Have the New England Patriots improved their pass rush?
Have the Miami Dolphins found enough capable receiving talent to fill out their roster?
Which New York Jets receiver out of Chaz Schilens and Stephen Hill will have the best season?
Can Buffalo Bills defensive end Shawne Merriman finally answer the hype, and if he does, will the Bills put their money where their mouth is?
These questions and more were answered in today's mailbag.
So let's get right to it.
@ErikFrenz Quest. from a french guy: What do u think about Pats' pass rush? Except C.Jones and maybe Hightower, i don't see any improvement— Luc Tamburrini (@LucTamburrini) June 15, 2012
Good question to start us off, Luc. Say what's up to France for me—went once for three days, would love to go back. Beautiful country.
As for the pass rush, you forgot one very important name: Trevor Scott. He may be an unheralded and yet unproven player, but there were many factors behind his struggles, and he could become an asset to the Patriots defense.
According to ESPN's AFC West reporter Bill Williamson:
I wouldn't be surprised, two to three years down the road, if people are asking 'Where did they get that guy from?' He has great potential and was terrific his first two years, then he got hurt and it took him a while to get going again. I could see him being a real good rotational rusher.
...There wasn't a lot of stability in the organization, he had a few different coordinators, so he was lost in the shuffle in a bit. ...I think he could be perfect for Bill Belichick's defense as a rotational guy. He's not an every-down guy, but he has some real natural pass-rushing burst.
From this perspective, the feeling is that his role may be limited to the pass-rushing role left vacant by Mark Anderson, but if that's his only purpose, he's still a valuable addition to the roster with Anderson's departure in mind.
Beyond Scott, I'd look at Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette as a guy who could produce some pass rush early on. He was a solid pass-rusher in the SEC, where his competition was consistent of players who will also be playing on Sundays this year.
There have been rave reviews over Bequette's potential, as well.
Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe provided some great insight after the Patriots made the selection:
He stood up at times at Arkansas so he would seem a natural for the DE/OLB hybrid Elephant position for the Patriots. Considering his experience and pro-ready body, it wouldn’t surprise if he contributes more before than 21st overall pick Chandler Jones—if they play the same position.
Doesn’t have great speed, but he’s a try-hard guy that chases after plays and has been productive. He had 10.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior. He was the Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP with two sacks and a forced fumble.
Bequette gives the team another option coming off the edge.
But we've explained all this and haven't even hit on the addition to the interior pass rush, defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene. He was signed early on in free agency, and at first, many wondered if he was the extent to which the Patriots planned to address their pass rush. Of course, that proved not to be the case, but even if it had, Fanene is a great addition.
The Patriots are so frequently in their sub-packages, with extra defensive backs in to defend the pass, that adding that piece on the inside is easily justifiable and is a great way to supplement those packages.
With the additions of Jones, Hightower, Scott, Bequette and Fanene, the Patriots have plenty of options in terms of getting after the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how well the defense plays now that they finally have a versatile group of pass-rushers.
@ErikFrenz Who do you think are the final 6 WRs the Dolphins pick for the roster as of now? Tough choices.— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) June 22, 2012
Great question, Eric. Nice name, too.
Receivers Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are locks, and are obviously solid fits in the West Coast offense. I feel the same way about Rishard Matthews, who has also had a solid camp (h/t The Palm Beach Post), but beyond that, it's hard to decide.
Something gives me the feeling Chad Ochocinco will make the final cut (maybe it's the speed with which they signed him). He may have struggled in New England, but there are some things he can do to help himself become a fit in the West Coast offense. Besides, he's just about the only veteran play-making receiver on the roster (even if his play-making days are in the rearview).
With that, there are two spots remaining for eight receivers: B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller, Clyde Gates, Chris Hogan, Marlon Moore, Legedu Naanee, Julius Pruitt and Roberto Wallace.
That final roster spot is anyone's guess. It's early yet to read much into practices, but also worth noting that Gates is having a harder time picking up the offense than other receivers (h/t The Miami Herald); even after being drafted just last year, he could be sitting on the bubble.
Cunningham and Fuller could both be put on the practice squad if they don't make the roster. Hogan and Pruitt were on the practice squad last year, and could land there once again.
Between Moore and Naanee, I'd have to go with Moore. Naanee graded out as Pro Football Focus' worst receiver last year, and Moore presents an opportunity to give yet another young receiver a chance to make an impact. The way the roster has broken down thus far, there are already three proven veterans on the roster. Three young guys seems like a good complement.
@ErikFrenz If Chaz Schilens stays healthy, who do you think will have the bigger year, him or Hill?— Sanchez SB XLVII MVP (@NYJET_Prime) June 15, 2012
Thanks for the question, Prime.
If Stephen Hill has an average season in terms of his draft slotting (26 receptions for 331 yards and two touchdowns), it'll still be better than most any of Chaz Schilens' seasons (although most of his seasons have been marred by injury).
Schilens is the veteran of the two, and although he hasn't played much, he knows the ins and outs of the NFL. He'll have a leg up on Hill in that regard. Head coach Rex Ryan has also indicated that Schilens has had a solid camp thus far (h/t newjorkjets.com).
That being said, the Jets should be looking to get quarterback Mark Sanchez and Hill on the same page early, to help foster the growth of both. With both Schilens and Hill being so new to the offense, it would make sense for them to target him more in the passing game.
Speaking of the offense, whichever receiver shows the quickest assimilation to the Jets offense under Tony Sparano will likely be the one who gets the most targets early.
@ErikFrenz if merriman is healthy for let’s say 14 games, and gets 7-8 sacks. Do u think he’ll resign with the bills/would the bills want 2— Ryan Callahan (@CALLYLICOUS) June 22, 2012
Second time in three weeks I've received a question about Merriman for the mailbag. He hasn't warranted that kind of attention in the past, but the Bills and their fans are excited about the pass-rush potential he can bring to the table.
What's more, head coach Chan Gailey is "excited" by the offseason Merriman has had thus far, and Merriman himself said he feels "right at home" in the 4-3, explaining that even as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he was still putting his hand in the dirt quite often in sub-packages (h/t Tim Graham, The Buffalo News).
He also made it through a full minicamp and has now entered OTAs without getting injured yet, so that's a good sign.
If he stays healthy, we've seen what he's capable of, but it's so far in the rearview that it almost gets lost in the recent memory of too many injuries slowing him down on the field. For that reason, if he has a solid season in 2012, I think the Bills would be cautious to re-sign him and might look to get younger at defensive end through the draft.
Got room for one more.
@ErikFrenzhey what are projections for each afc east teams 1st round pick(stats or impact)— Andrew Frye (@AndrewFrye3) June 21, 2012
Thanks, Andrew. I gave my thoughts on Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (here), Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (here) and Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (here). But I never got to Jets defensive tackle Quinton Coples or Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
For Coples, I expect him to be a sub-package pass-rusher to start his career, supplanting Mike DeVito (who is more of a run-stuffer) at defensive tackle on passing downs. The Jets will still be utilizing some 3-4 principles at times, and Coples could be a fit in that regard, but they should be in a lot more 4-3 fronts this year, which will play right into his strengths as an inside pass-rusher.
As for Hightower, I'd expect him to be utilized in a variety of ways; he has shown the ability to come off the edge as a pass-rusher at times, also showing the athleticism to cover and plays instinctively against the run. He was a leader of Alabama's defense and will likely make a big impact right out of the gate.
But thanks for reminding me I hadn't yet done Hightower or Coples in the "What to Expect" series, I'll get on that for next week.
And with that, I think it's time to bring another delightful mailbag to a close. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions, and any further questions can be directed to me via Twitter.
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