- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week's Patriots mailbag was ready to be delivered late Monday afternoon, before an audible was called. That's when news broke that the Patriots were signing Tim Tebow.
That will change a few things.
But before looking ahead, let's look back. When Tebow was released by the Jets after the draft, ESPNBoston.com had asked the question: Any chance he lands with the Patriots?
This is what was written at the time: "Nothing would surprise me when it comes to Tim Tebow and the Patriots. I have no inside information that the team has even a small level of interest. But I do know this after watching 14 years of roster construction: Bill Belichick's view on building a team often places a value on things beyond tangible statistics such as completion percentage. It is why he doesn't hesitate to draft someone like Rutgers safety Duron Harmon in the third round when many had him as a free-agent type, and it is why I wouldn't rule out the possibility of signing Tebow until Belichick himself puts the kibosh on any chatter. Belichick knows that every move he makes sends a message to every player in the locker room (e.g. why half-committed Jeff Demps was traded to Tampa), and if he thinks having Tebow around is a positive, I don't think he'd hesitate. In fact, I think there would be a part of him that might like it, similar to having Doug Flutie around in 2005 (not comparing them as players as much as their presence)."
We ran a poll that day, and of nearly 20,000 voters, 57 percent said they didn't want a Tebow signing.
On Monday, after news of the signing broke, the poll asked for an initial reaction of the signing. With more than 25,000 votes, 67 percent called it a great move.
We'll start this week's mailbag with Tebow before getting into other topics:
Q: Mike, I don't really understand why the Patriots signed Tim Tebow. I just don't see Tom Brady leaving the field for Tebow. Could Tebow be just a "practice" version of Colin Kaepernick? Since the 49ers are Super Bowl contenders, Tebow would be a great tool during practices to play that type of role. I do see him on the 53-man roster, but not active for games, don't you? -- David Laflamme (Coleraine, Quebec)
A: David, the Patriots kept two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last year, and those spots look pretty well set in 2013 with Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. So if we were to use last year as a template, Tebow would be the odd man out. I don't see him as a lock. If he does make it, let's also not overlook the fact that we're talking about a potential No. 3 quarterback here. I'd be shocked if the Patriots do anything to take Brady off the field at any point, so to me, Tebow's real impact in 2013 would likely come behind the scenes and in a developmental role if he sticks.
Q: When the Pats signed a troubled Corey Dillon, there was no doubt that Dillon was a skilled running back. When the Pats signed a troubled Randy Moss, there was no doubt that Moss was a skilled wide receiver. However, there is universal doubt that Tim Tebow has the skills to be a QB in the NFL. Also, a herd of wild horses couldn't get Tom Brady off of the field, so there is ZERO chance that Brady will be replaced by Tebow even in special situations. However, if Tebow is willing to learn how to play the fullback position, then I can envision situations where Tebow can get a handoff or pitch from Brady, and now Tebow will have the option to run or to pass. Using Tebow in a halfback-option play will cause minimal disruption to the Pat's base offense, and it could be an effective offensive weapon. So, unless Tebow is willing to learn to play fullback, and it will require that Tebow learn to pass-protect and to pickup various blitzes, then I really don't see Tebow making the team. Your thoughts? -- Sunshine (Jacksonville, Fla.)
A: Sunshine, I look at it a little differently based on the present snapshot. In time, Tebow's role could include some unique twists like that, but right now, I'm of the belief that Tebow is coming to New England to work as a quarterback. You have to start somewhere, and that's where the foundation is being laid. The Patriots have kept three quarterbacks before. In 2000, they actually kept four (Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz, Michael Bishop, Brady). So I don't necessarily think Tebow has to change positions to make the roster. As for his potential versatility, I think that's something more for down the road, if it makes it to that point.
Q: Mike, even if the Pats signed Tebow to be the 3rd quarterback on game day and not take an active roster spot, it is a bad move if he only plays QB. Chad Ochocinco & Albert Haynesworth were bad moves, and though this costs us nothing, the negatives outweigh the positives. We need a solid defense; that's what wins championships. Our offense will score plenty of points, with or without Tebow. With every roster spot being precious, and lack of depth a concern, I don't see how this move helps us win games. -- Tom (Boston)
A: Tom, because teams can now carry a maximum of 90 players, I don't think we're at the point where spots are a premium. In fact, sometimes I think coaches might feel like the 90 is a challenge to effectively manage. So in this case, I'm taking a bottom-line approach: There wasn't a frenzy when the Patriots signed Mike Kafka to compete for a possible No. 3 quarterback role, so let's not lose that perspective when it comes to Tebow, even while acknowledging the media attention that comes with it. It is obviously a special case, but in terms of impact on the team, let's not go too far overboard.
Q: Tim Tebow is only as divisive as the media makes him out to be. He appears to be a hard-working teammate who has a strong religious upbringing. It seems to me that Tim Tebow has a unique skill set and Bill Belichick is the coach to get the most out of them. Thoughts? -- Jeffrey Surdy (Mesa, Ariz.)
A: Jeffrey, I think it will be fun to watch Tebow's potential development and how Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the staff attempt to get the most out of him. I'm also of the belief that a move like this could be about Tebow's presence as much as his football skills. Belichick often says that when you sign a player, you get everything that comes with him, and I think he likes Tebow's work ethic and how he approaches the game. Adding that dynamic to the locker room has value to Belichick as long as Tebow shows that he has some physical skills to contribute when called upon in practice and growth potential for the future.
Q: Mike, you wrote about the Patriots receiving corps and how it is a work in progress. I think you are being kind to say the least. How, if you are Bill Belichick, do you completely dismantle a receiving corps that helped the Pats become the No. 1 offense in football? Money wasn't the issue. Brandon Lloyd caught 74 balls in his first year with the Pats. Wes Welker was one of the top five receivers in football. Danny Woodhead was a terrific role player. Gronk and Aaron Hernandez were injured, and Bill had to know they needed surgery. You replace them with Danny Amendola, and a bunch of average (at best) receivers. I don't understand how you dismantle a proven commodity, and replace it with "The Bad News Bears." Explain this to me? If this doesn't work, this is on Belichick! -- Scot (White Plains, N.Y.)
A: Scot, that piece received feedback from both sides. Some felt like you, suggesting that I was too easy on the Patriots. Others viewed it as a predictable result of so much change, that growing pains are to be expected. As for what Belichick might have been thinking, it's important to point out that Lloyd hasn't signed with anyone at this point. He's still available. My viewpoint is that Belichick probably didn't see him as a program fit. With Welker, we've been down that road, and it's a two-way street. I think Amendola, if he's on the field, will be solid in that role, and it won't be a major issue. So assuming Amendola's healthy, it's really the outside receivers who are the question marks for me. We'll have to wait to see how that develops, but it looks like some choppy waters right now. At tight end, Hernandez should be back and Gronkowski's health issues were unexpected. I think calling it "The Bad News Bears" is too harsh.
Q: Mike, your article about New England receivers going through growing pains makes it seem like you don't think this team will score points. While this is a completely new group, let's not forget that New England has won Super Bowls with less talented pass catchers. The offense will be potent this season. The real questions remain on defense. Thoughts? -- Mike Carnevale (Lowell, Mass.)
A: Mike, I still think they'll score points. And as was mentioned in the piece, the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2006 with Reche Caldwell as their leading receiver. However, there is no guarantee that that will happen again, so the new additions are still a point of concern. As for the defense, if it's not an improved unit, that will be a big disappointment based on the continuity in the secondary and projected growth with some key personnel in the front seven. If forced to pick offense or defense, I'd say D is the bigger question mark.
Q: Mike, appreciate your posting Dan Graziano's article on the meaning of "voluntary" as a counterpoint to mostly comments about [Brandon] Spikes' absence from OTAs. "Voluntary" is voluntary, but "team building" is team building and you have to be present to be part of the team. I think the criticism of Spikes is entirely justifiable -- contract year, two-down player, team building, and, probably most importantly, didn't Spikes miss a lot of training camp one or both of the last two years due to hamstring or groin injuries? Those are the type of injuries that can be prevented by participating in a well-supervised off-season conditioning program. Am I wrong -- have we ever seen Spikes in "world-class" shape? -- Speed (South Boston)
A: Speed, I could be way off on this, but I don't think physical conditioning is going to be a big issue this summer with Spikes, who has missed some time in training camp in the past. It's more the team-building you referenced and the communication that takes place in organized team activities where I think the absence is notable. If he is serious about wanting to be viewed as a three-down linebacker and that is the primary reason he stayed away, I don't see how not attending helps him. However, if he simply didn't want to risk injury, that's different.
Q: Mike, a lot has been made of the Spikes issue, but if he is making serious strides in the agility and speed department then I think he should stay where he is until mandatory minicamp. We all know Spikes is a hitter but if he can improve his coverage in anyway the team will be much better off for it. Not like he can hit anyone right now anyway. Second, always liked the Zach Sudfeld pick up. Thought he would get drafted even with the injury. Barring injury I think he is a lock for that 5th tight end spot behind Gronk, [Aaron] Hernandez, [Jake] Ballard and Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui]. Thoughts? -- Chris Hartmann (Seattle)
A: Chris, let's see if there is a noticeable difference with Spikes. My skepticism would be that the Patriots have solid strength and conditioning coaches in Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera, and I don't see how staying in Florida would make that much more of a difference for Spikes. But as has been pointed out, Spikes hasn't done anything wrong by the letter of the law -- voluntary means voluntary. That being said, I do think it looks bad for him when 89 of the 90 players on the roster show up.
Q: Not exactly an X's and O's question, but why is it that so many people in the media give Coach Belichick a hard time when in all actuality he doesn't say anything offensive about anyone? He doesn't give them the types of answers they like, so they have a free pass to attack his character? It seems as if it is the cool thing to pile on when they play a sound bite. Whereas I watch someone like Gregg Popovich (head coach of the San Antonio Spurs) who doesn't give the best interview either and he seems to get a pass from the media and excused for "Pop just being Pop." Why? -- Benjamin (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
A: Benjamin, I can't speak for anyone else, but I'll just relay my experiences with Bill Belichick. He's always said that he understands a reporter has a job to do, but at the same time, he's pointed out that his goals and the goals of a reporter often aren't aligned. Naturally, that lends itself to some conflict in their dynamic. Belichick does what is required of him and draws a pretty hard line at that point. His bottom-line approach is that he's judged on wins and losses, not the "extra" stuff on the periphery. I respect the approach, even if I don't always agree with it. At the end of the day, Belichick is here to win games, whereas reporters are here to chronicle the goings-on of the team. Given that conflict of interest, sometimes the picture gets muddled. That said, it still shouldn't be personal.
Q: What is happening with Aaron Dobson and his contract situation? Why hasn't he signed yet? Do you know anything about what is causing the hold-up? -- Johno (Moreno Valley, Calif.)
A: Johno, I'm not sure the exact reason, but one possibility is the level of guarantee in the second year of the deal. Dobson's draft slot is in a position where the full guarantee in the second year is apparently a possibility based on past deals.
Q: Hi Mike, love the work of you and the other guys but if you keep talking about Wes Welker I am going to have to stop visiting the site. He's old news now and in some of your pieces you are already beginning to note that Danny Amendola can replace Welker. -- Paul Logan (Wilmington)
A: Paul, thanks for sharing the thoughts.
Q: Hi Mike, what are the main differences, if any, between OTA's and minicamp? Is it a continuation of the work started at OTA's or are there philosophical differences? Is it possible that the coaches decide to change up groupings with Dobson, for example, getting top pairing reps? Also any news on Boyce? -- Marc (London, U.K.)
A: Marc, the main difference is that OTAs are voluntary and minicamp is mandatory. Otherwise, the minicamp is basically an extension of the OTAs. I wouldn't expect to see any major changes in terms of Dobson. Josh Boyce remains sidelined (toe injury).
Q: Hi Mike, just wondering when is the first opportunity the public has to watch the Pats practice? The anticipation is killing me! -- Kurt
A: Kurt, we should learn the date that training camp starts in the coming days. Plan for around Thursday, July 25, and when it's official, we'll make sure to report it.
Q: Hi Mike, with the receiver make-over that's happening this offseason, do you foresee TB12 and the top 3 receivers getting more playing time in the preseason than they would in a "regular" year? Or will the coaching staff take a business-as-usual approach and limit Brady's snaps in order to get a better look at what Ryan Mallett and Mike Kafka can do in a game situation? Can't wait until August. -- NBP (Calgary, Alberta)
A: I don't think they'll necessarily go into the preseason with the intention of Brady and the top receivers playing more than the norm, but if it is determined that they need more work as the process unfolds, then it would happen. The rookies, specifically, can expect to play a lot. Another factor is joint practices with the Eagles and Buccaneers. That's also valuable work.
Q: Hi Mike, it sounds like Steve Gregory took most of the first-team safety reps next to Adrian Wilson during OTA's. Was I wrong to expect that with an offseason of work, Tavon Wilson would pass Gregory on the depth chart? Also, what are Daniel Fells' chances of making the 53-man roster? He's become the forgotten man with Michael Hoomanawanui and seemingly Jake Ballard passing him on the depth chart. Not sure if this is correct but I feel like his salary is also somewhat out of line for his role too. Finally, I was wondering to myself how Josh Boyce not being on the field early in this learning period was going to affect his ability to contribute as a rookie, and it reminded me of the comparable position that Taylor Price was in three years ago. I think people made a very big deal about him being set back by not being able to practice, but realistically, he wasn't ever going to get it. He had almost two full seasons of practicing with Tom Brady every day and he never earned the staff's confidence. This makes me believe the missed time wasn't the cause for his performance, and optimistic that Boyce can still break through and be a contributor this year. -- Tim (Georgetown, Mass.)
A: Tim, when we look at the safety group, I think Steve Gregory is more aligned with Devin McCourty at one spot, and then you have Adrian Wilson and Tavon Wilson at the other. It's not necessarily the traditional free safety/strong safety combination, but in terms of skill sets, I see Gregory/McCourty as more of the coverage types and the Wilsons-squared as bigger presences who might be aligned closer to the line of scrimmage. At this time, I think a McCourty/Adrian Wilson pairing looks more likely, once McCourty returns to full participation. ... On Fells, his base salary is $1.25 million, and it's probably fair to say that's a little higher than the Patriots prefer. But the health questions with Gronkowski could force their hand a bit. Something hasn't clicked with Fells in New England, but I still think he can help them. As for the Price vs. Boyce comparison, I think the mental game was a challenge for Price, whereas that is said to be one of Boyce's strengths.
Q: Hi Mike, I know I should probably write to CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco about this, but I am interested in your opinion (and I already know his). I feel it is premature to label Logan Mankins as overrated. In his annual "overrated/underrated" piece, Prisco admits the injury factor but downplays its effect. How can someone be overrated when he plays through a full (2011) regular season (and some post) with an ACL injury without fans/reporters realizing how serious the injury he had been dealing with was? ... And then blame him for not being at full strength the next season (2012)?! It seems to me that what his toughness means for the team was somehow left out of the equation. Yes, it is a year when he should prove he can be dominant again, but labeling him overrated seems a bit unfair. -- Balázs (Budapest, Hungary)
A: Balazs, I think Mankins is still one of the top guards in the NFL. At the same time, I think even he would admit his performance the past two seasons wasn't up to his previous standard and injuries are a big part of that. Bottom line: He's the type of player you want on your team.
Q: Mike, I heard Alfonzo Dennard was carted off during the OTAs. Any word on the severity of his injury? -- Buzz (Seattle)
A: Buzz, Dennard injured his left shoulder in the June 4 organized team activity. I am unaware of the severity of the injury, but perhaps we will learn more during this week's mandatory minicamp.
Q: Hey Mike, what do you think the chances are the Patriots add Vonta Leach? -- Ramin (San Marcos, Texas)
A: Ramin, I'd be intrigued by that possibility with Leach. Those who have been around him also note he's a strong locker room presence.
Q: Is it true that Ras-I Dowling didn't play football until he was a senior in high school? -- Craig (Braintree, Mass.)
A: Craig, Dowling actually did play football in high school, in addition to running track and playing basketball. He was a quarterback, safety and receiver. He broke his hand as a junior and had a knee injury as a senior.
Q: Hi Mike, what's your assessment of Ras-I Dowling in camp this year, and do you think this year is a make-or-break year for him? Obviously his first 2 years have been very disappointing due to injury (and we can even include his senior year in college in that one), but in the games he has played, he seems to have great physical skills to have an edge against many WRs. -- Gora (New York)
A: Gora, Dowling has been moving well from what I've seen in practices. That's my biggest takeaway at this point. When I watched Dowling last year, he sometimes looked a bit stiff and it was hard to tell if that was because he is relatively big for the position (6-foot-1, 210) or the injuries. So I think physically he looks as comfortable as I've seen him. We'll see what that means going forward, but he looks good at this point.
Q: Mike, between minicamp and training camp do players typically get together to work 1-on-1? Would Brady and WRs -- not named Amendola -- be likely to do so? Would Mallett? -- Eyeball Art
A: A lot of players will still show up at the stadium between now and the start of training camp, so there is the possibility of getting some work in. However, this is the final break before the real grind, and I think some players use it to get away one last time. They obviously have a commitment to stay fit and will do so, but I don't think they want to be grinding too hard at this time.
19hEric D. Williams