New England Patriots: 6 Players Bill Belichick Will Get the Best out of in 2012
In 2007, Belichick helped put wide receiver Wes Welker on the map, as he notched his first 100-catch season.
In 2009, it was linebacker Tully Banta-Cain who overachieved, recording 10 sacks.
The list goes on and on.
Yes, there have been some exceptions: six-time Pro Bowler Chad Ochocinco snagged only 15 passes in his first year with New England.
The majority of the time, however, "the Hoodie" finds a way to utilize his men to their highest potential.
With that said, here are six players who Bill Belichick will get the best out of in 2012.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
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As if there was any doubt, Tom Brady will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
In 2011, the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player surpassed Dan Marino's single-season passing record with 5,235 yards. However, so did New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose 5,476 yards earned him the new record.
Numbers aside, the Patriots lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. A second Super Bowl loss in four years for Tom Brady may have put chip on his shoulder, figuratively speaking.
The question is: can the three-time world champion ever win another?
The Patriots organization has done everything in their power to make that dream a reality.
Along with incumbents, including tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and receiver Wes Welker, No. 12 will have a multitude of toys to play with next season.
Without question, Belichick trusts Brady's decision making and is willing to let his gunslinger take control of the offense.
"Some of the things that [Brady] sees, that he can do, are exceptional," Belichick told ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown prior February's Super Bowl.
"That gives you the ability as a coach to be more creative. He can recognize things. he can anticipate things, manage the clock, manage personnel, down and distance, formations.
"There are a lot of moving parts going on at the same time, but he's able to sort them all out, put them together and do the right thing for the team."
The culmination of all these factors point to coach Belichick to get the most out of his quarterback once again in 2012.
Halfback: Stevan Ridley
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Stevan Ridley showed glimpses of why he was a Patriots third-round draft choice in 2011.
The LSU Tiger carried the ball 87 times for 441 yards and one score, good for 5.1 yards per carry.
Ridley's top performance came in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders. He rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries.
However, coach Belichick never wants to gloat about his players' triumphs. After the game, he spoke cautiously about his young, explosive rusher.
“He did some good things out there and some other things weren’t quite the way they need to be," Belichick said. "He displayed good vision, broke some tackles."
Belichick's tough love isn't a jab at Ridley, it's just a tactic used to make him a better, more motivated player.
Yet, the other backs in the stable—Joseph Addai, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden—will look to be factors in the decision as well. Ridley will have to regain Belichick's trust.
If he can do that, he will have a great chance to land the No. 1 halfback spot next season.
"Stevan Ridley looks like he can take over as the main guy on the ground, but there is a concern about the two fumbles that got him benched in the playoffs," said Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
"I'll say this: Ridley has always been impressive behind the scenes, and his work ethic, dedication to greatness and maturity level leads me to believe he'll work to correct that flaw."
Wide Receiver: Brandon Lloyd
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The Patriots signed wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to a three-year, $12 million deal in March, with the intentions of spreading the field.
"There's only one football to go around, but Lloyd will get his share of opportunities to make big plays," said ESPN.com's AFC East Blogger James Walker.
"He is exactly what New England and quarterback Tom Brady needs."
When Lloyd was with the Denver Broncos in 2010, he racked up his first 1,000-yard season with Kyle Orton delivering him the ball. That year, the Illinois product totaled 77 catches for an NFL-leading 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns.
What will be the difference for Lloyd in New England?
Elite talent at quarterback.
While Tom Brady has thrown for over 4,000 yards in four different seasons, Orton hasn't touched that mark once, which bodes well for the route runner. In an offense built to pass the football, the 6'0" 188-pound receiver should be able to make a splash.
To make matters more interesting, current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was Lloyd's head coach in Denver during his 2010 breakout season.
Familiarity with his offensive scheme and his relationship with McDaniels should result in Lloyd giving the best he has to offer.
"It helps because I'm familiar with the offense and I'm familiar with the nuances of the offense," Lloyd told the media after Organized Team Activities on May 24. "So that definitely helps with the transition coming to this team."
At 30 years old, Lloyd is now a member of his sixth NFL franchise. But, he may have just found a team that best fits his skill set.
Left Tackle: Nate Solder
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Taken by the Patriots in the 17th pick of the 2011 draft, Solder has developed into a very capable blocker on the outside of the offensive line.
He's blessed with a massive, 6'8", 319-pound frame which makes him an imposing presence for pass rushers. However, the second-year man has some big shoes to fill as well.
In wake of Matt Light's retirement, the starting left tackle job looks to be all his. Replacing the 11-year veteran won't be easy, but Solder looks up to the task.
As a rookie, Solder played well filling in for injured right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, starting in 13 games. Although, Solder is eyeing more than just snaps as a fill-in— he wants to cement himself as the Patriots' left tackle of the future, and the present.
”I feel like that was the reason I was brought here, to eventually be the starter,” Solder told Jeff Howe. ”That would be great. I’d be excited about that.”
All signs indicate that Solder will be Tom Brady's blindside protector this upcoming season, and for years to come. With some valuable experience already under his belt, coach Belichick has given Solder an opportunity to make a name for himself.
That being said, nothing is handed to a player in New England.
"I feel I’d have to earn it,” Solder said. ”And if everything works out right, and I can improve and be ready for the season, I hope to be the starter."
Linebacker: Brandon Spikes
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Brandon Spikes has slowly emerged as a factor in the Patriots linebacking corps since being a second-round selection in the 2010 draft.
As a rookie, the ex-Florida Gator wrapped up ball carriers for 61 tackles and an interception. However, Spikes was suspended for the final four regular season games after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
In his second season, Spikes battled a strained MCL which limited him to just eight regular season games and 47 tackles.
Nevertheless, Spikes stepped up when it came to the 2011 playoffs. According to Pro Football Reference, the 24-year-old made 14 tackles, one sack and an interception in New England's three postseason games.
"I like Spikes. Thought he was their best defender in the Super Bowl," said ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss in a Patriots chat.
"That said, he hasn't played the full 16 in each of his first two seasons. Has already had a suspension. Knee injury. So it comes down to reliability."
If Spikes can stay healthy and out of trouble, coach Belichick will have an excellent contributor on his hands the 2012 season.
Regardless of whether New England lines up in a four-three or three-four defensive front, Spikes should be on the field as a middle or strong-side linebacker.
"Spikes should be even more effective in his third NFL season," said Greg M. Cooper on FoxSports.com. "He also will receive additional help with the Patriots augmenting their front seven with the first-round selections of end Chandler Jones and outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower."
Cornerback: Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty was beaten by both injuries and wide receivers during his second season with the Patriots.
The Rutgers alum enjoyed a stellar rookie season where he was named to the Pro Bowl and hauled in seven picks.
Unfortunately, 2011 wasn't as kind to him.
Last season, McCourty reeled in two interceptions and made 87 combined tackles. However, tackles are a misleading statistic for a cornerback since a receiver must catch the ball before a defensive back can tackle them.
That was exactly the case for McCourty last year.
Pro Football Focus' research shows that the starting corner let receivers total a staggering 378 yards through the first three weeks of the 2011 season.
“It’s definitely challenging. As a player, you watch film and you sit there and ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?’" McCourty said to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.
“But as a player and as a teammate you have to do that for your team, you have to do that for yourself. Keep being confident, keep going out there and playing.’’
Now, the 2011 team captain must put his sophomore slump in the rear-view mirror in order to improve as a third-year starter.
McCourty will benefit from the slew of moves the Patriots have made to deepen the secondary, as well as the front seven. D-Mac will have some pressure alleviated from his shoulders and can play like he's got nothing to lose.
In addition, Jeff Howe reported that McCourty does not need surgery on his separated shoulder, which hampered him last year. Through rehab, the Patriots 2010 first-round pick should be ready to lock down opponents like he did as a rookie.
If he falters, it's not the end of the world. Coach Belichick might consider him at safety—where he dabbled in 2011—to get the best out of his promising player.