As many of you know, Mike Reiss is a sports reporter for the Boston Globe and scribes about the goings on with our favorite team, the New England Patriots. Mike's fact-based writing style provides us Patriots nuts with great reference material; you will often see him quoted here, more so than any other reporter.
I knew Mike Reiss was prolific, but I realized just how crazy he was during the Goodell/Specter press conferences. Reiss's Pieces , Mike's Patriots blog, was being updated constantly with the goings on. I think it really connected us fans with what was happening at the time.
I've done enough jabbering. Let's get to the Q&A.
A Colts blogger of ours did an excellent analysis suggesting it will take time for the Patriots's new acquisitions to add value to the defense. Have Belichick and the front office done enough to fill the gaps between the old guard (Bruschi, Vrabel, Seau) and the new guard (Crable, Mayo) while our rookies come up-to-speed?
Reiss: Time will obviously tell, but I'm going to say a definitive "yes" right now. One area that stood out to me at recent organized team activities was the versatility among many of the defenders, and how the Patriots have a lot of different parts that will allow them to do different things. I could be way off on this, but I think this defense is going to be a lot more dynamic than we've seen in recent years. I sense they're going to try some new things -- a little 3-4, a little 4-3, different sub-package combinations -- and I wonder how much the influence of new secondary coach Dom Capers is playing into that. It might be stuff that we don't see for a few weeks and then all of a sudden it pops up. In terms of the new defenders, I think Fernando Bryant looks like he's a starter at one cornerback spot. I also envision Jerod Mayo and Victor Hobson teaming up with Tedy Bruschi to provide a 1-2-3 combo at inside linebacker. I wouldn't be surprised if Brandon Meriweather is in the starting lineup at safety and much improved, with Tank Williams a major factor in sub packages, bridging the gap between safety and linebacker. On paper, the Patriots might be a bit weaker on the back end of the defense (it hurts to lose Asante Samuel), but I think they'll be stronger in the front seven. Overall, this rates as one of my top storylines going forward -- how will this defense be re-shaped? I might be reading the tea leaves wrong, but it's one reason I particularly enjoy following a Bill Belichick-coached team. Good luck figuring out what's coming next.
The Red Sox won the World Series, The Patriots narrowly missed having a perfect season and the Celtics are inches away from a championship. Have we become spoiled? Are our expectations now too high?
Reiss: Can I turn this question over to safety Rodney Harrison? Entering his 15th NFL season, Harrison was asked this exact question at the Patriots Charitable Foundation Golf Tournament on Monday. His answer: "No question, fans are spoiled. Having a baseball team, world champions. A football team. Now possibly with our basketball team. Just a great legacy and history of winning championships around here. Hopefully it continues." As for my own opinion, I think Harrison is probably right in some respects. I'd just add that it seems to me that many fans realize this is a great era of sports in town that we'll be reflecting upon fondly when we all look back. Given all the ups and downs of the Patriots since their inception -- not just wins and losses, but ownership instability and off-field incidents -- I don't think any long-time Patriots/football fan who lived through that can ever really be considered spoiled.
Tom Brady won't be around forever. Do you think the Patriots see something in Kevin O'Connell indicating he's the future of this franchise?
Reiss: I don't know if I would word it that way. Obviously, a team wouldn't draft a player in the third round, specifically a quarterback, if it didn't think it had a chance to be a big part of the future of the franchise. But in this case, I think it's as much as being a No. 2 as it is the possibility of being a future starter. More than 60 quarterbacks started at least one game last year in the NFL. That's an astronomical number, and a reminder of the importance of the backup spot. Can Matt Cassel be that guy? I don't think anyone knows the answer, because it's a question that can only be answered if he's thrust into that role, and he hasn't been. So in that case, I like the idea of improving your odds by adding a highly touted player to the mix. I also like the idea that Cassel's contract expires after this season and the team gives itself built-in insurance. That's just smart long-range planning. I'd also point out that there have been positive signs from Matt Gutierrez, a rookie free agent who signed with the club in 2007. The Patriots have been fortunate that Tom Brady has been an ironman, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't prepare for the possibility of having to call on a backup.
There's been a lot written about Chad Jackson and his return to full time play. Do you think he could be the Donte Stallworth replacement we're looking for?
Reiss: Yes, but I don't have the highest confidence at this point. Maybe it's that I caught out of the corner of my eye Jackson running the wrong route in the weekend mini-camp, when there wasn't a defense on the field. I don't want to base my opinion solely on that -- it would be short-sighted to do so -- but I also know there needs to be a trust and bond that develops between quarterback and receiver and that doesn't seem to be there at this point with Tom Brady and Jackson. That's what training camp is for, and it's probably fair to say that's why Jackson will be one of this camp's most intriguing stories to follow.
It's early and there's been limited access to Patriots voluntary camps (ie: Passing Camp), but which new acquisition do you see as adding value quickly?
Reiss: Not including the obvious choice of first-round pick Jerod Mayo, cornerback Fernando Bryant would be at the top of my list. I also think Victor Hobson is going to help, and people will be looking back and saying 'How could there not have been more interest in the free agent market for him?' The third name I'd add to the list is Tank Williams; much of today's game is played with offenses calling on three- and four-receiver packages, and he adds value as an extra defensive back who has linebacker-like skills.