New England Patriots: 4 Players Who Can't Get Hurt in 2012
With the additions of potential game-changers like Brandon Lloyd and Chandler Jones and versatile depth enhancers like Robert Gallery and Bobby Carpenter, the Patriots have done a nice job building a talented roster from top to bottom this offseason. However, there are still starters on the roster that cannot be replaced in the event of an injury.
Some positions lack the depth to replace certain starters, while other positions hold starters with such elite talent that they couldn't be replaced by any player in the NFL, never mind by another player on New England's roster.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at Patriots who cannot get hurt in 2012.
Though he may not fill up the stat sheet with sacks, Vince Wilfork has become one of the most effective defensive tackles in all of football and is the anchor of New England's defensive line.
Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com elaborates on Wilfork's importance to New England's defense, writing:
Wilfork's responsibility is to dominate the center and the two gaps on either side, and with Wilfork eating up so much space and rendering one offensive lineman completely useless, that allows the defense to be competitive with whatever offense the opponents are running. For playing in the trenches, Wilfork has been remarkably resilient, playing all 16 regular season games in six of his eight seasons (he's missed six games total), and as long as he's healthy and dominant, the Patriots don't have to worry about the middle of the line.
If Wilfork can't play, Kyle Love would likely assume the starting nose tackle spot in a 3-4 alignment with Gerard Warren joining him at defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment.
Love had a great season last year, but he doesn't warrant double teams the way Wilfork does, and while Warren is certainly effective at times, he is better suited as a situational player at this point in his career.
A Patriots defense without Wilfork would be a struggling defense indeed.
Despite boasting one of the most feared offenses in the league over the last two seasons, the Patriots have still severely lacked the presence of a deep-threat wide receiver.
When opposing defenses can successfully defend the middle of the field, New England's passing game becomes alarmingly less effective.
The Pats brought in Brandon Lloyd to fix this problem, and while he is likely to provide the outside threat they seek, there really isn't quality depth behind him.
The next true outside receiver on the roster after Lloyd is Donté Stallworth. Stallworth was a fine deep threat in his prime, but now on the back nine of his NFL career at the age of 31, he doesn't appear to be suited for a starting role.
While the Patriots have proven that they can still have a potent passing attack without a talented outside receiver, if Lloyd gets injured in 2012, New England's offensive Achilles heel will inevitably rear its ugly head once again.
Nate Solder hung up an impressive rookie season in 2011 while filling in mostly at right tackle for the injured Sebastian Vollmer.
Entering the 2012 season, Solder appears primed to fill the shoes left behind by former starting left tackle and recently retired Matt Light.
However, if Solder were to be lost to injury in 2012, the Patriots would be forced to move the oft-injured Vollmer (if he's healthy, of course) over to left tackle while the right tackle spot would likely be assumed by second-year tackle/guard Marcus Cannon.
While this scenario could certainly be worse, it is unlikely that Cannon—who spent much of last season recovering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma—is ready to take on a starting role on the offensive line. Additionally, Vollmer's injury history and the recent report that he will be starting training camp on the active/physical unable to perform list (h/t Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston) makes this scenario even more alarming.
The success of the Patriots lies in the protection of Tom Brady. If Solder goes down in 2012, protecting Brady will be quite a tall order.
Tom Brady is not only the best football player on New England's roster, he's probably the best player in the entire league and arguably the best quarterback of all time.
Needless to say, replacing Tom Brady is impossible.
That's not to say that his backups are schmucks, though. Brian Hoyer has looked good in limited action and appears to have made great strides each season since his arrival in 2009. Additionally, second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett has sky-high potential and a rocket arm reminiscent of Drew Bledsoe.
While there is certainly talent behind Brady, his thorough knowledge of the game, fearless leadership, flawless technique and tenacious will to win never can and never will be replaced.
Without an elite defense to carry the team, if Brady went down in 2012, any hope of the Patriots bringing a fourth Lombardi Trophy home to Boston would be lost.