New England Patriots 2011 Predictions: Latest Patriots Depth Chart Analysis
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has himself a loaded roster for the 2011 NFL season. The Pats added stars like Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco in what was a crazy free-agency period.
Now, with free agency coming to a close and the preseason right around the corner, Belichick is going to have a lot of decisions to make regarding who the starters are and who fits in where.
The defense has added a ton of size and boasts one of the best groups of linemen New England has ever employed. Between Vince Wilfork, Haynesworth, Ellis and Mike Wright, the Pats should not only be able to clog up the running lanes, but also get after the quarterback.
In the secondary, Leigh Bodden's return from injury will bolster a unit that struggled at times last season. Also, the Patriots drafted physical cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who they are hoping will turn into the next Devin McCourty.
On offense, there were a lot of additions, but not many that should threaten starting jobs. Ochocinco is the only addition that should see significant playing time this season.
The two rookie running backs, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, as well as rookie tackle Nate Solder, are probably only going to play limited minutes this season. The offense is just too deep right now.
Stay right here throughout the day as I look into a few of the biggest roster decisions Belichick is going to have to make this preseason, as well as who I think will emerge by season's end.
Leigh Bodden was the New England Patriots' best cornerback in 2009. His 5 interceptions and 19 passes defensed were both team highs, and he was the second most consistent member of that young, inexperienced secondary (Brandon Meriweather was better).
This year, after missing all of the 2010 season with a bum shoulder, Bodden returns to what is now becoming one of New England's strengths.
Before the team knew that Bodden would be back at full health, though, they selected Ras-I Dowling out of the University of Virginia with the 33rd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Dowling is a big, physical corner, standing at 6'1" tall. His size, talent, and draft slot, bring to mind visions of a Devin McCourty clone.
McCourty, who was selected 27th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, was considered by many to be exclusively a special-teamer.
That was certainly not the case.
McCourty had a superb rookie season, shutting down his side of the field, while accumulating 82 tackles, 17 passes defensed, seven interceptions, and even a sack. He exceeded even head coach Bill Belichick's highest expectations, and should be a fixture in the New England secondary for years to come.
The question that needs to be asked, though, is where will Dowling fit in now that Bodden has returned from injury?
Assuming McCourty and Bodden start, the Nickel cornerback position is a possibility. With Kyle Arrington, who played CB2 last season, being re-signed, though, you would have to imagine that he slides into the Nickel spot.
That leaves Dowling sort of on the outside looking in.
And for right now, I'm OK with that. Considering the effects of the NFL Lockout on the rookies (they weren't able to practice with their team until two weeks ago), the chances of Dowling being up to speed are slim.
I would imagine, however, that by Week 10 or so, Dowling will have beaten out Arrington for that coveted Nickel spot. And hopefully, by the time the playoffs roll around, the Patriots have themselves another Devin McCourty.
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