In this week's "Five questions with" segment, former Patriots star and current broadcaster Gino Cappelletti recaps the Pats' preseason and previews what is to come this season.
PFW: What were your impressions of the additions the Patriots made to the defensive line this offseason?
Cappelletti: With Albert Haynesworth certainly being on the inside along with (Vince) Wilfork gives the defense a chance to really stack up the middle. You're going to look to the outside and you have Shaun Ellis there from the Jets. With the lineup that you're going to have, which I think is going to be more of a 4-3 than a 3-4 because of those two big guys on the inside, I'm anxious to see exactly what they can do. I think I saw a little more aggressiveness from the defense and more of an attempt to try and put pressure on the passer, something they lacked last year. They've been doing that without blitzing. If you stack up that middle, the quarterback has nowhere to go, and stepping up into the pocket, you will see Wilfork and Haynesworth there. It could be a big part of the defense.
PFW: What is it about Bill Belichick and the Patriots that allows them to bring in players with "baggage" and give them an environment to succeed?
Cappelletti: Players realize that when they come into an organization that has been developed here, they come in with respect for the coach, the staff and for what the Patriots have been able to do over the 10 years that Belichick has been the mentor. With that, (Belichick) commands that respect with three Super Bowl championships and almost had a fourth. Players with baggage, so to speak, have been here, and they have an understanding with the coach and the owner that they're going to be held accountable for their performance and behavior and their representation of the Patriots' organization. It rings a bell to these guys.
PFW: The Patriots seem comfortable with WR Taylor Price, as they parted ways with WR Brandon Tate. What have you seen from him in his limited time?
Cappelletti: (Price) had a nice game against Jacksonville. He made some terrific catches in that opening game. He got dinged up a little bit and they held him out, but he did a nice job in the opener. He has been in the development stage, and it looks like he's in much better shape than he was last year. He has the ability to return kicks as well. They got him on the roster, and I feel like he's about ready to go. I think he's an asset to the receiving corps.
PFW: The Patriots are a popular pick as one of the league's favorites to go to the Super Bowl. What are your expectations for this team?
Cappelletti: Last year the offense was certainly getting the job done, but they were lacking something on defense. The defense, it was probably their inefficiency in getting off the field on third down. That meant the defense was staying out there longer and the other team was continuing to control the ball. This is where they really had to shore up and see if they can improve the defense and put pressure on the other team's passer. The sacks are important, but more important are the pressures and the ability to hurry up the quarterback in making his selection in throwing the ball. If the defense comes through like I think they have planned for with the personnel they've brought in and with the pressure I think they can apply, that can make up the difference. I think the Patriots should be right up there as far as possible contender for the Super Bowl. Although, we'll just do it one at a time with 16 games to go. The last few years have been something that's hard to explain. 14-2 last year, and they get upset in the first playoff game. The previous year, they were 13-3 and they got thumped in the first playoff game by Baltimore. Those two things are stuck in the craw of the team. I can only tell you from what I've seen, heard and read, this team is now on a mission. They are all together. From this starting point, things look bright from the Patriots.
PFW: The Patriots open the season against the division-rival Dolphins. What are you looking for in this opening matchup?
Cappelletti: Miami's defense has done a pretty good job. They have some good players along the front and in the secondary. It's their offense. We'll have to wait and see. (Chad) Henne is the quarterback, of course, and they're going to go with him all the way at this point. I guess he has to prove that he can lead the team. Last year, he had some difficulties and didn't have a really good record throwing the football for touchdowns vs. interceptions, etc. I know they brought in Reggie Bush, then lost (Ronnie) Brown and Ricky Williams. Reggie Bush can give you that diversity of being a good receiver as well as a running back, and in the open field he's potentially a scoring threat. If the Miami Dolphins have picked up their offense, their defense, I think, is more than acceptable. They can play good defense — we'll have to wait and see.