Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will be taking your Patriots questions on Twitter and answering them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. Today's focuses in on how the Patriots will defend Ryan Tannehill this weekend, the team's trust in Stevan Ridley, and what to expect from rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley, among other topics.
Let's dive right in.
@tomecurran Did the dolphins actually need a DT or they just feel the need to pull a Belichik? (Yes it should be called pulling a Belichik)— Martin Fitzgerald (@Mafitzge) September 4, 2014
TC: Hello, Martin. Thanks for dropping into The Bag. The Dolphins have as good a defensive line as the Patriots will encounter this season. That’s a refrain we’ve heard several times this week. Their Thursday signing of Bruce Gaston could be aimed at debriefing the rookie defensive tackle about the Patriots plans. But considering he signed last Sunday and released Wednesday, he probably didn’t even have a team ID code never mind the keys to the Pats defensive game plan for Sunday. So while they may have been pulling a Belichik, their Belichik pulling isn’t where it needs to be quite yet.
MG: They are more suited to play man than at any time in recent memory, not just because of Revis, but with the plethora of corners they kept on the roster and are capable of giving you good snaps. That said (or typed), it makes no sense to stick solely to man. The best Belichick defenses confused QBs. If this is the best “D” they’ve had in a decade, I fully expect a variety of looks.
PP: Thanks for the tweet, Joe. Two different situations there. Collins was relatively unpolished out of Southern Mississippi. He had played various positions -- safety, defensive end, linebacker -- through his collegiate career and had a lot to learn before he became a good fit for New England's defense at the end of the season. Easley thrived in arguably the toughest conference in college football at the University of Florida. Though he played multiple spots on the defensive line, he had a more consistent set of experiences through college than Collins did. For that reason, I think Easley could be in a position to be more of an immediate contributor than Collins was last season. The only question with Easley is the health of his knees, but he should be ready to play Sunday given that he has not been listed on the injury report this week.
TC: Good question, Ben. Honestly, I think the way they operated throughout preseason shows that they were working as if Browner didn’t really exist until October. It will be more of an adaptation to his return in Week 5, if you know what I mean. And at that point, he’ll need to carve a role which, if Malcolm Butler performs well (or Logan Ryan or Alfonzo Dennard) may be a measured one at first. Browner has unique skills that will absolutely be valuable against the talented, treetop receivers the Patriots will see (Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, etc).
Do you think Amendola will make a larger impact this year? #FridayBag— Alec Tripp (@TrippAlec) September 4, 2014
MG: I’m stunned Curran didn’t take this one for himself. He’s been telling me all about how Amendola remade his body with the help of Brady’s “body” guy, Alex Guerrero. I do believe Amendola has had a terrific camp. In fact, right up there with Edelman, Brady, Revis and Jamie Collins. I don’t think that makes him a 100-catch guy, nor do I think the Pats want that. Manage his snaps, keep him on the field for as many of the 16 games as possible, and I think he’s a real good option for a QB that appears to have a lot as the season begins.
TC: Hey Ameet, one of my favorite Twitter buddies. Much brighter for Bledsoe at that point. He was entering his 11th season and had shown the ability to lead a team to the playoffs. While he’d gone 21-24 in his previous 45 starts and had reached his apex, he still had plenty of capable quarterbacking left. While he felt a little over-entitled during the end of his Patriots career – which led to his decline and made him ripe for being overtaken – he was well-respected and a good leader overall. Mallett is nothing but question marks right now. If he can get the game to slow down, he can be a good NFL backup/spot starter. Maybe. A Matt Schaub-like career would at this point be a victory. And a surprise. Nice guy, though.
PP: Thanks for chipping in here, Fred. Let's pretend we can crawl inside Tom Brady's head for a second. If we were able to lump all pass-catchers into this question, I'd go with Rob Gronkowski as the most trusted along with Edelman. Just this week, Brady spoke of how nice it is to be able to throw to a target that size, with that kind of catch radius, in the red zone. Hard to beat. Clearly Brady has confidence that if he lofts one in Gronk's general direction, the 6-foot-6 tight end will be able to pull it down. I think Shane Vereen is certainly a trusted option as well. Vereen still hasn't played a full 16-game season in his young career, but last year he caught 47 passes on a whopping 69 targets in just eight games. If we stick with the receiving corps, I'd say Danny Amendola may be the most trusted after Edelman. He and Brady had great chemistry going into Week 1 last year and then injuries began to take their toll on Amendola's production. Brady loves to find openings in the middle of the field, and when healthy, Amendola is among the best on the team in that area.
TC: Hey Chris. Thanks for checking in. I spoke to Ridley for a long time this week. Hard to find a guy that’s more earnest about his desire to do well. He is trying hard to focus on the present. Not his past ball-control problems, not looming free agency, just 2014. I don’t think there’s a fumble number that will earn him exile. It’s the circumstances. Remember, he had a fumble on a perfectly-timed hit by Troy Polamalu last year. Bill Belichick stated at the time that it wasn’t something Ridley could have done anything to prevent. But the unforced errors against Carolina and Denver were the ones that came at awful times in the game when he wasn’t running smart. I believe he’s going to have a tremendous season.
PP: This is always one of those hot-button topics for Patriots fans, Grant. I'm sure Bill Belichick will, as he always does, take a fresh look at whatever situation comes to pass. I don't think he'll ever institute a protocol where he says, "OK, if we get a lead of 'X' amount of points in the fourth quarter Brady and Revis are coming out of the game." I am interested to see how the Patriots manage players coming off of injury, however. Guys like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson and Dominique Easley haven't been practicing in full all that long -- in Gronkowski's case, he's actually still a limited participant, per the injury report -- and so they could have their in-game repetitions scaled back until Belichick and the training staff feels as though they can handle a fuller workload. When Gronkowski returned to action against the Jets in Week 7 of last season, he played 51-of-79 offensive snaps, about 65 percent.
TC: Hey Jack, Great to see you last week. No, no massive gain financially. It’s more of a roster churn in my opinion. Bring a guy in, see if he’s an upgrade, he gets two days of practice squad pay and the team gets an evaluation on him that could turn into a long-term job. The only real release and re-sign advantage comes with vested veterans who are released prior to the first game and then re-signed. Any veteran on the active roster for the first week has his salary guaranteed for the season.
PP: I've heard a fair amount of this, Todd. Bolden hasn't shown much as a running back this summer, and he dealt with a bout of drops throughout the early part of training camp. Bolden's value, though, comes as a special teamer. We'll see how many units he's a part of on Sunday, but he's been a "core four" guy in the past, meaning he's played on the punt, punt-return, kickoff and kick-return teams. We know how much the Patriots value their play in the kicking game, and Bolden's versatility in that area helped him earn a roster spot once again this season.
MG: I think with the increase of speed and athleticism on this defense, there is absolutely no reason to “shadow” Tannehill much, if at all, and this is coming from a guy who respects the Fins QB. Considering the Pats will probably play a majority of their snaps in nickel or dime, you’re talking about having not only Jamie Collins and his wheels on the field, but also one or two additional defensive backs. I’d spend way more of my time trying to take Charles Clay out, as they did in December.
PP: I think we're starting to tap into the Patriots way of thinking with this one, Lobstabred. Bill Belichick, as we know, is not set on using one particular defensive scheme or style. They are a game-plan defense that hopes to be able to deftly move from one look to another from week-to-week, series-to-series and play-to-play. They'll always be searching for ways to get their best players on the field for whatever situation is at hand. We'll see both 3-4 and 4-3 looks from the Patriots this season, I'm sure. Even if you think they don't have a true 5-technique (a classic 3-4 end like former Patriots defensive lineman Ty Warren), I think they'll be comfortable playing guys like Easley and Chris Jones alongside Vince Wilfork in a 3-4. I do think that the team's best front seven is on the field when it goes to a 4-3 setup. That allows the Patriots to play Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins together with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the ends. With their 3-4, in theory, the Patriots would keep Ninkovich and Jones as outside linebackers and have to choose between two of their three best 'backers to play on the inside.