and a waning talent, he did seem good enough to be a backup somewhere in the NFL. Do you have any idea why he has not hooked on with any team at a time in the year where D-lines are thin due to injury?
Bill, Roslindale

The primary reason, Bill, is that Thomas didn’t put out great film, and your performance is the overriding reason a team will sign a player. Look at Randy Moss – the Vikings traded for him and then the Titans claimed him on waivers because on film, he still looked like he could play. Were there hiccups? Sure. But overall, he still had speed, he was still beating cornerbacks, he was still making plays. When Thomas did get his chances last season, whether he agreed with how he was being used or not, he had to show well on film.
I’ve noticed Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and others this year using “red area” instead of “red zone.” Is this a new thing? What prompted the switch in terminology?
Andy Hall, Cambridge

For as long as I’ve been covering the Pats, Andy, that’s the term Belichick has used. Brady likely calls it that because that’s what he hears all the time. Not sure what the origins of it is, though.
What is Ty Warren’s status for next year? I believe he is a free agent, meaning we have seen the last of him in a Patriots uniform.
Jerry MacDonald, Plymouth

According to the NFL Players’ Association website, Jerry, Warren is signed through 2013. So at this point, he’s fully expected to be back with the team once he’s fully rehabbed from his hip surgery. However, with base salaries between $3.1 million and $3.9 million in 2011-13 and a number of teams now utilizing 3-4 defenses, Warren could become trade bait for a team seeking a veteran lineman and positive locker room influence.
This is less of a question than a statement. With the next two weeks ‘off’ for the Pats, I wanted to reflect on the past 10 years with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm plus hundreds of other contributors. This stretch of years (regardless of how this season ends) will hands-down be the best in the history of the Pats and unlikely to be repeated in our lifetimes. Not only have the Pats won, but they’ve won with stars, free agents, rookies, veterans and great coaching. Given the holiday season, it’s important to recognize and appreciate how good we’ve had it as Pats fans. Here’s to Super Bowl #4 …
Chad, New York

I’m sure many Patriots fans share your thoughts, Chad. I’d also include Robert Kraft with Brady and Belichick as the men “at the helm” of New England’s run of success over the last decade. Given the way business is done in the NFL currently, with a hard salary cap, free agency and turnover on the roster and in the coaching ranks, it is quite a feat.

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