This week's Patriots mailbag highlights two of the more interesting roster-based questions facing the team.
Does Tim Tebow make the club?
Will Rob Gronkowski land on the reserve/physically unable to perform list?
Also, it looks back to Thursday's 40-9 preseason loss to the Lions that sparked some emailers to question the toughness of the club.
This is one of the busiest weeks of the season for teams, so let's not waste any time and get right to it.
Q: Some say that Bill Belichick made the final decision on keeping Tim Tebow in June when they signed him, and no matter what he does in practice and in preseason games he is going to make the team. I don't agree with that and it doesn't seem to fit with Belichick's approach over the years about being team first and treating everyone the same. Going by the eye test Friday night and the fact that Tebow is now going on his third team in four years should tell you that he should be evaluated like any other player on the team. So far this preseason he has not looked like an NFL QB. Nowhere close. I am having a hard time thinking that Tim Tebow is a developmental guy and that Bill made up his mind to keep Tebow in June. Your thoughts? -- David (North Attleborough, Mass.)
A: David, I am aligned with your viewpoint. Based solely on what we have seen on the game field in the preseason, Tebow hasn't earned a roster spot. I've been on both sides of Tebow's chances to make the team -- first keeping him off the roster, then putting him on -- and if I was making a projection right now, I'd leave him off. I just don't see the overall value as the No. 3 quarterback based on what we've seen, and while he's considered a solid locker-room presence, I think the off-field component loses some of its impact when considering his shaky on-field performance. The Patriots have kept two quarterbacks in three of the past four years, and I think they'll ultimately enter this year with Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett as their quarterbacks.
Q: If Tim Tebow's greatest contributions are as a positive locker-room presence and in preparing the team in practice (e.g., for the wildcat/rushing/option QB), why not make him a coach and save his roster spot for someone who can contribute more on the playing field? -- Paul (Brookline, Mass.)
A: Paul, there are a lot of things that go into putting a team together. It might not always be the most talented 53 players, but it has to be the right 53. And that, to me, is Tebow's best hope to stick on the roster. He came here to contribute as a player, not to coach. In the end, I have to go with what I tell people when they're in doubt: "Trust your eyes." What my eyes tell me is that Tebow hasn't done enough to earn a spot.
Q: Mike, decision day is looming and the Patriots have until August 31 to place Rob Gronkowski on the reserve/PUP list. Give me your best prediction of what they will do. Keep in mind that if Gronkowski is placed on the PUP list he won't be able to play against the Falcons, Bengals and Saints, all of which are very good football teams. -- Rob (Foxborough, Mass.)
A: Rob, as I understand it, the feeling is that you could have clearance at some point on or before Week 6. The question is when that is. If it's closer to the end point, PUP is the best option because it allows the team to keep another player. But because Gronkowski is so valuable to the team, if the projection is anywhere earlier than that -- like Week 4 against the Falcons -- I think it makes the most sense to keep him on the active roster. That would be my prediction, that Gronkowski lands on the active roster.
Q: Mike, the Patriots really got pushed around in Detroit. Is there a physical and mental toughness issue with the Patriots? Seems like the Giants, Ravens, 49ers, and the Lions the other night, just overwhelmed the Pats. Should we be concerned? -- Doug (Scituate, Mass.)
A: Doug, when thinking about some of the losses the team has had in recent seasons, it is fair to note that they almost all have come against some of the league's most physical teams. I think the Patriots are a physical team and are certainly tough (mentally and physically), but it's that specific matchup with teams that are able to control the line of scrimmage that seems to give them the most trouble. Few teams have the ability to disrupt the rhythm of the Patriots' passing game, but when they do, I think that's the key ingredient to beat them.
Q: Mike, have the Patriots become a finesse team, a Manning-era Colts type club? Three preseason games in is too early to define the 2013 team, but I miss the Seymour-era version of the team that opponents accused of being bullies. Is this a result over time of having a great quarterback that the offense gets used to facing an opposing defense forced to play on its heels, and the defense has the attitude that if we hold them under 30 we should win? -- Joe (Waimea, Hawaii)
A: Joe, this was a popular theme this week after the 40-9 preseason loss in Detroit in which the Lions controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I look at it a little differently. I think the Patriots are a physical team, but there are some matchups that hit their stress point more so than others. Opponents that can pressure and control things with four defensive linemen, like the Lions, qualify in that category.
Q: Hi Mike, the Detroit game was a real disappointment, no way around it. What disturbed me the most was how the mistakes snowballed. A team with good mental toughness shakes off their mistakes, they don't keep making them. They don't let an early mistake set the tone for the rest of the game. I hope the youngsters are able to develop more resilience, or things could get ugly often for this offense. Thoughts? -- Karen (East Lansing, Mich.)
A: Karen, that was ugly, for sure. Bad football. Still, I view all the mistakes as correctable and would be surprised if we see it at that level again. I thought one of the positives was rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who dropped a pass that would have resulted in a first down on the second drive but recovered to put together an overall solid performance.
Q: As ugly as the Detroit game was, I don't think it was the train wreck that it appears to be on the surface. Turnovers are correctable mistakes and the Pats have always strongly emphasized ball security. And the first team defense was put in a number of very tough positions and only allowed one touchdown. Down 13 at the half after four turnovers actually looked pretty good to me all things considered. And all without Amendola and Gronk. Maybe this is a good thing, give those rookies an early tough-loss lesson when it doesn't really count. Thoughts? -- Matt G (Chicago)
A: Matt, I don't think a team ever wants to play like that, but I understand the point. I thought Tom Brady said it best after the game: "That's a good lesson for all of us, I don't care who you are. It's the NFL. It's a very humbling game, and if you don't bring it every single night, every week, you get your butt kicked."
Q: Mike, after watching Thursday's game, I think it was very concerning how the offensive line played. The running backs couldn't find any room to run, and Brady was constantly under pressure which caused most of his troubles. Is this a real concern for NE? -- Darren (College Park, Md.)
A: Darren, that wasn't the best night for the offensive line. I'd expect the unit to play better going forward, and having starting right guard Dan Connolly in there on a regular basis figures to help. Another thing to keep in mind: The offense isn't going to go through all of its regular checks in a preseason game. It ran into the teeth of the defense at times, because it didn't want to show too much.
Q: Hey Mike, the Lions game was ugly but the first-string defense looked solid to me (even w/o Big Vince) and if the offense regains ball security, it will be fine too (even w/o Gronk and Amendola). But I must say that I was very disappointed with the play of many second- and third-stringers, especially noticing Jake Bequette, who does not seem to lack motor but technique and strength. He is on my bubble, same as Leon Washington. Big kudos to LeGarrette Blount, who really fought hard and James Develin, who in my view really deserves a spot on this team. -- Jost (Cologne, Germany)
A: Jost, Bequette still has practice squad eligibility, and it seems like a good bet that he might wind up there if not claimed by another team. It looks to me like 2013 seventh-round draft choice Michael Buchanan has passed him on the depth chart. That's a pretty deep spot with Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham, Marcus Benard and Buchanan in the 1-6 spots from this viewpoint.
Q: Hey Mike, do you see Leon Washington as a potential cut? I don't think he's a lock. -- Memo (Istanbul)
A: Memo, I don't think Washington is a lock. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden (for special teams, first and foremost) are the locks in my view. Then I'd put Blount on the roster. So it comes down to whether the Patriots can absorb a fifth back who would be a primary kickoff returner. I'd pound the table for Washington. I think he's the type of professional that any championship team wants to have, and he would provide insurance as a "passing back" if Vereen is injured.
Q: Mike, as ugly as the game was on Thursday, there were quite a few bright spots, one being Kenbrell Thompkins. Once again, he looks entirely in sync with Tom Brady. I also saw him directing other players into the right spot again. And he was awesome releasing off the line. I have to wonder, why did this guy go undrafted? I know he had arrest records before college, but he had turned around his life for several years and still didn't get his name called. He obviously has the talent. What am I missing? -- Alex (New Jersey)
A: Alex, if you look at his production in college at Cincinnati, it was modest. I also spoke with a scout who didn't see any standout traits from him. Add in the arrest history from when he was 15-17 years old and his age (25), and all that probably came together to lead to him going undrafted. The lack of interest in Thompkins before the draft is also reflected in his contract; he received just $5,000 in guaranteed money as part of his deal with the Patriots.
Q: Mike, Tompkins put up a great performance against the Lions. But tell me why he is getting so much press. He hasn't even made the team and he is a top 20 fantasy draft pick. Are we just getting ahead of ourselves? -- Will (New York City)
A: Will, I have no doubt that Thompkins will make the team. I felt that way back when training camp started and feel even stronger about it now. Like any young receiver, there are going to be some growing pains, but he's been one of the surprise stories of the preseason.
Q: Mike, what is your opinion of Aaron Dobson versus Josh Boyce? Different body types and skills but Dobson can't seem to get off the line and Boyce can't seem to get into the lineup. -- JoeFla (Orlando, Fla.)
A: Joe, I think Dobson has the highest upside of all the young pass-catchers, but it's obviously a work in progress. The main thing is the combination of athleticism and length (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to go up and get the ball. We haven't seen that at the outside receiver position with the Patriots in a few years. With Boyce, the speed stands out, but he seems to be a notch below Dobson in terms of his place within the offense. There are going to be some growing pains with this young group, but I still think the upside is great.
Q: Can we trust Amendola to stay healthy for the majority of the season? -- Pete Paris (Princeton, N.J.)
A: Pete, no one can really predict injuries, so I think the next best thing is to look at how a player takes care of himself and what type of physical condition he is in. Amendola looks like he's in tip-top shape. He tweaked a little something in the Aug. 16 preseason game against the Buccaneers, but it was nothing to be concerned about and he's already back on the field.
Q: Mike, in regards to your article last week on Julian Edelman, you commented that while he's had ups and downs at WR position he's certainly become one of the premier punt returners in the league. I couldn't disagree with you further on the punt return comment but maybe I'm missing something. In what statistical category do you consider him elite? As far as I can tell he's only had one season (11) where his punt return yardage placed him in top 10. He drives me insane with the amount of dancing he does. I find the elite returners are a 1 or 2 cut max and get up the field. That's not Julian. I will say that without having looked it up, I'm assuming he's in top half of league in terms of not turning the ball over and making a clean catch on punts. But does that really qualify him as one of the NFL's best? Not in my book. Your thoughts? Enjoy and respect your work. -- Chris (Boston)
A: Good one, Chris. I view Edelman as a threat to score on every punt return, as evidenced by his three career punt returns for touchdowns. Furthermore, his 13.1 average on 72 career returns makes him the NFL's leader among active players in terms of punt return average (minimum 40 returns).
Q: What's up with Richard Seymour? Is he still available? Too much money for the Pats or too much bad blood or both? -- Phil Gallagher (Burlington, Mass.)
A: Phil, Seymour remains a free agent. He had been in discussions with the Falcons earlier in the offseason, but the sides couldn't reach an agreement. So I think it starts with the money, and of course, we remember that Seymour said he would play for 31 teams in the NFL. He didn't specifically mention the one team he wouldn't play for, but it was clear he was referencing the Patriots.