2011 New England Patriots: A Six-Pack of Things Pats Need to Return to Superbowl
A six-pack is never a bad thing.
A six-pack of abs will go a long way in landing the girl of your dreams. A six-pack of beer will go a long way in landing the girl of your night. The following six-pack could get you a trip to the Superbowl.
Assuming there is a 2011-2012 NFL season, the New England Patriots open as one of the favorites to return to the Superbowl—a place they have not been since the infamous 2007 loss to the New York Giants.
In my opinion, there are six main keys to the Patriots returning to the promise land. Obviously, there are other events that need to happen and some that need to be avoided in order for the Patriots to have success. For example, if Tom Brady gets hurt, the Patriots season is, for all intents and purposes, over. Everyone already knows that, which is why this list will be composed of ways that are thought about less.
Resign Logan Mankins
Left guard Logan Mankins came back to the Patriots during Week 9 of the 2010 regular season after a long contract dispute and immediately brought a newfound toughness and grit to the offensive line. Coincidentally, it was during those nine games that Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis became a major part of the Patriots' offense. That boost to the running game, and the leadership that Mankins brings to the Patriots, is vital to the success of the 2011 squad.
Mankins, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro selection is entering his seventh year in the NFL. This is the prime of his career.
Putting aside the major dispute he and the Patriots organization seem to have developed and signing him to a long-term deal would assure the Patriots an elite guard for the foreseeable future. It would also show Patriots veterans the team rewards players who produce, especially homegrown products like Mankins.
Develop Second-Year WR Taylor Price
Price, a third round selection by the Patriots a year ago, saw limited action in 2010. But he also displayed the promise that warranted the Patriots drafting him. The 6’, 204-pound receiver runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and showed excellent hands.
With Wes Welker entrenched in the slot, Brandon Tate showing only flashes of brilliance as a go-to receiver, and Deion Branch on the wrong side of 30 years old, it may be time to thrust Price into a much larger role this coming season.
Adding a true go-to receiver would certainly take coverage away from Welker’s side of the field, and also free up Tate to stretch the field vertically.
Resign LT Matt Light
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The second of the important free agent offensive tackles. Light, who is a three-time Pro Bowl Selection and a one-time All-Pro selection, has protected Tom Brady’s blindside for the past decade.
However, he is turning 32 years old. The Patriots must realize that his time as an upper-tier left tackle are coming to a close. In drafting left tackle Nate Solder in the first round of this past NFL Draft, the Patriots made that statement.
However, keeping Light around would provide an excellent mentor to Solder and give him a year to develop before being thrown into a starting role. Light, a 10-year NFL veteran, would be a perfect fit to teach Solder the intricacies of life as a starting left tackle.
Clear Up the Running Back Situation
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Before the 2011 NFL Draft, the Patriots already had a crowded backfield. 1,000-yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis served as the primary back, and was spelled mostly by Danny Woodhead. Early in last year’s campaign, Kevin Faulk, who usually played the role of third down back, suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
However, with Faulk coming back from injury this current year, the Patriots had three viable running backs on the roster.
Then the Patriots drafted Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in this past year’s draft, adding young blood to the running back pool for this upcoming season. In order for the Patriots to find success, I believe that Bill Belichick must make the running back pecking order obvious from the start.
The addition of Vereen and Ridley makes Kevin Faulk’s return to the team dubious, even though Faulk has suggested that he wants to remain with the Patriots to finish his career out.
Stay Healthy on Defense
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Last year’s defense was young and promising, but also patchwork. Injuries to names like Ty Warren, Ron Brace, Mike Wright, and Leigh Bodden assured that a defense of late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents became starters in one of the best teams in the NFL.
Late in the season, names like Rob Ninkovich, Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, and others were thrust into vital situations on defense. They performed admirably. But in order for the Patriots to get back to the Superbowl, they need true starters at every position.
Perhaps the most crucial injury was the season-ending injury that Leigh Bodden suffered. Bodden, a solid cornerback for his entire career, would have provided a great opposite to rookie sensation and Pro Bowl selection Devin McCourty at the cornerback position.
Instead, a committee of Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, and others were forced to spell McCourty. Because of McCourty’s greatness, these other corners were attacked constantly and often exploited.
End the NFL Lockout
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Simply put, without a season, the Patriots do not have a chance to make it back to the Superbowl. Ending the lockout would also allow the team to organize formal workouts and let rookies learn the playbook.
With such a young defense, every practice that they can spend under Bill Belichick will help them to improve as a unit. Likewise, each day that rookies like Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley are not allowed to meet with their positional coaches is another day that their development is hindered slightly.