A few "extra points" from our weekly Patriots chat:
Marc (Malden, MA): Vince Wilfork has been a great player and a great Patriot, but he's also a run-stopping NT in a league where run-stopping NTs just aren't a factor anymore. It's about defending the pass.
Marc, Wilfork might not be a penetrating 3-technique, but he's still valuable on passing downs with an interior push that often commands the attention of multiple blockers. Ask any defensive end and many will say that their rush is aided by a good inside rush. Wilfork's presence also adds flexibility in game-planning so if the Patriots want to play a lighter box, but stay as stout as possible against the run, he's a key piece. When we consider that Wilfork played 81.3 percent of the defensive snaps in 2012, the last season in which he was fully healthy, I think it shows he's more than just a run-stuffing nose tackle when fully healthy.
Earl M. (Marlborough, Mass.): Devin McCourty is grossly underrated as a safety, and he will be theoretically better with 2 press corners funneling passes into the middle. But I remain concerned about the second safety spot. Will the Patriots' obtain another safety via free agency or draft, or will they stick with the young Duron Harmon, who had a nice start, but is unproven.
Earl, they created that void themselves by releasing veteran safety Steve Gregory on Feb. 28, so I do think we'll see an addition there at some point, whether it's the draft or free agency. Specific to Harmon, he exceeded my expectations in a part-time role in 2013 and would think he'll compete for the starting job next to McCourty. But I could envision the Patriots looking at someone like Washington State's Deone Bucannon, a big, hard-hitting safety, in this year's draft. At 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, he could be that intimidating presence some, such as Rodney Harrison, have been calling for.
Michael (Malden, Mass.) Hey Mike, I have this feeling that Brandon LaFell is going to flourish here. I am somewhat concerned by his hot and cold games throughout his career but I think the presence of Tom Brady will be a difference-maker for him. Thoughts?
Michael, that's always an X factor with any receiver coming to New England -- the combination of Brady and a pretty fine-tuned offensive system provide a nice opportunity to raise individual performance to previously unattainable levels. I think of Wes Welker when he first arrived here in 2007. Or even how the club helped revive Jabar Gaffney's career in 2006. But just because those factors are in place doesn't mean it's a given; the player still has to make it happen. LaFell has some good things going for him, but I think it's still a bit of a projection here.
Dave (Charlotte): Do you see Billy O'Brien making a trade for Ryan Mallett if the Texans do not take a quarterback with their No. 1 pick?
I don't see it, Dave, especially after the Texans signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal with $4 million in bonuses and guarantees on Thursday. If the Texans go after a young quarterback via trade, I'd think it would be Oakland's Matt McGloin, whom O'Brien coached at Penn State.
Ben B (Bar Harbor): Mike, do you believe Jake Bequette will ever make an impact with this team? Is that why he is still on the roster?
Ben, it looks like a long shot at this time, but the Patriots obviously still think there's a chance. The one thing a team doesn't want to do is make a mistake by giving up on a player too early. It's not a carbon copy example, but someone like Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds comes to mind as a player who fits in this type of category. A second-round pick in 2010, I don't think he really came on until 2013 when he played at a level that warranted a transition tag designation from Pittsburgh this offseason. I'm not saying Bequette is Worilds, but more using it as an example of how players sometimes develop at different rates.