2009 New England Patriots Outlook
With the return of Tom Brady being the topic of conversation in most Patriots fan’s households there days, it seems the rest of a truly great offseason has been forgotten, or at least pushed aside in favor of a more exciting story.
While the return of Tom Brady to the Patriots has certainly calmed the nerves of many a fan after the trade that sent Cassel to the Chiefs in return for a pick that landed us hometown defensive tackle Ron Brace, the ultimate truth is Belichick showed us once they can do it with someone else at QB, and if need be, they certainly have the weapons to succeed now in a similar situation.
Let’s go over some of the additions the Patriots made this offseason, some that will be key in what will likely be a march to the AFC title game, if not a Super Bowl win this season—and others that will likely make more of their contributions in future years.
I, for one, was deeply concerned when Jabar Gaffney followed Josh McDaniels to Denver, as I’ve watched Gaffney build up a rapport with Brady over the past few years that left Brady comfortable hitting Gaffney anywhere on the field and as often as he needed to.
However, Patriots management promptly quieted my concerns (and I’m sure this is specifically the reason they did it) by signing veteran receiver Joey Galloway.
Galloway has been known as a speedster his entire career and brings another receiver to the team who has over 10,000 yards in his career (Randy Moss has over 13,000). To put that in perspective, the next closest to 10,000 yards on the team is Wes Welker.
With Galloway’s speed likely lined up opposite Moss, it will be very difficult for teams to account for Wes Welker inside and also for them to double up on Randy Moss, as that would likely leave a linebacker covering the elusive Welker in a one-on-one situation, with Galloway against their No. 2 corner, a potential problem if your No. 2 back is someone like rookie Malcolm Jenkins, who isn’t known for top-end speed.
In addition, the Patriots drafted former Tar Heel receiver Brandon Tate, who interestingly enough is coming back from missing most of last season after suffering the exact same injury Tom Brady is now returning from.
This move excited me in two ways: One, Tate is one heck of a receiver, as well as a kick and punt return threat; two, if the Patriots drafted a guy coming back from the same injury Brady is, they must be really confident in the healing ability of a player who has injured their knee in that same manner.
In other words, Brady’s really back. It was just another move, paired with the Cassel trade, that showed me the Patriots management is absolutely confident Brady is healthy and ready to go. It’s not that I don’t believe they could win with O’Connell, Guttierez, or Hoyer manning the ship, but, boy, I’ll be glad if I don’t have to find out if they can do it.
The one real addition here is the addition of veteran back Fred Taylor, a running back who has quietly dominated opposing defenses throughout his 12-year career in Florida, where he’s racked up 11,271 rushing yards (third amongst active players behind only LT and Edgerrin James).
While it’s a given that Taylor isn’t a back that can carry the load any longer, in New England, he won’t be asked to. He’ll be sharing the load with Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk—three established backs who should help to form something of a four-headed monster in New England, something like many of the three-back systems made popular by the New York Giants and throughout the league now.
The one possibility of a change here at this position it seems would be the thought of the Patriots trying to trade one of their backs, and if it were me, it would be Maroney that I sent packing.
I understand he’s one of the younger backs on the team, but he has yet to play a full season at full health, and therefore, has not gone over 1,000 yards once (although he came close with 800 and change in the 2007-2008 season).
I think that he still has enough potential to net a decent return, but he isn’t worth keeping around, given his lack of durability thus far.
In addition, the Patriots have a few young running backs on their roster they feel good about. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a second year player that rushed for five touchdowns and 275 yards last season, is the best of a trio of new, younger backs that also includes Omar Cuff (Delaware) and Eric Kettani (one of three players brought in from Navy).
The Patriots mainly worked to add depth to an already established line, and they did so in a big way, bringing in 6’7”, 312 lb. Sebastian Volmer of Houston with one of their four second-round picks in this year’s draft.
In addition, they picked up 6’5”, 310 pound Kent State wrestler Jermaile Porter, an interesting move because he hasn’t once played a down of competitive football. Rookies George Bussey and Rich Ohrnberger were also brought in, and while I’m sure none these players will make the cut, it should be interesting to watch them fight for roster spots in preseason this year, particularly Porter, who will be playing his first football down ever as a professional football player on one of the greatest teams in the league.
Kind of reminds you of the Replacements a little bit, doesn’t it?
The one real addition made along the defensive line was that of Ron Brace, a Worcester, Mass. native who played his college ball in the (rather large) shadow of rookie Packer DT BJ Raji.
Brace is a D-tackle with a massive frame, standing at 6’1” and tipping the scales around 330 lbs. This was a particularly interesting draft move, as Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork is in the last year of his contract, and the play of Brace will likely dictate how much money the Patriots’ front office is willing to commit to Wilfork in free agency or if they trade him.
While returning most of the linebacking unit from last season (save Mike Vrabel, who was shipped along with Cassel in the deal that brought that second-round pick), the Patriots drafted Tyrone McKenzie, a player they felt could compete for that OLB spot vacated by Vrabel—at least until he went down with a season ending injury before training camp even started.
While Lennon has played most of his time at the MLB spot, he might be able to compete for the OLB spot opposite Adalius Thomas. Someone needs to step up from the younger group here.
After all, there’s only so many years you can keep bringing back a 60-year-old Junior Seau.
The secondary unit is really where the Patriots did a great deal of work this offseason, adding veterans and drafting rookies all over the place.
I’m slightly worried they went more with quantity than quality, but the group should be deep and difficult to contend with. They brought in perennial T.O. killer Shawn Springs, former Lion Leigh Bodden, and drafted rookie Darius Butler out of UConn in the second round.
While Bodden and Springs haven’t combined for too many interceptions in the recent past, they are both solid cornerbacks (even if they’re on the downside of their careers)
Adding these guys to a unit that already includes guys like Tank Williams (who will play a hybrid role this season) and James Sanders should make for a strong secondary that will keep opposing QBs on their toes.
The Patriots also selected safety Patrick Chung in the second round (for those of you keeping count that’s four; Belichick is a master), and I expect him to fill the role voided by the departure of Rodney Harrison.
Many experts have the Patriots rated as the second overall team in the league before a snap has been taken, and given a healthy Tom Brady, that seems a reasonable expectation—although, perhaps, it is slightly too reserved.
A realistic expectation for this team is to take it all the way. Players have voiced their confidence, and everyone’s talking about the energized atmosphere in the locker room and amongst the team with Brady’s return.
If the unthinkable happened and Brady went down again, I’m not really sure how this team would take it mentally, although, like I said, with all these weapons, I should be able to play QB for the Patriots this year if they end up needing the help.
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