- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week's Patriots mailbag has a little of everything.
As for the team's schedule this week, there is another set of organized team activities, and this one is expected to include veteran players. Last week's organized team activities were for rookies and players new to the system.
My feeling is that this is time for quarterback Tom Brady to maximize opportunities to bond with many of the team's new pass-catchers. That figures to be one of the key storylines this week.
Q: Mike, I am concerned the Patriots are not approaching the Randy Moss situation correctly. We all saw some questionable behavior Moss had prior to coming here. But like Corey Dillon, Moss has developed into a (Patriot way) mature player and is a leader on this team. The Patriots have a premier receiver in Moss, who played through injuries last year. Moss probably should have never commented about this being his final year, but if the Patriots do not offer him an extension this could develop into [a] bad relationship. Also, nobody is filling his shoes once he's gone next year and it will hurt every Patriot fan, players, coaches, etc., watching him catch balls and score touchdowns in another uniform. Can you advise if the Patriots are interested in keeping him after this year or should we be prepared to watch his final year in a Patriot uniform? -- Dennis (WPB, Fla.)
A: Dennis, I see the Patriots letting this one play out, similar to how it went down in 2008, when Moss hit the free-agent market before returning to New England on a three-year deal. The team has more pressing contractual matters with Tom Brady and Logan Mankins, and my feeling is that just because the Patriots don't strike a deal with Moss before the season doesn't mean it can't happen. Moss has said he has no hard feelings about not being approached for an extension, and I'll take him at his word.
Q: Hey Mike, with all the emphasis on the Pats needing that dominant outside rusher, I thought it would be interesting to point out that over the last 10 years the Patriots have only had two players record double digit sack totals; 2009 Tully Banta-Cain (10), 2007 Mike Vrabel (12.5). In fact, over that span, the average for sack leaders for the Pats is about 8.5. Also interesting to point out that over that same time period, the Patriots have averaged about 36.5 sacks a year as a team, and in four seasons they went over 40 as a team -- 2007, 2004, 2003, and 2001 -- all Super Bowl teams. I think there has been an overall defensive letdown as far as getting to the QB the last two seasons, where they have totaled just 31 sacks each year, their lowest totals since 2000. So, with that being said, I am eager to see what the plan is for some of the DL they have brought in who have a reputation of being penetrating, get-into-the-backfield types. And if there will be some more creativity with some of the ILBs as well as the OLBs in terms of blitz packages. -- Greg (South County, R.I.)
A: Greg, those are some interesting statistics to digest. In terms of those penetrating, get-into-the-backfield types, players like Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren come to mind, and maybe they'll provide some pass-rush spark. Overall, I'm not a big believer in the sack stat as a tell-all, because a quarterback throw-away as a result of pressure is almost equal to a sack but doesn't show up on the stat sheet as such. I think the best stat would measure how many times a defense made a quarterback move off his spot or reset, disrupting the rhythm of the play. Clearly, the Patriots didn't have enough of it last season, and they'll need more.
Q: Mike, have the Patriots done enough to address the lack of pass rush? -- Bob (Alexandria, Va.)
A: Bob, it's the question of the offseason. I have my doubts when looking solely at the pass-rushers at outside linebacker. But if the coverage is better in the secondary, that's a factor that could aid the rush.
Q: Mike, I've noticed that you've mentioned Brandon Spikes quite a bit, and it seems like he's really a player that stands out no matter the situation. However, I've also noticed that you went from saying "don't count out Tyrone McKenzie" to listing him as an opening day starter. So my question is, what is it about McKenzie that makes you think he'll wind up winning the starting job? Spikes seems to be the more highly touted prospect, and he seems to have the media support and the work ethic. What will win the job for McKenzie? -- Rick (Lowell, Mass.)
A: Rick, when I was listing a projected starting lineup in last week's mailbag, I gave the nod to McKenzie at inside linebacker because of knowledge in the system. I figured one year in the playbook would give him the slight edge. It will be easier to tell once the pads come on in training camp.
Q: Mike, from everything we read about Tyrone McKenzie, he is big, physical player. Same holds true for Brandon Spikes, which is evident after watching him at Florida over the last few years. I believe either of these guys playing over Gary Guyton could lead to a big comeback year for Jerod Mayo. Not only will he be recovered from his knee but it has to help him playing next to these guys who will stick their nose right in there and blow up plays as opposed to Guyton who seems to be a finesse player and more prone to make the tackle 5 yards off the ball. This should free Mayo to make some big plays. -- Matt (Conn.)
A: Matt, I think Guyton is better cast as a sub linebacker instead of an every-down option in the 3-4 defense, as he played approximately 84 percent of the defensive snaps last season. If McKenzie and Spikes emerge as I think they will, I think your prediction will ring true.
Q: I like Banta-Cain, loved him in college at Cal and thought it was a great sleeper pick for the Pats in the seventh round. A steal. But seriously, people are overrating him this season because last year's linebackers were so bad. He was the best of a poor crew (because Mayo was injured). We need to understand what Tully is: a speed rusher. He can't play the run. Remember when the Pats let him go to the 49ers? They let him go because they didn't have room on a deep LBer roster for a 3rd down rusher. He's still the same player, only older. I envision the bigger OLBs starting on running plays (Woods & Cunningham) and the faster OLBs playing in passing situations (Tully, Ninkovich, Crable, Burgess). -- Eric (Weymouth, Mass.)
A: Fair point, Eric. One thought is that Pierre Woods also struggled against the run last season (e.g., versus Carolina). I think the defense is vulnerable if he is in there for an extended period of time.
Q: Mike, you recently posted a piece outlining the big contracts that the Pats have coming to an end. You mention Wes Welker's contract and how, had it not been for his knee, he was in a position to ask for more money, two years before his contract was up. Seeing as how the team's star (Tom Brady) is entering into the final year of his deal, for which he is getting paid well below market value, could you really see the Pats giving Welker an extension or a "restructuring" of his contract that would have paid him more money based on performance when he was still playing under his original contract? I look at Chris Johnson and see the Titans standing firm on him honoring the deal that both sides agreed on; don't you think it would be the same in New England? Welker is one of the best but somehow I just couldn't see the Pats front office giving him a "raise" when he has a couple years left on the deal. -- Gisele (London)
A: I could see the Patriots taking that position, and in turn, I could see Welker pointing to Ty Warren as an example of a Patriots player who had his contract extended with multiple years remaining on it. So I don't think there is a hard and fast rule on this one either way. The one thing with Welker that is remarkable to me is how when the Patriots made the trade for him in 2007, many felt the team overpaid in terms of draft-pick compensation and contract. Not any more. The Patriots and Welker deserve credit for that.
A: Eric, one of the main topics dissected in the Patriots mailbag since the season ended was more offensive and defensive playmakers. I think Tate can be one as a No. 3 or 4 receiver and with the ball in his hands on returns.
Q: There's been a lot of focus on Tom Brady balancing his home life and his time with the Patriots. It seems like some are worried that he may not be ready. I'm not concerned about that. I'm more concerned that the new receivers (Holt, Price, all three TEs, and even Tate in there) won't have the familiarity with Brady. It seems we waited a long time for Galloway to get on the same page with Brady before realizing it wasn't going to happen. On the other hand Edelman and Brady looked like they played together for quite some time. Any thoughts on what makes an Edelman work and a Galloway not work? In the future, would it make sense to host some of the offseason offensive camp in California? Even if it is a three day weekend with just the receivers and quarterbacks working on routes? -- Brian MacFarland (Foster City, Calif.)
A: Brian, on the Edelman/Galloway question, I think a big part of it is work ethic. Edelman was not to be denied. I didn't get that sense from Galloway. Obviously, a player has to have the physical gifts to make it happen, too. As for the camp in California, that seems dangerous to me in terms of building a schedule around one player. To me, it sends a message that the player is important enough to not attend voluntary workouts but that the team will still send players out to work with him. I don't think I could endorse that approach.
Q: I'm surprised at the expectations surrounding Shawn Crable. He seems to have the height and the wing span but I'm concerned about his lower body strength. His legs look skinny to me. Is this just my perception? Does his build put him in just the passing down rusher category? -- Chris M. (Haverhill, Mass.)
A: Chris, Crable's legs aren't thick, so it makes sense to wonder whether he can anchor at the outside linebacker spot. From the limited time we've seen him in preseason games, I think he can play off the line of scrimmage in more than just a pass-rushing role. But as we've discussed in past mailbags, my feeling is that if the Patriots are relying on Crable, that's risky business at this point. I understand why they haven't given up on him, but I think it's optimistic to pencil him in as an impact guy.
Q: Hi Mike, is it safe to assume that the Falcons and Saints scrimmages -- I mean, "joint practices" -- are due to the Patriots' increased youth and inexperience (especially on defense)? -- Kris (Abington, Mass.)
A: Kris, I'd say that might be a part of it, but it's not the only part of it. I think Bill Belichick likes the idea of shaking things up and trying new things, so players get a fresh approach. This is his 11th year as head coach, and I think the mark of a good leader is one who tries different things in part so players don't get complacent.
Q: Hey Mike, I see that the Patriots will be holding joint practices with both the Falcons and Saints this preseason. What does that mean exactly? Is that just another way to say the teams are going to scrimmage? -- Mike Brennan (Boston)
A: Mike, I think that's correct -- it should be a controlled-type scrimmage.
Q: Hi, Mike, a couple of thoughts that I'd like to share with you: 1) I keep seeing where many readers are ready to write off Matt Light, yet he keeps showing up. I don't think we'll ever see him on the right side because if I remember, they tried him there as a rookie and it didn't work; 2) I'm puzzled by something the Patriots did in the 2010 draft. They picked Jermaine Cunningham at No. 53 when his teammate Carlos Dunlap was available and ultimately went to the Bengals at No. 54, but Dunlap was rated much higher. I know you've mentioned many times that certain players project higher to NE than others, but I can't see where Cunningham is the better player. What do you make of that? -- Lee Simmons (Erie, Penn.)
A: Lee, I agree on Light. That is a point Belichick made on multiple occasions last season, how he tried him at right tackle and it just didn't work out. On the second question, it was strictly a question of system fit. The Patriots viewed Dunlap as more of a pure 4-3 end, whereas Cunningam projects to play 3-4 outside linebacker.
Q: Hey Mike, when the Pats lost in the first round of the playoffs, those of us with an optimistic outlook tried to say one positive of the situation was that the Pats wouldn't have any restrictions in signing free agents; as opposed to the Final 8 playoff teams who could only sign the same number of FA's that their team lost. Has there been any noticeable impact from these rules? -- Pat (Westborough, Mass.)
A: Pat, I really haven't noticed a major impact from those rules. The Patriots have been pretty conservative in terms of signings. I think the Final 8 teams might have liked to add a player or two -- and they have when losing a free agent -- but it has been far from a major impact on the team-building approaches of those clubs.
Q: Mike, considering that we have a large void at 3-4 defensive end, do you think we could take a shot at Dallas's Marcus Spears? He's been a solid starter since he was drafted for them and there is some major trouble with his contract. He's young enough to award a semi-long term contract to if we trade for him and from what I have read they might give him up for a fourth or fifth-round pick. -- Kyle Taylor (Amherst, Mass.)
A: Kyle, I like Spears but don't see it happening at this time. I think the Patriots are going with Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis, Ron Brace, Mike Wright, Darryl Richard & Co., and they'll see how it shakes out. If things look shaky in training camp, I could see some possible action -- similar to 2003, when the team tried Jarvis Green at nose tackle and abandoned the experiment by trading for Ted Washington. But for now, I think what the Patriots have is what they're going with.
Q: Hi Mike, do you think the Pats have any interest in Roy Williams? I'm thinking he could be had fairly cheap from the Cowboys, possibly for a 4th round pick? I know he can be inconsistent at times, but I think he could improve our passing attack and add valuable depth with so many question marks there to start the season. -- Jerry (Kingston, Mass.)
A: Jerry, I'd put Williams into the Spears category from the previous question. I don't see the Patriots trading for a receiver right now, as they are going with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Torry Holt, Taylor Price & Co., and they'll see how it shakes out. If there are concerns in training camp, I could see a move. There were similar mailbag questions on Mathias Kiwanuka, Patrick Crayton and Dwayne Bowe as targets in a trade, but I don't see those happening, either.
Q: With regards to Ron Brace, aren't these the same things we heard about Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork? Neither of them seemed to be an impact player in their first year or two and now I believe they're regarded very highly by people in the NFL. Can you comment on some of the similarities having been around for the respective growing pains? -- Andy (Chicago)
A: Andy, I think Warren and Wilfork had more contributions than Brace did in their respective rookie seasons. While they didn't start right away, my feeling is that their on-field performance was a bit further along than where Brace is right now.
Q: Hey Mike, your article on Ron Brace made me think a little about where he'll play this year. I think that he might be a little too big (and possibly not quick enough) for the RE position in the 3-4. I'm guessing that the Pats will use the 4-3 occasionally (based on matchups and being unpredictable) and this is when we'll see him. I see the front seven in a 4-3 looking like this: Tully Banta-Cain at RE, Vince Wilfork and Ron Brace at DT, Ty Warren at LE, Jerod Mayo at MLB, Tyrone McKenzie at SLB, and Gary Guyton at WLB. Do you think we might see this personnel grouping and Brace being used in a 3-4? Or do you think it's too much to ask so many young players to be ready for completely different formations? -- Jeff W. (Cambridge, Mass.)
A: Jeff, I could see Wilfork and Brace as interior linemen in a goal-line or short-yardage defense, but I don't see them as a complementary pairing in the 4-3 alignment. If Wilfork were playing the nose in the 4-3, I'd be looking for more of a slashing penetrator as the other tackle, and I think Mike Wright can be effective in that type of role. I think some of Wright's best rushes have come from the inside.
Q: Mike, I have a feeling that Bill Belichick, over the past couple of years, has been trying to make the move from a 3-4 to a base nickel package. With the personnel we have this year I think we are better suited to a 4-2-5 package as the base. Wouldn't this be suitable enough against the run while still effective against the pass? You could have Wilfork and Wright at DT; T. Warren and G. Warren at DE; Mayo and Spikes/McKenzie at LB; Butler and Bodden at corner; McCourty/McGowan/Chung as the nickel back, and Sanders and Meriweather at safety. Say on third-down passing situations we rotate in TBC, Burgess, Crable, Cunningham combo at DE and Guyton in for Spikes or McKenzie. This could keep our "OLBs" fresh for when we need it most, 3rd down and allow Guyton to be effective and not get beat up by guards all game long. -- Benny (Canada)
A: Benny, I think it all depends on the matchup, because I'm not sure that package would be stout enough against a team like the Jets. But certainly, this is something we've seen the Patriots use in recent years, in different forms. Sometimes it's more of a penetrating front with ends like Burgess and Banta-Cain on that four-man line. Other times, it's a bit bulkier of a look up there, with bigger ends. The Patriots were in sub packages about 50 percent of the time last season, so it is a worthy topic to bring to the fore.
Q: With the new defensive players, do you see the Pats using the "organized chaos" defensive set any more? -- Nick (Santa Cruz, Calif.)
A: Nick, in watching the final four regular-season games of 2009 again in recent weeks, it reminded me that the "organized chaos" package of no defensive linemen on passing downs helped spark the defense. I think it's similar to a changeup for a baseball pitcher. It's not something you want to rely on very often, but if mixed in occasionally, it could be effective.
Q: Hey Mike, not necessarily suggesting that Brady is looking to get out of Foxboro, but I feel your answers to that question last week were contradictory. You wrote: "because (Brady)'s driven to win, there is no better place than New England." And then in the very next answer, you said, "Looking across the NFL, it's rare to see a team that consistently hits on its picks year in and year out. Every team has some dips and the Patriots' have come from 2006 to 2008." How can a team that's had a three-year draft dip also be the best place to win for a soon-to-be 33-year-old QB with what's become a long list of injury issues? -- Mike (Yarmouth, Maine)
A: Mike, my response would be just because the Patriots had a dip in drafting players from 2006 through 2008 doesn't mean this isn't the best place to win. Draft picks are just one part of the team-building process. If we look at player acquisition on the whole, they traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss in 2007, and that wasn't bad. In fact, those were steals. I think Brady realizes between Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, he has two crucial pieces to success -- an excellent head coach and a top-of-the-line owner.
Q: Hi Mike, Floyd Reese selected some very good players and built some pretty competitive teams when he was the GM in Tennessee. I wondered if you knew more about his role with the Pats. Is he strictly handling just contract negotiations, or do they leverage his talents and experience on the personnel selection side? -- Chip (Wilton, Conn.)
A: Chip, Reese mostly handles contracts. He is seen on the practice fields in an observing role, and I assume his opinion is solicited at times, but I think it would be misrepresenting things to say he has a major role in personnel.
A: Jenkins and Anderson are both under contract. Stanback was due a $25,000 roster bonus in mid-June, and the Patriots might have had that in mind when waiving him. They probably figured he was a long shot for a roster spot, so why pay the money for a player who probably wouldn't be there in a few months.
Q: Mike, I have a non-football question for you. I was hoping you could shed some light on how athletes view the media coverage of them. Do you know if they read the blogs, articles, etc. and perhaps form opinions of the reporters themselves? -- Chris (Boston)
A: Chris, I think players certainly form opinions of reporters, and my feeling is that it is based more on interaction in the locker room than what is written or said about them. Some of the athletes are aware of what is written about them, but I don't think a lot of them read the coverage in the daily newspapers and websites.
Q: Mike, at the end of day 2 of the draft there was talk that the Patriots were on the phone with Everson Griffen until they decided to trade pick 89. Once they traded the pick, they only took Taylor Price in round 3. The Patriots denied the Griffen phone call rumor that night and then the Vikings took him early in round 4. Did you ever hear if there was genuine interest or if this was chatter from Griffen's agent? I was surprised by the rumor, because there seemed to be character concerns out there for Griffen. -- Don (Boston)
A: Don, I don't think there was genuine interest there. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Griffen wasn't on the Patriots' board.
Q: Hey Mike, do you think the NFL's 2011 season will be interrupted? I thought that an industry of the NFL's size would never allow that to happen, but I'm skeptical given the bantering between the sides. -- Chris (Tewksbury, Mass.)
A: Chris, I don't think the 2011 season will be interrupted. I think both sides will have added motivation to strike a deal as the deadline nears, and will realize that things are too good for owners and players to go down that road.
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