Chandler Jones Can Go From Starter To Star For Patriots In 2014 (Mailbag)

Chandler JonesChandler Jones experienced the Year 2 bump that Bill Belichick always talks about in 2013, but as the defensive end enters his third year, he can go from starter to star.

Jones went from six sacks to 11.5 from his rookie season to second year. There was speculation he could have been selected to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, but he’ll need to play more consistently in 2014.

The Patriots could help the third-year defensive end be more productive if they sign a third pass rusher to rotate with Jones and Rob Ninkovich. A little bit of rest could go a long way for Jones.

I was asked to participate in a Q&A over at the Sons Of Sam Horn message board. For this week’s mailbag, I chose my favorite questions to answer here. Read the rest of my answers over at SOSH.

Check out my answers below for more on Jones and the rest of the Patriots.

Obviously we need to ask about Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement. Around these parts, he is thought very highly of. Any thoughts on the end of the Dante era?
–dbn

Former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will definitely be missed. The offensive line already struggled more than usual in 2013, so if the unit gets off to another slow start in 2014, fans might start to freak out a little bit with Scarnecchia gone. Dave DeGuglielmo (I really need to learn to write that without looking it up) could be an improvement over Scarnecchia. The fact that offensive assistant Brian Daboll is still around (for now) will definitely help, as that leaves another coach to transition the players between Scarnecchia and DeGuglielmo.

If the exact same starters were coming back in 2014, it would be one thing. But I expect either center Ryan Wendell (he’s a free agent) or right guard Dan Connolly (he’s a possible salary cap casualty) to be gone next year. The Patriots have to hope that Marcus Cannon can continue to progress under a new coach and start at right guard. The Patriots can’t rely on bringing in a bunch of undrafted guys and expect them to be consistent starters anymore, though, with Scarnecchia gone.

What should the ideal Vince Wilfork deal look like? Also, any reason to believe Edelman or Blount would take a discount to stay in NE?
–JohnnyK

I’d expect something in the three-year range, because Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork isn’t dumb. If Wilfork was extended for five years, he’s not going to be seeing the end of that deal. If he’s signing for five years, the last season might as well guarantee him a stable full of unicorns.

I’d be a little surprised if Wilfork takes a pay cut in 2014. To be safe, I’d say Wilfork’s signing bonus gets pushed down, which means the Patriots would save $3.6 million, which is still a lot of money.

It’s possible, but probably unlikely, that wide receiver Julian Edelman or running back LeGarrette Blount take a pay cut to stay with the Patriots. Edelman shares an agent with Tom Brady, however. It’s obviously in Brady’s best interest to have Edelman back, and it’s in Brady’s agent’s best interest to make his No. 1 client happy.

If cornerback Aqib Talib comes back, Blount could possibly return on a discount, but this is the time for Edelman, Blount and Talib to cash in. Edelman’s coming off his best season, and Blount ended the year on a tear. Talib signed a one-year deal to prove he deserved a bigger contract. His first six games did just that, but then he was injured again.

What is your evaluation of Alfonzo Dennard at this point? He has looked like a solid starter (at the very least) for most of his first two years, but some of the recent games were none too encouraging. Was this just a case of not being physically 100 percent, combined with bad receiver match-ups (hello, Demaryius Thomas), or did you see any signs of a sophomore slump? If Talib does not return, how confident are you in Dennard/Ryan as a starting CB tandem? Thanks for your time.
–Bellhorn

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has been solid. He dealt with some unfortunate injuries in 2013, and his knee and shoulder did hold him back a little bit. The shoulder has been a long-term issue for Dennard that dates back to college. Perhaps he’ll need surgery at some point, or maybe it will always be an issue. Shoulders can, quite frankly, be weird.

I also think there are limitations to Dennard’s game. He’ll probably never be overly successful against a guy like Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The Patriots should have changed their defense when Talib got hurt in the AFC Championship Game. Sticking Dennard on Thomas in Talib’s place didn’t make sense.

If Talib doesn’t come back, the Patriots need to go heavy on zone coverage (unless they sign another No. 1 cornerback like Alterraun Verner or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). The Patriots can be successful in a zone with Ryan, Arrington and Dennard. It would help to have another top-tier safety if they go zone. Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward are available in free agency.

I like Duron Harmon, but Talib’s talent would need to be replaced in the secondary somewhere. Talib is more valuable to the Patriots than Verner, Rodgers-Cromartie or another No. 1 cornerback type, since he already has chemistry with the rest of the secondary.

Has Belichick “the GM” created problems through free agent signings/draft pick mistakes for Belichick “the coach”? If you can, please focus this answer on the safety position, where free agent signings (Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory) and draft mistakes (Tavon Wilson, Brandon Meriweather) have been a particular sore spot for some fans.
–soxfan121

I don’t really agree that Bill Belichick the general manager has created problems for Belichick the head coach. The coach should have final say in acquisitions. It’s only one example, but the 2013 Seattle Seahawks are proof of why that should be the case. Pete Carroll had a vision, and he knew which players could carry it out. He had the same vision with the Patriots in the late ’90s, but Robert Kraft and Bobby Grier ruined it by refusing to acquire the right guys.

Belichick has had some trouble finding safeties, but Harmon was solid as a rookie, and Gregory gets a bad rap. Gregory missed some tackles in 2013, but he also didn’t allow many big plays. Overall, Harmon and Gregory played well in 2013.

Belichick the GM is still putting together playoff teams for Belichick the coach.

After Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down, the Pats seemed to play more three-man fronts. Do you expect that to continue with those guys returning, or do you expect more of the four-man fronts we’ve seen the past couple years?
–Super Nomario

The Patriots tried using three-man defensive fronts for a while, but it really didn’t work. Then they went back to a four-man front, and the defense improved. What the Patriots decide to run in 2014 depends on who is acquired this offseason.

If Jones is able to bulk up and grow into his body a little more this season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a 3-4 with Jones, Wilfork and either Kelly or a free agent/draft pick as the defensive ends with Collins at weakside outside linebacker, Ninkovich at strong-side outside linebacker and Mayo and Hightower as the inside linebackers. That all depends on Jones, though.

The Patriots are still probably better off running a base 4-3. That’s what Ninkovich, Jones, Mayo and Hightower seem more comfortable playing.

The Patriots have a very young roster, and some of these guys are quite good. Who makes the jump next year from starter to star, and backup to starter?
–ShaneTrot

Jones is the best candidate to go from starter to star, and Harmon could go from backup to starter. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson would be somewhere in between. He was already a starter in 2013, and he should improve in 2014.

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

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