Leftovers from Pats chat, Part I

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
7:00
AM ET
Some leftovers from Thursday's weekly Patriots chat on ESPNBoston.com:

1. Mikey (Boston): Which player from last year's rookie class will have the biggest impact on the team this season?

I think Devin McCourty is the obvious choice, but I'm assuming the question was considering options outside of McCourty, who made a major mark in 2010. So I'll go with outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham. He played in 50 percent of the snaps last season, which was more than initially anticipated for a rookie making the transition from college defensive end to Patriots 3-4 outside linebacker. Another year in the system should help his progression, with the possibility that he could become a consistent three-down option.

2. Jonathon Spunar (Livonia, MI): How will breakout players for the Patriots last year like Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez fare this season?

I envision both will be significant contributors to the team once again. Woodhead is a great fit for what the Patriots do on offense. The expectation from here is that he once again plays a big role in that Kevin Faulk-type third-down role, which in some ways, is like a lead role at running back the way the Patriots attack through the air. As for Hernandez, it starts with health. He missed some time late last season with a hip injury, so we have to see how that comes along. I think he adds a lot to the offense with his ability to play in space, almost like a third receiver. With some more consistency in the route-running department, I see him developing further chemistry with Tom Brady and contributing more.

3. Ryan (Beverly): With two rookie running backs coming into camp and the Law Firm and Woodhead here, how is there roster space for Kevin Faulk?

It could be tough for Faulk to squeeze on to the roster assuming he is re-signed as a veteran free agent. At the same time, I wouldn't count him out just yet. I think the Patriots would benefit from having Faulk around -- either as a player, coach, or as part of the organization in some form -- but with a 53-man roster limit there are only so many spots to go around. I view BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as running back locks. So if they are healthy, the question to me becomes 'Do the Patriots keep five running backs?' With a developmental third quarterback on the roster now (Ryan Mallett) after keeping just two quarterbacks in recent years, and the possibility of keeping four tight ends after drafting Lee Smith in the fifth round, those "surplus" roster spots have to come from somewhere.

4. Tony G. (Los Angeles, CA): Will the Patriots surprise us this year and actually go for a BIG NAME free agent? In the past, they usually steer clear, but after a very bitter and humbling loss to NYJ in playoffs, I would expect the Pats to come back strong. They must have money to spend. So do you see a certain Oakland CB (Nnamdi Asomugha) or Minnesota WR (Sidney Rice) on the Pats in 2011? If not, who do you think they'll target?

I am not expecting a big splash from the Patriots in free agency. To me, the big focus is on the offensive line and what happens with Matt Light (unrestricted) and Logan Mankins (franchise tag). Once there is more clarity there, I think that's when the dominoes start to fall. A player like center/guard David Baas (49ers) could be a good fit. So that's where I'd focus when it comes to free agency -- some of those moving parts up front.

6. Tony Carr (Manchester, NH): I go to law school at UNH Law and hope when I graduate to go into sports, either as an agent or on the operations side of things. I am sure that I'm not your only reader with such aspirations; any advice for us grasshoppers?

My advice would be to "go for it" and embrace the process. I'd also pass along the words of former Patriots trainer Ron O'Neil about the importance of not just getting a law degree but also a "BT degree." The "BT degree" is the Been There degree and highlights the importance of not just studying in the classroom, but getting as much experience in the field as possible. From a sportswriting standpoint, that meant not just being in the classroom and learning about sports reporting. Actually going out in the field and doing it was equally as important.

7. C (Colby): I'm looking forward to the camp competition at the DE spot. Barring injury/lockout hangover I expect Ty Warren to reclaim his post on the left side, but the other side has a lot of possibilities, each with their own questions. Marcus Stroud, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren (if re-signed). Do you see one emerging, or more of a carousel throughout the season?

Had a great discussion with colleague Mike Rodak about this on the way to ESPN on Thursday. We're both really interested to see how the defensive end position unfolds as it seems wide open. Of the players mentioned, I think Brace's best fit is at LDE. I'm anxious to see Stroud and how much he has left, so he's a tough one to project right now. Deaderick got more playing experience than I would have anticipated as a rookie, so he's definitely in the mix. There is also Mike Wright who could rotate in there, although I think he's best in that Jarvis Green-type super sub/spot starter role. At this point, it looks like a situation where we could see a wave of players at that RDE spot as there isn't a clear-cut answer.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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