Sketching the New England Patriots' Dream Training Camp Scenarios
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
With so many offseason moves, the New England Patriots were clearly trying to create competition at each roster spot in training camp. The final result of the 2012 season will be the ultimate barometer for how those moves should be measured, but some judgments can be gleaned based on how the team takes shape in training camp.
The Patriots would love to see all the chips fall into place. Rarely does everything go according to plan, but here are some of the best things that could happen for the Patriots in training camp.
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen Emerge as Two-Headed Machine
Although the two played marginally as rookies (226 total snaps, only 26 snaps for Vereen), the team showed a good deal of confidence in both by not re-signing Green-Ellis or veteran running back Kevin Faulk.
Each of the young backs has the skill set to fill the voids left by their predecessors. Of course, it's up to both of the young backs to prove they're worthy of a heavy workload by learning the playbook and coming to camp ready (and, in Ridley's case, holding onto the football).
Veterans Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai loom large on the depth chart, and the Patriots have never shied from giving their veterans a share of the workload.
Still, with the investment the Patriots made in both of these players, the team is probably hopeful for them to jump off the page and prove themselves.
With defensive end Mark Anderson gone to the Bills and Andre Carter a question mark after he suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 15, the Patriots could be looking to replace as much as half their sack production from last year (20 out of 40 sacks). With the additions of defensive ends Trevor Scott, Jake Bequette and Chandler Jones, they hope to get that back and then some.
Both Scott and Bequette are familiar with both the 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
Jones has the brighter future because of his long build (6'5", 266 pounds, 34.5" long arms), but he is a rawer prospect and could take some time to develop into the Elephant role in the Patriots defense.
He could have a similar role to 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who served last year primarily as a sub package pass-rusher. Smith excelled in that role, and if Jones is ready even as just a pass-rusher, the Patriots should welcome the opportunity to get him on the field.
While they've tried to find an answer to that production, the question now is how they'll get it and who will be doing what. The Patriots switched to the 4-3 defense on the fly last year because it was easier to coach.
Given a full offseason, perhaps they will return to the base 3-4. Perhaps they liked what they saw in the 4-3 enough to stay there.
Perhaps neither case is true and the Patriots elect to remain a salamander defense that changes its skin to defend against its prey. They've run a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 looks in each of the past two seasons and have played more snaps out of their sub package than their base defense each year.
No matter what the front, the Patriots will execute much better if they are getting a good push up front. And with the pass-happy tendencies in today's NFL, that comes with an effective pass rush.
Tavon Wilson Justifies Selection by Winning Starting Job
The Patriots were lauded for selecting six defensive players with their seven draft picks. However, they caught some flack along the way for the selection of Illinois safety Tavon Wilson in the second round, a safety who was projected to be taken in the sixth or seventh round, if he was to be drafted at all.
Still, the Patriots clearly saw something in him that they liked, despite the lack of attention being paid to the safety by the media at large.
If nothing else, he has the added advantage of joining the Patriots at a position where they particularly lacked depth and talent last year. The Patriots featured five starting safeties: Patrick Chung, Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo, Matthew Slater and Sterling Moore.
Even if he doesn't, though, the Patriots added free agent safety Steve Gregory, formerly a starter for the Chargers. He can play several spots in the secondary and should earn playing time even if Wilson wins the starting job.
Still, after the sudden release of safeties James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather last year and the struggles at safety that followed throughout 2011, the Patriots need hope for the future at safety. Wilson could give them just that if he performs well in training camp.
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