New England Patriots
26 March 2011
The Patriots Prepare for the Draft
By Scot Acocks
Bill Belichick and staff have done a great job over the years at stock-piling draft picks and now it's time to cash in on some of them. With two picks in each of the first two rounds this year it is very likely that the team walks away from the 2011 draft with at least four future starters.
There aren't any huge holes to fill as this roster is fairly solid but the defense could use another injection of young talent. Do not be surprised if three of their first four picks are on defensive players. Although, another offensive lineman or a running back would be nice too.
Round One - Pick #17:
- DE Muhammed Wilkerson, 6'4" 315 lbs. Temple - A beastly player that can seemingly do it all as a 3-4 or 4-3 end. The Pats always love to add talent and size to their frontline of defense.
- DE Cameron Jordan, 6'4" 287 lbs. Cal - Another versatile defensive lineman that would look good in a Patriot's uniform.
- OT Nate Solder, 6'8" 319 lbs. Colorado - Why not take another good pass-blocker to protect your most prized asset on your team? Either Solder, or Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, could do the job.
Round One - Pick #28:
- OL Mike Pouncey, 6'5" 303 lbs. Florida - He can play center and guard and should help improve somebody's offensive line in the NFL.
- LB Akeem Ayers, 6'2" 254 lbs. UCLA - Ayers can fly around while defending the run, rushing the passer, or covering receivers. His size and versatility could make him an immediate asset.
- CB Jimmy Smith, 6'2" 211 lbs. Colorado - An NFL club can never really have enough guys that can cover receivers down field. However, the Pats need more help rushing the passer and Smith could be long gone here.
- LB Justin Houston, 6'3" 270 lbs. Georgia - Houston's instincts and recognition skills would be a welcomed addition at outside linebacker.
Round Two - Pick #33:
- DE Cam Heyward, 6'5" 294 lbs. Ohio St - Another guy that seems like a perfect fit at the end position for the Patriots.
- WR Randall Cobb, 5'10" 191 lbs. Kentucky - A really good-looking prospect that is a great runner after the catch. He could be a perfect fit for the Pats' short passing game.
- OG Danny Watkins, 6'3" 310 lbs. Baylor - He could turn out to be another solid New England O-lineman that helps in all phases of the offense.
Round Two - Pick #60:
- CB Ras-I Dowling, 6'1" 198 lbs. Virginia - Tall zone defender could find a role in the New England defense that needs an upgrade in role players.
- RB Kendall Hunter, 5'7" 199 lbs. Oklahoma St - Enough patience, power, and overall ability to become a three down back in the NFL.
- WR Titus Young, 5'11" 175 lbs. Boise St - Has had some complaints about character and does not possess elite speed but his overall ability to compete makes him an attractive prospect here nonetheless.
29 April 2010
Rd 1 Pick #27: CB Devin McCourty, 5’11” 193 lbs. Rutgers – Grade: A Has risen up draft boards over the last couple months after testing well in pre-draft workouts. He ran a 4.48 forty and had a broad jump of 10’6”. His 27 passes defended and 193.5 tackles for his career show that he is a good all-around player that is capable of covering receivers and sealing the edge in run defense. He is the type of player that Head Coach Bill Belichick loves to have at the corner spots and they actually were able to trade down to get him. The Pats would not have been criticized much for taking him with the 22nd pick.
Rd 2 Pick #42: TE Rob Gronkowski, 6’6” 264 lbs. Arizona – Grade: A- An experienced player who has made a difference since his true freshman season. He is not an over-powering blocker or an elite receiver but he has the ability to develop into a solid all-around tight end. This pick is not really much of a surprise to anybody as Belichick loves prospects like him in the second round.
Rd 2 Pick #53: LB Jermaine Cunningham, 6’3” 266 lbs. Florida – Grade: C- Considered by many to be a bit of a reach here but he might fill the need for a pass-rusher on the outside. He has good initial burst but is not known to have great instincts. Only time will tell…
Rd 2 Pick #62: LB Brandon Spikes, 6’2” 245 lbs. Florida – Grade: B+ Has been criticized for lack of speed but Spikes played faster than he has been timed. Playing next to Jerod Mayo will benefit him a lot if and when he becomes a starter. You cannot discount his contributions to a great Gator defense over the last four years.
Rd 3 Pick #90: WR Taylor Price, 6’0” 203 lbs. Ohio – Grade: B Well-respected by coaches, Price has demonstrated the work ethic and elite speed (4.41 forty) to be another dangerous weapon for quarterback Tom Brady.
Rd 4 Pick #114: TE Aaron Hernandez, 6’2” 250 lbs. Florida – Grade: A- The third Gator taken by the Patriots is one of the best receiving prospects in this draft. He should have gone in the second round but slipped due to the fact that he is viewed as more of an H-back than a tight end. I guarantee that Belichick is patting himself on the back for this one. I also guarantee that Belichick finds a way to utilize Hernandez’ skills in the offense.
Rd 5 Pick #150: P Zoltan Mesko, 6’4” 235 lbs. Michigan – Grade: B A big guy who looks like a punter should in the pros, Mesko also has the strength and accuracy to succeed. Do not be surprised if he plays for 20 years and makes several pro bowls in the end.
Rd 6 Pick #205: OL Ted Larsen, 6’2” 304 lbs. NC State – Grade: A- One of the few decent center prospects has great value here. He should be a good backup.
Rd 7 Pick #208: OL Thomas Welch, 6’6” 307 lbs. Vanderbilt – Grade: C+ Has a tall hill to climb in order to make it but the former tight end has some intriguing skills to offer a coaching staff committed to developing talent.
Rd 7 Pick #248: DT Kade Weston, 6’5” 317 lbs. Georgia – Grade: C- A great big underachiever who will also need a lot of work to make the roster. I am willing to bet that he does not have the motivation to make it.
Rd 7 Pick #250: Zac Robinson, 6’2” 214 lbs. Oklahoma State – Grade: C Never really got it completely together in college but still has some qualities worth trying to develop.
Final Overall 2010 Draft Grade: B With eleven picks the Patriots were able to address a lot of positions and may have added six or seven guys who could become starters for them in the future. Then again, five of them may not stick in the NFL for long.
15 April 2010
New England Patriots Mock Draft
Head coach Bill Belichick tends to stick with the “best player available” approach when it comes to the draft. However, he has shown a tendency to favor certain positions in the first round. Over the years the team has spent several high picks on defensive linemen and linebackers, demonstrating how the team prioritizes the positions on their depth chart.
As far as needs go, the Patriots are in the market to upgrade their pass-rush by adding a defensive end/outside linebacker that can disrupt opposing backfields. Over the years that job has been filled by venerable players such as Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel. As of right now the team’s best edge players are 32 year old Adalius Thomas and 28 year old Pierre Woods. They combined to get fours sacks in 2009 so an upgrade in talent is definitely in order. Luckily for the Patriots there is a wealth of players that will be available in rounds one and two that possess the skills they require to play the position.
The Patriots possess five picks in the top 119, including three in the second round. The team should be able to add a handful of guys to come and compete at a number of positions. Two or three of them could be big contributors as rookies. Expect an outside linebacker, such as Texas’ Sergio Kindle or TCU’s Jerry Hughes, or a defensive end, such as South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul or Michigan’s Brandon Graham, to get taken by New England in the first round. If they do not take one of those four guys it is probably because they were already taken before the 22nd pick.
Here is a look at how the full seven rounds of the draft might look for the Patriots once it is all said and done. This is a purely hypothetical forecast and if more than one or two of these picks actually occurs then I am going to buy a lottery ticket as soon as the draft is over. For the most part, however, this portrayal is just as much a reflection of the type of talent available in each round as it is an indication of the team’s needs on their depth chart.
Rd 1 #22: OLB/DE Sergio Kindle, 6’4” 255 lbs. Texas – His sack total dropped nearly in half his senior season but got a lot of attention from blocking schemes. He was still very productive and was a leader on the best defense in college football. He showed up and played great against Alabama, displaying some big-time pass-rushing ability. The Patriots need guys to harass opposing quarterbacks and Kindle should contribute immediately.
Rd 2 #44: S Morgan Burnett, 6’0” 198 lbs. Georgia Tech – He was a play-maker in college and has a lot of potential. At this point he might simply be the highest rated player on the Pat’s draft board.
Rd 2 #47: CB Parrish Cox, 5’11” 189 lbs. Oklahoma State – Snagged 10 interceptions in his career and defended 15 passes as a senior. He seems to have the instincts to be a good cover man and can also return kicks. He might be perfect as a nickel corner on the outside and a standout special teams performer. He has the potential to develop into a shutdown corner but that would take a lot of work on technique.
Rd 2 #53: RB Toby Gerhart, 6’1” 235 lbs. Stanford – A smart player with a great work ethic, Gerhart is a powerful runner who wore down a lot of defense in college. Ran for over 1,800 yards and scored 28 touchdowns as a senior. He could fit in well in their one-back schemes and help take a lot of pressure off Tom Brady by chewing up tough yardage.
Rd 4 #119: WR Emmanuel Sanders, 5’11” 182 lbs. SMU – Quick and productive player that can separate from coverage and can return kicks. Needs to get stronger and become a better decision-maker but his stock is rising and it is possible he will be gone before the Pats pick here.
Rd 6 #190: S Barry Church, 6’1” 215 lbs. Toledo – Another tough player who made a lot of tackles over the course of four years. He has enough speed and tackling ability to find a role on the Pats’ defense or be a standout on special teams.
Rd 7 #229: DT Doug Worthington, 6’6” 276 lbs. Ohio State – May not be the most physically gifted but works very hard to make plays. He might eventually fit in nicely as a 3-4 end.
Rd 7 #231: LB Ryan Stamper, 6’2” 235 lbs. Florida – Another overachiever that could find a home in New England. There is no reason to believe he cannot become a solid backup in the NFL.
Rd 7 #247: DE/OLB, Carl Ihenacho, 6’3” 256 lbs. San Jose State – Has the ability to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. He may have to perform well on special teams to stick somewhere though.
Rd 7 #248: WR Jared Perry, 6’1” 180 lbs. Missouri – A decent route-runner and position-type receiver that could have the ability to play the slot in the Patriots offense.
24 February 2010
Pats Franchise Wilfork
The New England Patriots have franchised two-time Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle, Vince Wilfork. The non-exclusive tag allows the Patriots the chance to match any other offer Wilfork gets or the Patriots would receive two first-round draft picks should they chose not to match any offers. The tag allows New England an opportunity to continue to work towards a long term deal with the six year veteran while Wilfork remains with the team.
If no long term deal is reached, Wilfork would get a franchise tag deal that would pay him among the top five defensive tackles in the league, about $7 million for 2011.
17 January 2010
The New England Patriots: Final Grades for 2009
The New England Patriots won the AFC East Division and made the playoffs again after missing them last year. The ironic thing being that they actually had a better record last season (11-5) than this year (10-6).
Needless to say, competing at the continuously high level that this franchise has over the last decade is no easy task and, despite being ousted by the Wild Card Ravens in the first round this year and disappointing the expectations of their fans once again, the Patriots already seem poised to make another run again next year.
Before that can happen though, a few pieces need to be added to the puzzle. A few holes have become extremely apparent on the team’s roster. With the right amount of tinkering and a small infusion of youthful talent, this team could find itself right in the Super Bowl once again.
Coaching: B This may have be a “rebuilding” year of sorts in New England as the team had to work out some new wrinkles. Head coach Bill Belichick lost a few assistants last off-season, including offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels who took the head coaching job in Denver. Belichick then assisted new quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien on drawing up a game plan and calling plays in 2009. They still ranked third in the NFL in total yards per game and third in passing. The defense was not quite up to New England standards but they still ranked 11th in total yards allowed. The a few more sacks and a couple more timely impact plays from the front seven could’ve made the situation a lot different in Foxboro. Overall, the unit is young and should continue to be good down the road. Don’t expect much change within this staff.
Quarterbacks: B Tom Brady passed for another 4398 yards and 28 touchdowns. The guy continues to be a winner after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Draft Outlook: The Patriots may grab a QB somewhere in the draft to come in and compete for the backup job. Taking Tim Tebow if he’s still available in round two could really make things interesting in New England. If Belichick does take him it would be because he has something specific in mind for him but there will be some decent QB options available later in the draft.
Running Backs: C- This group is in desperate need of an overhaul. Laurence Maroney led the team with 757 yards on a 3.9 yard per carry average. The team had a total of 19 rushing TD’s with Maroney getting nine of them.
Draft Outlook: With the 22nd pick in this year’s draft Belichick could get Stanford running back Toby Gerhart. He is big, tough, and faster than most might think. He could bring a dimension to the offense that has been lacking since Corey Dillon was lining up back there.
Wide Receivers: B- Many fans and critics alike seem to think that this group underachieved a bit in 2009. Wes Welker had 123 receptions for 1348 yards but only had four TD’s. Randy Moss had 83 for 1264 yards and 13 TD’s. Those are both very good numbers but I guess we are all used to seeing these guys blow up the scoreboard. Times were tough for them as no receiver established himself as a legitimate third option. Rookie Julian Edelman, out of Kent State University, was the third most productive wide-out with 37 for 359 and only one TD. It’s hard to expect the starters to be so good when there is a huge lack of a running game and no help from the bench on third and long situations.
Draft Outlook: Don’t expect Belichick to grab a receiver in round one. However, it will not be a surprise to see him grab a couple later on. There will most likely be a wealth of decent receiver prospects between rounds three and five, possibly including Texas’ Jordan Shipley, Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes (#1 in NCAA in receptions), Florida’s Riley Cooper, and the Citadel’s Andre Roberts.
Offensive Line: C+ This unit is made up of a bunch of overachievers that only allowed 18 sacks in ’09. They are decent run blockers but they are not great by any means. They are partly to blame for the team's lackluster ability to rush the ball when needed. Does everybody remember the infamous 4th and 2 play against the Colts? Well, not to put the blame on them but an offensive line built to run a little better could’ve helped a lot as the there was no threat to run at all.
Draft Outlook: There are not a lot of good quality tackles available this year and the team spent three picks on O-linemen last year.
Defensive Line: C Richard Seymour, who had been with the Patriots for eight seasons, was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a first round pick in 2011. The move was really a good one as Seymour turns 30 this year. The defense only ranked 13th in the league against the run but it is filled with a few young guys who were all high draft picks.
Draft Outlook: Belichick loves to keep his D-line stocked with talent and he spent three draft picks here last year. There may be some guys, however, that will be too hard to pass up this even though the position is filled with talented youth. Penn State’s Jared Odrick (6’5” 300 lbs.) and Duke’s Vince Oghobaase (6'6" 310 lbs.) are good tackle prospects who could both still be around when the team picks in the third round.
Linebackers: B- Jerod Mayo, last year’s defensive rookie of the year, led the team in tackles with 103 and should be leader on this defense for the next decade. After him the unit looks weak. Nobody really stepped up and Junior Seau will finally retire. Help is needed here.
Draft Outlook: I am willing to bet that the team invests some picks here, especially on guys who can rush the passer and attack the line of scrimmage. Texas' Sergio Kindle, South Carolina’s Eric Norwood, and Michigan’s Brandon Graham could all bring a boost to the team’s pass-rush and overall talent at the position.
Defensive Backs: Cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden were serviceable but are not the long term answers. Springs is close to retirement. Bodden is a good tackler, making 55 stops, but he is not a big play-maker. Although he did nab five INT’s. Rookie Darius Butler, a second round pick last year, showed some promise, making 35 tackles and getting three INT’s. Jonathan Wilhite, a second year player, also had a decent showing with 45 tackles and two INT’s. The safety position seems to be in good hands for a while with third year player Brandon Meriweather making 83 tackles, nabbing five INT’s and forcing two fumbles. Brandon McGowan, Patrick Chung, and James Sanders all contributed but were not outstanding. All three are young though, and the competition for the other starting spot should be a heated battle in camp.
Draft Outlook: The cornerback crop is not very strong and the Patriots have a lot of young potential in the secondary. Somebody may be added later in the draft but don’t expect Belichick to invest too much more into the position.
Special Teams: The Patriots ranked 15th in kick returns, fourth in kickoff coverage, and dead last in punting. This is an area of need.
Draft Outlook: Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko may be the best punter in the draft. He has a big leg with decent accuracy and was an All-American. Some more young linebackers, receivers, and defensive backs to help in coverage could help as well.
6 September 2009
Will Miss You Teddy
This week included a departure of two great Teddy’s whose lengthy New England tenures were quite influential. And while the passing of Kennedy is far more tragic and momentous on a world stage, the retirement of Bruschi is notably consequential as well. While the Patriots dynasty has always been built around “the scheme” and not the player, Teddy Bruschi’s retirement poses a significant threat to this philosophy.
Like most New Englanders, I was touched by Bill Belichick’s heart-felt description of Teddy Bruschi as “The perfect player.” Bruschi was a class act all the way and it showed in his press conference. The highlights from his heyday were action packed with Teddy flying horizontally across the field to break up passes. The clips were not only impressive, but they were also somewhat shocking. Having closely watched Bruschi over the years, his performance changed gradually, but the clips were a staggering comparison between then and now. The highlights showed a completely different player, a playmaker and a difference maker, something that has been sorely missed on defense these last few years.
With the Teddy moving on to greener pastures, it seems that the Belichick era with the Patriots is at a crossroads. The old guard, defensively minded, is gone. No longer are our defenses patrolled by the likes of Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Ted Washington, Roman Phifer, and Willie McGinest. Now, our team is clearly an offensive juggernaut, which is by no means a knock on the 2009 Pats. But the difference between the Patriots dynasty and all the others is that it is supposedly built around the Belichick system (A NY Times article worth reading) –smart players, flexible system, and a new game plan every week.
So with most of the original players gone, this year and the next will be crucial to test the “In Bill we trust” attitude. The offensive line was exposed during the Super Bowl against the Giants. As a result, it wasn’t surprising to see all those O-line draft picks this past June. It seems that Sebastian Vollmer is working out well. The D-line has also been replenished through the draft as Myron Pryor and Ron Brace are welcome additions to the already vaunted line of Seymour, Wilfork, Green, and Warren. However, the much maligned secondary has rightfully been under the scrutiny of the fans and media establishments. And it seems that the hopefulness that came out of training camp has yet to come to fruition, though the young batch of corners can still turn it around in the regular season.
Finally, the Belichick scheme rests squarely on the shoulders of competent and versatile linebackers. With Vrabel, McGinest, Ted Johnson, and now Bruschi gone, the team is in desperate need to find the identity of its core defensive unit. Will Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton become a fearsome 1-2 punch? Who will step up and fill the leadership void that Vrabel and Bruschi’s departure created?
Bruschi’s retirement doesn’t only end a storybook career; it also poses a great challenge to the Patriots dynasty. Will they be able to recreate the magic? Will they find the right personnel to fit that sorely sought after Belichick system? We will have to wait and see.
29 July 2009
2009-10 Patriots Season Preview:
a New Chapter in an Ever-deepening Tale
Recently, Patriots fan’s tumultuous relationship with their team has seen many twists and turns. The 2001 storybook season and the 16-0 regular season run were a fan’s fantasy, but then there were the gut shots of SpyGate, the unmentionable loss to the Giants, and AFC Title game defeat at the hands of Peyton Manning’s Colts. It was the same last season after Brady went down. And so, with a heavy heart, the fans took a few weeks to gather themselves for a new chapter in an increasingly deepening relationship. The Cassel season was wonderful while it lasted, but going down in history as the only 11-win team to not make the playoffs was tough one to swallow.
Now with training camp right around the corner, it’s hard to believe that the 2009-2010 season is approaching. The fan atmosphere surrounding the Pats has been difficult to gauge. There is definitely a lot of optimistic anxiety about Tom Brady’s much awaited return. Will he be the same? Will he maintain his Dan Marino-like pocket maneuverability? Will he flinch under the pass-rush pressure as he is flooded with those horrific images of that fateful moment? How long will the grace period last for the Patriots’ Golden Boy?
This trepid, cautious optimism pervades all aspects of this upcoming season. Will the revamped secondary wipe clean our memories of the Deltha O’Neil experiment? Who will replace Mike Vrabel’s leadership and playmaking ability that made Belichick’s 3-4 scheme so successful over the years? Will Fred Taylor be as great for the Patriots as he was for the Jags, or is he all washed up? Can Maroney finally have a healthy season, or is he a total dud? Will Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis make a positive contribution to our offense this year as the third receiver? Will Shawn Crable make the ballyhooed year-two jump at outside linebacker and make us forget about our aging core? With Jarvis Green and Ty Warren healthy again will the D-line return to its vaunted status? How will Josh McDaniels’ departure affect the play calling? Who is this Ted Baker guy and will he solidify our Tight End position? Is Jerod Mayo the next Ray Lewis? Will the ’07 O-line show up, or will it be the maligned ’08 one? Will anyone emerge from this years’ Rookie Class?
As is plainly seen there is an overabundance of questions for this upcoming season. In looking over these questions it seems that if the Patriots can affirmatively answer at least some of them then fans are in for an exciting fall. So why isn’t there more hootin’ an hollerin’?It seems that as with any up-and-down relationship the fans are nervous to jump head first into another turbulent chapter. But that’s a good thing because it shows that the fans relationship towards the Patriots is maturing and becoming more prudent. Fans no longer take success for granted and know how precious the good times are and how quickly their team’s fortunes can change. However once the season gets underway, this trepidation will melt away as some of those above stated questions start to get answered. Fans will be as enthusiastic as ever, but as a result of previous shortfalls they will be able to stay focused on the goal which is obviously the Super Bowl. In recent years, it has been great to witness the Patriots’ fan maturation as they try to join the Packers, Eagles, and Steelers fans in the top echelon of fan-basedom. With this in mind, the 2009-10 season will surely not disappoint because regardless of what happens it will be a distinctly new chapter in an ever-deepening tale.
27 April 2009
2009 Draft: A Look to the Future
Aside from the disappointment of waiting for the 23 pick and having it traded, I am pleased with the 2009 Draft. I am glad that we addressed the pressing short term and long term needs of both our lines. The long term is simple: “When the draft began, the Patriots had 11 of their 14 offensive linemen entering the final year of their contracts, and five of their eight defensive linemen in the same category.”- Mike Reiss. If people were wondering how we were going to maintain our dominance into the next decade, this is definitely the answer. There is no way we could keep all of our current players with the salary cap the way it is. Also, as I wrote in my previous column, the offensive line is overrated and the defensive line is woefully thin.
Similarly to people who call themselves draft experts, I have few constructive things to say about this year’s draft. It seems funny how uneasy Todd McShay, Mel Kiper, and the rest of the cabal become when analyzing and grading Bill Belichick’s draft. It goes something like this:
“Well I didn’t have that person this high and I’ve got all these great people ranked ahead of him. But Coach Belichick is way smarter than I am so I’m not going to rag on this pick for fear of ridicule. Let’s go back and talk about Mark Sanchez and how much we all love everyone from USC. Back to you John Clayton.”
“Sure thing Todd. That Bill Belichick is sure one wild and crazy guy. But Mark Sanchez now that is a specimen. Lets role that weird GQ’esque photo shoot again. I think the audience really wants to see the players do their best ‘blue steel’ impression and not in-game highlights.” Good, sound, quality reporting. Insightful too.
The only thing I can add is that I think this draft can prove to be one the more successful in recent years. The big knock on Belichick’s status of draft overlord is that most people he drafts never end up contributing on the field. However, if you look at previous draft years, you’ll notice that most of the picks come in the later rounds. These people are always considered long shots on any team. This is especially true on a playoff team like the Patriots which has few roster spots available to rookies. Unlike previous drafts, this one gave the Patriots six players in first three rounds.
As a result of all of Bill’s wheeling and dealing, a huge amount of young talent has been infused into an 11-win team. The New England Patriots are now set up for immediate success as well as long term prosperity. I look forward to seeing how Tyrone McKenzie, Darius Butler, and Patrick Chung will pan out and what the Pats will do with their newly acquired two second round picks in 2010.
22 March 2009
The Golden Age of Patriots Football
As I’m following the Patriots offseason moves, I can’t help but marvel at the golden age of Pats football. With the next season being last of the decade and subsequently Bill Belichick’s 10th year, the 00’s have brought us fans many lifelong memories: 3 Super Bowls, 6 playoff appearances, 2 heartbreaking playoff losses to the eventual champion (Giants, Colts), and a perfect regular season. During his tenure, Belichick has instituted a system that is the envy of the whole league. His philosophy balances short and long-term plans, places value on versatility and mental toughness, and always tries to maximize every dollar spent. That’s why you hear, “In Bill we trust” and while some people get annoyed at this simplistic view of Patriotsland, it’s hard to argue with success.
Hopefully this success will continue this upcoming season, and it all starts with the offseason. Currently, the biggest splash has been the trading of Cassel and Vrabel for the 34th pick. It’s hard to tell if we got bamboozled, but one thing is for sure: Belichick is a cutthroat businessman and never plays favorites. Please recall the ruthless release of Lawyer Malloy, the benching of Bledsoe, the not playing Terry Glenn, and the not overpaying for Adam Vinatieri. The list goes on and on. There is just no way that Belichick suddenly decided to help someone else out because he happened to like them. He puts the team’s interests first, second and third.
Outside the trade value issue, the consensus team need is a better defense, specifically better play out of the corner and linebacker cores. It’s hard not to agree with this assessment for anyone who spent last season holding his breath as the once vaunted Pat’s defense gave up big plays and long drives like it was going out of style.
However, I believe the biggest offseason move for the defense is getting Tom Brady back. The 2007 Brady-lead team was a high powered, well oiled scoring machine. With the addition of Fred Taylor, and barring a major onslaught of injuries there is no reason to think that the fan-dazzling drives won’t return in full force in 2009. This should have a two pronged effect on the defense. First, as a result of Tom Brady’s scoring drives the defense will be more rested. Second, with the Patriots scoring more points, it can be assumed that the other teams will be playing from behind or at least not far ahead and therefore have to limit their play selection. This makes it easier for the defense to zero in on their opponents and hopefully prevent them from scoring.
So, while corners and linebackers will probably the most addressed issue in this upcoming draft, don’t be surprised if the Patriots go elsewhere. Bill Belichick’s draft philosophy is to draft the best players available. This is why it is hard to predict who the Patriots will choose. Most experts say that it will be a linebacker in the first round, but who knows.
I, for one, believe that the offensive line is overrated. It was evident during the Super Bowl and during last year’s Pittsburgh Steelers game that our line can’t hold up against the best pass rushing teams. I vividly remember Harrison bowling over an aging Matt Light to force two Matt Cassel turnovers. Also, our defensive line is not nearly as deep as coach Belichick wants it. I don’t like Matt Wright, and while I do like what I see from Le Kevin Smith, his contribution is not going to be enough if the Patriots are trying to return to the defensive stalwart status of 5-to-7 years ago.
Whatever the Patriots decide to do, it will surely be an improvement on last year’s team. And this will surely keep the fans glued to their TV’s or monitors once the 23st pick comes around.