New England Patriots 2010 Position Battles: Inside Linebacker
The New England Patriots have set themselves up with quite a bit of young depth at inside linebacker over the past few years.
Former 10th overall pick Jerod Mayo has been a big-time contributor on defense since he arrived in the league two years ago and won the 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He is locked in at the No. 1 starting spot.
Behind him, though, is a list of several promising, talented linebackers.
With all of these guys so versatile and capable of contributing in so many ways, it's likely that none of the current depth will be watching at home on Sundays.
It wouldn't be totally ludicrous to even speculate that one or more of these guys could change positions and play on the outside.
As such, there's no doubt in my mind that all of these guys will find a place on the roster in one capacity or another.
Here's my opinion on how the battle at inside linebacker will pan out.
Guyton is the typical Belichick project, earning starts by earning his stripes on special teams. He even got to fill in for Jerod Mayo when he was injured early on in 2009.
He needs to improve his technique in tackling, and gets caught over-pursuing on plays too often, giving up big gains.
Guyton is still young, so a bit more experience could help his instincts. He had 16 starts to show improvement, though, and failed to do so, as evidenced in the Baltimore Ravens Wild Card travesty.
There's a lot of talented youth waiting in the wings to overtake Gary Guyton at the No. 2 spot on the roster, but I feel Belichick will stick with experience as he usually does.
McKenzie is "feeling great" according to an interview a few months ago.
While rehabbing his ACL, he's been in Foxboro learning the defense, working out, and getting acclimated to the NFL.
He would be open to switching positions, so if Belichick sees the potential in him, that remains an option.
He played across the board in USF's 4-3 system, and Belichick is really high on him, so he should translate well almost anywhere in the 3-4.
He's not starter material yet, but he'll push the other two guys for reps in rotational situations.
Spikes will probably earn the majority of his playing time through special teams work in his rookie season, but nothing's to stop this guy from contributing early and often.
He had fewer tackles each year as a starter, but showed a nose for big plays over time.
His instincts negate his stigmatic lack of speed; he has a high football IQ, and has good speed in pads, which is all that really matters.
As a top producer in the top conference in college football, Spikes has a diverse skill set and is a flexible football player.
He landed in a great system to develop those attributes and get the most out of him, and he'll push for reps from the very start.
Missing the cut
Eric Alexander: Alexander has seen spot duty in many games over the years, but has yet to be given an opportunity to start. That won't happen this year, either, and with plenty of talent on the roster, he will likely be cut by preseason's end.
Bo Ruud: Ruud was a sixth-round pick in 2008 and spent the 2009 offseason stuck in a waiver wire revolving door. He landed back on New England's roster recently, and will likely spend the season on the practice squad.
Thomas Williams: He had an impressive career in limited time at USC, showing the utility that Belichick loves to see in playing all three positions at linebacker. He was drafted by Jacksonville in 2008, and didn't play in 2009. He could move around the defense to get used to the scheme, but he may be left on the practice squad until he can get his bearings.