With so much turnover on the Patriots roster over the past few years, it's put up or shut up time for several players.
I've listed ten players that I believe to be breakout candidates for 2010. This doesn't mean I think they will all break out; if they did, I'd expect the Patriots to be one of the best teams in the league.
With that, here's a list of 10 players who could be household names by the end of the 2010 season.
Shawn Crable has become a household name already, but not for on-field accomplishments—rather, much the opposite. A pair of injuries have kept him sidelined throughout the first two years of his career.
Crable has prototypical height, weight, and speed for 3-4 outside linebackers in Bill Belichick's scheme. His ceiling is incredibly high, as he proved in college with 13 sacks and four forced fumbles in two years as a starter.
This could be a make-or-break year for Crable, even being his first year on the field (if he makes it that far).
Edelman began his career on a high note by filling in admirably in limited time when "The Slot Machine" Wes Welker was down with injury on a couple of occasions.
That's the name of the game yet again in 2010, as Welker's return remains indefinite.
The rapport Brady and Edelman built last year could spell big things for the former Kent State quarterback, especially if Welker is out longer than we hope.
For all the youthful blood being pumped through New England's blood stream, Darius Butler may be catching the least attention.
He played incredibly well last year, even when teams targeted him with frequency; a calm, collected, and confident exterior goes a long way for NFL cornerbacks, who historically have fragile egos.
Tate recovered from a senior-season-ending injury in '08 at UNC, only to land back on IR in the NFL with another injury to the other knee.
Two years with very inconsistent field time could spell a little rust for Tate, but there's few better quarterbacks to help young receivers along than Tom Brady.
Some of you may be scratching your head, but let me explain.
Mayo has been a beast in the middle of New England's defense, registering 170 solo tackles in two years as a starter. He hasn't, however, been the big-play linebacker the Patriots sorely need him to be. He's only tallied 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 0 interceptions in his career.
He'll need to step up and be a play-maker for a New England defense that sorely lacked in the big-play area last year.
Labeling a rookie that's coming back from back surgery might be a bad choice in hindsight, but I really like Gronk's upside; word out of camp is that he and Brady are quickly building rapport, too.
Add to that the fact that he'll be getting mentored by one of the best in Alge Crumpler, and Gronkowski could launch himself into a long and successful career if given the opportunity.
New England's first pick in the 2008 draft played well in limited time last year, reaching the quarterback twice and intercepting one pass in 16 games with only one start.
Chung has big play written all over him, especially as he gets increased reps over the span of the season. With James Sanders out of the equation, that appears to be increasing in likelihood.
New England's secondary is looking like a scary unit, and if Chung can come on strong early on, they'll be all the better for it.
New England fans are well aware of how Bill Belichick likes to utilize the whole stable of running backs in an effort to capitalize on the style and the best abilities of every player.
He averaged 4.4 yards per carry last year, and racked up five touchdowns in limited time in 2008. With the other backs in New England's stable so often injuried, more of that kind of play could earn him an increased workload in New England's crowded and aging backfield.
Despite playing in nine games and starting two, I couldn't find a picture of Brace playing a down anywhere, even Google. With an uncertain patchwork defensive line, Brace will have to step up big.
Of course, his position is the same as Vince WIlfork (NT), but putting the two massive tackles together could really help free up the linebackers by soaking up blockers; likewise, Jermaine Cunningham and Derrick Burgess are more 4-3 DEs than 3-4 OLBs (at least for the time being).
Cunningham played a lot of 4-3 defensive end at Florida, and although he has experience dropping into coverage, he excels with his hand in the ground.
Still, Bill Belichick has coached some great linebackers in his day, and will be able to get the most out of Cunningham as a linebacker. Likewise, the Patriots have the necessary personnel to effectively run a 4-3 front, and Cunningham could excel there as well.
Arguments could be made for several other players to be on this list—in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm kicking myself in the ass by the end of the season for not putting Brandon Spikes or Devin McCourty on this list.
These, as mentioned before, are just my opinions of players that could break out if given the opportunity to do so. These are the players I feel are the most likely to have that opportunity due to roster depth and various other circumstances such as recent contracts and injury histories.
Feel free, as always, to weigh in with your opinions. Thanks for reading!