Things are starting to slow down when it comes to the New England Patriots and the NFL. With offseason camps complete, and the first public practice of training camp set for Thursday July 24, this is the one time on the calendar when most coaches can break away for vacation.
The Patriots mailbag will do the same, scheduled to return Tuesday, July 15 through the rest of 2014.
Until then, let's touch on a wide range of topics:
Hey Mike, a lot of talk has been about the adjustment Darrelle Revis has had to make and how he looks, but given the fact that he's arguably the best DB in the league I'm not too worried about him. Not a lot of talk on Brandon Browner though, How has he looked, is he fitting in well with everyone, and do we have to be worried about another suspension? With that being said, I'm very excited about the defense this year. -- Troy (Skokie, Ill.)
A: Troy, I've been impressed with Browner from the six practices we've watched this spring. How that translates to the field after he misses the first four regular-season games due to suspension remains to be seen. What stands out to me is his size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and how he can get his hands on receivers and forcefully re-route them. It's also tough to throw the ball over him because of his size. If he continues to play like he did in spring camps once the pads come on -- and given how he excels with a physical style of play, there's fair reason to think he will -- I can envision him helping the team. Safety Devin McCourty has also pointed out that he's fit in well to the overall program.
Q: With the numbers and talent of the projected starters in the secondary, which would you say is more true? 1. The lack of reps (season & camp) will hurt the development of the younger guys like Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. 2. The ability to learn from guys like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty will speed the development of our younger corners. -- Mike (Bentonville, Ark.)
A: Mike, I'd lean more toward No. 2. I think the competition level increases and being around a player like Revis can only help. With Browner suspended for the first four games of the season, the Patriots will need those younger players. I don't anticipate the presence of Revis and Browner resulting in a step back for them. I think the coaching staff feels good about the depth at the position.
A: Mike, it looks that way to me based on what we saw in spring camps. A lot can still change, but I think it's headed in that direction. Both players might be limited a bit in training camp when the team works in pads, but that doesn't mean they won't be ready on opening day. It would just be carefully managing their situations.
Q: Considering Aaron Dobson seems to be anchored at the X-WR, Julian Edelman at the slot, and Danny Amendola at Z, and since Brandon LaFell is a bigger WR who is also a good blocker, do you think he can play some of the F-TE (move) role? -- Phillip Chicola (Guatemala)
A: Phillip, I think each of the receivers mentioned has some flexibility to line up at multiple spots. But if we were to lock them into roles, I'd switch Amendola (from the Z to the slot) and Edelman (from the slot to the Z) and lock LaFell into a receiving role right now. Nothing we've seen at this point indicates that LaFell will be a factor as a tight end -- he's taken all his practice reps at receiver. That could always change, but I don't see it right now.
Q: Hey Mike, have you heard anything new regarding the possible contract extension for Devin McCourty? -- Carlos (Puerto Rico)
A: Carlos, as of late last week, there was nothing imminent. All that's happened at this point is that the club has reached out to let McCourty know it is something it is interested in exploring. That interest is obviously two-sided, and I still believe it's more a matter of "when" than "if" it happens. But as we know with contract negotiations, sometimes it can be a bumpy road to get to the finish line.
A: Bryce, that's a big jump for Stork, but I think he'll be a challenger for the role. It will just be a matter of how fast he can get up to speed. I noticed the coaches were lining him up at left guard at times in spring practices, as part of increasing his positional versatility, but he is their hopeful center of the future. We should see a lot of him in the preseason.
Q: What is the status of Armond Armstead? Will he ever suit up for the Patriots? -- Brian (Los Angeles)
A: Brian, I think we've reached the point where the team probably needs to move forward without counting on Armstead. My sense is that medical/health issues are going to prevent him from contributing at this point. I thought Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal added some context to consider when it comes to Armstead.
Q: Hey Mike, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and James White seem like locks to make the roster. Who do you think grabs the fourth RB spot when training camp begins? Is it possible they carry 5? -- Kevin Hartmann (Lincoln. Neb.)
A: Kevin, I think five seems a bit rich, especially when considering that fullback James Develin has a good chance to stick around as well and wouldn't count against that number. I'd lean toward Brandon Bolden in the No. 4 spot at this time because of his contributions on special teams. Let's see if any of the undrafted and first-year running backs -- Stephen Houston, Roy Finch or Jonas Gray -- can put some pressure on that group.
Q: Last year, the RB corps seemed to have clear roles for each player. Stevan Ridley as the feature back; Vereen the passing specialist; Blount the physical mauler and Bolden the ST and 3rd down back. Of course it all changed by the end of the season. However, I still wonder if New England has that power back type, like Blount was last year. Or do you think they'd be willing to take a look at a guy like Michael Bush to fill that role? -- Phillip Chicola (Guatemala)
A: Phillip, I don't think they're in the market for a veteran back right now. Specific to Bush, while he has the size that compares to Blount, I don't think he necessarily runs like a big back all the time. My sense is that the Patriots are content to go with what they have right now. An injury could alter the picture.
Q: Mike, do you think the Pats will miss tight end Matt Mulligan in the blocking game? For $800k-900k, don't you think they should have kept a veteran for blocking situations? Mulligan landed in Chicago, but for short $$$$. Why wouldn't they keep a guy who can help the running game, has no injuries and doesn't get in trouble off the field? -- Eric (Newton, Mass.)
A: Eric, I liked what Mulligan brought to the team last year -- 21.6 percent of the offensive snaps played, toughness at the line of scrimmage and, on a lighter note, a Hulk Hogan-issued championship belt in the locker room. Given the current personnel at tight end, I think he could still help the team. At the same time, I don't see the role as one that will be overly challenging to fill. Mulligan was essentially like a sixth offensive lineman, and maybe the Patriots keep an extra young blocker up front to account for the void.
Q: Why do you think Ryan Mallett was being held back in practice? -- Al (Venice, Fla.)
A: Al, Mallett was wearing a brace on his left knee, and I think that was the main reason for his limited workload.
Q: Mike, Patriots have a couple of new positional coaches this season. In your observations of OTAs and the minicamp, how do rate the transition to the new regime in terms of coach-player interactions? -- MarkJ (Japan)
A: Mark, this is a good question, and I'd focus on offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and defensive line coach Brendan Daly. I would put both into the high-energy, demanding, vocal-plus category. I watched DeGuglielmo closely during one drill last Thursday, and, at one point, he had two of the rookies go through it again because he didn't like what he saw.