We're right in the middle of the organized team activity part of the offseason, as the Patriots have 10 sessions that lead into mandatory minicamp June 11-13. While players continue to put in the work in these voluntary OTAs -- the fourth, fifth and sixth are scheduled for this week -- the majority of attention here in the region is focused on the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup.
So I thought I'd lead off this week's Patriots mailbag with a little change-up and share thoughts on what I like about the Bruins from a fan's perspective, with a football twist.
Depth -- Remarkable to see the fourth line come through the way it did in the series against the Rangers. The "next-man-up" philosophy is big with the Patriots, as is the idea of getting contributions from the entire 53-man roster, which can be a critical ingredient in championships clubs.
Krug -- Pressed into emergency action, rookie defenseman Torey Krug was one of the big stories of the Bruins' series victory over the Rangers. What a shot. He falls right into the Faulk/Welker/Woodhead category of players who might not have the desired physical makeup but who play the game with an infectious style that is easy to root for.
60 minutes plus -- That comeback in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs? The true definition of a 60-minute effort, and then some, and we've seen a few of those over the years in Foxborough.
Rask -- A hot goalie can carry a team, as we saw with Tim Thomas when the Bruins last won the Cup. Just as there might be a greater level of comfort entering a playoff game with Tom Brady at quarterback, Rask has proven to be up to the task.
Chara -- A towering presence on the blue line, he's the steadying presence on defense who logs the most ice time. Wilfork-eque. An underrated superstar in the city.
Julien -- An unflappable head coach who sticks to his often-unpopular beliefs with success, much to the chagrin of some know-it-all talk-radio hosts. Sound familiar?
OK, OK, I know what you're thinking. Stick to the football, pal. We'll do just that, while hoping for the best for the underdog Bruins in the next series against the Penguins.
Here we go...
Q. As we all know, defense wins championships. Do you think the Patriots will have enough pressure coming from the d-line and off the edges? We simply cannot let the QB sit back in the pocket, especially Peyton Manning. -- Eric (Richmond, Va.)
A. Eric, naturally this is a tough one to answer right now, but I think they should be better than they were in 2012 if everyone is healthy. It makes sense to think that the continuity of returning essentially the same group of starters leads to better results, which assumes there are no unexpected dropoffs in performance and players such as Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower develop as hoped. As we know, pressure is a big part of playing good defense, but we also can't overlook coverage because no team is going to be able to pressure on every snap. So sometimes you have to rely on your coverage to disrupt the opponents' passing game. Along those lines, the Patriots' entire secondary returns intact, with some notable additions like veteran safety Adrian Wilson and draft picks Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. I think the foundation for success is in place.
Q. Mike, over and over I hear that Wes Welker is durable and Danny Amendola is not, based on games missed, yet they each had a season-ending injury. Welker's came in the last game of the season and Amendola's early on, but does timing of an injury affect how injury-prone a player is? If Welker blew out his ACL in week 1 and missed a season, would we still say he is durable? If Amendola broke his clavicle in week 17 and missed no games, would we then say that Amendola IS durable because the injury didn't result in missed games? This stance isn't logical yet I haven't heard any analyst address this. -- Tom (Portstmough, N.H.)
A. Tom, the timing of the injuries certainly factors in to the perception of both players -- Welker as durable, Amendola as injury prone. I think what Amendola has working against him is that he hasn't played in the full 16 games in each of the last two years (1 game in 2011, 11 in 2012), so you now have two consecutive seasons where the injury questions linger, sort of like Patriots cornerback Ras-I Dowling. If Amendola had played the full 16 last year, I don't think the injury-prone label (which we can argue isn't very fair) would be as big a part of the discussion as it is now.
Q. Mike, there seems to be a ton of buzz around Aaron Dobson this year -- more so than any drafted receiver I can remember. What sets him apart from other receivers we've drafted in the past like Taylor Price or Chad Jackson? -- Craig (Hurlburt Field, Fla.)
A. Craig, we'll see if the end result is different from what we saw with Price or Jackson, but I think the one area I'd highlight that might make him different at this point is football acumen. Seems like a pretty sharp guy who will ultimately be able to grasp the complex concepts of an NFL passing game. When I think back to Price and Jackson, they both had all the physical tools. That wasn't the question. But there is a lot more to it than that.
Q. Hey Mike, I liked the breakdown on the blog of how many coaches each team has. Definitely interesting that the Patriots are at the bottom of the list with 17. Still, 17 seems like a lot of coaches. Can we get a breakdown of what responsibilities each coach has and how long he has been with the team? -- Dave B. (San Francisco)
A. Dave, I think part of the reason Bill Belichick prefers a smaller staff is clarity of message. The more coaches a team has, sometimes it can lead to the message from the top being distorted. Also, as Field Yates pointed out, if we go back to when Bill Belichick first began coaching in the NFL, staffs were much smaller at that time. So part of it is a product of where Belichick has come from as a coach. Here is this year's staff (17 plus the hire of Jerry Schuplinski):
Bill Belichick -- head coach (39th NFL season, 14th season as head coach; 15th with Patriots)
Josh McDaniels -- offensive coordinator/QBs (13th NFL season, 10th with Patriots)
Brian Daboll -- coaching assistant/OL (15th NFL season, 8th with Patriots)
Ivan Fears -- running backs (23rd NFL season, 17th with Patriots)
George Godsey -- tight ends (3rd NFL season, 3rd with Patriots)
Chad O'Shea -- wide receivers (11th NFL season, 5th with Patriots)
Dante Scarnecchia -- assistant head coach/offensive line (32nd NFL season, 30th with Patriots)
Jerry Schuplinski -- coaching assistant (1st NFL season, 1st with Patriots)
Matt Patricia -- defensive coordinator (10th NFL season, 10th with Patriots)
Josh Boyer -- cornerbacks (8th NFL season, 8th with Patriots)
Brian Flores -- safeties (10th NFL season, 10th with Patriots)
Patrick Graham -- defensive line (5th NFL season, 5th with Patriots)
Pepper Johnson -- linebackers (27th NFL season, 14th with Patriots)
Steve Belichick -- coaching assistant (2nd NFL season, 2nd with Patriots)
Scott O'Brien -- special teams (23rd NFL season, 5th with Patriots)
Joe Judge -- special teams assistant (2nd NFL season, 2nd with Patriots)
Harold Nash -- strength and conditioning (9th NFL season, 9th with Patriots)
Moses Cabrera -- assistant strength and conditioning (3rd NFL season, 3rd with Patriots)
Q. Who appears to be coaching up the wide receivers, Brian Daboll, Chad O'Shea or both? -- Jim K. (Kennebunk, Maine)
A. Jim, based on what we saw last week, it was O'Shea. Daboll was working most closely with the offensive linemen.
Q. Mike, is the fact the Patriots currently have eight players on the roster from one university an NFL record or something like that? -- MarkJ (Japan)
A. Mark, this is something that was touched upon a bit on Sunday. A big part of it is that NFL rosters are currently now at the 90-man limit. The Patriots and Buccaneers both have eight players apiece from one college (Rutgers), which is a league high. The real key will be how many players from the same school are on the final 53-man roster.
Q. I have a theory with the Rutgers additions. Obviously, Belichick has taken his son under his wing and wants him to feel comfortable and respected by the players he is eventually going to be put in charge of coaching in some sort of capacity. Do you think that Steve's eventual role as a coach and his familiarity with the Rutgers players is playing a part in Bill taking them onto the team? Also, do you think Belichick's trust in Steve's familiarity with these players and knowledge of their character has led him to pick up these players? -- Zadam A. (Toronto)
A. Zadam, while Steve Belichick has a bright future ahead of him, I'd say it's a small part of the process. More than anything, I see it as a result of the 90-man roster, and having a comfort level with players who have come out of Greg Schiano's similarly demanding program.
Q. Hi Mike, do you or any reporters ever get the chance to ask a player why he chooses to miss OTAs? My question is geared to Brandon Spikes and I am disappointed at his absence. I believe he brings attitude and value to the defense and Pats and is a player that "makes plays" and seems to have a nose for the football. -- Ken (Long Island)
Ken, this is sure to come up with Spikes when/if he reports to mandatory minicamp June 11-13. These organized team activities are voluntary, so Spikes is within his rights, although his absence stands out a bit from this perspective when considering that he is the only player not in attendance.
Q. Hey Mike, I know you are probably over the John Abraham talk, but the teams are starting to finish out their rosters and there is a lot less money on the table for these vets. Is there a figure you think we could get Abraham at that's cheap enough for the Pats to take? Do we have enough cap to get him at $2.5 million? Or do you think that he will find a more lucrative deal elsewhere? -- Alex W. (Des Moine, Iowa)
A. Alex, the Patriots have the cap room to make that type of signing, if that's what it would take. At this time, Abraham obviously doesn't have a comfort level with signing anywhere, so this looks like a situation that would carry into training camp and perhaps beyond. As we saw with Dwight Freeney signing with the Chargers after Melvin Ingram was injured, sometimes all it takes is an unexpected health issue for a team to up its offer. That's probably what Abraham is hoping for, whether it's in New England or elsewhere.
Q. Hey Mike, I was looking over the roster and was wondering what might be the possibility of bringing in another OT like Eric Winston to create some depth on our OL? -- Brad (Louisville, Kent.)
A. Brad, Winston is probably in that same category as Abraham, waiting on an injury-type situation to spark an offer that is worth signing for an opportunity to start. With Sebastian Vollmer entrenched here, I'm not sure this is the best destination from Winston's perspective.
Q. Hey Mike, I can't help but notice how much BIGGER the Patriots' offense has become this offseason. Assuming LeGarrette Blount (6 foot, 247 pounds) sticks and the combo of Aaron Dobson (6-foot-3), Josh Boyce (6 foot), and Jake Ballard (6-foot-6) can contribute, this offense seems much more difficult to "push around" from a size perspective than they have in recent years. Combine those guys with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Stevan Ridley, and Danny Amendola (a bigger version of Welker) and you have one intimidating-looking offense led by one of the game's most lethal quarterbacks. Hopefully this translates to bringing the fight to some of the better defenses in the playoffs. Thoughts? -- Jonathan (Quincy, Mass.)
A. Makes sense to me, Jonathan. Let's see how it all plays out, but certainly a little more power at running back with the Blount addition, a little more length at receiver with Dobson if he develops, and more of that traditional in-line tight end with Ballard, who at 275 pounds is about as big as they come at that position.
Q. How much has Ryan Mallett progressed since entering the league? Do you see him as having the potential to be more than serviceable at the NFL level? -- Craig S. (Milwaukee, Wisc.)
A. Craig, coaches obviously see more than we do as media members, which is why the only thing I can judge Mallett on is preseason performance and training camp. This is a big year for him to prove that he can be more than serviceable. At this time, I don't think he's proven that he's a quarterback a team can build its franchise around. That could always change as he enters his third NFL season.
Q. Mike, do you get the sense after reading Tom Brady's recent interview that the Patriots are a fun place to work? Say what you want about being a business and athletes are professionals, one of the keys to any successful business is morale. If employees feel appreciated, if they feel that they have a role in the success of the organization and there is mutual respect, the business has a better chance at succeeding. Look at the 2001 team, and the 2003-2004 teams, and the climate in Foxborough -- all for one, one for all to the core. Veterans wanted to come here. They have three rings to show for it. Now? Brady sounds cold and clinical. I don't see or feel the passion. The guy is throwing to laundry, not teammates. And yes, because of Brady and Belichick they will be successful. They will win the division. The Krafts will make a lot of money for a playoff game or two. But when was the last time they won a CHAMPIONSHIP? In my opinion, the way the Pats have conducted "business" the last several years (Adam Viniateri, Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker, and even Kyle Love) is responsible for a "look out for me" type of environment in Foxborough. Can you win that way? Apparently not. Winning to me means CHAMPIONSHIPS, not playoff appearances. In my opinion, it's the Krafts who are leading by example. They used to be fans who became owners. Now they are owners who look at the players and FANS as a commodity. Thoughts? -- Dan (Boston)
A. Dan, there is a lot to digest here. I think it's too harsh. First, if we're going to talk about the Patriots not winning a championship since 2004, we're going to have most of the league in the same category. I think that perspective and context is very important; when I read the question it's almost as if there is a feeling that championships are easy to win based on what the team accomplished in 2001 and 2003-2004. That just isn't the case; a lot of things have to fall into place. Also, if David Tyree doesn't catch a ball on his helmet, or if they come up with a stop against the Giants four years later in the Super Bowl, or a Tom Brady-Wes Welker connection is made, everything is different? I just don't buy it. Then you see players like safety Adrian Wilson wanting to sign here. Or Aqib Talib re-signing. Vince Wilfork. Logan Mankins ... it just doesn't add up to me. As for the way the Patriots conduct business, it can be tough at times, no one is arguing that. But I also remember the late '90s and how the Patriots made some regrettable financial decisions in which the Krafts were leading with their hearts (e.g. big-money contract extensions for guards Todd Rucci and Max Lane). It's hard to strike that balance and they're not always right. Specific to what goes on behind closed doors, Bill Belichick has even said it himself; he's not the easiest coach to play for because of the demands of the program. But if players want to win football games and put themselves in position to win a championship, I think we've seen that this remains a destination for them.
Q. Hey Mike, 2013 marks the 50-year anniversary of the Boston Patriots inaugural season playing at Fenway Park (1963-1968). I know it's too late this year to do, but what do you think of the Patriots playing one game, maybe in 2018, at Fenway Park in Boston Patriots throwbacks against the Jets? I think it would be such a great experience and something the Krafts and NFL should consider. -- Justin (Oxford, Mass.)
A. That would be fun, Justin. But I think the big issue would be money, because we know how much NFL owners in all cities value the "gate" at home games.
Q. Mike, there's been some talk on this blog about Armond Armstead, but I haven't seen much about Jason Vega. Did you see him during the OTAs? Anything to share, first impressions? -- Mark W. (Chicago)
A. Mark, there was nothing in particular of note with Vega, who faces longer odds to earn a roster spot in a crowded group of edge players. Because there is no contact, and players aren't wearing full pads, it's difficult to make some decisive judgments about how players look. I think the biggest thing for Vega is staying on top of the schemes mentally and taking advantage of any repetitions he might get behind the top players. More to come on him in training camp, for sure.