Well, after two weeks of training camp and constant visits to Reiss’ Pieces for the latest observations on the team, we’re finally going to get a chance to see the newest edition of the Patriots with our own eyes.
Last week’s “McLaughlin Group” style was fun and I have no doubts we’ll do more of that format, but this week Scott couldn’t put it together because of some silly thing called work. Bah. What’s more important than talking Patriots football? Nothing. I’ll need to have a talk with him about his priorities. In the meantime, here are some issues from the week that warrant further discussion.
Monday saw several key Patriots hit the practice field for the first time in camp. Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour chief among them. Getting these guys back was a huge boost for the team and the fan base. I’m not sure though, what I enjoyed more, having these guys back, or the fact that everyone in the media was so concerned about pinning down the day that Seymour would return that they completely missed the boat on all the other guys. Thoughts on this, and the returning players?
Scott: I can’t say much – last week, I said the Patriots “will likely be without bellwether Rodney Harrison to open the season,” for no other reason than I bought the hype hook, line and sinker. Idiotic. As far as the returnees, one word: fan-freaking-tastic. God, this was a good week to be a Patriots fan, with Rodney, Seymour, Dan Koppen, Randall Gay and Daniel Graham all making it back to the field . You can’t overstate what raw nerve Harrison – even a recuperating one – does for the defense’s head and heart, and Koppen fortifies an already solid line group. I’m probably just being ridiculous when I hope for a healthy Randall Gay to make a true Blue difference in the secondary, considering that seemingly, there has rarely been a healthy Randall Gay.
Watch – Gay will now go on a consecutive game streak to rival Cal Ripken.
Greg: I don’t have much thought on the media missing the boat on the returning guys. I suppose everyone did and the Pats are pretty tight lipped. Rodney Harrison was a definite surprise, can’t blame the media there. The bottom line is, having these guys back is great for the Pats obviously. I think its still key for them to get Chad Jackson back practicing and getting game experience and clearly to get Branch into camp as well. Do these things and I like the Pats roster and how camp is progressing. Some tinkering can be done, but they look pretty solid top to bottom to me.
Mike Felger has made a lot of comments here in the second week of camp decrying the Patriots perceived lack of depth, especially at the wide receiver and linebacker position. We’ve been talking this week about this topic, and I know both you Scott and you Greg have thoughts on Felger’s stance. How is he being an idiot?
Scott: I object to Felger’s premise for two reasons. One, it’s not a story, not yet. How can it be a story when training camp is fourteen days old? Did Felger know what Roman Phifer was going to mean to the Patriots over three championship seasons when he first arrived in 2001? Or was he just a ‘scrap heap acquisition’ then? And since when are JJ Stokes and Dedric Ward fondly-remembered ‘quality vets’? I don’t remember any flowery pieces on the Pats great depth at receiver when they were here. He’s exaggerating, which is my second objection: let’s not pretend that Felger doesn’t also work in radio, which thrives on just this sort of – ahem – embellishment.
Greg: Felger is engaging in serious revisionist history here. I am unclear where he thinks he is correct.
Lets start in 2001, a Super Bowl winning team. Has he checked the receivers they had in camp that year? If you could transport yourself back to August, 2001, Terry Glenn was suspended and wouldn’t really play a role that year. David Patten was an unknown quantity more so than Reche Caldwell. They had guys who never produced like Charles Johnson, Burt Emmanuel and Torrance Small in camp and expected to produce. Troy Brown was the only legitimate guy, as far as anyone knew, at that point. I’ll take this year’s crew when Deion returns. Much more talented if that happens and Jackson can get on the field.
Maybe Felger forgets, but you had guys like Greg Robinson-Randall and Jace Saylor starting the opening game. Guys like Grant Williams, Riddick Parker and Grey Ruegemer were key backups. He calls this depth? The tight ends were Jermaine Wiggins and Rod Rutledge? Sorry, I’ll take Ben Watson, Daniel Graham and David Thomas over that crew. Running back? Forget it, I’ll take Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk over Antowain Smith, J.R. Redmond and Faulk any day of the week. And that 2001 team won the Super Bowl. Where is the depth of the past Felger is pining for?
How about 2003? Well, two of the guys Felger claims were the depth he means, J.J. Stokes and Dedric Ward weren’t even on the roster on opening day in 2003. I don’t know how Felger can claim the depth was obvious to him in August of 2003. Those guys didn’t even play a game for the Pats until November of 2003. Is Felger claiming the Pats can’t make November pick ups this year if they need them?
And what of Dan Koppen? He was a 5th round pick in 2003. Nobody knew he’d produce. The Pats have two second day offensive line picks like him in camp this year, Ryan O’Callaghan and Dan Stevenson. Are we supposed to trust Felger’s personnel evaluation skills that they aren’t Koppens too? I don’t think so. He has no idea just as he had no idea Koppen could fill in in August of 2003?
Someone should ask Felger who the Pats starting nose tackle was on this date in camp in 2003? Ahh, the heck with it, I’ll give him the answer since his memory is apparently failing him. It was a fight between Rick Lyle and Ken Kocher. Ted Washington wouldn’t have been on the team if Felger had held the roster to the same standard the first week of camp he is this year back in 2003. He was traded for just before the regular season. Where is this depth Felger claims existed in early August 2003? In camp 2003, a backup offensive lineman the Pats were counting on, Bill Conaty, got put on IR in camp, and another, Brendan Stai retired. That hasn’t happened this year. The QBs behind Brady? Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury. Sorry, Matt Cassel is better depth. The running backs in 2003? Antowain Smith, Kevin Faulk and Mike Cloud. Again, more depth with Dillon, Maroney and Faulk. Tight end? Please. In 2003 it was Daniel Graham, Christian Fauria and Fred Baxter. Again, that doesn’t compare to Graham, Watson and Thomas. How about linebacker that Felger finds so lacking in 2006? In 2003, Matt Chatham started numerous games for the Pats. Is Barry Gardner that much worse than Matt Chatham? I’d argue he’s better and more experienced. Roman Phifer’s career was nearly over. Perhaps they were deeper at this one position back then. But if the Pats can add a veteran or two before camp ends, just as they added Washington and other players later on in 2003 at other positions, then what’s all the screeching about? At safety where Felger points to having Eugene Wilson as depth when Milloy was released? No one even thought of that until week two of the regular season against Philadelphia. At this point in camp, Wilson WASN’T safety depth and hadn’t played at all there. Whose to say the Pats can’t figure out similar contingency plans in week two at other positions if need be this year? No one should be able to. Unless you are trying to pump up a failing radio station and apparently suffer from amnesia.
The bottom line is Felger is being an idiot. Its too early to say the Pats don’t have depth. History, PATRIOTS RECENT HISTORY, tells us that. Just take a look at past media guides and try to remember what was going on in early August 2001, 2002, 2003, whenever and you’ll see Felger is bringing up issues that just aren’t ripe. And he’s making a fool of himself.
Bruce: Hmm, I think Felger touched a nerve with Greg on this issue. I agree completely. Now before this all gets twisted out of context, I think it’s important to note that no one here is saying that the Patriots positively have great depth this season. The point of all of this is to say that it is way too early to say that the team is lacking in depth. Felger clearly seems to be looking for something to knock the team for, and has decided this is how to do it. Check back in four months and we’ll see if the team depth really is as poor as Felger says it is.
It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Randall Gay on the field. Could be be capable of winning the starting CB spot across from Ellis Hobbs and thus pushing Asante Samuel to nickelback? Or are we still of the mind that Eugene Wilson will be playing CB?
Scott: I’m going to stick with my theory that Wilson plays cornerback, though he’s been sneaking back to safety now and again this week. Like I said, I’m skeptical about Gay (not that there’s anything wrong with it) but then again, this is a guy that once played a lot of football in a tough situation for the Patriots, held up his end for the most part, and won a Super Bowl. If he stays upright, he’s got to help, but is he going to be in the first team mix right away? That might be too much to hope for from a guy that missed nearly all of last season. And Samuel’s been piling up interceptions like Paul Krause the last couple of days. I’d say on the whole – too soon to tell. That sounds kind of promising, in its own way. It can’t be as bad as last year.
Greg: Yes, Gay proved in 2004 when healthy he can be a solid starting NFL corner. He has the size and athletic ability and some critical game experience now. I feel this is a distinct possibility, though I don’t necessarily consider Hobbs the lock most do to be a starter either. I think Wilson will be one corner, but who the other one is being fought out between Samuel, Hobbs and Gay.
Bruce: I guess I’m the contrarian here. I just don’t see Wilson being a regular at cornerback. Like I said last week, I think his work there is just for added flexibility, as well as to give the backup safeties more time at that position in camp. I think the coaching staff would love to have Hobbs and Gay as their starting corners with Samuel, Warfield and Chad Scott providing depth. Gay was something of a phenom in his first year with the club, ending up as a starter on a Super Bowl champion after not being drafted out of LSU. The coaches like his ability and intelligence, he’s just got to be able to stay on the field.
How do you feel about the prospect of going into the season with just two quarterbacks on the roster, one of them having very little actual game experience since high school? Is the extra roster spot worth the risk?
Bruce: Brady has to get hurt sometime, doesn’t he? The potential is here for a huge risk. I hate even thinking about it. I would say that the chances might be slim that the doomsday scenario in which Brady goes down comes about, but if it does, are we ready for the Matt Cassel era? As far as an experienced backup…I guess should the worst happen, they can always call over to Natick for some temp help, but I’d prefer that not happen. I’m glad I’m not making this call on whether the rarely-used third QB takes up the roster spot or if it goes to someone who might get on the field a little more often. Denver has done carried only two QB’s in the past, it’s worked OK for them.
Greg: There is a risk. Its not impossible both Brady and Cassel could get hurt in the same game. Even a close game. Maybe a game you have a lead in and just need a third guy who can at least go in and know the plays and maybe throw a screen or two to preserve a win. It wouldn’t be the first time two quarterbacks got hurt in the NFL. But, having said that, the extra roster spot may be worth the risk given the amount of injuries the Pats have suffered at positions such as defensive back and receiver in recent years. Having an extra guy at one of those spots is the type of risk/benefit analysis I am sure Belichick will be wrestling with at the end of camp.
Scott: I’ve just accepted it as a given (I know…those who forget history…). What does that third quarterback get you, anyway? And if Tom Brady goes down, let’s face it, we’re going to want to be entertained. I like what little we’ve seen of Cassel – as far as I’m concerned, he’s got just as much a chance of making a play in that dire situation as any of the guys that the Patriots could have reasonably brought in. If keeping two guys at quarterback allows them to keep a player they can use elsewhere, a player than can contribute every week, then why not? I’m already planning for two kickers and a quartet of tight ends.
If Tedy Bruschi is out, do the Patriots move Mike Vrabel back inside and let Tully Banta-Cain and Chad Brown try to take the outside, do they put Barry Gardner in Bruschi’s spot, or do they play more 4-3?
Scott: They’re still a 3-4 team. I’m not sure what the 4-3 does for this situation – you still don’t have Bruschi in the middle of your defense. So the base stays a 3-4. If Bruschi’s out for an extended period, I would think they may have to move Vrabel inside, which already gives this season a bit of a 2005 vibe. This time, though, Vrabel has the benefit of inside experience, and I’d rather have a heady guy inside helping to direct traffic in that shorthanded situation, and take my chances that Chad Brown can step in for a spell. Who knows about Barry Gardner, though? Its not like the guy hasn’t played in the league. If it’s a short term thing with Tedy, maybe Gardner gets a chance to get off the scrap heap, or even old dependable Don Davis. One thing for sure – the schedule isn’t exactly the killer 05 was, which should help.
Greg: I think they play more 4-3. The one day I was at practice, they seemed to be playing a lot more 4-3 then 3-4. And even when they did play 3-4, Gardner and Beisel, while not ideal, can hold the spot for 2-3 games I believe. Especially considering the first two opponents are weak. Adding a veteran linebacker by trade or the waiver wire before the end of camp is also a possibility.
Bruce: Here, let me do my Glenn Ordway impression: “I’m not sure that the Patriots don’t play BOTH a 3-4 AND a 4-3 while Bruschi is out, I think that it’s entirely possible that they spend some time working in the 3-4 and other times working in the 4-3. As long as they get eight in the box and stuff the run, I’m not sure that things won’t be OK for this team right now.” Actually, I think they stick with the 3-4. I think if they put Vrabel inside for a couple games that Chad Brown or Tully Banta Cain would be able to mount enough of a pass rush on the outside to make the defense effective. As Scott also mentions, the schedule doesn’t seem as tough to open the season either.
Besides Felger, any nominees for Mediot of the week?
Scott: If Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant actually used a Patriots head coach press conference to complain about getting scooped on Tedy Bruschi by Mike Reiss, then I guess it would have to be him. But in a late rally, Little Billy Simmons has decided (in his latest ESPN The Magazine column) that the Patriots must return to their red uniforms and Pat Patriot logo, because “I want my childhood back.” Oh for crissakes. I give up.
Greg: I’ll go with Craig Mustard, who apparently expressed a lack of ability and/or desire to discuss football, at all, in August. What is he doing on sports radio then? He has his summers off, if he is a fan, he should be excited by this time of year. If he isn’t a fan, that’s fine. But frankly he shouldn’t be on the air on a sports station.
Bruce: In a similar vein, I heard Mike Adams this week say he was forbidding Patriots talk on his program “because it’s way too early”. Right. The same shows that will talk Red Sox in December and January won’t talk Patriots in August because it’s too early. I think a more likely scenario is that it is much easier for Adams to call Manny Ramirez a bum for four hours than it is to actually know and be able to talk about anything relating to football and the Patriots. As for Greenberg, he might have had a legit gripe about the channels of communication, but by airing his grievances in a public press conference, he showed himself to be only interested in making a spectacle of himself.
So that wraps up another edition of the GDRV roundtable. Be sure to check back this weekend for a wrapup of the Patriots/Falcons game Friday night.