Alfonzo Dennard, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower Experiencing Second-Year Jump for Patriots (Mailbag)

Alfonzo Dennard, Stephen HillFOXBORO, Mass. — It seems like the storylines for this year’s Patriots season have stayed the same throughout the year.

There are still concerns about the receivers, Tom Brady continues to struggle, Danny Amendola is nursing another injury and the defense continues to play a bit over its head despite injuries. Thankfully, Rob Gronkowski is finally back on the field.

That’s why bringing in a veteran like Andre Carter is really fun going into Week 8. It’s always intriguing to see what the Patriots will throw out against a team like the Dolphins, but all eyes will be on Carter when he’s out on the field.

In this week’s mailbag, I tried to stay away from some of the common storylines of the season, though I had to bite on some. You’ve got to give the people what they want, right?

Check out this week’s mailbag below.

Do you think Austin Collie could become the No. 2 guy behind Danny Amendola at some point?
–@martinjlm

No, I think Collie will likely stay the No. 4 or No. 5 guy, even once Amendola comes back. I expect the team to use more three-receiver sets this season, even with Rob Gronkowski back, and I think the team is best off with two of Amendola, Julian Edelman and Collie and either Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins as the X receiver. In two-receiver sets, it should be one of Amendola, Edelman and Collie and one of Dobson and Thompkins.

I wouldn’t even mind seeing sets with Dobson, Thompkins and one of the slot guys. The team is at its best when there are more downfield threats in the offense. That opens things up more for the slot guy and Gronkowski. An offense of Gronkowski, Amendola, Edelman and Collie would allow the defense to cheat up and not respect the back end of the field. Gronkowski would be the only real downfield threat in that alignment.

Collie’s been good in his limited time on the field this year, but I still think Edelman is the better backup option to Amendola.

Do you think Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard are having the Year 2 jump? I am not sure. I’m iffy especially with Hightower.
–@SuyiOkuns

Yes, I think they definitely are. Jones has already surpassed his sack total from last season with 6 1/2 (he had six last year). Dennard has turned into one of the premier young cornerbacks in the NFL, able to cover any receiver at any part of the field, and Hightower has improved his pass-coverage skills and seems less hesitant this season.

Those three players are a big reason why this defense has played well in 2013. Jones has been consistently persistent at getting after the quarterback. He has 41 total pressures on the season and has been stout on the edge against the run as well. Dennard took over for Aqib Talib admirably on Sunday. The Patriots essentially have two No. 1 cornerbacks when they’re both on the field.

Hightower did a great Jerod Mayo impression against the Jets. He had some rough plays in coverage, but Mayo has his fair share of those, too. The one real glaring mistake from Hightower came when he turned his back on a Geno Smith scramble. I would bet that does not happen again. Hightower was very stout against the run and did Mayo’s normal cleanup job on the second level.

Trade deadline is Oct. 29th. Give predictions on targets if they make a move to add personnel.
–@YouSeeThisWatch

The NFL trade deadline is tricky. I personally don’t expect them to make a move, but I also would not be shocked if they did pull the trigger.

I think wide receiver and defensive tackle would be the most logical spots to add a player, but it all depends on who’s available. We’ve heard Hakeem Nicks and Emmanuel Sanders are out there being dangled, but the Patriots would need to be confident they can learn the offense quickly and sign on in the future so it’s not just a three-month move.

Defensive tackle is an easier position to plug and play, but we don’t know what names are available. I doubt anyone too impressive would be available, Tommy Kelly should be back soon, and Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston have been good. The team still lacks a true nose tackle, but Kelly played that role during his time in Oakland.

What are your top three sports movies of all time?
–@LesBrownV

I’m a child of the ’90s, so I’ll say The Sandlot, D2: The Mighty Ducks and Friday Night Lights, though it’s tough to leave off Field of Dreams, Major League, Major League II (even without Wesley Snipes in it), Rocky I-IV, Bull Durham, Happy Gilmore, Remember the Titans, Little Big League, the first The Mighty Ducks, Rookie of the Year and The Natural.

I know my taste in movies is awful. There’s no need to send hate mail.

What are we to expect from Rob Ninkovich? His stats are below average and he has a new contract.
–@SuyiOkuns

His sack numbers may be down, but his pressures aren’t, and that’s the more accurate statistic to measure a pass rusher. Ninkovich has 36 pressures on the season, despite having just one sack — well, two 1/2 sacks, actually. There should be a measure for full sacks and combined sacks like there is for tackles. Half sacks don’t really make a whole lot of sense, since the player is still hitting the quarterback. There’s no such thing as a half tackle.

But I digress. Ninkovich is having a very good season. He’s been great against the run, he’s pressuring the quarterback and he deserves some credit for Logan Ryan‘s pick-six on Sunday for getting in Smith’s face. Ninkovich has been well worth the contract extension so far.

What is your favorite type of Orange Juice?
–@NEPatriotsDraft

Minute Maid all the way.

Why LeGarrette Blount on kick returns? There has to be a better option.
–@jkaz1022

I think part of it is that the Patriots don’t want to use a player with a starting role. That’s why Blount didn’t return kicks the week he started. Devin McCourty may be the better returner, but he’s far too valuable as a safety to risk him on those high-impact plays.

Until Leon Washington comes back, there’s probably not a better option on the team. If Blount keeps doing it, I expect him to take one back for a touchdown before the season’s done. That’s kind of how Blount’s running style goes. If he gets enough touches, one is going to go to the house.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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