Some leftovers from Thursday's weekly Patriots chat:
1. mt (bedford): When healthy Dane Fletcher was good last year, so why is he being counted out in the top linebacker mix?
MT, the question was who might start at linebacker in the 4-3 and the answer was that Jerod Mayo is a good place to start as a lock for one of the three spots (likely on the weakside). At that point, it sets up a question of who would be the middle linebacker. I chose Brandon Spikes, as he was playing over Fletcher late last season. Then on the strong side, the top options would likely be Rob Ninkovich or Dont'a Hightower. I think Fletcher is a good football player who could fit at any of the spots, and he provides quality depth and a special teams presence. He shouldn't be overlooked.
2. Peyton (Aspen): How has Joseph Addai looked in camp, still got the wheels? He could be a big help to Ridely and Vereen.
Peyton, I didn't come away from the practices with a good feeling for how much speed Addai has at this point of his career, but I did get a good sense for the positive impact he's already had on young rushers Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. It was a topic on which I wrote a longer story (link here). I think Addai's greatest value could potentially come in pass protection, which can be easy to overlook when analyzing the position. Bill Belichick noted that Addai comes to New England with experience in both big games and a multiple offense, which are viewed as assets by the staff.
3. BK (Oakland): I have read before you think McCourty will have a bounce-back season. What specifically leads you to believe that? I thought his difficulties had to do with a different defensive scheme. Will the Pats adjust the scheme or do you believe McCourty will make the necessary adjustments he started to make towards the end of last season?
BK, the main reasons I feel McCourty is primed for a bounceback season are: 1) Better health; 2) Projected better safety play behind him; 3) Another season to perfect his technique. While there were times we could point to the scheme as a contributor to his struggles (when the team played man early in the year, it didn't always look like a great fit), I think that's too easy of an answer when looking at the overall body of work. Another factor is that McCourty, in only his third season, already strikes me as a consummate pro, mature beyond his years. At the least, anyone investing in him knows they are going to get everything he has from a dedication and hard work perspective.
4. Matt (Pennsylvania) Do you think there's any chance that with Lloyd, Welker, Slater, and most likely Gaffney, that Branch and Stallworth both make the roster? The desire between the Pats and Branch to come back together again, along with his rapport with Brady, makes it tough for me to see him getting the boot. Stallworth also seems like he's got something left in the tank and is familiar with McDaniels. Perhaps they keep all of the above and are able to give rest to the older receivers by rotating?
Matt, it's not out of the question, although my thought is that it's a longshot in the sense that it's tough to keep receivers who project as 3, 4 or 5 on your depth chart that don't provide significant special teams value. Maybe a team can keep one of them, possibly two, but Gaffney also isn't a special teamer. One factor that could alter the picture is if Stallworth is utilized on kickoff returns, which we saw in organized team activities. It's a role he hasn't filled in the regular season since 2003, but might be something to keep on the radar.