Some leftovers from Thursday's weekly Patriots chat:
1. Eddie (Rome, Italy) How many RB are the Patriots going to keep on the roster? Vereen and Ridley appear to be a lock. Do you see one of Woodhead and Addai not making the roster?
Eddie, I think we'll see a minimum of four backs on the 53-man roster, and agree that Vereen and Ridley are locks. One question that Bill Belichick might consider is if he keeps exactly four, would he be comfortable if the fourth back is a fullback? I think that is risky, so if I was making a projection right now, I'd put Woodhead and Addai on the roster (assuming rookie free agent Brandon Bolden doesn't emerge and instead lands on the practice squad). Then a possible fullback becomes a fifth option, if the team goes in that direction at all.
2. Chris C. (Kansas City, MO): It seems a lot has been put on the return of Josh McDaniels and this offense however should we really expect to see drastic improvements?
Chris, I think bringing McDaniels back was a coup, but I'd also temper expectations that a coach in this situation can produce "drastic improvements." In the end, it will be more about the players. I thought Bill O'Brien did a solid job with the offense, and expect the same from McDaniels, who I believe is an excellent play-caller. A big part of the benefit of having McDaniels is that there isn't as much of a learning curve as there would be if you were breaking in a younger coach who was holding the job for the first time.
3. Blair (Cohasset): Hey Mike, I'm extremely interested to hear any news about Ras-I Dowling. He's got great size and seems to be well liked by the coaching staff. Do you have any ideas on the status of his health and where he projects to be on the backfield depth chart?
Blair, Dowling fully participated in all offseason activities, so he's positioned to be on the field for the first day of training camp July 26. My sense is that the Patriots would like him to seize the right cornerback job, allowing Kyle Arrington to move inside to the slot (where he played well in the Super Bowl when matched up against Victor Cruz). But Dowling will have to earn it. As long as he stays healthy, I could envision that scenario unfolding.
4. Logan (South Boston, MA): Can you comment a little about the LB corps? We are all excited about the addition of Dont'a Hightower, but I'm wondering if we'll see the Brandon Spikes of last year's postseason, or the lesser version that's been with us for two mediocre regular seasons? I think he's the kicker in what could turn this defense into something special.
Good question, Logan, and one that is difficult to answer at this point. Spikes was rehabbing his knee this offseason, so we didn't see him on the field during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. The way the game is being played these days, with the Patriots in sub packages 63 percent of the time during the 2011 regular season, it isn't trending in the direction of what would be considered Spikes' strength as a player (he's best in a downhill, physical thumper type of role). But toward the end of last season, we saw Spikes playing more in sub and he seemed to do OK with it. I think the big thing with him is consistency. Can he do it day after day, week after week? At this point, it's guesswork because there is nothing from the past two years that provides assurances it will happen.