Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat.
Curious to see what's on your mind today. Sort of a quiet time on the NFL calendar, although I think this is a good week to study up on a few of the Patriots' early-season opponents that are holding minicamps -- Tennessee and Buffalo. Been studying the Titans a bit today. They are transitioning to more of a 3 WR offense with first-round pick Kendall Wright of Baylor an explosive addition at WR. We know the Patriots are going to spend a lot of time on the Titans this preseason, so we'll do the same.
Here we go...
Hi Mike.. Still puzzled as to why none of the other 30 teams did not make a play for Ballard.. to pay just over a million for two yrs-probably one year of service, is well worth the risk based upon his past performance.. were they afraid to upset the Giants? (that's why I love Belicheck-he doesn't care) and...the fact that the Pats flirted with signing Dallas Clark has me wondering.. does Fells have a more serious injury than we are aware of..do the Pats think Gronkowski won't be ready for the season.. or were they really considering 4 tight ends on the roster? (cutting Branch and Stallworth?)
Mike, on Ballard, you've covered the finances. That would be one reason some teams might have shied away. Another reason is the nature of the injury itself -- microfracture surgery is serious. For a player who already wasn't considered fleet of foot, now you have him coming off ACL/microfracture surgery, that's a huge unknown how he will respond. So I think those two things, coupled with the view that Ballard is a good (not great) player, probably fill out the reasons teams stayed away...
...As for Fells, let's just deal with the facts in front of us. He didn't participate in any of the OTAs/camp. That, to me, makes him a candidate for the PUP list to open camp. Not saying it will happen, but has to at least be a consideration based on Bill Belichick's past history. So maybe they were thinking sign Clark (with Fells on PUP) and that buys more time. On Gronkowski, my sense is that he'll be ready.
Mike, I read the blog everyday and haven't seen much of Chandler Jones. Have things been going well for him so far in the offseason, and what can we expect from him during the season?
Travis, part of the reason there hasn't been much reported on Jones is that there wasn't much of note to see. He plays a position (on the end of the line) that is hard to assess in a non-contact, shorts-and-T-shirt setting. I will say, one thing that stands out is his length. He looks like a basketball player to me. As for what to expect from him, I think it's realistic to project him to a role in the sub defense, which is basically what the Patriots play now 60-65 percent of the time. Rusher. Disruptive. Getting hands up in the passing lanes.
Hi Mike. The Pats have traditionally struggled against teams that have the personal to rush 4 down linemen. The Giants, Cowboys are teams that come to mind. Do you see any of the roster changes made this off-season addressing this issue? If not, is there anything that could exploit 4 down linemen? Thanks
Tore, from a basic standpoint, the two areas I'd focus on here are protection and getting open. It's really the same against any defense (whether they are rushing 3, 4, 5), but when a defense has 7 in coverage, sometimes those openings are harder to find. From a "getting open" standpoint, I think Brandon Lloyd can really help.
Thanks Mike, what are the chances we reunite Spikes, Hernandez and Harvin?? I know Belichick was very high on him before.
It's no stretch to say Harvin would help any team. I just think with all the things that would have to happen -- trade compensation, contract etc. -- it's highly unlikely to see Harvin land in New England.
Mike, Every year, I get overexcited about somebody the Pats sign in the offseason, only to have that player prove me wrong by mid-season. Last year, Ocho, Haynesworth, and Leigh Bodden all fell into that category. Candidates this year include Lloyd, Addai, and the two first-round rookies. Who is going to be my unpleasant surprise this year?
Zack, I'd say keep the glass-half-full approach. Life is more fun that way; no need to be negative for no reason. Not all signings work out, but I like all four players you mentioned. In that case, I predict a year in which Zack from Somerville will be smiling a lot.
Lots of posters refer to Shane Vereen as a 3rd down type back..I believe its wrong to box him into that type....most are unable to describe why...What makes a 3 down back that he doesnt have???
Richard, I think that's a mistake as well. Part of the reason I think Vereen has that stereotype is that he caught the ball well at Cal. But I think he can also run between the tackles. He's big enough at 205 pounds so he's not a McCluster/Sproles type, sub-200 pounds, where you might worry about too much of a pounding. For me, Vereen one of the players I'm most excited to see at camp. On top of that, FWIW, I have enjoyed speaking with him over the last year as he seems like a class kid.
Hey Mike. A couple questions...1) I know Chung has the athleticism to play in a 1 deep coverage, allowing whoever we choose as our SS to play more in the box on running downs. However, Chung is also decent in run support, which would leave Gregory in deep coverage. I haven't seen or heard much about his coverage skills or ability to cover ground. Any cause for concern?2) How do you see the backup QB race ending up? I hope Hoyer impresses enough to garner a high draft pick/impact player through a trade next off-season.3) Is it me, or is coach Belichick becoming seemingly nicer every year?Thanks!
Ben, my early sense of Gregory is that he's best suited as more of a traditional free-safety type. He played more of a strong safety role in San Diego when paired with Eric Weddle, and there is a feeling from some close to him that it wasn't the best fit. On top of that, Gregory's smarts seem to be a nice fit for what the Patriots do on defense, which can be a lot for a player to handle if the football IQ isn't high. As for the backup QB, I lean toward Hoyer at this time, with the caveat that preseason games will be the primary dictator of the situation as that is really when we see how they manage the offense. As for BB becoming nicer every year, my view is that he's content with where he is and likes what he's doing.
How is the Brain Waters situation at this moment. Without him, the patriots won't have a good of a record than last year.
Alec, Waters had an excused absence from the team's mandatory minicamp. I can't recall too many times in BB's tenure that a player has received one of those. That tells me there is still interest from the team side on his return, and if I had to guess, he'll be back in 2012.
Hey Mike, I was wondering what the secondary is going to shape out to look like, specifically at corner back. Bill and Co. look like they have no interest in giving up on McCourty (rightfully so) and Arrington had a great season for the Pats last year. With the emergence of Sterling Moore and Ras-I Dowling returning from injury, who will end up playing where?
Good one, Brandon. I think if the plans unfold as desired from the view of the coaching staff, they'd have Dowling at RCB, McCourty at LCB, and Arrington in the slot, with Sterling Moore/Alfonzo Dennard/Marquice Cole/Will Allen in the depth positions. But a lot will depend on Dowling's ability to push through the hip injury that limited him to 2 games last season. They are high on him. I think Dowling is on his way, and was over-scrutinized in some circles in OTAs/minicamp.
With Chung entering his final year, how much interest do you think there would be in him across the league as a FA? He seems to have a little Brandon Meriweather in that sometimes he seems to go for the big hits without wrapping up tackles (and if he misses it can give up a big play). There's value in that "enforcer" type role I suppose but is a gambling safety that doesn't get interceptions really that desirable?
Alex, in speaking with various personnel folks around the NFL, the big question with Chung is health. Can he stay healthy? If he goes the full 16 games this year, and is productive, I think interest will be high. But it could just as easily go the other way. I'm not sure I'd agree with the gambling aspect of Chung's play, as it relates to Meriweather. I think Chung is much more disciplined.
I for one am extremely concerned with the O-line especially the depth at OT. Please settle me down...if possible.
Jim, I think it's a fair concern, but I will play the role of Dr. Settledown here. Dante Scarnecchia, the OL coach, has done more with less. They have depth in terms of how many players have started games and played in victories. So it's not like the cupboard is bare. I mean, we could look at other teams in the NFL and see a much more shaky situation. Buffalo is one that comes to mind. The Jets have some questions. Ditto Baltimore and Houston.
Hey Mike,On the offensive side, do you think Brandon Lloyd is the vertical threat that the Patriots need? I've heard great things about his catching abilities, but not as much about his ability to stretch the field and that's something I believe the Patriots have lacked. On the defensive side, do you think Ron Brace can live up to expectations? I remember how dominant he and B.J. Raji were at Boston College and I'm upset that he hasn't seen the same success as Raji so far.
Chris, Lloyd isn't a burner, but he's a threat on the outside in different ways. He seems like a very good tactical route runner, with solid footwork and the ability to catch the ball in traffic. I think that's as valuable as a straight-line speedster who might "take the top off a defense." As for Brace, I view him on the bubble at this time. It's his fourth year and with the Patriots playing more sub defense than ever before, I wonder how the coaching staff will value him. Could he be a sub rusher? I'm not sure that's his game. So in that case, he would fit best as a 3-4 DE, and we're just not seeing as much of that these days.
Hey, Mike. What are your thoughts on the other AFC East teams this season? Do you think any of them can challenge the Pats for the division title?
Rob, I still see the Jets as the top competition. I wonder about the Bills' depth. They obviously made some great additions at the top end of free agency, but that's a team, to me, that has struggled when the inevitable injuries have hit and they've had to rely on the second unit. It's been too big a drop-off. Then I put the Dolphins in the 4 spot.
Do you have any information on how Jeremiah Warren is doing?
Angel, Warren got a lot of good reps in the OTAs/minicamps, playing guard. It's tough to tell much without contact at that position, but he's getting some hard-core coaching on technique, footwork and fundamentals and I think he has a chance here. My hunch would be practice squad at this point, but it's early to make that call.
Mike is it just me or is it beginning to feel like 2007 and 2008 all over again?!
You thinking 16-0, Anthony?
I think the Patriots are loaded for a run, assuming good health. In a year where the AFC looks down, the Patriots look as strong to me as anyone at this point.
The Offensive Line is the one area that will either let the team excel, or it will be why they fall short. True or False?
I'd agree with that.
Mike, I was wondering what your thoughts are on Alfonzo Dennard. What kind of impact could you see him having on the defense this year?
Kenny, when I think of Dennard, the first thought that comes to mind is special teams. I don't think he's going to be in the top 3 at CB, so to find his way on that 46-man game-day roster, he'll have to contribute on special teams. He showed some good ball skills in OTAs/camp. He's small for the position, but I thought he was competitive in terms of getting his hands on some footballs.
how good can hightower be? I know BB is high on him
Mike, Belichick said it himself, think Mike Vrabel in terms of versatility and smarts. Exciting.
Hi Mike, between the woes of Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and Jermaine Cunningham, who do you think has the best chance of making the 53-man roster? I know that Bill Belichick has complimented Cunningham's play thus far in 2012, but he's done the same with other disappointments in previous years before severing ties. Ron Brace hasn't offered much other than size and Myron Pryor has helped out when healthy. What's your take on the defensive under-performers from the 2009 and 2010 drafts?
Oliver, Belichick was pretty high on Jermaine Cunningham at minicamp. So I'll go with him. But I do think Pryor, when healthy, has proven to be a pretty effective sub rusher from an interior position. It's just a matter of health.
Are the pats the favorite in the AFC?
TJ, I'd put them right there with the Ravens, Texans and possibly Steelers. Any objections, fellow chatters?
Hey Mike, pick one undrafted free agent that makes the roster in September.
Mike, I'd like to see more of them in training camp, but to play along, let's go with Justin Francis, DL, Rutgers.
Do you think the fact that Hightower still hasn't signed is going to hurt him with having a late start, and how are his contract talks going?
Noah, I think Hightower will be there for the start of training camp, and that's all that matters. He's got all the same work in as other rookies at this point.
I appreciate that people are excited about this team, and I am too, but comparisons to 2007-2008 have to stop. This team is going to do well for sure, but that season (except for the stupid SB) was otherworldly. Even with the easy schedule, it takes unbelievable discipline, execution, and a little luck to do something like 18-0. I think people should set their expectations to something like: this will be a fun competitive season, where the Pats have the potential to make a real run for it, again.
2007 = once in a lifetime.
Hey Mike. How do you see the kick/punt returner role playing out? With it being one of the areas from last year that could really use improvement, I thought we'd see a draft pick or signing that would target this need. Is there anyone on this team that can make an impact as a returner, or should we get used to Edelman/Woodhead and mediocre field position?
Scott, I thought Edelman was solid in the punt return role last year. So no need to change that IMO. Sounds like they'll still work with Woodhead as KR, but with competition coming from others on the roster, possibly including Devin McCourty. I would experiment with Edelman there as well in some situations.
Has Dowling ever played safety? I feel like he has the speed, size and obvious ball skills to excel as a FS. Any hint of that in the minicamp, or was he strictly working as RCB?
Damas, in high school, Dowling did play some safety. It's possible, but he was strictly CB from what I saw at minicamp. At safety, they had Chung/Gregory as the top pairing. Tavon Wilson/Will Allen got some time there. You also have Josh Barrett in the mix.
I haven't heard Jeremy Ebert's name called much during the voluntary workouts or mini-camp. I know he's a longshot to make the 53-man roster and is likely headed for the practice squad in 2012, but has he done much to distinguish himself so far in the offseason?
Tyler, he only had a few practices. First, it was a result of finishing up his academic requirements. Then it looked like he was slowed by something physically on the field that kept him out. I'll tell you, without jersey numbers, it was hard to tell Welker/Edelman/Ebert apart when they were on the field. I'm not saying the other two are in the class of Welker, but they have similar physical makeups and play a similar role in the offense.
what is the future plans 4 the Patriots running game ?
If all goes according to the coaching staff's plan, you'll be hearing a lot more about Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen this year. Improving blitz pickup also on the radar, which I believe led to the signing of Joseph Addai.
If all goes according to the coaching staff's plan, you'll be hearing a lot more about Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen this year. Improving blitz pickup also on the radar, which I believe led to the signing of Joseph Addai.
At this point in time which excites you more the drafted/undrafted players or the free agents we picked up this year
Stephen, I would pick the drafted players. There is something exciting about seeing that infusion of youth/speed/athleticism. I sort of feel that way in every sport. To draw the comparison to hockey, it was similar to the Bruins and Tyler Seguin. You know where will be some growing pains early, but to see the player grow, it's kind of neat. Early Dustin Pedroia years come to mind as well. Remember he slumped early, they stuck with him, and it paid off.
I know its early for predictions, but who do you see starting in the base D, and do you think it is still a 4-3? Also, who do you think will come off the bench for passing situations?
Andrew, I don't think we saw one snap of base D in OTAs/minicamp. It was all sub. Part of that is because it was "passing camp." So it's a huge projection at this point, but let's play along as it was a 4-3...
Wilfork/Love inside at DT is a pretty good tandem, although one wonders if they are too much alike. But I'll leave them there for now. At RDE, Trevor Scott looks like a possible fit. At LDE, Jonathan Fanene could be a nice fit, but I'd like to see more of that. Tackle might be the better spot for him in the four-man line. ...
At MLB, let's go with Brandon Spikes, with Jerod Mayo at WLB and Rob Ninkovich/Dont'a Hightower at SLB.
They have a lot of options, and in passing situations, the combinations are numerous. This is going to be a fun overall competition to follow in many areas.
When players like Bo Scaife and Anthony Gonzales are signed and then released. What are the financial implications for the Patriots? Does it count against the cap, is it only signing bonuses that are payed...etc. Thanks Mike!
The only areas in which the Patriots are on the hook are up-front signing bonuses. In the cases of both players, there was no signing bonuses. Gonzalez had a workout bonus, but I'm not sure how that worked out based on his short stint with the club.
Hi Mike, With all the talk about whether the pats will go 4-3 or 3-4, can you tell me the "non-elepahnt" OLB in the 3-4. Is it the same as and SLB or WLB in the 4-3 or is it more of a DE. Why would/wouldn't Ninkovich be able to play OLB in the 4-3 for example. Thanks!
Steve, the outside linebacker spots in the 4-3 are either the WLB (weak side) or SLB (strong side) and Ninkovich projects to the strong side if he's at linebacker in that alignment. That's what he mostly played last year. As for the "elephant" end, I would be cautious with that term. That was more Pete Carroll's scheme from 1997-99, when Willie McGinest was considered an "elephant" end, which is a player who has some versatility to play end in a three-point stance or stand up in a two-point stance. It's basically a fancy term for a hybrid player.
My question is about the back-up QBs. I know Brian Hoyer had some difficult moments at the minicamp. I did not see too much written about Ryan Mallett's performance either during OTAs or the minicamp. How did he perform? Did he have any reps with the starters? Is he on the road to becoming a legitimate NFL QB? Cheers
David, what stands out to me with Mallett is how different his style of play is when compared to Brady and Hoyer. He's bigger and has a more noticeable windup. The ball doesn't seem to come out of his hands as fast when compared to the others. I thought, like Hoyer, there were some ups and downs in minicamp. The preseason, when managing things like the play clock, and getting in and out of the huddle, are going to be huge for the backups. I don't think we can say much definitively until then.
Mike, i've heard you mention several times about the 'fleet of foot' and Ballard reason for teams staying away from him....but since he never relied on speed and athleticism as much as others, I'd venture to say the microfracture would be LESS of a risk than to someone like A. Hernandez who relies on speed to be succesful. My 2 cents.
Thanks for sharing the 2, John. I respect the viewpoint. I just think, with any player, microfracture surgery is a big deal that can't be overlooked. Let's see how it plays out.
Hi Mike, do you see maybe Cannon be the starting RT and have Vollmer be the swing tackle since he battles injuries all the time? Thanks Mike for keeping us in the loop.
Kenny, when Vollmer is healthy, I think he's a starter. Very good player. I wouldn't demote him just because of the injury issues.
Let's go for another 5...
Mike, assuming good health, whom do you expect to be the starting LBs by week 9 or so? Also, do you think Mankins starts on PUP?
Thanks John. On the starting LBs, and looking at it through a 4-3 lens, Mayo is a lock, and then I think we'll see 2 of the following 3 -- Spikes/Ninkovich/Hightower -- depending on health and game-plan. Could vary from week to week. On Mankins, my hunch is he will be there when it counts -- season-opener at Tennessee. Looked like he was making good progress on the field at minicamp.
Hi Mike. The Pats are loaded with depth at a lot of positions. When roster cutdown happens, it's going to be like a supplemental draft around the league as other teams try to scoop up some decent talent that we let go. Let's say the WR position turns out to be Welker, Lloyd, Gaffney, Edelman, Stallworth, Slater (Branch on PUP list..just a hunch). How can we protect Britt Davis or Jeremy Ebert if so desired? No way they make it to the practice squad with WR needy teams (Miami) or teams wanting payback (Giants) lurking around. Besides active roster or IR & PUP, is there any other way to protect a player?
Chris, there is no way to protect a player from being claimed outside of PUP/IR. This is part of the business and we saw the Patriots get plucked pretty clean last year as well (e.g. Lee Smith to Buffalo, Will Yeatman to Miami).
Hey Mike, Sorry for bring up the Dolphins here but it has a Pats tie. I'm a big Pats fan; I thought that Miami should have traded for either Mallet and used the 8th pick on a WR or other skill position player. I hate the pick of Tannehill. Somehow they lost out on Flynn. They drafted RT to be the next Marino and that is totally unreasonable. If I were gm I would have given a #2 pick for Mallett, used the 8 overall for an immediate impact player and gone from there. When you compare Mallet and Tannehill, where are the differences? The way they're doing things is just bad business and is no surprise to me that they are still in the cellar of the AFC East. Can you touch on where Mallett would fit if he were in another organization? Starter? Upside?
Ben, let's get a little Dolphins talk in here. I'll share my thoughts, with the caveat that they are from an outside perspective. I really think the jury is still out on Mallett in terms of both quarterback play and being the face of a franchise. I'm not saying he can't become that, but it still looks very much like an unfinished product to me. So there is no guarantee. Couple that thought with the Dolphins bringing in a new regime with coach Joe Philbin (seems like a good choice), and an offensive coordinator (Mike Sherman) who worked with Tannehill in college and has deep knowledge of his game and the NFL game, and I can see why they went in that direction. Overall, I just think these decisions get over-scrutinized. I remember when the Falcons were panned for taking Matt Ryan 3rd overall because he had 19 INTs (or something like that) his final season. Bottom line, to me, is that the Dolphins needed to sort out the QB position and give that franchise a shot of life. I think it's worth the shot.
Hi MikeOn a scale of 1 -10 what position (starters and back ups) do you feel the best about? The worst about?
Clark, best would be WR. Very deep. If everyone is healthy, I think Stallworth might have a tough time making the club and he is going to help some team this year. Worst -- lingering questions at safety. Looks like they've done some work to address it, but hard to tell if it will be good enough.
Mike, I want to put the brakes on all of this love for our WRs. While I do think it's a deep group, I think many are looking at the best possible case scenario. Brandon Lloyd was signed to a modest deal, and it didn't really seem like anyone else was interested (partly because he professed he wanted to play for New England). Stallworth was a cast off and has never been great, ditto for Gaffney. On Gaffney, he was arguably the Redskins best receiver last year and they cut him. That has to raise some eyebrows. Branch is getting old and fizzles as the year goes on, and as much as I love Edelman and think he can be good, his time to prove himself is starting to run out a little bit. I understand the optimism for all of these guys, but I think at the end of the day Welker is far away your best wide receiver, and everyone else is kind of just an average role player that can be taken away most of the time. I just don't think we're going to see a huge increase on offense, I think we might see some regression depending on health (Gronk) and contract issues (Welker could be a little distracted at times). Just my two cents and a slightly different perspective.
Thanks Arjuna. Always interesting to hear different perspectives.
Re micro fracture surgery - it means they drill holes in the bone to stimulate cartilage growth. Which means he has significant cartilage damage they hope to improve....How's the sleep deprivation, Mike?
Thanks Karen. In the words of BB, "I'm not a doctor." And as for the sleep deprivation, I've seen hours of the morning I haven't seen since my time at UMass, circa 1993-1997. Know what I mean?
OK END WITH THIS QUESTION... Will the Pats finally get revenge and win SB 47???
Brian, if I had to make a Super Bowl prediction right now, the Patriots would represent the AFC again. And I'd pick them to win it. I think they are one of the NFL's best teams.
Do you believe Branch will be on roster. He seems superfluous with Stallworth.
Bob, I think Branch and Stallworth bring two different things to the offense. I won't argue that Branch has slowed down, but I think he still has value in the short to intermediate areas of the field, and with his knowledge of the offense (lining up in any spot) and rapport with Tom Brady. Stallworth, to me, is a little more of a straight-line speed guy. I lean toward Branch.
I think people are making a major oversight on this whole receiver competition. Are we forgetting about Niko, Donte Stallworth's alter ego personality? How do we see him fitting on this roster? Keep up the great work Mike!
Stallworth is a funny guy. At the end of last year's Redskins-Patriots game, he sought out BB and laid the groundwork for a potential return, telling him that if he does hit free agency he'd be interested in returning. Good future planning by him.
Without getting too giddy, I'm really excited at what Brandon Lloyd can add to this passing game. What he was able to do behind McDaniels these past two years with minimal talent around him has me thinking that he's going to have an unbelievable year now that he has a top 5 QB and guys like Welker, Gronk, Hernandez etc to eat up defenders. I'm not going to go Randy Moss on you, but I can see a career year for Mr Lloyd. I can't wait for this season!
I share those thoughts for Lloyd, given good health.
Mike, I know Hoyer is the Backup and Mallett is 3rd, do we see them carrying 2 backups? Also do we keep Hoyer around hoping to gain a few good draft pick(s) for him and make Mallett the future? Or just pray for a Andrew Luck, or 199th pick dream again in a few years?
TJ, very good question on the 2 vs. 3 quarterbacks. I think 2 is too dangerous for Bill Belichick's liking, but it wouldn't shock me if he goes in that direction if there is some value to be gained in a trade for one of the backups. In the end, I think that's unlikely and would project 3 QBs. I'd also lower expectations on what the Patriots might get in terms of draft picks in a trade, as we saw with the Packers/Matt Flynn this past year.
Mike, What did you think of Jimmy Graham being the 14th best player and Gronkowski 21 on the NFL top 100? I was blown away!
Dave, I have a love-hate relationship with those rankings. They are good to spark discussion and provide a little context for where players fall in the NFL. But without knowing the criteria of how the rankings are picked, it's sort of silly. And rankings in general can get a little out of hand. Let's put it this way, I'd take Gronkowski 10 times out of 10 if I had the choice.
I'm happy the football has very few "unwritten rules." Some said that the Pats claiming Ballard was but even that was hard to argue.
Eric, the NFL has so many written rules that if we start accounting for unwritten rules, it would be mayhem!
Let's end it there. For a slow offseason day, to see several hundred questions in the chat reinforces my belief that there is truly no offseason. I appreciate your passion and interest. Plan on chats all the way through up until training camp. I'll try to circle back and answer some questions in our ESPNBoston.com blog tomorrow.