FOXBORO -- Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it.
Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.
TC: Sure, Mark! And I hope you and the family are doing well. Seems like the kids were moving to the “big field” about 15 minutes ago and now they’re halfway through college. First, it’s a clear example of how inauthentic the league is in its dealings in regards to player safety. They’ll talk about the efforts made to lessen the wear on players and the concern for safety being paramount, and yet with a clear opportunity to hand down a penalty to a repeat offender that had some teeth, they couldn’t muster something even in the class of what the Patriots were handed for an alleged conspiracy to deflate footballs. Second, it’s disrespectful to the NFLPA and players in general. The league’s arrogant disposition toward the union -- a union it should be partnered with yet continues to poke at because it can -- is shameful. Finally, the Patriots were subject to treble damages for an “integrity of the game” infraction that happened eight years prior, yet the Seahawks couldn’t make it two years without a repeat offense and they get a comparative knuckle-rapping. It pays to have a cuddly coach.
TC: Hi, Ameet!As you know, there are a slew of them. We usually refer to Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower but we should also include Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Jabaal Sheard in there. Collins is such an electrifying playmaker, but I’d like to see more week-to-week consistency. Hightower and Sheard are outstanding, but their durability has to be a concern on long-term deals. I’d start with the secondary players – all of them – then do Sheard and see which one of the two linebackers they can keep. Going to be hard to keep both if they’re seeking $50M-plus deals. You don’t want to lose either and can’t lose both but one will probably be elsewhere. And the franchise tag is obviously in play for either as well.
TC: Hey, Pat. I’ve got no word on the little guy. Haven’t seen him around the locker room. I am sure that’s the plan to have him back. I will take this opportunity to say that the evolution of James White is fairly remarkable. Two years ago, I thought he was a nice pass-catcher who went down too easily on first contact. Last year, there were advances but he still wasn’t making people miss the way a better-than-average sub-back should. This season, he’s been confident, inventive and able to run through and around contact in space. He’s at a higher level than I thought he’d attain.
MG: Chronic, what up? Can I answer no, just because? Didn’t think so…Look, we all know Collins is a freak. Speed. Explosive in short spaces. Instinctual. But I think he’s better when Dont’a Hightower is on the field. Hightower was limited in the opener and then missed the last two. I realize that Collins erupted in that Thursday nighter versus the Texans, but I believe Houston’s game plan fed right into his wheelhouse and New England’s counter meant a lot of Cover 2. In those spots, Collins is able to keep the play in front of him. And when that happens, you see him pounce quickly on short stuff in the flat, or shallow crossing routes. Despite having the skill set to be a man-to-man monster, Collins just hasn’t consistently been able to deliver in those spots. But in zone, oh mama, the dude is a beast.
MG: Eric, thanks for checking in. You left out one major part of the equation, the part that could make this offense so much more difficult to defend. Dion Lewis. When he played a season ago, there wasn’t anything Lewis couldn’t do. Between the tackles. Outside. In the slot. Split wide. He actually started taking touches away from guys like Gronk and Edelman. That’s how good he was. Can he be the same guy? Huge question, but if he’s close, see you in Houston.
MG: Q, I think it makes a huge difference. It’s a long year. Injuries add up. But can they be managed to the point where maybe a 4 to 6 week absence can be cut to 2 weeks just by sitting that player out? I think this staff has generally done a good job in that regard.
MG: Clinton, my feelings haven’t wavered since the offseason: the Pats are the most talented team in the AFC, and maybe in all of football. As we saw last year, health will be critical. And home field wouldn’t suck either…
MG: Lisa, gave the roster the once over twice, and I’d have to say DJ Foster and John Hughes would be the first two I’d cast over the railing. I know Foster has promise, but I think you saw in that Miami game that his speed isn’t special speed. They swarmed him early. Maybe you can sneak him back to the practice squad. As for Hughes, the Pats signed him to a 1-year deal for vet minimum with no signing bonus or guarantees. Could be a one game and done for him.
MG: Curious about the Twitter handle. You’ll have to fill me in. As for the offensive line, if you go by the metrics that Pro Football Focus employs, they actually haven’t been as good as they were a year ago. But while I do use that site as a resource, I don’t believe it’s the be-all, end-all. Studying all three games, I think this group has really risen to the challenge, dealing with some injuries and two different QBs. The Scarnecchia influence is real and it is spectacular.
PP: Adam, big fan of that Quick Slants podcast you produce. Probably my favorite podcast going right now. You haven't been given much to work with in terms of hosts, but you make it work. That's talent, folks. As far as the Jacobys are concerned, right now, I think you'd have to give the nod to Ellsbury, right? Two World Series. One All-Star Game. One day of free tacos at Taco Bell because he stole a base. Hard to beat that at this point if you're Brissett. But you never know. If Jimmy Garoppolo gets dealt this offseason, and if Brissett is thought to be "the next guy," then he'll probably go down as the most famous Jacoby in Boston sports history, whether he plays well or not.
PP: I don't think so, Bruce. Though the manner in which he loses, if he loses, could determine his fate. Say the Bills play the way they did in Week 2 of last year -- remember, that's when Rex's team was penalized 14 times for 140 yards and when his defense allowed 507 yards of offense to the Patriots -- that might spell trouble for the big guy. But I think ownership will give him more time. Really, they should. It won't get better if he's booted mid-season. That's a white-flag move. And the Bills schedule actually sets up pretty nicely after this week. They get the Rams, Niners and Dolphins before hosting the Patriots in Week 8. They could conceivably have a winning record going into that one.
PP: Haven't heard much on Sebastian Vollmer or his hip injury lately, Rob, but due to the fact that he's still on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, his chances of coming back aren't officially zero. Players on that list -- like Lewis or offensive lineman Tre' Jackson -- are eligible to begin practicing after sitting out the first six weeks of the season. After six weeks, they have a six-week window to begin practicing. Whenever they do begin practicing, teams then have three weeks from their first practice to activate them to the 53-man roster. Under that scenario, a player could begin practicing during Week 12 at the latest, then be activated during Week 15. If a player doesn't practice or is not activated within three weeks after he's started practicing, he must be placed on injured reserve or released.
PP: Like Giardi, I could see Hughes being released simply because he's the most recent addition to the roster and because of the deal he signed. Keep in mind, though, those roster spots that need to be freed up could be freed up by placing players on injured reserve. Outright releases aren't the only way to create room.
PP: I'd be surprised if Gronkowski went from 22 percent participation (which is where he was against the Texans with 14 snaps) to 100 percent participation, Matthew. But, particularly with more than a week of rest going into this game, I'd expect his playing time to go up. Even if he's in for 50 percent of the team's offensive snaps and saw a handful of targets that would represent a significant bump in usage.
PP: More rest all around, John. Long has proven he deserves a regular role -- he's tied for the team lead in sacks, hits and hurries through three weeks -- so he won't all of a sudden be filling water bottles on the sidelines when Ninkovich returns. Just as was the case when Ninkovich, Sheard and Chandler Jones split time last season, Ninkovich, Sheard and Long will share reps this year. Having a rotation at that spot should help everyone involved remain fresh. And don't forget about Trey Flowers (100 snaps through three games). He'll continue to factor into the mix on the edge as well.