FOXBORO, Mass. — There are a lot of jobs on the line this week as the Patriots prepare for their third preseason game against the Lions. It will be a terrific measuring stick for the starting-caliber players, as well as a barometer to gauge the progress that has been made by the bottom-of-the-roster guys. Because of that, it's no surprise there were a lot of personnel questions in this week's mailbag.
There were a ton of great questions this week, so thanks to everyone for submitting them. If I couldn't get to yours for this edition, please come on back next week.
With good health and the defensive line he has in front of him, can Jerod Mayo make enough plays to get in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion this season?
@PatsMaster22, via Twitter
That's an interesting question. There's no doubt in my mind that Mayo is one of the best defensive players in football, and he's one of the two or three best inside linebackers in the league with Pat Willis and Ray Lewis. Mayo led the NFL in tackles by a wide margin in 2010, but he didn't receive any serious consideration for the award because he doesn't register a lot of sacks or interceptions — the home runs of the Defensive Player of the Year race.
Mayo was very active in the Buccaneers' backfield last week, and I expect that to continue to an extent in 2011. For him to receive any awards, though, he'll probably need to reach double-digit sacks or emerge as the integral force behind a much-improved New England defense.
Does Brandon Meriweather get cut? If so, is Ras-I Dowling the guy they see as his eventual replacement?
@garylanglais, via Twitter
I know Meriweather hasn't performed up to expectations to this point in the preseason, but I'd still be stunned if the Patriots cut him. His upside remains very high, especially in a contract year. Plus, I don't know if the Patriots have as much depth at the position as they initially might have hoped. The return of James Sanders could definitely change that, though.
As for Dowling, he should definitely still be considered a cornerback, and I don't think that would change unless something drastic happened. Some think Dowling could move to safety due to his size, but he was drafted just four months ago because they like him at corner. Could he play safety a few years down the road? Sure, it's a definite possibility, but I think he stays put for now.
Why hasn't Brandon Spikes been practicing? And which defensive linemen get cut?
@MikeRiley54, via Twitter
I was told a couple weeks ago that Spikes suffered an ankle injury. At first, it didn't appear to be very serious because he was observing practice from the sideline, and he walked around and worked out without a noticeable limp. However, he hasn't been spotted since Aug. 10, so it's tough to tell how his recovery is going.
I touched on the defensive linemen in my weekly roster prediction, but I think Kyle Love, Myron Pryor, Mike Wright, Markell Carter, Eric Moore, Landon Cohen and Gerard Warren are seven players fighting for the last four or five spots. I also think Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick have made it easy for the Patriots to keep them on the PUP list, and I wonder if Wright could potentially land on injured reserve. Regardless of the situation, there will be some talented players on the outside looking in.
Would the Patriots be able to employ an effective 4-3 defense with Brandon Spikes injured?
@Arquimedezpozo, via Twitter
Yeah, because the 4-3 wasn't designed with Spikes really in mind. Obviously, he's a good middle linebacker who would increase the team's talent level when he's on the field, but the Patriots have way too many solid players in their front seven so they'll be able to compensate. In the meantime, Dane Fletcher will take his spot, assuming his thumb injury isn't so serious that it keeps him out of regular-season action.
Which Pats running back will lead the team in rushing this year, a rookie or a veteran?
This isn't an easy answer because there are so many variables in place for the running backs, particularly the risk of injury. But all things being equal, I still think BenJarvus Green-Ellis will finish with the most rushing yards on the team. I'd be surprised if he surpassed 1,000 yards again because there are four really capable runners in that backfield. It also wouldn't shock me if Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead each managed to eclipse 75 yards in at least one game this season.
Hi Jeff, what players do you think the Patriots could possibly trade rather than cut when they have to trim the roster to 53? The Giants' need at cornerback is well-known, and that might be one avenue. Also, there are a lot of defensive and offensive linemen hanging around. Any chance of picking up a couple of fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round picks for some of them?
That's a good question, Damian. After running through a potential list of cuts, I think Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Ron Brace, Mike Wright, Pryor, Love, Darius Butler and Meriweather could all have some level of trade value. At this point in the process, though, a potential suitor would need to determine if those players would have more value than someone they could find on the waiver wire. Remember, the NFL's 32 teams will release or waive 1,100-1,200 players next week. That's a ton of talent to evaluate, and teams will be able to fill some needs for free, rather than giving up a draft pick.
What will be Kevin Faulk's role this year? Will he play or be used more in a mentoring capacity?
@mellyhocking, via Twitter
For now, it looks like he's destined to remain on the PUP list until the middle of the season, and he'll be a strong mentor in the locker room throughout his rehabilitation process. If he's able to make it back for, say, eight games, he can expect to get some playing time on third down and in crucial punt return situations. Faulk will be a valuable member of the team even if his statistical output isn't all that great.
Here's a legit mailbag question: Which Pats wide receiver will have the best fantasy season? Straight stats, homey.
@RScottSportsGuy, via Twitter
Welcome to the mailbag, Randy Scott. Glad you could stop by. Since we're in the same fantasy league, I think you should get aggressive for a guy like Vincent Brisby. Make sure to go out and get him before anyone else. By the way, would you like to invest in my patent for a helicopter ejection seat? Let's talk about a down payment soon.