What Every Fan Needs to Know About the 2013 New England Patriots
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Sure, this season will be very different for the Pats. It will take some time to get used to No. 83 not being on the field. Players come and go in the NFL, that's just the way it is. The same thing goes for injuries.
The team has already been through a lot this offseason, but the Pats are just as strong as ever. With a legendary quarterback and coach, excellent running game and an improved defense, the Patriots expect nothing less than a Super Bowl win next February.
Here is what every fan should know about the 2013 New England Patriots.
The Patriot Defense Will Be Much Better This Season
Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard have a full season under their belts.
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The Patriots will not have to rely completely on their offense in order to win this season, as opposed to last season. Their defense will be stronger in every department.
The secondary has been the Pats' biggest weakness for quite some time now. This has, for the most part, been the major reason why the team has been a part of so many offensive shootouts recently.
Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington all return for the Patriots at cornerback. Talib and Dennard became starters toward the end of the season, and the defense benefited greatly because of it. If he finally stays healthy, Ras-I Dowling can also be great in coverage as well.
Former Arizona Cardinals heavy hitter Adrian Wilson joins Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson back at safety. McCourty seemed to fit in nicely at free safety last season, especially with Talib and Dennard at the corners.
Talib is playing for a contract, so expect a big season from him. Also in his final season under contract is linebacker Brandon Spikes, who took time out to work on his skills in coverage earlier this summer.
With a stacked linebacker unit consisting of a motivated Spikes, who is looking to cash in at season's end, Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, it's going to be tough for teams to run on the Pats.
Hightower and Chandler Jones, both entering their second seasons in the NFL, will be pressuring opposing quarterbacks left and right. Add Rob Ninkovich and potentially rookie Jamie Collins, offensive linemen better get ready to face some serious pass-rushers.
Also, let's not forget Vince Wilfork, who will be paired next to the 6'6" 325-pound Tommy Kelly. The Patriots defense will fair much better in 2013.
Amendola Will Fill in Nicely for Welker
Amendola has big shoes to fill, but not to worry.
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The Patriots have a lot riding on Danny Amendola, there's no doubting that. He's going to have a huge role in this offense, filling in for Welker's long-owned slot position.
Right now, it seems as though Amendola is the only receiver who knows exactly what his role will be this season. With Welker and Hernandez no longer with the team, Amendola is going to be getting a lot of balls thrown his way.
He is right in the prime of his career at the age of 27. For all fantasy football players out there, invest in Danny Amendola! He is destined for a huge season in New England.
Amendola has more size than Welker, he's 5'11" and has more dynamic speed than Welker at this point in his career. Working with Tom Brady is going to be a blessing for Amendola, just as it was for Welker.
What everybody keeps talking about when it comes to the Pats' new slot receiver is his past injury concerns. Yes, there is a history of injuries, but this shouldn't be given too much attention.
Injuries are just part of the game, and Welker knows that well, after going through a rough knee injury in 2010. Sometimes, they are just freak accidents.
The Rushing Attack Will Take Pressure off Brady and His New Targets
Ridley has established himself as a big threat in the backfield.
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The Patriots no longer have to depend completely on Brady's passing because their ground game is fully established. Right now, the Pats have running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount.
Ridley had a breakout season in 2012, giving the Pats' offense another deadly weapon. He finished tied for No. 3 in the league with NFL MVP Adrian Peterson for rushing touchdowns last season with 12. He also finished No. 7 in the league with 1,263 rushing yards.
With the departure of Danny Woodhead brings a much-needed opportunity for Shane Vereen to take on a bigger role in 2013. He will definitely get more touches this season, whether it's as a running back or receiver.
As a team, the Patriots scored the most rushing touchdowns of any squad last season, busting their way to 25 rushing scores. They also surprisingly finished No. 2 in rushing attempts in 2012 with 523.
The only team ahead of the Pats in attempts was the Seattle Seahawks, where Leon Washington spent the 2012 season. Washington is not as effective as a running back now at the age of 30, but he will contribute on special teams, and perhaps, catch some passes out of the backfield.
Blount topped 1,000 yards rushing back in 2010, and Bolden rushed for 137 yards on the road against the Buffalo Bills last season.
It will be another fine year for Ridley, and Vereen has the chance to have a solid season as well. There is a ton of talent and depth at running back for the Pats. This will take the pressure off Brady and the many new Patriot wide receivers.
Gronk Will Be More Motivated Than Ever Before
Gronk is out to prove that injuries will not hold him back.
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The past two seasons have not ended the way Rob Gronkowski had hoped. His production was still there, but injuries just kept coming at the wrong time, the playoffs.
Gronk injured his ankle in the AFC Championship Game in 2012, and then he reinjured his forearm against the Houston Texans in the playoffs this past season. He has since had surgeries on both the broken forearm and on his back.
The good news is Gronk's surgeries went well, and he is now recovering. You can bet that Gronk wants to get back on the field right away, but it will take a while for the towering tight end to recover and slowly get back to form.
He played injured in Super Bowl XLVI and missed out on a chance to help his team return to the Super Bowl last season. This will no doubt be stuck in Gronkowski's mind as he goes through rehab.
NFL fans know how much of a mismatch Gronk is and how much stronger the Pats are with him on the field. Gronk will come back in 2013 with a vengeance.
It's too early to tell when Gronk will be healthy enough to play, but when he returns, boy is he going to be fired up.
Vereen Will Be Much More of a Factor
Don't forget about the other running back!
Much has been said about Stevan Ridley, and he has earned the stardom, without a doubt, after last season. Remember, though, the Patriots also have versatile running back Shane Vereen as well.
Vereen has been limited on touches with Ridley and Woodhead ahead of him. Now, Woodhead is gone, and the door is wide open for Vereen to break through in 2013.
Last season, the former Cal Bear rushed for 251 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. He was also effective catching the ball, averaging 18.6 yards per catch and also adding another touchdown. Vereen also scored three times in the playoffs.
During spring practice, there were times when Vereen was lined up at wide receiver, according to Paul Perillo of Patriots Football Weekly. Without Hernandez now, Vereen will likely be used even more as a receiver this season.
Don't forget that he was actually drafted ahead of Ridley, and he still has a ton of potential. His numbers will go way up this season, running and catching the ball.
Especially if Gronk isn't ready for the beginning of the season, Vereen will get a decent amount of passes thrown his way.