Hi everyone, and thanks for joining the chat. Excited to catch up with you all today. Just like Bill Belichick expects his reserve players to perform at a high level when a starter has to miss time, the hope here is to fill in for Mike Reiss as a "starting caliber" level. Let's have some fun.
Hey Field, I feel like over the last two weeks, we went from having no receiving corps to having way too many receivers. Who do you think will be a lock to make the final roster? And how do you feel about T.J. Moe and his chances? Thanks!
Rusty, thanks for the question. While the Patriots have certainly increased their wide receiving corps from the standpoint of numbers, there are still questions related to the position group. I think we can safely assume Danny Amendola is the top pass catcher at the position, but after that it should be a unique competition. That's probably part of why the Patriots have added so many bodies: use the offseason to figure out which can take over the roles vacated by Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, etc.
Hey Field, I have three questions. With Felix Jones coming for a visit, Is this a sign that the coaching staff isnt confident in Bolden? Also, who will have a bigger impact their rookie year, Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce? And, who will have a better 2nd year, Chandler Jones or Dont'a Hightower?
Derrick, there are probably a few different ways to read into the Felix Jones visit. The first would be a simple case of due diligence. That's commonplace around the NFL, as Jones was once highly-regarded as a speed back. Another is that he'd be a low-cost, possibly medium-reward addition. With the roster at 90 players, there's room to take fliers on guys. As for the rookie WR's, I'll go with Dobson because I believe there's a chance for him to step in and start on the perimeter, but look for Boyce to contribute as well. Finally, I think that the ceiling is high for Chandler Jones. He flashed promise early in his rookie season, and an offseason to develop his pass rush skills could yield big results.
Do you think the drafting of Duron, means the Pats think they made a mistake with Tavon Wilson?.
I don't think so, Pat. I mentioned this in our scouting report this morning on Harmon: he could be a developmental strong safety for the team (while Wilson seems athletic enough to play free safety). Though Devin McCourty has settled in very nicely at safety, injuries or another situation could lead the team to use him at cornerback on occasion in the future. Harmon and Wilson may not be starters in 2013, but they could one day play bigger roles.
The Patriots seem to like TJ Moe a lot. How likely is it that he makes the team?
A lot of questions coming in on Moe. Here's what we know about him: he was a highly-productive slot receiver at Missouri who received more guaranteed money than any other undrafted free agent that the Patriots signed. Given that the receiving corps is in the midst of a makeover, Moe should have a chance to compete for a roster spot. How likely is a 53-man spot? Too soon to tell, but Moe certainly will have the chance to compete.
Did New Orleans jumping ahead of the Pats to take massive John Jenkins mean that he was considerd high on the Pats board/ Seems like a good candidate to train behind Vince Wikfolk
Always tough to know exactly what motivates a team to move up, Dave, but I can see where your line of thinking comes from. The Patriots didn't end up taking a DT in the draft, but it was a position that seemed to be in play. I didn't see a ton of Jenkins, but my quick-take is that he might not have provided the 3-down value the Patriots were looking for.
Field, love your stuff on the site, keep it up. Do you think the Pats did enough to bolster their interior pass rush this off season? The lack of a pass rush from our 4-3 DT's was a huge problem last year.
Thanks, Kyle, that's much appreciated. Piggy-backing off the previous question, I think that the Patriots did address the interior rush, we'll just see if it's enough. I don't want to overdo it on a rookie, but Armond Armstead could be a key. He has natural rushing skills and could be a critical sub defense for the Patriots. Some felt that signing him was comparable to drafting an early round defensive lineman. He and Tommy Kelly (who had a down year rushing the passer in 2012 following two strong years doing so) should boost the interior rush.
Field, I've enjoyed your writing here since you joined the team. My question is, is it really accurate to call Amendola (and even Welker last year) a "slot" receiver, when the base offense is 2 WRs and 2 TEs? Aren't both the WRs up on the line of scrimmage on the outside?
Thanks, Hans. That's a very good point you make, as even though we've grown to know Welker and Amendola as slot receivers, they certainly are accountable to line up on the end (outside) of the formation too. One way to think of slot receivers (regardless of where they line up) is how they are used: Welker and Amendola feast on underneath routes, using their quickness/change of direction skills to beat man coverage. Look for plenty of that from Amendola as a Patriot.
I think the Pats need to sign David Nelson. He would be great fit. He's a WR with the size and build of a flex TE. I know he's coming off an injury but he would be a great pick up.
Eric: I agree with the idea that Nelson would have been a great fit, although he landed in Cleveland with the Browns. Nice pick-up for a receiver-needy team.
Hey Field, how do you think Jamie Collins will be used this year, and do you personally believe he would be a better fit at defensive end or linebacker? I'd like for him to become a cover linebacker, ideally.
Another, Eric! I think Collins will be a fascinating player to watch, because he has a skill set that I'm not sure any other Patriots defender has: he's a long, explosive, fast linebacker who can rush the passer and play in coverage. The questions I had when watching him in college was as a run defender. Can he take on blocks and hold up at the point of attack? I suspect the Patriots will use him in a number of ways this year, including on special teams. That could lead to sub defense plays, edge-rushing from a defensive end alignment. Certainly a player to watch.
Field.Hey.Do you think LeGarette Blount makes the final roster with a crowded backfield ?....
Brad: Another one that's interesting to me. What to make of Blount? If I had to draw up a running back depth chart right now, Blount would sit fifth because of his lack of special teams value. That being said, the Patriots have kept five running backs before and Blount has talent, it's just a matter of honing it. I don't think he's a lock for the roster, but he has a good shot in my view.
If Aqib Talib or Alphonso Dennard gets injured, do you believe Logan Ryan can be good enough to step in and be a worthy cover corner? (Just so the secondary doesn't end up in a house of cards like in the AFC championship game?)
Daniel: Based off of what I saw from Ryan in college, I'd say he's ready to take on the Patriots' fourth CB role from an early juncture. He's a physical, hard-nosed defender who should do well in zone coverages (like Alfonzo Dennard). If Dennard or Talib were to go down, I'd expect Kyle Arrington to be the first man up as a replacement.
Any word on how Brian Daboll will be used? Curious to see his role with the team.
No definitive word on Daboll's role, Arjuna, but I'd view the hire like this: he has experience coaching a number of positions, and sort of like when building a roster, any time you can add a quality coach, Bill Belichick is on board. Daboll had success with the team before, and as we all know, coaches can take other jobs on a moment's notice. Adding Daboll gives the Patriots "depth" and "ability" on the staff.
Dallas Clark - any chance the Pats bring him in? With question marks surrounding the health of Gronk, Hernandez, and Ballard, he would certainly have a good shot of earning a role at some point during the season if he has anything left in the tank. Letting him get acclimated during the pre-season to see how he could fit might be nice.
There's a name I found myself thinking about recently, Peggy. As many recall, the Patriots wanted to sign Clark last offseason. He ultimately landed in Tampa Bay, but it doesn't look like he'll be back. If for some reason the health of Rob Gronkowski doesn't improve before training camp, Clark would qualify as a low-risk, dependable veteran. I don't have any information to suggest the Patriots are interested, but I see the value in adding Clark.
Hi Field, With the addition of Collins can you envision the Patriots moving back to a 3-4 defense? Collins and Mayo outside with Hightower and Spikes inside. If so how would that effect the front three? Vince on the nose, obviously, but who are the two ends?
Another Collins question, and another good thought. I could see the Patriots mixing in some three man fronts on occasion, with the one question being who do they play at the end/"five technique" spot. Names that come to mind: Chandler Jones, Armond Arsmtead, Brandon Deaderick, Tommy Kelly, among others.
Mr Yates, how was rookie camp and how much of it were you able to view??? which rookies stood out to you on both sides of the ball?
Craig, thanks for the question. We only saw the stretching portion of practice, so my scouting report on the rookies based off of what we saw needs some more work. Hopeful to see more of these guys at OTA's, which start May 20.
Hi Field,What areas do you think the Patriots most improved and regressed in going from 2011 to 2012? And what areas do you think the Pats will improve and regress in going forward to 2013? Thanks!
Good question, Ashlea. I'd say the Patriots running game came a long way from 2011 to 2012, while the pass rush took a bit of a step back down the stretch. For 2013, I think the Patriots have a chance to be much better in the secondary given the continuity and some of the additions, while it might take some time for these young receivers to produce at the level we are accustomed to seeing.
Field, what percentage of a scout's study is done on film? How many live games would you think the scout(s) saw of Aaron Dobson? How many scouts would the team have in the region that includes Marshall? Who assigns the scouts to particular games?
All good questions on the process. The scouting process is as exhaustive as one could imagine: it's a combination of game film study, live game action, watching practices, meeting with players (sometimes their families too), personal interviews, private workouts. Specific to Dobson, I'd imagine the Patriots saw multiple games of his live, as he's been regarded as a top receiving target since before last season. Scouts have some autonomy to make their own schedules, but the college scouting director (the Patriots is Jon Robinson, a highly-regarded evaluator) also has a hand in that process.
Is Deion Branch participating in the offseason activities with the team? Thanks for the surprise Chat!
Gerard: Branch remains unsigned at this point, so he is not taking part in any offseason activities. One of the advantages to being a veteran is knowing how to keep yourself in shape and understanding the playbook. If the Patriots were to bring Branch back later this offseason, he shouldn't be too far behind given his knowledge of the offense.
Field, There was a lot of talk about SMUs Margus Hunt and the Pats leading up to the draft. Seeing him go right after Collins brings back memories of when we drafted Cunningham over Dunlap. What is the difference in skill sets/ceiling between Collins and Hunt and why do you think the Pats went with Collins?
Dan: One big factor on Hunt is that he's almost 26. He's considered a very raw prospect too, so if for some reason he takes a couple of years to develop, a team could be looking at a player who is finally coming around at age 28-30. In my estimation, Collins has a higher upside as a coverage linebacker and potential starter by year 2. Combine that with his age, and I think the Patriots made a sound investment. One to keep in mind down the road.
can you explain what you see when you're looking at a player's hips? I'm always reading about tight hips, loose hips, hip flipping, etc.
Always love these scouting questions, so thanks John. Hopefully I can articulate my thoughts properly on this: when you see a defensive player facing, for example, toward the line of scrimmage and then he has to turn and run into coverage, you take note of whether it's smooth and effortless or a chore. It's a big component to evaluating defensive backs. The more robotic a player looks, the tighter his hips are.
Do you see the Patriots picking up any low risk - high reward veteran free agent signing maybe like Randy Moss, Leonard Davies, or Charles Woodson?
Alec, I think the one position I'd say is a possibility is defensive end. The team "kicked the tires" on John Abraham and Dwight Freeney earlier this offseason, but it may have come down to a matter of economics. The Patriots have a nice stable of talent at defensive end, but if the price drops for those players, adding a guy like Abraham to play 25 or so snaps a game makes some sense to me.
Hey Field, I think a huge key to the Pats success over the years has been staying ahead of the curve as far as their strategic approach - shotgun/spread in '07, 3-4 when most were 4-3, running back by committee, now two TE sets. Any hunches on what their next wrinkle might be? I'm thinking increased emphasis on running behind the TEs this year to take advantage of lighter defenses/sub packages...thanks!
Great question and observation, Bob, as I agree the Patriots have been very good in developing ideas that others follow suit with. One thought: teams seems to be gravitating back towards more four-man defensive fronts (the Patriots included). It wouldn't surprise me for the Patriots to get to the point where their fronts are nearly interchangeable. It's tough to construct a roster with the personnel to do so, but I can see the foundation in place already.
Here's a possibility I haven't heard from you or Mike or any of your bloggers: Peyton Manning is one of the best of all time. But he's not Tom Brady and Wes Welker will have a lackluster season in Denver. Don't be surprised to see Welker back in a Patriot's uniform next year.
I'm not sure I share that opinion with you, Burton. While Brady would be my pick over Manning, Manning is still one of the best of all-time. Welker is playing next to outstanding receivers, and I expect all of them to perform at a high level in 2013. Will Welker have 110 catches? Perhaps not, but I expect him to be good for Denver.
Field, how many scouts would typically be employed by a team? Are most of them part-time employees?
As it relates to area scouts, Andrew, there are typically between 7-10 per team. Those scouts cover a particular region of the country (Northeast, Southwest, etc.). Beyond that, teams often have an East scout (east of the Mississippi), West scout (vice versa) and a national scout. Add in directors and other executives, and a personnel department can approach 20 or so.
Hi Field, Is Hightower more naturally suited for SLB or MLB? What are they primary differences between the two positions? How about Collins, would he project as more of a SLB or WLB? Thanks!
Steve, Hightower strikes me more as a natural fit at SLB. The reason? His athleticism. The preeminent inside linebackers are those who can roam sideline-to-sideline while also taking on blockers to make tackles. Hightower is powerful, reliable, tough and can set the edge in the running game, all of which align with a good SLB. Collins look like a WLB for me right now, given his athleticism.
Hi Field, I'm really hoping that we take a flier on Tim Tebow to see what he can do. He is a true professional and exceptional teammate, on top of being a proven winner. Sounds like a Patriot to me! Could you see Tim being given a chance in New England?
Plenty of Tebow-related questions, and while I never say never on these sorts of topics, I wouldn't count on it. Here's my take on Tebow as a player: he's not a starting level quarterback that will consistently guide you to the playoffs, but he's also not as bad as some make him out to be. The biggest issue with him is that signing him means absorbing a ton of attention from the public. I'm not sure how many teams wants that right now.
Great work, Field. Why Dobson over Keenan Allen?
Thanks, Matt. There are a few concerns on Allen: his speed (he didn't run particularly well), his knee, and reported possible concerns about a drug test. Allen is a nice player and I think will help in San Diego, but Dobson is a more explosive, dynamic outside threat.
Are we really expecting major contributions from the draftees? I seem to recall two first round picks last year contributing, but not difference makers. That takes a little time. What are realistic expectations for the 2013 draft class?
Pedro, I think that you raise a good question on these picks. I believe that, given the depth chart at receiver, the two receivers have a chance to step in and play early. Outside of those two, I'm not sure anyone else in the class will be a regular starter. But that's ok. The Patriots roster was one of the strongest in the NFL before the draft and needed to find some complementary parts. On paper, these rookies seem to help that cause.
Hi Field! Do safeties and CBs compete against each other for the dimeback role, e.g. Tavon Wilson vs. Logan Ryan, or is it more a question of scheme whether you want a safety or a CB for your dime package?
Michael, they do indeed compete against each other for the dimeback role. A dime package means 6 defensive backs are on the field at one time, leaving a team light up front. By that logic, some coordinators prefer the dimeback to be a safety, who typically are bigger and more reliable against the run. We saw Wilson finish the year off in that role in 2012.
Field, Looks like the Pats signed another WR today, Lavelle Hawkins. I know its early but what is your WR depth chart opening day?
I'll try to study Hawkins more in the coming days, but the quick take is this: he's a quick, nimble slot guy who is just 26 and ran well coming out of college. He has room to improve as a catcher, but my sense is that a change of scenery from Tennessee will be good for him.
Which 7th rounder has a better chance at landing on the final 53? Michael Buchanan or Steve Beauharnais? Both are pretty good football players that should eventually find the field somewhere.
I'll go Buchanon, Andrew. If you put on the Illinois game tape from 2011, you say to yourself "There's no way this guy will last until the 7th round." He did, of course, which could be a reflection of his 2012 performance. The Patriots have found quality pass rushers in the 7th round before (any Tully Banta-Cain fans out there), and Buchanon could stick because of his rush skills.
Hi Field, 12 WR's on the roster right now. Who is here openning day?
Dave, consider this answer subject to change, but as things currently stand: Amendola, Dobson, Boyce, Edelman, Jones, Slater. That leaves out Michael Jenkins, but I could also see him having a good offseason and sticking around. One other name to watch: Kamar Aiken.
Hi Field - What sort of insight can you give us on how players develop "value on special teams" at the NFL level? I'd think most college top-level players wouldn't typically handle the grunt work on these overlooked-but-important units. Do players volunteer to the coaches (especially those on the roster bubble) that they want to help on ST? Does the staff try to recruit folks on the roster to play special teams? Thanks....
Brian, many coaches tell the story of how special teams is the way in for rookies in the NFL. Special teams come down to toughness, smarts, instincts, speed and willingness to do the dirty work. How do players develop their special teams ability? Becoming a reliable tackler, showing a consistent desire to do it. I'm not sure there's a formula beyond that for improving, some of it is just about the continued desire to impact that phase of the game.
Hi Field, thanks for chatting with us. The Pats seem to value positional versatility a lot; my question is whether that can ever slow the development of a player, if they're being moved around and tried in different roles, rather than getting more focused reps?
Fair question, Matt, as learning multiple positions is a tall order for a player. Coaches love positional versatility for obvious reasons (a favorite quote of Bill Parcells was "the more you can do, the more you can do"), but they understand that putting too much on a rookie's plate can be counterproductive. It's a balance, but the Patriots know enough that if it's having a negative impact to stick with one position.
We're coming down to the home-stretch here. Great questions from everyone today. Now it's time to go into our "two minute offense" with some rapid-fire answers.
How much do you think Marcus Cannon plays this year?
I see him as the team's top interior line reserve and a back-up right tackle too. All about the health of those in front of him.
Field - I'm a little nervous about the interior of the DL. It's Vince and a bunch of JAG's (as Mr. Parcells would say). Vince has become the TB12 of the defense - meaning that he is the one guy who we absolutely cannot afford to get hurt. And he is on the wrong side of 30...
I think Tommy Kelly will prove to be a solid addition, Horace.
Hey Field, hope all is well. Who would you say out of our rookie class last year made the biggest improvement from day one to our last game against the Ravens? Thanks.
Considering how little experience he had, Nate Ebner came a long way. In terms of role, hard to argue against Dennard.
Any update on Aaron Hernandez's rehab from surgery? Also how what about Jake Ballard coming back from the ACL?
I suspect both will be on the field for training camp. No information on that, but that seems like a reasonable guess.
Hey Field - love the scouting reports. When can we expect a write-up on Ian Sluss? He's a great talent that I'm guessing the Pats will resign now that they have a couple open roster spots. The heir to Jerod Mayo perhaps?
Zach: Haven't seen enough of Sluss. We'll see if the Patriots opt to re-sign him down the line.
Welcome aboard, Field! I am wondering how you would sum up your experience at ESPN Boston so far? Is that exactly what you have envisioned? I appreciate your in-depth analysis on technical aspects of football, and am looking forward to reading more every week.
Put it this way, MarkJ, I'm a lucky guy. Just like I imagine rookies feel fortunate to be drafted by the Patriots, I'm the same with with being a part of the ESPN Boston team.
What do you think the chances are that Brandon LLoyd will be back?
Don't see that one happening, Rick, although I suspect he'll sign somewhere.
Hey Field! I know it's (extremely) early, but based on what we know now, who of these players makes the 53-man roster? Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, Ras-I Dowling or LeGarrette Blount?
I think all have a chance, Justin. Wouldn't surprise me to see 3 of those 4 make it.
Field, Who will be the starting wideout corp week 1 against buffalo?
Shouldn't I be asking you, Mrs. Cleo? :) I'll go with Amendola, Dobson and Edelman.
Hi Field,What does the salary cap look like at this point? Do we see more veterans coming to help the pass rush and secondary?
Upon last check, Scott, the Patriots had in the neighborhood of $8.6 million. Good shape for the rest of the offseason.
Alright, everyone, that's all the time I've got for today. I want to thank all of those who submitted questions and throw an apology out to those who I was unable to get to. The passion from our readers is, in my opinion, unmatched. You guys make covering this team fun, so a big thank you for all of that. Hope we can do this again sometime down the line. Catch up soon.