Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The trio of Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo figures to have a stranglehold on the starting linebacker positions in 2014, but the second wave—including nickel linebackers—is still up in the air.
Brandon Spikes' pass rush won't be there. Dane Fletcher's coverage is gone. The New England Patriots need a young player or a veteran to step into their roles.
Steve Beauharnais has turned heads this offseason, but he only played one snap last season. A more experienced linebacker will likely get the first chance at playing on third down, and newly signed James Anderson looks like a good bet. Mike Reiss from ESPN.com takes a look at Anderson's coverage abilities:
He consistently showed an ability to open his hips and carry a tight end down the field as he still runs well. In the season finale, Anderson's ability to drop deep in middle coverage made a potential touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson a tougher throw than it would have been otherwise (it was thrown too high and was incomplete).
Overall, Anderson seemed more effective playing backwards than towards the line of scrimmage, with a little bit of a knack for dropping out of a blitz look and making a play as a pass defender. The biggest knock on Anderson in the passing game was a mental error we saw in the season finale as he failed to scoop up a loose football on what initially appeared to be an incomplete pass (the ball slipping out of Rodgers' hand) but was actually a fumble that the Packers advanced for a touchdown.
At 6'2" and 235 pounds, Anderson isn't going to be in on running downs. If Bill Belichick brought him in, it will be to replace Beauharnais.
Josh Hull, Chris White and Ja'Gared Davis will all compete for spots on the roster as well.