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Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Mailbag: Return from London

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

LONDON -- One unforgettable memory from the Patriots' trip to London came Saturday night when 600-plus fans jammed into the Sports Café in the Haymarket section of town.

If you didn't know you were in London, you easily could have mistaken the Patriots party atmosphere for downtown Boston.

"I think it's pretty incredible," said Sam Brown of Wolfeboro, N.H., as we caught up outside the party. "Since I was a little kid, it's been the fall and the Patriots. It just goes together."

Brown is a student at NYU who is studying in Dublin this semester, so the Patriots' trip to London gave him a chance to connect with something he appreciates back home. He arrived in town with his pal, Luke Jarvis of Bedford, Mass.

"Being in Dublin, it's been tough to find somewhere to watch the games. I think we found the only sports bar in Dublin that knows American football exists," said Jarvis, who started following the Patriots in 2001. "Coming here, it's been unbelievable. We've been all over the city, and to see all the Brady and Moss jerseys everywhere, it's been exciting."

Catching up with fans such as Brown and Jarvis, in addition to many others from across the world, was a highlight of the trip. It reminded me how powerful the World Wide Web truly is.

As for this week's mailbag, it has a little bit of everything, as no theme truly stands out. It's a bit longer this week, which is what happens when there is such a long flight home.

Q: Mike, any chance the Patriots have talked to Vince Wilfork and given him some verbal reassurance about next year? The Patriots haven't kept him from the cameras. He's often been a spokesman for the team, and his comments have come across as quite positive and upbeat. Just wondering and hoping. -- David Hanlon (Honolulu)

A: David, the sides continue to negotiate, which from my view is encouraging. At one point, I sensed Wilfork was so disappointed, and with talks seemingly going nowhere, it seemed to me it wasn't a possibility he would receive a contract extension. I don't feel that way anymore. I'm not saying there will be a contract extension for Wilfork, but some movement has at least left a glimmer of hope. This is usually the time of year when the Patriots try to strike a big one -- the bye week -- and it won't surprise me if the sides give it one more try to reach a middle ground. If it isn't done within the next 10 days, I think both will agree it's best to wait until after the season.

Q: Hey Mike, watching Sunday's game, I thought that both Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas had good high motors going. They were around the ball and around the quarterback in the backfield. Although they may not have been spectacular, I thought both showed great improvement. Your thoughts on these two oft-lost defenders? -- Stu (Middleborough, Mass.)

A: Stu, I've noticed Burgess' role expanding the past two weeks. He's playing more snaps than he was earlier in the season, and particularly against the Buccaneers, I thought he was active. I also thought Thomas made the most of his limited opportunities. The biggest thing with Thomas, as I see it, is that he's playing on early downs only because he's not part of the nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs) packages. So he's basically a part-time player right now. I'm curious to see whether that'll continue. If it does, I'd think this will be his final year in New England because of financial considerations.

Adlius Thomas
Adlius Thomas was back in the Patriots' lineup Sunday.

Q: Why don't the Pats line up Adalius Thomas on the outside and let him rush the QB? He seems to be really good at that. Could he be a victim of his versatility? Because he is capable of doing several different things, he's never really used for what he does best: rushing the QB. Given the Pats' lack of a pass rush, this seems like a relevant question. -- Mike (Philadelphia)

A: Mike, I think it's a point that has to be considered when factoring in Thomas' situation. In the big picture, I believe it has some merit, that maybe Thomas' versatility has worked against him at times. Sunday against the Buccaneers, Thomas looked pretty good in the few rush opportunities he had while playing outside linebacker on early downs. But at this point, I'd say Tully Banta-Cain has been more effective in a pure third-down rushing role, so I'd stick with him for now.

Q: Hi Mike, I noticed Burgess playing a bit on the line Sunday. He seemed to be generating a fair amount of pressure, despite a lack of stats to back that up. Do you feel that perhaps he and the rest of the DEs and LBs have been doing a better job of generating pressure of late? Seems like that has been creating a waterfall effect, where they cause some havoc in the backfield that leads to interceptions in the secondary. -- Neil (South Boston, Mass.)

A: Keeping in mind that the opponents -- the winless Titans and Buccaneers -- are two of the more inept offensive teams, I've noticed that the Patriots seem to be scheming a bit more of late, tapping the hybridlike skills of Burgess and Tully Banta-Cain. Tedy Bruschi made that point in his "Bruschi on Tap" piece this week, and the play-time totals of Burgess and Banta-Cain reflect that. The player who has really impressed me is Banta-Cain. It looks like a case where it's the right fit for him after two down years in San Francisco.

Q: Mike, loved the article about the team bonding in London. Unrelated to that, though, is my question: The Pats' D has looked great the past two weeks against some weak offenses. It will be challenged the next two games out of the bye versus Miami and Indy, who both have multiple ways to beat you. What do you see as the weak links in the D with respect to those two teams? Can we defend against the Wildcat? Can we cover all of Peyton's targets? It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. -- Dave Barkan (San Francisco)

A: Thanks for the thoughts on the article, Dave. It was something a bit different. I often write on the football X's and O's, but this trip seemed much bigger than that. All around, it was quite the journey. As for the defense, here is what would concern me against Miami: The Patriots have a big, physical defense when they are in base personnel, and sometimes they struggle in space. If the Dolphins get to the perimeter in the running game against base personnel, that could be a problem. On the flip side, if the Patriots decide to play nickel personnel to add some speed, will they be stout enough against the run inside? Spinning it forward to the Colts, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Patriots playing the entire game in the dime. I've been impressed with the Patriots' secondary depth, and I think you just flood the field with defensive backs and hope to put up enough resistance, with the idea that it's a match game -- each possession will be so important because each team just might have seven or eight of them. Like you, I think it will be fascinating to watch it unfold.

Q: I ask this before the Buccaneers game, and I should say that I completely trust Bill Belichick to do what is best. I do struggle with believing that Brandon Tate could possibly be a better fit than Joey Galloway after an ACL surgery, three practices and two walkthroughs. I know that he hasn't been allowed to "practice," but what activities was he allowed? When on the PUP list, could he, Brady and Moss sneak into the Dana-Farber Field House for a game of catch? Where is the line between a workout and a practice? -- Earl (Waltham, Mass.)

A: Earl, I think this one is going to work out for the Patriots. Tate played 23 snaps against the Buccaneers, and although he didn't have a catch, I liked what I saw. I thought the Patriots were going to need Galloway in the long run, but I think I underestimated the lack of camaraderie between him and quarterback Tom Brady. Tate took "mental reps" in meetings but was not allowed to be on the practice field while on the non-football injury list.

Q: Hey Reiss, any chance you could find out where Todd McShay and/or Mel Kiper had Brandon Tate ranked on their boards before his knee injury? -- Andrew (Boynton Beach, Fla.)

A: Good one, Andrew, and Todd McShay was nice enough to dig up his notes and send them along for the mailbag. Here are some of the highlights: "Had him as the No. 2 senior wide receiver in the draft class before his injury and the 36th overall player in late October (underclassmen not included). With injury, still gave him a final grade in the second round. ... Adequate height and top-end speed, but marginal bulk. ... Rare body control and can adjust to passes thrown outside frame without breaking stride. ... Doesn't have great timed speed but appears faster on film. ... Catches the ball in stride and reaches top speed quickly. ... Doesn't always carry the ball with outside arm. ... Shows a second gear going across the middle of the field, he does a nice job of avoiding contact and separates from corners on slants/crossing routes. ... Seen enough of Tate to believe that he can develop into a dangerous slot receiver/return man in the NFL."

Q: Mike, I was pleased to hear we're moving on from Joey Galloway. But will you please settle a dispute for me: Aside from his signing bonus, does Galloway get paid the whole amount of his contract now that he's cut, or does he just get paid for the number of weeks he was on the team? Every time I hear of a player being cut I wonder. My buddy says they don't get paid if they're cut. -- Peter (Mont Vernon, N.H.)

A: Peter, Galloway will get his full salary because he is a vested veteran. When a vested veteran is on the opening day roster, he is guaranteed his deal. That's why you often don't see some veterans brought on until after the first week. A rookie, on the other hand, would get only the signing bonus.

Brandon Tate
Brandon Tate didn't have a catch in his first game of the season.

Q: Mike, the Pats' decision to cut Galloway comes on the heels of the announcement that Julian Edelman has a broken arm, which has a lot of people concerned about the depth of a once-deep WR corps. Why don't the Pats reach out to a guy like Marvin Harrison, someone who has a great work ethic and could serve as a mentor to some of our younger receivers like Brandon Tate? -- Mike V (New York)

A: This is the second time Harrison's name has been mentioned in the past few weeks, Mike, and I just don't see him as a fit. I'm also told by reporters in Indianapolis that Harrison wasn't the mentor type. He often kept to himself with the Colts. I think the Patriots will stick with what they have for now, using Sam Aiken, hoping Tate develops and waiting for Edelman to return from his forearm injury.

Q: Mike, will Edelman miss the rest of the season? Why hasn't he been placed on season-ending injured reserve? -- Steve Foster (Friendswood, Texas)

A: Steve, all indications at this point are that Edelman should be able to return this season, which is why the team hasn't placed him on injured reserve. I watched his final play closely, and it looked as if he landed on his right arm when tackled by Titans cornerback Cary Williams. Teams usually balance two factors when considering a player for injured reserve: 1. When could the player return? And 2. How many other injuries are there on the roster, and are other roster spots needed elsewhere so that it makes it too tough to wait for the player's return to health?

Q: Mike, am I noticing a change in philosophy with the Patriots? In recent years, as soon as a player had an injury, it seems he was immediately placed on injured reserve to open a roster spot. I understood the philosophy, but I always felt that the team was giving up too early on guys instead of letting them heal for a couple of weeks and then return. This season it seems like Bill Belichick has done the opposite and decided to give players like Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Matt Light and Julian Edelman time to heal and come back in November or December. Do you think Belichick and the Patriots have changed the way they look at season-ending injuries? -- Andy (Brighton, Mass.)

A: Andy, I don't necessarily see a change in philosophy. First and foremost, Taylor, Morris, Light and Edelman are key players, so it would be natural to think the team would be more flexible with holding a roster spot for them for the time they are projected to be out. At the same time, I think the decisions are easier because the team hasn't been in a position where it needed a roster spot for a pressing situation elsewhere on the roster. Maybe in past years the team has been handcuffed by the second part of the equation, which has led to quicker decisions on injured reserve.

Q: Please help settle a bet. I saw an article somewhere that said that Edelman was not invited to the combine but at his pro day, he had a time of 3.91 in something called the "shuttle" and that that time was better than the big names at the combine. One of my sons says no way and called me out. Can't find the article, and you have the respect of all the boys, so who's right? -- Otis (Boston)

A: Otis, you were right on. Edelman was not invited to the combine, as he was one of three Patriots draft picks who were not there, joining Sebastian Vollmer and Rich Ohrnberger. When Edelman worked out for scouts, he showed great quickness in the short shuttle, a drill that helps gauge change of direction. I'm not sure the exact numbers, but it was impressive.

Q: Haven't the fans given enough? They pay outrageous ticket prices and sometimes seat licenses, not to mention other things like concessions and parking. Now commissioner Roger Goodell wants to take games away from the American fans and bring them to London. There could be a backlash he is not expecting. Enough is enough. What do you think? -- Gary Oslin (Primghar, Iowa)

A: Gary, I think Goodell knows that taking games away would be a major mistake. So I think what we'll see is the NFL going to a 17- or 18-game schedule, and have the extra game(s) be overseas. That way, it's a win-win. The NFL gets to expand its reach, and the home fans don't lose a game. One side note on that thought: I'm not sure the players will see it as a win-win, so they'll have to be on board.

Q: Is Goodell serious with this overseas expansion? I'm fine with a game or two a season in London, but an actual franchise there is absurd. Why would players/coaches agree to traveling 15-plus hours to play some expansion team in London? And thoughts of staging a Super Bowl overseas puts a very bad taste in my mouth. It seems that Goodell may have be listening to money from investors instead of staying true to the fans that put the NFL in the market they are in now. If the Super Bowl is ever overseas, count on my American blood, I'm NOT watching. Goodell should be ashamed of himself if he ever succeeds in his "vision" of an international football team. Mike, could this ever happen in the foreseeable future? -- Tyler (Bozeman, Mont.)

A: Tyler, I'm not fully buying what Patriots owner Robert Kraft and others are selling when they say it would be the right thing to do to have a permanent team in London sometime during the next decade. I think that was a trial balloon of sorts. You fly it out there and see how people respond. In speaking with locals in London, not one said the idea would work. I have no problem with the NFL trying to grow its business, but I think it would be a major mistake to locate a permanent team in London. My solution is that if owners want to expand the season to 17 or 18 games, play the extra game there. Then you could have a full season's slate of games there -- with every team over once -- and see how it goes.

Q: I know it's somewhat trivial, but assuming they couldn't all get into first class, how in the world did they fit NFL players in coach seats on the flight to London? -- Mark (Andover, Mass.)

A: Mark, I asked a team official your question and was told that the plane had 3-4 different sections, and they had most of the players sitting up front. My assumption is that the more established players had the roomy seats, while some of the rookies and practice squad players probably were a bit more tightly packed.

Q: Without seeing the snap counts yet for the week, I think an underplayed story has been Kevin Faulk's diminishing role in the offense. He had a nice run on a draw after a penalty, but I don't see him making as many big plays this year. With his contract due to expire, I'm wondering if you think we are seeing the end of his time here. -- Dean (Taunton, Mass.)

A: I think it's a fair point when looking to the future, Dean. I'd still say Faulk is still Mr. Reliable in the Patriots' two-minute offense -- which I think is the best in the NFL -- but would agree that there don't seem to be as many big plays this year. I think of him being split out wide and making plays in the passing game down the field -- a linebacker struggling to stay with him -- and we haven't seen that in 2009. From 2007 to 2008, no running back played more than Faulk, which was geared toward the Patriots' being more of a passing offense. Faulk still has a high play-time total among backs, which factors in injuries to Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris, but I think it has been a quieter than normal season for him to this point. Not necessarily bad, just not up to the Faulk level we've seen in the past.

Q: Just watched Kevin Faulk convert yet another third down against the Bucs in Wembley, and now I wonder: How many third-down conversions does the LSU wonder have in his career? -- Sam (Amherst, Mass.)

A: I'm going to try to dig up that third-down conversion stat for you next week, Sam, and maybe I'll bump into you the next time I'm in town waiting for a slice of fresh mozzarella at Antonio's. Until then, these are the two stats that stand out to me with Faulk: (1) total receptions: 400; (2) total yards from scrimmage: 5,365. Faulk is one of just 13 players this decade to total more than 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing.

Q: Could we have some insight on a normal practice week for the Pats? What's the locker room mood like, what do they eat, what are the expectations of the players in the weight room? -- Nick (Santa Cruz, Calif.)

A: Nick, the week starts on Wednesday when the game plan is installed. I believe the first team meeting is at 8 a.m. That's a heavy workday. A lot of meetings and then an on-the-field practice in the early afternoon, before more meetings. Similar preparations continue Thursday and Friday, but you definitely notice the mood lightening by the end of the week as the work gets close to being finished. Saturday is a walk-through and more meetings, which leads into game day. Monday would normally be a review day. Tuesday is the players' day off.

Q: Mike, a friend of mine said a rumor is going around that the Titans played so poorly against the Pats because they weren't prepared for the (unexpected) snow and ice on the field and didn't bring the necessary shoes/cleats to handle the slippery surface. Any truth to this rumor? -- Bert (Norwood, Mass.)

A: Bert, Titans coach Jeff Fisher said the Titans had the proper footwear for the game, and that was echoed by a few players. The evidence suggests otherwise -- they were sliding all over the field -- so I think it's natural to be a bit skeptical.

Q: Hey Mike, I have to say that I love the throwback uniforms the Patriots have worn to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the AFL this year. Do you think the Patriots would consider wearing these classic uniforms for a couple of games a season like the Dallas Cowboys and N.Y. Jets do, or better yet go back to the old logo altogether? I understand that the "flying Elvis" logo brought us three Super Bowl championships, but don't you think it is time for Bob Kraft to ditch the silver third jersey and keep the 1960 AFL whites in the future? -- W. Sargent (Southborough, Mass.)

A: I'm with you. I thought the white-on-white combination in the game against Denver was classy. And yes, I do think the Patriots would consider wearing them in the future based on the popularity. In my opinion, the silver third jersey looks too much like the regular jersey. If I'm not mistaken, one of the reasons the team didn't wear the throwback uniforms in past years was the change in helmets. I think there was a feeling that the logistical issue of the helmets -- the fit didn't always work for some players -- didn't make it worth the trouble.

Q: Mike, I asked you about a month ago whether Sebastian Vollmer would replace Matt Light, with Light moving over to the right side, thinking about Light's notorious history of weakness with speed rushers. Now Light is out. Vollmer has looked good, so does "Sea Bass" start on this line from here on out? -- Fred Ranahan (Knoxville, Tenn.)

A: We've had two weeks to assess Vollmer, Fred, and I think he's looked pretty good. I thought he was solid against the Titans but dipped a bit against the Buccaneers. He had those two holding penalties on the opening drive of the third quarter, and it looked to me as if there was some pretty consistent pressure to Brady's blind side. At this point, I think Light would retain his job this year. In 2010, with salary considerations in mind, it could be a different story.

Q: Mike, why do you think tight end Chris Baker hasn't gotten many throws his way this season? Is he too involved in the blocking? I thought he would be a guy Brady looked to when they signed him, but it is not the case early on. -- David (New York)

A: David, Baker had a season-high three catches in Sunday's win, giving him eight receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown on the season. According to in-game statisticians, Baker has been targeted for 12 passes during the first seven games of the season, although it's important to keep in mind that stat could potentially include throwaways. Like you, I also expected his production as a pass-catcher to be a bit higher. My feeling is that this offense is first about getting the ball to the playmakers on the perimeters -- Moss and Welker -- and Baker is in position to clean up the rest. There hasn't been as much to clean up this season.

Q: Hey Mike, disagree slightly with your rookie rankings from your chat last week; I think that you might have underrated Ingram and Brian Hoyer. Both players earned the respect of BB during minicamps and training camp and allowed the team not to waste roster spots or salary cap space on veterans. Considering Brady's injury, the trust in Hoyer is immense; same with Ingram replacing Lonie Paxton, a true Patriots legend. -- John (Chestnut Hill, Mass.)

A: It's a good discussion, John. I'll cut and paste the exact part of the chat, which adds some context to the topic. The question was how I would rank the rookies this year (best to worst). This was my answer:

It's a difficult question, because players develop at different rates and some positions are easier than others to adapt to. To play along, I'd say: 1) [Darius] Butler; 2) Edelman; 3) Vollmer; 4) [Myron] Pryor; 5) [Pat] Chung; 6) Ingram; 7) Hoyer; 8) [Ron] Brace; 9) [Rich] Ohrnberger.

Q: Don't know if you're a "Seinfeld" fan, but just wanted to say you look an awful like Elaine's boyfriend Darryl in Season 9, Episode 15, "The Wizard." So if you don't have any Halloween costume ideas, there you go. -- Todd (Vancouver, Wash.)

A: Todd, you aren't the first person to notice the similarities, and I appreciate you looking out for me on Halloween. My friend Bob Glauber of Newsday had this humorous blog entry a while back. The best costume we came up with in recent years was when I was Ed Hochuli and my wife was a penalty flag.

Q: I am curious about your perspective on which rookies are having a solid impact this year in the NFL. In particular, I felt that Michael Oher and Rey Maualuga seemed undervalued in the draft. -- Arnis Burvikovs (Chicago)

A: Arnis, I like both of your selections as rookies with a solid impact. Maualuga has made a big different in Cincinnati, so I might start with him. Oher, with the Ravens, belongs up there. A few others who come to mind: Brian Cushing (Texans), Knowshon Moreno (Broncos), Aaron Curry (Seahawks), Jairus Byrd (Bills), Mike Wallace (Steelers), Austin Collie (Colts), Johnny Knox (Bears), Julian Edelman (Patriots).

Q: Hey Mike, with the talent that Michael Oher has shown already in Baltimore, do you think the Patriots at all regret not staying put with that 23rd pick and drafting him to be our LT of the future? While I like Volmer as a late second-rounder, he probably won't be a franchise tackle like Oher has proved he can become. -- Joe (Boston)

A: I agree that Oher has done a nice job for the Ravens. I think it's a case where the player and team are a perfect fit, as the Ravens play it pretty straight-up with their line. The Patriots are much different, requiring their linemen to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and I know there was some concern with Oher's ability to do that. Because of that, I'm not certain Oher would be having the same type of season in New England.

Q: Hi, Mike, we all know that Maroney's production has been a letdown with the exception of the end of the 2007 season. He has had injuries, but hypothetically, if his contribution doesn't increase in the next season or two, do you see the Pats picking a running back in the first or second round of an upcoming draft? I know this depends on how he is performing then and the needs of other positions. -- Joe (Rutland, Vt.)

A: Joe, I think running back will be on the team's radar at this point. I would think it will want to add another layer of youth to the position.

Q: Mike, can you please update the Patriots' future draft status? -- Phil (Boston)

A: Phil, the Patriots have the following picks during the next two years, according to my records:

2010:
First round
Second round
Second round (from Jacksonville)
Second round (from Tennessee)
Fourth round
Sixth round
Seventh round
Seventh round (originally from Philadelphia)

2011:
First round
First round (from Oakland)
Second round
Third round
Fourth round
Fifth round
Sixth round
Seventh round
Seventh round (from New Orleans)

Q: Hey Mike, in the past, Belichick has mentioned his reluctance to carry nonstarters who cannot/won't help in the kicking game. Could this have been part of the problem with the receivers released this week? Could you do a special-teams breakdown like you did with the defense? Also, doesn't the release of a TE and a WR leave the team short on route-runners? -- Niko (Los Angeles)

A: Glad to do the special-teams breakdown, Niko. I think they are a bit short at receiver and tight end right now, although I can see the receiver spot solidifying itself once Edelman returns. Tight end is certainly thin -- one injury, and they'll be in a tight spot. As for the special teams, here are the core players who don't see regular time on offense/defense: safety Bret Lockett, linebacker Rob Ninkovich, linebacker Eric Alexander, receiver/safety Matt Slater. That's a lot of players to keep with just special teams in mind. The list also could include linebacker Pierre Woods, safety Pat Chung and receiver Sam Aiken, but those players have/are seeing more time outside of special teams.

Q: Hey Mike, what is the word on Jerod Mayo? We sure could use him with Manning and Brees down the pike. -- Adam (New York)

A: Adam, it looks to me as if Mayo is back to his old self, leading the huddle with the communication device in his helmet and flying around from sideline to sideline. When he pairs with Gary Guyton in sub packages, the Patriots are pretty fast at the linebacker spot.

Q: Hey Mike, what do you think about them using Matt Slater at WR? Any chance of it happening? -- Dan C. (Palm Bay, Fla.)

A: You nailed it, Dan, as this question came in before the Buccaneers game. With a shortage at receiver, the Patriots had Slater working there in pregame warm-ups, and he played a few snaps there on the final drive. I don't see it as a long-term solution, but it's one that adds depth.

Q: Hi Mike, getting explanations from Tedy Bruschi is not like getting them from Bill Belichick but probably as close as it will ever get in a way that only a player could give us. Keep up the good work with Tedy. -- Jim Pemantell (Jamestown, R.I.)

A: Thanks, Jim. I think Tedy is doing a great job, and I am learning a lot about the game from working with him. I think he's added a lot to our coverage on ESPNBoston.com, because not only does he know the game so well, he also has a great way of communicating. Thanks for reading his work on the site.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.