Last year I had the lofty ambition of doing a preview for every team in the NFL. Obviously that never got off the ground, but I do want to do another one for the Patriots this year. First let me just say that Last year's preview clearly goes to show that no one can predict everything that can happen. Tom Brady got hurt and Matt Cassel stepped up in a big way. I predicted Victor Hobson to play a big role, he didn't even make the team. So despite the deficiencies of last year's preview here is take two.
Our savior has returned to us! After tearing his ACL in the first game of the season last year Tom Brady will take the field again this year for the Patriots. Obviously if Brady is healthy he's one of the best if not the best quarterback in the game. The question will be how he has recovered from offseason surgery. He's had almost a full year to recover and early indications are that the knee does not seem to be bothering him. If Brady is healthy, this position is all set. Should brady go down, the situation is not nearly as reassuring. Although Brady's heir apparent Kevin O'Connell will be backing him u p, he is at this point a completely unproven commodity. Behind him, former Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter and Undrafted Rookie free agent Brian Hoyer will fight for the final backup spot.
This unit is actually very underrated. They finished 6th in the NFL in rushing last year. The reason they're overlooked is that the team does not have a feature back. Instead they use a commitee approach. The only back on the roster with the potential to be a feature back is Laurence Maroney. He has been hampered by injuries throughout his career including breaking a bone in his shoulder last season. When healthy Maroney has great athleticism and burst, but at times he can dance and shows reluctance to hit the hole. This year is a big year for Maroney. He needs to stay healthy and run the way he did in the playoffs 2 seasons ago. If he fails to do that it could be the end of the road for him. Behind Maroney is the team's leading rusher from last season Sammy Morris. What you see is what you get with Morris. He's consistent, but he isn't going to wow anybody. I expect a solid season out of him. Filling out the group is Fred Taylor. Taylor has obviously had an incredible career and the only question with the Patriots is how much gas he has left in the tank. If he can still be a vestige of his former self, this signing will be a boon for the Pats. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was productive at times for the Pats last season, but may find himself hard pressed to make the roster at a position as deep as this one. Kevin Faulk is still the best third down running back in the league and is a great recieving option out of the backfield and deadly on draws as his over 6 YPC from last year will attest. He is getting a bit long in the tooth though and the team needs to start thinking about his replacement.
What can you say about the Pats Wide Recievers? Randy Moss is one of the Best deep threats in the game. He just bolts past defensive backs and finds the endzone. Wes Welker is a pass catching machine. He's a master of getting first downs and is not afraid to take a hit going over the middle. Most coaches would be happy with two prime talents like Moss and Welker, but that's not the Belichick we know and love. He went out and traded for Eagles reciever Greg Lewis and signed free agent Joey Galloway. Galloway will likely line up on the opposite side of Moss with Welker in the slot. If Galloway can still run like he used to than teams are going to have to account for him going deep as well as Moss. The number of headaches this will provide for opposing defensive coordinators is staggering. Greg Lewis seems posed to fill the fourth wide reciever spot and the fifth spot will likely go to a special teams player like Sam Aiken. Rookie Brandon Tate will likely start the season on PUP and may not see the field this season.
This is one of the most interesting position battles on the team. Benjamin Watson has never really lived up to his potential as a first round draft pick. He has all the athleticism in the world, but he is inconsistent. His blocking has improved, but his utility in the passing game just isn't all that high. The team has the same problem with David Thomas who has great hands, but also managed to single handedly lose the team a game against the Colts last season with a stupid penalty. In the hope of Solidifying the Tight End situation Belichick brought in two new tight ends. Alex Smith, and Chris Baker. Smith was regarded as the next great young tight end after a stellar rookie season. Unfortunately he regressed every year after that. Baker has been a solid player but unspectacular. I expect a tight battle in camp and think that Thomas will likely be the odd man out. I don't expect a lot out of this Unit as the tight end is not particularly central to the team's offensive scheme and the fact that I think this is the weekest Unit on the Offense despite the depth.
This Unit returns all of it's starters from last season. At left tackle Matt Light is an Above average left takle but not by any means elite. He can have problems handling speedy edge rushers but is for the most part solid in pass protection. Left Guard Logan Mankins is an animal and a dominant run blocker. Dan Koppen is an intelligent Center who makes good calls at the line of scrimmage. Right Guard Stephen Neal is a good guard when healthy but that has been a problem in the past. Right Tackle Nick Kaczur is the starter that I'm least enthused about. I just dodn't think he's particularly good. Fortunately the Nick Kaczur days may be limited with the drafting of Tackle Sebastian Vollmer in the second round. The massive German is raw but if anyone can turn a raw toolsy lineman into a dominating blocker it's line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The other back ups include jack of all trades Russ Hochsten, tackle Ryan O'Callaghan and a slew of other players fighting it out for the remaining slots.
In my opinion this is the best defensive line in football. Sure they don't put up Gaudy stats but that's not their job. Their job is to occupy blockers and they do that better than anyone. Richard Seymour led the team in sacks with 8 last season which is a great number for a 3-4 end. Vince Wilfork is a dominating Nose tackle in the middle who constantly demands a double team and plugs up two gaps. He's also in a contract year so I expect him to be extra motivated. Ty Warren may be the least spectacular of the three, but is still a great 3-4 end. Add into the mix 2nd roudn pick Ron Brace as well as Mike Wright who can play all 3 line positions and this is a good deep group.
Up until now I've been painting a pretty rosy picture, but unfortunately that stops here. This grouping has two great strongpoints and 2 glaring weaknesses. Jerod Mayo had a fantastic rookie campaign collecting defensive rookie of the year honors. He looks like he should be a fixture in the middle of the Pats defense for years to come. Unfortunately the spot next to him is a little less certain. Despite the fact that we all love Tedy Bruschi, his best years are behind him. He doesn't have the speed and the playmaking ability that once defined his career. This spot will be filled by some combination of Bruschi in conjunction with Paris Lenon a free agent pickup who led the Lions in tackles last year. Gary Guyton will be used mostly in passing situations as he's quick and good in coverage but needs to work on his ability against the run. On the outside, Adailus Thomas is a very solid player. He brings freakish athleticism to the position and although he hasn't been the superstar we expected, he has been productive. On the otherside, the situation has cleared up a bit with the signing of Derrick Burgess. That does not mean the team is out of th woods there yet though. Burgess has never played OLB in a 3-4 scheme and will need to adjust. Also getting time should be Pierre Woods who is solid against the run but a liability as a pass rusher, and Sean Crable who has good height for the position in addition to great pass rushing moves but needed to add strength and missed all of last season due to an injury. If Crable has developed, and Burgess adjusts the outside spot should wreak havock on opposing QB's
This was undoubtedly the weakest spot on the team last year The team allowed far too many 3rd down conversions and touchdown passes. To address this, Belichick completely revamped the secondary. The two starters for most of the year, Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neil are gone. To replace them Beichick brought in Leigh Bodden who was very productive with the Browns before going to that football abyss in Detroit. Sean Springs also came over after being released by the Redskins. Springs has been a very productive corner over the years, but at his age it'll be interesting to see how much he has in the tank. As old as Springs may be, the depth behind him is very young. Two drafts picks from last year return in Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite. Wheatley has been set back by injuris thus far in his career, but Wilhite has made the msot of his opportunities. With a good camp he could challenge one of the veterans for a starting job. Belichick also added corner Darius Butler in the second round of this years draft. Butler is an impressive athlete with a 43 inch verticle jump. He may be used sparingly in the beginning but should be seen more and more in subpackages as the season progresses. The Safety positon is actually loaded with Underrated James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather who will look to ocntinue the improvements he made from his rookie to sophmore season. They added Patrick Chung wholooks to be a Rodney Harrison clone and they will get back Tank Williams who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
This Unit suffered some turnover this year. Long time long snapper Lonie Paxton left to join the Broncos. Nathanial Hodel and rookie Jake Ingram will battle to replace him. Kick Returner Ellis Hobbs is also gone it's really anyone's guess at this point who will replace him but some candidates are Darius Butler, Brandon Tate (if he plays this season), Julian Edelman, and Laurence Maroney (Although I'd be surprised to see that with his injury history). Despite the turnover, the team does return Kicker Stephen Gostowski who is about as good as it gets at Kicker. He is consistent has a good leg and booms kickoffs. At punter the team will likely return punter Chris Hanson. hanson doesn't have the strongest leg in the NFL but he is a master of directional punting which Belichick really likes
The Passing offense. Even without Tom Brady this was a potent Unit. with Brady they're downright filthy. I look for great things out o fthem this yeear.
The Linebackers. This is a unit in transition that doesn't seem to have all the pieces together yet. there's some good young players and some aging veterans and i'm just not sure how well the unit will mesh.
The Secondary, this group is completely different from last season's with three new starters whoever they may be. Yet despite that they have a chance to be a very productive unit.
Players who may Surprise:
Leigh Bodden and Shawn Crable. Bodden was very good with the Browns. I'll give him a pass for his crappy season last year as anyone could be terrible in Detroit. If he returns to Browns form, he'll be a great picup and solidify one corner position. Crable has a ton of potential and can fill one of the biggest need son the team in terms of being a pass rusher. It will be interesting to see what a year in the system will do for him.
I'm not going to mess around with predicting a record, the team has a pretty tough schedule and anyone who's expecting them to go 16-0 will likely be disappointed. Me I'm hoping for a superbowl. This team has a potent offense, will be solid against the run and i think pass defense will be much improved from alst year. All in all i think this team has as good a chance as any to win the superbowl.