New England: New Faces, Same Old Playbook

Nick LamotheContributor IMay 20, 2009

FOXBOROUGH - MAY 2: Coach Bill Bellichick watches during the New England Patriots Minicamp at Gillette Stadium May 2, 2009 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The list of players who enter the New England Patriots’ organization with impressive results only to exit and flop is a lengthy one.

The same can be said for the roll call of players whose careers were destined for mediocrity before being resurrected by "The Team That Kraft Built."

The once fearsome duo of Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy was broken up with the release of Milloy following the Patriots’ first Superbowl victory.

In the six seasons since his release, the four-time Pro-Bowl safety has matched his production in New England just twice.

Willie McGinest fled for Cleveland with mixed results, and Mike Vrabel became a game-changer in New England after playing the role of a backup for his first four years with the Steelers.

A cast of wide receivers including David Patten, David Givens, Jabar Gaffney, and Reche Caldwell were key contributors to the New England offense, despite floundering performances before or after their time with the Patriots.

The trend is clear, and continues far beyond even these players listed.

What does it mean?

The coaching staff and front office know the pieces they need for their system.

The New England roster rarely has the most skilled players in the league, but is seldom without those needed to execute the schemes of Belichick’s playbook.

With that being said, there may be few changes to the X’s and O’s put in place by the coaching staff for the 2009-2010 season, especially defensively.

The secondary should be improved, with the additions of Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden paired with an ever-improving Brandon Meriweather and a strong cast of rookie DB’s.

These new faces to the pass coverage may give New England a chance to mix in new looks to the Blitz packages, with more faith in the deep coverage.

On the front line of the defense, the Patriots still wreak havoc for the opposition. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, and Jarvis Green can plug the gaps with the best of lines, lightening the load that rests on the linebackers.

Look for the Pats’ 3-4 scheme to yield positive results again this season without much adjusting.

The Patriots were restricted offensively last season by a barrage of injuries, beginning with All-Pro Tom Brady. While Matt Cassel proved a capable replacement, his inconsistencies with the long ball limited the usage of Randy Moss, while keeping the defense close enough to stifle the screen plays New England has used so effectively in the Brady era.

Depending upon the outcome of the running game resuscitation project, the Patriots may be able to spread the field and wear opposing defenses down.

What fans need to remember is that Josh McDaniels is no longer barking offensive plays, which could signal a return to the more conventional arsenal of plays we saw pre-2005.

With the Wildcat formation taking the NFL by storm last year, it will be interesting to see how, if at all, New England will mix in exotic pre-snap formations.

In the past, we have seen Tom Brady line up as a wide receiver and even catch first-down passes along the sidelines.

Wes Welker’s athleticism and versatility give the Patriots options to mix in unique packages and the increase of tight ends on the roster may mean twin-TE formations that we have not seen since the departure of Daniel Graham to Denver.

All in all, with a once again healthy team and the standard cast of characters in Foxboro, New England can now return to the steady defense and flustering offense fans have come to expect.

Some of the faces are new, but rest assured they have been hand-picked and fit the mold of "Belichick-ian" prototype.


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