A few leftover pieces of mail from the weekly Patriots mailbag:
Eric (Mamaroneck, New York): Mike, Aaron Dobson has been touted as the next No. 1 wide receiver for the Patriots and I think we can all agree that he needs to take a nice step forward in his development in Year 2 in order for the Pats to get back to the Super Bowl. With that said, what current or former NFL receiver do you think his body/skillset most resembles. I see a young Keyshawn Johnson in the making minus the diva attitude. Who do you see?
Eric, I thought Johnson (6-4, 211) was a bit more physical than Dobson (6-3, 200). And if Tom Brady knew we were doing this, he might throw a penalty flag on us after saying earlier this month, "You can't sit here and compare one year to another year or compare this player to that player." But I'll play along and two players who come to mind a little bit from an athletic and outside-receiver perspective are San Diego's Malcom Floyd and Chicago's Alshon Jeffery. There's a gap there between the two -- Jeffery is the better player -- and that's the range in which I peg Dobson's potential.
Jim (Nashua, New Hampshire): Mike, who do you think gets the nod to play opposite Darrelle Revis in the first four games of the regular season since Brandon Browner has to sit out because of a suspension?
Jim, I'd put Alfonzo Dennard as the slight favorite, with Logan Ryan right behind him. That should be a good competition. Dennard hasn't practiced this spring after reportedly undergoing shoulder surgery, so we'll have to see what things look like upon his return to health. But this is a player who started 16 games over the last two seasons and has been competitive in the role. I also think Ryan's ball skills will ultimately result in him being on the field in some type of role. The cornerback spot looks like it has pretty good depth.
Mark W. (Naperville, Illinois): Hi Mike, I have a different concern about Darrelle Revis. I'm worried that the coaching staff will not design a defense that fully takes advantage of his skill-set. Seems like he's at his best lining up one-on-one all over the field against the best WR (even if it's the slot WR). The Patriots have traditionally assigned their DBs to one side of the field and play lots of zone. We have a thoroughbred I'm concerned the coaches will be using him as a merry-go-round pony.
Mark, if we go back and watch how the coaching staff utilized Aqib Talib in 2013, we'd see a lot more man coverage and matching Talib up in specific game-plans. It might not happen every game with Revis in 2014, but I have little doubt they'll move him around. He's a valuable chess piece and I'd be shocked if they don't maximize the asset. Expect a lot of man coverage and physical play at the line of scrimmage.
Kenneth S. (Acworth, Georgia): Mike, do you think the Patriots' defense will be a unit that sparks the team to compete for a Super Bowl?
Kenneth, the one area I feel confident about projecting is the third-down defense. They will be better than they were last year. Of course, that's not exactly taking a leap of faith when considering they ranked 26th in the NFL on third down last season. But I see more depth at cornerback, and more pass-rush options than they had in 2013. We know there will be injuries to key players at some point along the way, and that is the X factor that is so hard to project, but I think the unit is well positioned to be better than it was last year. The Patriots are one of the Super Bowl contenders from this perspective.