Patriots Mailbag: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts Could Surprise Patriots in Week 11

Patriots Mailbag: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts Could Surprise Patriots in Week 11This is the last mailbag before the NFL draft, and it's a busy one. So many "ifs," "coulds" and "woulds" will be decided next week, but while those questions still exist, let's keep tackling them.

Thanks to everyone for their questions.

Looking at the schedule, which opponent that looks easy now could be a lot tougher when the Patriots face them?

–@AvkarSiv, via Twitter

Good question. The first that comes to mind is the Colts because I think quarterback Andrew Luck is going to be pretty good right away, and new head coach Chuck Pagano will have that team much more ready to play than Jim Caldwell. I really don't expect the Colts to be a doormat like they were in 2011, and in a weak division, they could make a run at eight wins if they catch some breaks.

I'll also bring up the Seahawks and Rams. Seattle has a great home-field advantage, and the Seahawks will be coming off a pair of winnable road games (Rams, Panthers). Therefore, the home crowd might be extra jacked up, and if the Seahawks happen to be 3-2 at that point, they could view it as a measuring-stick game before heading to San Francisco the following week.

The Rams will be tougher under head coach Jeff Fisher, and they were demolished by injuries in 2011. They're better than they showed last season. As a wild card, you also can't really predict how teams will come out of the gate in that London game.

Our offensive line looks intriguing to me. At this time, it looks like Nate Solder is the only guy that is sure to be a starter from day one, barring the unexpected injury or a 180 on Matt Light's retirement. Anyway, with Logan Mankins likely unable to start the season, Sebastian Vollmer's back issues reportedly being a concern, the signing of Robert Gallery and the re-signings of Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly, how does it all play out? I think the other four spots are up for grabs, and it'll be decided in training camp. At guard, it will be Brian Waters, Connolly, Gallery and maybe Marcus Cannon duking it out. At center, it'll be Koppen and Connolly. And at right tackle, it'll be Vollmer, Cannon and maybe Gallery. I think it's going to be great to watch and see who comes out with the jobs. If all things stay the same (which they probably won't), I would say the starting line would be Solder, Waters, Koppen, Connolly and Vollmer. What do you think?

–Arjuna Ramgopal (Durham, N.H.)

I agree that it will lead to some great competition in camp, and there truly are so many possibilities based on Light's retirement (which I expect), Mankins' injury, Vollmer's back and the positional versatility of Connolly and Waters.

I'll pencil in Solder and Vollmer as the tackles. While Mankins might not be ready for the start of camp, I'd guess he'll be in the lineup for Week 1, so he'll be there at left guard. However, if Mankins isn't ready, I wonder if the Patriots will move Waters to the left side, where he played in Kansas City. If not, Gallery and Connolly will compete for that starting job, and that leaves Koppen at center. And for now, I'm viewing Cannon as a right tackle until I actually see him play guard. I also believe, at least in the immediate future, Gallery would be the second-string right tackle if Vollmer suffered an injury.

With all that said, my prediction for the Week 1 starting lineup is Solder, Mankins, Koppen, Waters and Vollmer, although I'm only about 50.1 percent sure Koppen will start over Connolly.

With Matt Light's unofficial retirement, the Pats have a lot of cap space (estimating $10 million-plus). What do you think they do with it?

–@originalDB, via Twitter

That's really not that much money at this point in the process. They'll still have to sign their draft picks and have enough room to sign players throughout the season, so the Patriots won't be in a huge rush to spend that excess cash. Most importantly, there aren't any big names left in free agency.

Depending how the Patriots structure their contracts, they might try to extend their contracts for safety Patrick Chung and Vollmer, who are the two biggest free agents after this season, aside from wide receiver Wes Welker. But with or without the cap space — which can be created in different ways by restructuring other deals, such as Welker's — the Patriots' biggest moves are in the rearview.

Do you think the Pats could draft Janoris Jenkins? I mean, he seems like a perfect fit for the Pats, but he's got lots of talent but some character issues that need to be worked out.

–Rion (Milwaukee, Wisc.)

I've maintained the same view on Jenkins for several weeks now. I agree that he's got boatloads of talent, and because of the character issues, his talent will greatly exceed the value for his draft position. Because of that, I'd draft him at the end of the first round or in the second round.

With all that being said, I've never met Jenkins and don't know what to make of his character. He's been arrested multiple times on drug charges, kicked out of Florida and has four kids with three women. So, obviously, he's immature, and the Patriots must decide if they can rein him in with a much more controlled environment.

But if coaches and scouts who have met Jenkins believe he's a legitimately bad guy, or simply doesn't care enough to grow as a person, he's not worth drafting in any round because that type of person doesn't succeed in any line of work.

Would you be happy if the Patriots come out of the first round with Whitney Mercilus and Harrison Smith?

–@TitleistMac, via Twitter

The Patriots should be happy if they get Mercilus, but I'm not sold on Smith as a first-round talent. Smith might be over-drafted because it's a very weak class of safeties after Alabama's Mark Barron. I also don't know if Smith is good enough to start for the Patriots, and there's no point in over-drafting a backup when you can get someone comparable in the third or fourth round. Smith would be a better option late in the second round.

Good morning, Jeff. Defense is still an issue, obviously. Could the Pats draft one of Alabama's three star guys by moving up a few spots? I was hoping for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Could he be there without us moving up a few spots? Or would we pass on him?

–@andrewhainey2, via Twitter

Alabama has four defensive prospects who should go in the first round: Barron, Kirkpatrick, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who probably isn't a fit because of his position. Barron would be a steal, and Kirkpatrick would be another great fit, though there are serious questions about his maturity and motivation to be great.

But because Kirkpatrick is one of the best man-cover corners in the draft, I think he'll be off the board before the Titans pick at No. 20. Otherwise, the Lions should snag him at No. 23. For the Patriots to move from No. 27 to No. 19 or 20, my guess is they'd have to give up a low second-rounder.

Upshaw should be long gone by the time the Patriots pick, although I read a report that teams are concerned about distractions in his life. If Upshaw falls to the bottom of the first round, that might be why.

The Patriots surprisingly cut or trade away someone every season. Who are the candidates this year? I'll go with Sebastian Vollmer due to back.

–@AvkarSiv, via Twitter

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is the biggest name, which means he could get cut for the first time in his career. Either way, there will be one or two well-known receivers who get cut by the Patriots this summer. Two of the Patriots' recent second-round picks — defensive linemen Ron Brace and Jermaine Cunningham — also need to have strong camps after disappointing seasons.

Vollmer is an interesting case, though. The Patriots love his talent, but last year was alarming with the back issue. He won't get cut because it will be too easy to place him on injured reserve before trying to re-sign him next year. However, if the Patriots use an early draft pick on a tackle next week, you can bet it will be with Vollmer's future in mind.

Every year, mock drafts have the Pats taking some pass rusher in the first round. Is this finally the year for the pass rusher?

–@Giguere4211, via Twitter

I do believe this is the year for two reasons. First, their front-seven was pretty good last season before Andre Carter's injury, and they were still effective after he went down. Because Belichick saw the importance of two good edge rushers, it only makes sense to make sure he replenishes them in this draft. Mark Anderson is obviously done and gone, but I'm sure Carter will return if he's healthy enough to play. Even with that, though, you've got to wonder if he'll be as effective as he was in 2011, considering the extent of the torn quad.

The second reason is based on need. Because the meat of the draft — from the end of the first round into the second round — is in the front seven, the Patriots can get some good players in that range. New England's only more immediate need is a starting safety, and unless they get Barron, I don't see them going in that direction in the first round because the next tier of prospects don't warrant the reach. So it makes sense — really, this time — for the Patriots to get a boost on the edge in the draft.

OK, do you go for the high-end hair goo, or are you an L.A. Looks man? Thanks.

–@RumfordJohnny, via Twitter

L.A. Looks was so college. I'm onto the Got2B Glued Ultra Glue now. Can't beat it. I need a fire hose to wash it out every day.

Dear Jeff, thanks for taking our tweets. Question is why are you so bad at bar trivia? Sincerely, Everyone Who's Played With You.

–@RandyScottNESN, via Twitter

Great question, and in fact, if it were a bar trivia question, I wouldn't know how to answer it. Yeah, I'm lousy at correctly answering trivia questions , but I'm great at having fun during trivia because I get to laugh at people — like, ah hem, you — who can rattle off Debra Messing's entire history of movie roles.

And that, sir, makes me a trivia winner.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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