The State of the Patriots: October 4th, 2014

I’m stating the obvious here when I say that it has been a frustrating start to the 2014 NFL season for New England Patriots fans. Throughout that time frame, I have had countless debates, conversations, and occasional verbal eruptions with friends regarding my viewpoint on what’s going on with this team. Along the way, I’ve run into the “sunshine.com” people (thanks to Felger and Mazz for that title) that can just not be critical about this team. They believe in just blindly trusting Bill Belichick based on the body of work, and therefore leaving us fans with the inability to critique or criticize any move or decision that is made. On the flip side, I’ve run into the “doomsday” bunch that are saying Brady is a shell of himself, Josh McDaniels should be fired, and Bill Belichick may have lost it and the franchise may want to consider moving on. I find myself stuck in the middle of these two extremes, and reaching a boiling point of frustration from dealing with the aforementioned people. Therefore, after a long hiatus, I have returned to ntcf.wordpress.com to express MY opinion on the current state of the New England Patriots.

Because this post will encompass the past 4 weeks, I’m going to limit my opinion sharing to a select few topics. If I touched on everything, we’d be here for a week. In no particular order:

TOM BRADY
Do I believe that Tom Brady’s skill set has diminished? Yes. Do I think that the team can’t rely on Brady to cover up for mistakes or a lack of talent like in pervious years? Yes. Do I still want Tom Brady as my quarterback? Without a shadow of a doubt. I still think that Tom Brady is a top 5 quarterback in the NFL. Is he playing like it currently? No not at all. But there are so many variables that play a role in Tom Brady’s performance. It’s impossible to judge how much Brady has declined based on several factors, including poor offensive line play, decreased talent at wide receiver, a still recovering Rob Gronkowski, and a very inconsistent run game. All of those factors lead to my original point, Tom Brady’s skill set has diminished slightly. In years past, the Patriots have had poor talent at wideout, and yet Brady would move the ball down the field effortlessly. Additionally, Brady is locking in on recievers more than I can ever remember. Is that a lack of talent? Maybe a lack of trust? Only Brady knows that, but it’s certainly an issue. In previous seasons, there have been issues along the offensive line, and yet Tom Brady would deliver quick passes that were on point and not allow the defense to get to him. However, I personally can not remember a season where the offensive line was in disarray and the receiving corps was not on the same page as Brady both at the same time. I believe that is the reason Tom Brady and the Patriots offense is struggling mightily to start the season.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Has the Logan Mankins trade affected the offensive line play so far this season? In my opinion, yes. If you gave me the option to do the trade all over again, would I? Absolutely not. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand the trade. I’m sure that Mankins’ play has declined, and I commented on it to some friends last season. But come on, I would take Mankins over Jordan Devey 10 times out of 10. I just don’t understand why you deal away arguably your best offensive lineman 2 weeks before the start of the season when you have a 37 year old immobile quarterback and when there doesn’t seem to be an in house replacement ready to go. However, that does not excuse Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and the remainder of the lineman for their shit play this season. Last week I read an article by Pro Football Focus that ranked every single offensive lineman that played at least 1 snap this season. Solder ranked 65 out of 69 left tackles. Vollmer was 63 out of 69. Come on! That’s pathetic. Nate Solder is a 6’8” marshmallow. Vollmer looks very rigid and is an injury waiting to happen. The only lineman I like on the Patriots right now is Bryan Stork. The dude has a mean streak about him. That is what this team is missing. In Kansas City on Monday night, the offensive line played their best game thus far (that isn’t saying much). Stork looks like he may be the answer at center, and Fleming played a decent right guard. Now, Fleming has been ruled out of the game Sunday against Cincy. Maybe the Pats will give Devey another look! Looks like Brady will be in “duck and cover” mode again Sunday night.

THE DEFENSE
A buddy of mine last week told me that the Patriots had the best defense in the league. I questioned him, commenting on the second half of the Miami game and the lack of competition in Minnesota and Oakland. He gave me shit about not judging the team based on one bad half, blah, blah. Well, he’s not making such definitive statements after the Kansas City game. Much has been made of Darrelle Revis not looking like an absolute stud. I’ll admit, he hasn’t been amazing. However, I can’t say that I watched every game Revis played in New York. Maybe he coasts against sub par talent. I do think the Pats are trying out a variety of schemes on defense, and Revis isn’t allowed to lock down on a wideout for the whole game just yet. AJ Green coming to town is the ultimate test of how good Revis still is and how the Patriots will utilize his strengths.

Revis isn’t the big issue for this team. It’s the defensive line. Much has been made of Chandler Jones making a big leap to become on of the elite pass rushers heading into year 3. Well, I’m not on board. I’ve never been thrilled with Jones’ skill set. He’s big, but gets overpowered way too often. He’s fast, but doesn’t seem to have that quick twitch speed off of the line. When teams run to his side, he gets steam rolled. A vast majority of his sacks last season were coverage sacks (surprising, I know). As we move down the line, we see Vince, who’s still a serviceable defensive tackle, but certainly isn’t the same player that he was 3-4 years ago. We find the combination of Silva Salinga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano. I’d rather have Scott Patterson and Chris Veltri shedding blocks out there. And finally Nonkovich. I’m not a big Ninkovich guy. Never have been, probably never will be. He isn’t consistent enough of a player to be relied on to start. Don’t forget, Tommy Kelly was cut over what likely would amass to about 800k in salary. Great move guys!

THE RECEIVERS
Via ESPN Boston – “In my year and a half with Aaron Dobson, he has always been respectful to me and to the rest of the coaching staff. He has never once been argumentative or confrontational. The suggestion and reporting that his playing time was in any way the result of a ‘loud disagreement’ with a coach is completely false.”

That was Bill Belichick’s prepared statement that was released approximately 3 hours after refusing to answer questions regarding Aaron Dobson at his press conference today. Is it just me, or is this whole situation really, really weird? Your second year 2nd round wide receiver is inactive for 3 of the first 4 games, not because of health or he wouldn’t have played in one game, but allegedly because of mouthing off. Now, Belichick comes out, says Dobson is respectful and never had a disagreement with a coach. So now, he’s inactive because he sucks? What the hell is going on? The Patriots have NEVER been able to evaluate wide receiver talent well, and the more that this saga continues, the more concerned I am that Dobson isn’t going to pan out.

As for the rest of the bunch, Edelman is Brady’s crutch. If he goes down, kiss the season goodbye. Lafell looked better last week, but I get the sense that they were trying to force feed him the ball to either boost his morale or give the defense another look. Either way, I’m not sold. Danny Amendola can’t get open without them running a pick play for him. Kenbrell allegedly isn’t very good either because he’s been inactive this season as well.

What I believe is really plaguing this group is the lack of a deep threat. We originally thought Dobson would be that guy, but apparently not. Ed Reed made a comment on whatever show he is on that he wouldn’t be afraid of any wide receiver the Patriots have. What that means to me is that they safeties creep up closed to the line of scrimmage, cornerbacks are more likely to jump shorter routes, and linebackers have less responsibility in pass coverage and can therefore blitz more often. All of that adds up to some ineffective play a wide receiver.

THE GAMEPLANNING / COACHING / ROSTER DECISIONS
Zone coverage for Darrell Revis. Only 3 wide recievers are active against KC (5 running backs active), and yet we open the game in shotgun and don’t run the ball until late in the first quarter. Failure to stay committed to the run game (especially against porous run defenses like Oakland). Bringing back Patrick Chung to start at strong safety even though we let him go last time because he sucked. Putting Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins on the same side of the formation defensively, basically beginning teams to run in that direction, and get big yardage. We have to assume that things will get better, because Bill’s track record depicts that it should. However, many of these issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later, or I truly believe that the coaching staff will be in danger of losing this team.


I guess all it comes down to after that long ass rant is what Billy Boy said this past week, “We are on to Cincinnati.”

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2013 New England Patriots Roster Breakdown – May Edition

In this post, I’m going to take a look at the potential 53 man roster for the New England Patriots for the upcoming 2013 season.  Obviously, it is May so many things will change between now and the beginning of the season.  However, if the season were to start today, this is how I see the roster shaking out.  For each position, I will list the players in order from starter to backup (i.e. 1) starter, 2) backup, etc.).  Let’s do it…

QUARTERBACK: 2 (2)

1)    Tom Brady

2)    Ryan Mallett

Analysis: This one is a no brainer.  Brady is the man, and no one in the league could compete for his position.  The thing to watch at quarterback for the Pats this offseason is the  performance of Ryan Mallett.  While some believe Mallett was drafted to be groomed as Brady’s potential replacement, I think Mallett was brought in 1) Because they saw great value when they selected him in the 3rd round in 2011 and 2) They saw him as a potential trade chip for a higher draft pick than he was originally selected.  If Mallett performs this preseason, he could get dealt to a team that has a big need at QB.

RUNNING BACK: 4 (4)

1)    Stevan Ridley

2)    Shane Vereen

3)    LeGarrette Blount

4)    Leon Washington

Analysis: Ridley earned the starting spot after his performance throughout the 2012 season, however some late season fumbling issues forced the Pats to bring in some insurance at the running back position (Blount) to at least compete with Ridley for the top spot.  Shane Vereen will pick up where Danny Woodhead left off, and will produce at a higher level than Woodhead did.  Ridley’s biggest area of improvement needs to be in pass protection, where Woodhead excelled.  Leon Washington is kept on as a return specialist/emergency/change of pace back.  Blount beats out Brandon Bolden for a spot on the roster and will look to be used in short yardage and goal line situations.

WIDE RECEIVER: 6 (5)

1) Aaron Dobson [outside]

1) Josh Boyce [outside]

1) Danny Amendola [slot]

2) Julian Edelman

2) Donald Jones

3) Matthew Slater

Analysis: This is by far the toughest position to predict the roster breakdown for on the 2013 Patriots.  With so much change that has occurred at the position, determining the direction that Pats will go is tough.  In my opinion, this is how the depth chart will stack up in September.  I think that Dobson and Boyce will both make a smooth transition and earn starting spots on the outside, while Amendola is already penciled in as the starting slot receiver.  Julian Edelman makes the team for two reasons: 1) Familiarity with the system and 2) Depth in the slot (although Boyce can play the slot as well.  The position battle to watch here will be between Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and newly signed Lavelle Hawkins.  I think Jenkins’ skill set has diminished to a point where he won’t produce on this team.  Hawkins had some issues with coachability and offensive knowledge in Tennessee, which is the recipe for being cut here in New England.  That leaves Jones, who has proven he can produce in the division and has good speed and size.  Slater isn’t going anywhere.  He is a lifer with the Pats.

TIGHT END: 4 (4)

1) Rob Gronkowski

1) Aaron Hernandez

2) Jake Ballard

3) Michael Hoomanawanui

Analysis: The top two spots here are set in stone for the next 5-6 years.  Gronkowski is still dealing with forearm issues, which now has me concerned that he will not be ready for the start of the season.  Here’s my prediction: Gronkowski starts the season on the PUP list in an effort to get that forearm back to 100% (and because they know they can afford to miss Gronk for 6 weeks).  With that said, the Pats are utilizing the two tight-end set more than any team in the NFL, so they are forced to carry 4 (at least) on their roster.  After Gronk and Hernandez, the next two spots are up for grabs.  The Pats made a great move and grabbed an injured Jake Ballard off of waivers from the Giants, and the greatness of that move will be realized this year.  Ballard is a mammoth of a human (6’6″, 275 lbs), but is as a good receiver (2011: 38 rec, 604 yards, 4 TDs) as he is blocker.  The Pats re-signed Hoomanawanui to a one-year, $1.323 million contract this offseason, so I think that gives him a leg up over Daniel Fells for the 4th tight end spot.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: 4 (4)

1) Nate Solder [LT]

1) Sebastian Vollmer [RT]

2) Will Svitek

2) Marcus Cannon

Analysis: The top two spots here are filled by returning players in Solder and Vollmer.  After that, I see Svitek as a near lock to make the roster considering he is guaranteed to make at least $500,000 this season even if he is cut.  Svitek has the versatility to play both tackle positions and has been a good back-up for several years in the NFL, while also having started 16 games throughout his career.  Marcus Cannon will be the other backup tackle.  Cannon played decently in limited action last year, and should continue to develop this offseason.  Some believe the Pats will look to move Cannon inside to guard, which could shift the depth chart at tackle a bit.

OFFENSIVE GUARD: 3 (4)

1) Logan Mankins [LG]

1) Dan Connolly [RG]

2) Nick McDonald

Analysis: I see the Patriots only needing to keep 3 guards on the active roster for a couple of reasons: 1) McDonald has the versatility to play both guard positions and 2) Cannon can bump inside and play guard as well.  Mankins and Connolly are locks at both starting guard positions, while McDonald has been a good, versatile backup over the last couple of seasons.  Over his career, McDonald has lined up at all 5 offensive line spots, and worked a lot on playing center last offseason.  This is a great advantage for the Pats, considering that they usually only keep one center on the active roster (Connolly has also played center in the past).  Nick’s brother Chris will push him for a spot on the 53-man roster, however I think Chris makes his way onto the practice squad.

CENTER: 1 (1)

1) Ryan Wendell

Analysis: Not much analysis required here.  As mentioned previously, McDonald and Connolly have both played center in the past, so if Wendell happens to go down, the Pats have options.

DEFENSIVE END: 5 (6)

1) Chandler Jones [Right DE]

1) Rob Ninkovich [Left DE]

2) Jermaine Cunningham

2) Justin Francis

3) Jake Bequette

Analysis: For consistency purposes, I am creating this depth chart based on the assumption that the Pats will primarily play a 4-3 defense in 2013.  Obviously, they often switch between defenses, however, I’m projecting all players as they fit into a 4-3.  At defensive end, Jones and Ninkovich get the starting nod, just as they did in 2012.  The battle at defensive end starts with the second string guys.  Unlike some other positions where the second stringers don’t see the field much, back-up defensive lineman are becoming much more important in the NFL.  High-powered passing attacks are forcing defenses to rotate lineman to keep fresh bodies on the field that can get to the quarterback.  For the Pats, pressuring the quarterback is a top priority in 2013.  There will be a battle for the back-up spots at defensive end this off-season.  Jermaine Cunningham showed flashes of the player expected when he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.  A 4-game suspension derailed some of that success, however I think his performance last season warrants him making the team in 2013.  Justin Francis went from being an undrafted free agent signing to top back-up performer for the Pats in 2012 (10 tackles, 3 sacks).  Jake Bequette only played in 3 games last year, however he was awarded practice player of the month in October of last season and is expected to make a bigger impact in 2013.  A prospect to watch here is 7th round pick Michael Buchanon.  Buchanon has the athleticism to rush the passer in the NFL, however he needs to ass some bulk in order to hold up in the run game.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: 4 (4)

1) Vince Wilfork

1) Kyle Love

2) Tommy Kelly

2) Armond Armstead

Analysis: The surprising release of Brandon Deaderick a couple of days ago makes me think that the Patriots have something in one of their young defensive tackles that we don’t know about yet.  Vince Wilfork is considered one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, and will remain a staple on the New England defensive line for years to come.  I believe that Kyle Love has earned a starting spot on this team.  Love has a Wilfork-like build (6’1″, 320 lbs) and is in the game on 1st and 2nd down to simple take up blockers.  On third down is where Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead come in.  Kelly is a formidable pass rusher from the defensive tackle position (14.5 combined sacks between 2010-2011) and will hopefully fill a Gerard Warren-like role for the 2013 Pats.  Armstead comes from the CFL through USC.  Armstead had a heart attack as a senior at USC and was never cleared to play college football again.  Therefore, he had to go through the CFL to make his way to the NFL.  Armstead had 44 tackles and 6 sacks in the CFL last year.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: 3 (3)

1) Jerod Mayo

1) Dont’a Hightower

2) Jamie Collins

Analysis: Jerod Mayo, one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers, make the transition to the outside in the Pats 4-3 defense in 2012, and seemed to not miss a beat.  Mayo amassed 147 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.  Opposite Mayo, 2012 1st round pick Dont’a Hightower had a good first season in New England, ending with 60 tackles and 4 sacks.  I expect Hightower to become a more efficient pass rusher in 2013 and be most effective on first and second down.  Then there is 2013 2nd round pick Jamie Collins.  As mentioned in a previous post, I think Collins can contribute most on 3rd down as a rookie.  As a former safety, Collins has fluid hips as an outside linebacker and should be able to cover backs, tight ends, and slot receivers more effectively than the bigger Hightower (Collins: 6’3″, 250 lbs; Hightower: 6’2″, 270 lbs).  Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, former contributors for the Pats, will be competing primarily with inside linebackers for a roster spot as none of the aforementioned outside linebackers will be released.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: 3 (3)

1) Brandon Spikes

2) Dane Fletcher

3) Mike Rivera

Analysis: 2013 is a huge year for Brandon Spikes.  Spikes is in the 4th year of his rookie contract, and needs to prove he is worth the next contract he will get from either the Patriots of another team.  Spikes has already displayed great run-stopping ability in the NFL.  The problem is that Spikes is considered by some to be a 2-down linebacker.  2-down linebackers don’t usually get big-time money in the NFL.  Dane Fletcher was cementing himself as a good backup and possible future starter for the Patriots before he tore his ACL last season.  The Pats thought highly enough of Fletcher to re-sign him (he was a restricted free agent) this off-season.  Mike Rivera his filled in well for the Pats over the last couple of seasons and will be competing with rookie 7th round pick Steve Beauharnais for the 3rd spot on the depth chart.

CORNERBACK: 6 (7)

1) Aqib Talib

1) Alfonzo Dennard

2) Kyle Arrington [Nickel Corner]

2) Ras-I Dowling

3) Logan Ryan

3) Marquice Cole

Analysis: Unlike 2012, I’m projecting that the Pats only carry 6 cornerbacks in 2013 simply because they are overloaded at safety (and I believe a couple of their safeties could play on the inside at corner).  The Patriots got lucky this off-season when Alfonzo Dennard got sentenced to only 30 days in prison (starting in March 2014).  Dennard will look to build on a successful rookie campaign and start opposite of the $5 million man (Talib) in 2013.  Newly resigned Kyle Arrington played well enough over the past few seasons to earn 4-year $16 million deal this off-season.  Arrington will play, and is most effective in the nickel.  After than, the battle begins.  Logan Ryan is essentially a lock simply because of the position that he was drafted this season.  2013 is a make or break season for Ras-I Dowling.  If he is able to stay healthy and contribute, we may begin to realize some of his talent.  However, another injury may lead to Dowling’s release.  Marquice Cole gets the nod as the 6th corner because of his special teams prowess.  Rookie free-agent Brandon Jones could push for Cole’s roster spot if he proves that he can perform on special teams.

SAFETY: 5 (4)

1) Devin McCourty [FS]

1) Adrian Wilson [SS]

2) Tavon Wilson

2) Duron Harmon

3) Nate Ebner

Analysis: As I mentioned earlier, the Pats have an overload of safeties on their roster.  I project that 5 safeties will make the final 2013 roster, which is one more than last season.  I believe it is time that Devin McCourty makes the official switch to safety.  McCourty has performed well as a part-time safety over the last couple of seasons (although he was basically full-time last year), and it looks like the Pats think he may be a long-term solution at free safety.  I still think McCourty could be a good corner in the NFL, however I don’t get paid to make those decisions.  Adrian Wilson will get the start opposite of McCourty and will provide a physical presence that the Pats have lacked since the Rodney Harrison days.  At 6’3″, 230 lbs, Wilson has lost a step over his career, but McCourty’s responsibility will be to cover, Wilson will be asked to hit.  Behind those two, 2012 second round pick Tavon Wilson earns a roster spot after showing some promise in his rookie campaign (41 tackles, 4 interceptions).  Wilson also has the ability to drop down and play over the slot receiver, which will be useful as the Pats are only keeping 6 corners.  2013 3rd round pick Duron Harmon makes the roster over 2012 starter Steve Gregory.  Gregory was serviceable in 2012, although I think the Pats will decide to move in a new direction in 2013.  Special teams standout Nate Ebner gets the nod as the 3rd string safety due to his special teams ability (him and Slater are essentially the new Larry Izzos).

SPECIALISTS: 3 (3)

PK) Stephen Gostkowski

P) Zoltan Mesko

LS) Danny Aiken

Analysis: No change here from 2012.  The Patriots have brought in 2012 Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen to compete with Zoltan Mesko, however I expect Mesko to win that battle.  Some believe Allen may make the practice squad, which speaks to his talent as punters don’t often take up a spot on the 7-man practice squad.

PRACTICE SQUAD: 7 (7)

1)    Michael Buchanon, DE

2)    Matt Stankiewitch, C

3)    Chris McDonald, OG

4)    Brandon Jones, CB

5)    Steve Beauharnais, LB

6)    Jason Vega, DE

7)    TJ Moe, WR

Analysis: At this point in time, practice squad predictions are nearly impossible considering that training camp hasn’t even started yet.  However, in true Mattyoshow fashion, I’m giving it a shot.  Michael Buchanon is a raw talent out of Illinois that needs time in the weight room to bulk up.  I truly think Buchanon will push Jake Bequette for a roster spot at defensive end, but will wind up on the practice squad.  Matt Stankiewitch was a 25-game starter at Penn State at center, and certainly benefitted from Bill O’Brien’s tutelage during his last year at Penn State.  Stankiewitch is determined to learn to play guard in the NFL to improve his versatility and subsequently his odds of making the active roster.  Chris McDonald, younger brother of the aforementioned Nick McDonald, was a 39 game starter for the Michigan St. Spartans and will look to carve a position out at guard in the NFL.  Brandon Jones, yet another Rutgers product, will compete for an active roster spot this season, but will most likely end up on the practice squad.  Steve Beauharnais is an instinctual linebacker that ha a nose for the football.  Beauharnais doesn’t project as a 3-down linebacker, but a year in the weight room could lead to him competing for a roster spot in 2014.  Jason Vega is another CFL product signed this offseason.  Vega is a former Northeastern product (via Brockton) that amassed 66 tackles and 12 sacks in the CFL in 2012.  Missouri product TJ Moe draws comparisons to Welker simply based on his skill set and skin color.  Moe is bigger than Welker (6’0″, 200 lbs), stronger (26 reps at the combine), and maybe even more agile (Combine best 6.53 3-cone drill).  Moe could use a year of seasoning on the practice squad, however in 2013 he could look to replace Julian Edelman on the roster.

Super Bowl or Bust?

As we look forward to the 2010 NFL season for the New England Patriots, it is hard to ignore the past.  Between 2001-2009 the New England Patriots were the most successful franchise in the NFL.  The Pats amassed three Super Bowl titles (2001, 2003, 2004), no losing seasons, the only sixteen game undefeated regular season in NFL history, seven AFC East titles, four AFC Championship game victories (out of five appearances), arguably the greatest offensive season of all time, and compiling 111 wins.  There is little argument against the New England Patriots being declared the team of the decade.  But, as successful as the past decade has been for the Patriots, 2010 is a new season that brings about its’ own set of challenges.  Even though it is time to look ahead towards the future and leave the past in our rear-view mirror, the past decade can certainly be used as a building block that the New England organization can mold its’ future with.

As for the 2010 season, there are certainly a number of questions that need to be answered before 1pm on Sunday September 12th when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town to open the season.  The biggest question, in my opinion, may lie under center with number 12.  2010 will mark Tom Brady’s second season since returning from a torn ACL and MCL suffered in the 2008 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Almost 4,400 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions (Brady’s 2009 statistics) are certainly nothing to scoff at, but at times last season (particularly towards the end of games) Brady’s play become sloppy and lacked the crispness that has always defined his play.  The Patriots success will rely completely on the play of Tom Brady (as it has over the past 4-5 seasons).  I expect Brady to return to his 2007 self (granted expecting 50 touchdown passes is quite outrageous) and play like the Tom Brady that we have come to know and love.

The running game has been a question mark since the Patriots drafted Laurence Maroney with the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft.  Sammy Morris is returning from an injury plagued 2009 season, as is Fred Taylor.  I’ve been calling for Belichick to put more influence on the run game for three seasons now, and I’m going to call for it again.  Establishing the run with three very capable running backs will do nothing but open up alleys for the passing game.  But, I expect little to change with the Pats’ philosophy and for them to use the run sparingly as usual.

I have lofty expectations for this group of receivers/tight ends for the upcoming season.  Randy Moss is a year older, but he is still a number one wideout in the league and will put up good numbers.  Welker has undergone arguably one of the fastest recoveries from ACL surgery for a professional athlete ever.  It is complete truth when they say every ACL surgery that gets done, the surgeons get a little bit better and the recovery time becomes a little bit shorter.  I think it will take a few weeks for Welker to get his head back on straight (you need to expect at least a minimal amount of apprehension towards making sharp cuts on his bad knee), but after week four or five I expect him to be back to his old self.  Torry Holt has certainly lost a step, but he will provide a target on the opposite side of the field from Moss that the Pats haven’t had since Stallworth left.  I am very excited about the contributions that will come from Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez.  I expect Hernandez to make the biggest contribution right out of the gate.  He has the perfect body type/athletic ability/skill set to excel in the “H-Back” position (similarly to Chris Cooley).  But, Gronkowski will be the starting tight end by the end of the season, and I expect Tate to contribute to the team by that time as well.  Coming from a small school, Price may need time to develop and master the playbook, but his speed alone makes him a great asset.

The Logan Mankins contract situation is certainly something that worries me.  Mankins seems prepared to sit out for a while, and as one of the best guards in the league, the Patriots cannot afford that loss.  Nick Kaczur has some experience and was supposed to fill Mankins’ spot at left guard, but an injury has sidelined him thus far in training camp.  Aside from Mankins, the offensive line will look the same as last season.  I’m excited to see how much Sebastian Vollmer has developed with one offseason of NFL workouts and preparation under his belt.  Matt Light becomes more and more of a liability every season.

Within the next couple of days I will preview the 2010 New England Patriots’ defense and special teams, as well as provide my expectations for the 2010 season as a whole.