Ask Shalise: Team taking shape

The third preseason game has long been used as the final official tune-up for players at the top of the depth chart, and with the Patriots traveling to Detroit, this Saturday’s game promises to be no different.

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But as the preseason begins to wind down, there comes questions about how the final roster will shape up, and this mailbag has a few of those.

So without further ado, here’s the mailbag — and keep those questions coming.

Q: With so many running backs not practicing (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Eric Kettani), I think that just leaves BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris! (Am I missing anybody?) Do you think the Pats might make a move to bring in a running back? Could they use some of their “extra chips” on the D-line in a trade for a RB somewhere? If so, who might be available, either as a free agent or in a trade?
Walter, Shrewsbury


SMY: Walter’s question came in on Monday; on Tuesday, Woodhead somewhat surprisingly returned to practice after the big hit he took toward the end of the Tampa Bay game, and on Wednesday, Vereen returned from a hamstring injury, so the question of healthy bodies isn’t as urgent now (and you did forget undrafted rookie Richard Medlin, Walter, but we’ll forgive you for that).

Faulk is still on PUP, and my feeling is that he will remain there through the start of the regular season, assuming everyone else stays healthy. Bill Belichick has a great deal of respect for Faulk, the only player who has been on the roster longer than he’s been head coach here; by remaining on PUP through the first six weeks of the regular season, Faulk will be fresher and ready to go, and will get the chance to really show whether this is his final season or if he has enough to play for another year or two.

New England did bring in former Redskin and Bronco Clinton Portis last week for a workout, but I was told that he was terribly out of shape; Miami also brought Portis in and perhaps it tells you all you need to know about his condition that the Dolphins opted to sign Larry Johnson – who hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2008 and spent most of last season out of football – over Portis, who at least had 54 carries for Washington last year.


Q: Danny Woodhead took a viscous hit to the helmet last week. He was obviously concussed and needed help standing. Will he practice or play again in the preseason? Will he be ready for the season opener? And why does Belichick have one of the offense’s most productive running backs on special teams? Surely someone else can fill that role.
Rich, Melrose
SMY: Woodhead did return to practice on Tuesday, which was something of a surprise, but all players take baseline tests now, and if they suffer a concussion, they must return to testing at their pre-concussion levels before being cleared. So while Woodhead’s hit looked brutal, we must assume he is good to go.
The larger question, and one I got from a couple of people on Twitter as well, is Rich’s final one: why was Woodhead on the field so late in a preseason game? Bill Belichick was asked the day after the game, and only said that all players are told to be ready to play 60 minutes. Woodhead has been working as the second personal protector on punts, and the usual protector, Patrick Chung, appeared to grab his wrist on the play that led to Kyle Arrington’s interception, so that could have played a role.
Q: Do you think that Ricky Brown will make the team and have any impact at all, other than to get the Boston College Eagle fans excited?
Tom, Westwood
SMY: Unfortunately I don’t think I can give you an answer on that just yet, Tom. The Pats signed Brown on Saturday, and practice that day was basically a walkthrough; when they returned to practice on Monday, the media was back to being allowed to only watch a 10-to-15 minute window that mostly consists of stretching, so I don’t have a sense yet of how he’s going to be used. We could have a better idea of that after the final two preseason games.
Q: Shalise, the Pats’ loss to the Jets in the playoffs last year really stung, mostly because it felt like a premature ending to a season that started with a lot of question marks, and turned into one with a feeling of destiny about it. My question is, for all the pyrotechnics that the offense generated last season, was there something crucial that the Jets exposed in that game? We all remember how Belichick’s defenses always seemed to stymie Peyton Manning and the Colts when the Pats were in mid-dynasty form. Do the Jets now have our number in a similar manner? Is there something about the Pats’ offense that they’ve figured out, ensuring that all roads to the Super Bowl will inevitably have to go through New York? Thanks.
Eric, Portland, Ore.
SMY: I think one of the major things the Jets exposed when it came to the Pats’ offense last year was a lack of options for Tom Brady. Brandon Tate had proven unreliable, Taylor Price was essentially an unknown commodity, and Aaron Hernandez was hampered by a hip injury that required surgery shortly after the season ended. That left Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Rob Gronkowski as Brady’s only real options. And that’s why Chad Ochocinco is here now: he may not be a speed burner, but if he and Brady get on the same page (and Ochocinco is certainly working at it), it’s one more receiver defensive players have to account for.
As for the Jets having the Patriots’ number — I’d say expect this rivalry to be plenty interesting as long as Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick are the head coaches of the teams. And New England racked up several playoff wins over Peyton Manning and the Colts before the Colts broke through; under Ryan, New York has one.
Q: Is it true that media is not allowed to see entire practices? Or is that just during the season? The reason I ask is that in ‘07 when Randy Moss was held out of practices it seemed to me that in the first game he was up to speed with the offense and in rhythm with Brady. I was wondering if he had put in some work with Brady that the media had not seen and therefore could not have reported on. I’m wondering if this year some guys who have missed a lot of practice (like Haynesworth) could also keep up as well.
JB, Boston
SMY: Now that training camp has officially broken, media are only allowed to watch about 15 minutes of practice per day, and that window comes during jogging and stretching.
You’re right that Brady and Moss seemed to have an instant chemistry, and since Moss was acquired in a draft-day trade, they also had the offseason to start working together. Moss pulled up with a hamstring twinge a couple of days into his first camp with the Pats and was shut down for the rest of the preseason.
Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson praised Haynesworth a little over a week ago, saying he’s been “tremendous” in the meetings. Haynesworth returned to practice on Tuesday, 19 days after we’d last seen him in pads. There’s likely a great deal he can pick up from being in meetings and watching film, but there’s no substitute for being on the field and putting lessons into action. Let’s remember as well that Haynesworth hasn’t played in a game since last Dec. 5 because he was suspended for the final four games of the season by Washington, so making sure he’s in game shape is important.
Q: Shalise, thanks for all the detailed and level-headed reporting. Is it conceivable that the Pats could keep 10 defensive linemen (say Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Eric Moore, Jermaine Cunningham, Shaun Ellis, Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, Myron Pryor, Kyle Love, and Mike Wright) on the roster? There would be so much creative potential for different groupings that opposing quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, Peyton Manning, etc. would have to grapple with down the road. Also the wear and tear of the season might be mitigated by such depth. Thanks.
Bevan, Santa Monica, Calif.
SMY: Thanks for the kind words, Bevan. I do agree that the Patriots could keep 10 D-linemen, and as you noted, being able to mix and match and change up how guys are used on a game-by-game or even down-by-down basis will work to the Pats’ advantage in terms of game-planning and keeping guys fresh.
I also mostly agree with the 10 players you estimated they might hang onto, though it’s tough to cut Gerard Warren, and that list also excludes Ron Brace. Brace underwent elbow surgery that has a full recovery time of a year, and he’s still likely a couple of weeks from returning to the field. And it is unknown at this point what’s happening with Wright.
Q: I won’t ask WHO is going to make the team…yet…however, I’m curious as to your thoughts as to HOW MANY of the following positions will be kept: defensive end, defensive tackle, inside linebacker, outside linebacker. And what is Jerod Mayo doing as an OLB on Greg Bedard’s chart?
Gary, Boone, N.C.
SMY: I’m glad you’re not asking for a 53 just yet Gary! Going by the answer I gave in Bevan’s question, I’d go with 10 defensive linemen — probably five tackles and four ends, plus Ellis, who could play both.
Greg has Mayo listed as an outside linebacker because he’s using a 4-3 model in his roster predictions, which by everything we’ve seen to this point is what it looks like the Patriots are going to be playing as their primary alignment (with variations during games of course). My guess would be four outside linebackers and two inside.
Q: Hi Shalise, who is your favorite Patriot to interview and why?
Liz, South Portland, Maine
SMY: On this current roster, I’d say Deion Branch. He’s insightful, approachable and will give you as much time as you need. Alge Crumpler was a favorite last year, for the same reasons.
In recent years, Ellis Hobbs, Heath Evans, Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel were also guys I enjoyed talking to, and it’s not a surprise that two of those four (Harrison and now Evans, who simultaneously announced his retirement and contract with NFL Network this week) are now in the media themselves.

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