April 17, 2014

Tonight on Patriots All Access (With Video Preview)

Special Training Camp edition of Patriots All Access presented by UnitedHealthcare

Friday, July 30 at 7 p.m. on WBZ-TV and immediately afterward on Patriots.com

The team-building process has begun at 2010 Patriots Training Camp presented by UnitedHealthcare. Here is what’s on tap for tonight’s Training Camp edition of Patriots All Access:

  • Dan Roche checks in on the new look Patriots
  • Scott Zolak sits down with Head Coach Bill Belichick
  • Steve Burton goes one-on-one with nose tackle Vince Wilfork
  • Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss offer their opinions on the latest Patriots news and pick the best position battles to watch at camp

Complete Tom Brady Transcript 7/30/10

This might be a good thing to keep handy in the weeks/months to come.

Q: So do you feel like you’re almost 33?

TB: I’m feeling pretty good. I’m feeling pretty good. I try to, like all us older guys, find a way that works for them to be ready and to feel energized every day. We were talking about Junior Seau yesterday and how unique it is for a guy like that. More so than the way you train or physically, it’s your attitude as well. Guys who stick around, our attitudes are always pretty good like Kevin Faulk and Torry [Holt] and Randy [Moss]. That’s what it’s about. It’s about showing good leadership and coming out here and having fun.

Q: What’s different about this training camp than others? Is there anything different with this one from previous years?

TB: Hard to tell, you know. We’ve just gotten into it. The attitude of the team has been really good. People have come out and worked hard. That’s what Coach [Bill] Belichick always stresses – coming out and doing our best. Obviously, there’s a lot to learn from. We are a long ways from our goal, but we’ve come out, and we have to put a bunch of good practices together. That’s what it’s about. It’s about putting your work in. There’s no easy way about it. Camp is a grind and we’ve got to come out every day with a purpose and a sense of improvement and try to get some stuff done.

Q: Do you like Bill Belichick taking down all the old pictures of all the old Super Bowls and everything else? Is it time to start new here?

TB: Yes, I think that’s a good point by him. A lot of people always want to sit back and reflect. It’s important. You always learn from the past. You always learn from things you’ve done, things that have worked, things that haven’t worked. You also understand that any of the things that have happened in the past are certainly not going to help this year. And that goes not only for this team, but every team in the league. Every team starts fresh. As much as you’d like for there to be carryover every year, every year is a completely new year with new challenges. We’ve got plenty of them.

Q: Tom, there has been a lot of fixation on your future here and what is going to happen with your contract. Can you give us an update on where things are, because there has been so much conversation?

TB: Coach doesn’t like us talking about it a whole lot, so I kind of stick to that. As I’ve said before, nobody here can solve it other than myself and the team. I’m in the position that a lot of guys are around the league [and] on this team, and I’m under contract and it’s my responsibility to come out and play as hard as I can. That’s what I love to do anyway. I love to come out here and compete and I have a job. And I think that’s important to realize, too. It’s an interesting time in the world, and I’m glad to come out here and do something I love.

Q: (On discussing contract issues)

TB: I think you know everyone [thinks] it’s spoiled athletes and guys that are bitching about making millions of dollars. Everyone works hard to make a living for themselves, and I certainly don’t think we have much to gripe about. We come out, we love what we do, most of us. So I just enjoy coming out and playing.  That’s where I get a lot of enjoyment in my life, and I want to do it for a long time.

Q: How do you keep it from being a distraction for you?

TB: I’d like to think that I have a little more mental toughness than anything becoming a distraction and affecting the way that I play. Nothing outside when I walk off this field ends up being a distraction for me. We all deal with stuff.  All of us deal with different stuff in our life, some more challenging than others. As a leader on this team, someone who has been a captain on this team for a long time, [you have to] just put the things that are off the field behind you and to come out here with a good attitude and good leadership.

Q: There’s been a lot of speculation about your relationship with the organization, especially about your contract situation. Where do things stand between you and the organization?

TB: I’ve always been privileged to play for Coach Belichick, who I’ve always said is the best coach in the history of the league. And Mr. [Robert] Kraft, I have a great relationship with him. I’m not into playing games. I just want to come out here and do the best that I can do. Whether you make a dollar or you make millions of dollars like we do make, I really enjoy playing quarterback for this team. Since the day that I stepped on the field, it’s something I relish. And every year is an opportunity. You don’t get these opportunities back. I want to play for another 10 years, hopefully. And each year is an opportunity for us to accomplish something pretty special. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.

Q: There’s also a lot of speculation about whether or not you are unhappy. How would you describe your mood as it relates to the business side of things?

TB: My personal feelings are my personal feelings. I don’t want to express them with anyone except for a very few people. It doesn’t do any good. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t help this team. It doesn’t help the organization. It just really gets in the way. Everyone’s situation is different. I’m only commenting on my situation. Everyone’s got a different situation, a different approach, and they have to do what works for them. There’s a lot of guys who are restricted free agents based on the CBA this year. It’s just very different for different guys. I’ve got to do what’s comfortable for me. I’ve always tried to do that.

Q: Do you want to finish your career as a New England Patriot?

TB: Certainly, that’s everybody’s goal. That’s Troy Brown’s goal. That’s Tedy Bruschi’s goal. A lot of people have that. At the same time, I know that I’m playing this year, hopefully. We’ve still got five weeks before final cuts. It’s my responsibility to come out and earn a job and do the best that I can do. That’s really where my focus is.

Q: Do you feel that you also have a responsibility on the business side to the other players, too, because of everything that is going on with the CBA and everything else?

TB: Certainly. When you get elected as a CBA representative, as a representative of the union, you do have different responsibilities to convey messages to the certain players who don’t get the same information that we get – to pass that information along to the younger guys who haven’t been around as long, and guys who haven’t necessarily paid as much attention as they have in the past, with what’s going on. It is our responsibility to make sure that everyone is aware with what’s going on at this time.

Q: With you and Peyton [Manning] and Drew Brees, the contracts have been seen as bellwethers for the union talks with the league and everything else.  Is that at all an uncomfortable situation to be in because you are considered one of the leaders in the league?

TB: Who knows. I don’t know what plays into whether guys are signing contracts or not signing contracts. It feels like a normal football season thus far. March 1 of next year may be different, but this year feels like business as usual, other than a lot of [postulating] by lots of different people.

Q: There have been a lot of guys to come and go on this team, under various circumstances. What is it like for you to be somewhat in that position, the same position you’ve seen others in? It’s not your first negotiation, but what’s it like to be in those shoes?

TB: You are right. You see a lot of guys come and go. And the reality is that’s this is business. We don’t play forever and we certainly don’t sign for 30 years. This sport is based on a revolving system of players that are in and out with free agency, something that the union fought hard for over the years. Players have the opportunity to move teams. Teams have the opportunity to cut players. It’s just what happens. Early on it used to really bother me. It still bothers me to a degree, but you understand that’s what this profession is all about. It’s a great game. Obviously, we are doing stuff we like. It’s a very popular game. I love playing. And also, realizing that what happened a few years ago with getting injured, to be out here for this year is what’s really important for me. You can say ‘I want to do this and this and this,’ but at the same time you are not guaranteed anything. You’re not guaranteed that I’ll start the season. You’re not guaranteed that I’ll make it through the next day of practice. When you look out and see the kind of physical nature that this sport is, nobody’s guaranteed anything. Enjoy what we have. Enjoy the practices, the games, and that’s something that I have to relish everyday because we’re certainly not guaranteed anything.

Q: (On last season and the emphasis for this season)

TB: Last year was a disappointment for all of us and we put a lot into playing at home and playing well at home and being a team that doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers or stupid plays. That’s kind of the downfall of what happened to us. It’s been a big point of emphasis in the spring going into the season – eliminating those types of mistakes. Coach was talking about turnovers this morning. Those things end up killing us. It’s long way from the start of the season. We probably have 40 practices. Guys are going to come. Guys are going to go. Guys are going to always get injured. How we are prepared for the opener…

Q: How about you coming off the injury and having that season. How would you evaluate that season for you?

TB: It’s hard to evaluate personally. We didn’t do what we needed to do. As the quarterback of the team, I take a lot of responsibility for that. I’m taking a lot of responsibility to get it right this year. No one really cares about what happened. You either win or you lose. This game is all about winning.

Q: Expectations are down just a little bit this year.

TB: From who?

Q: Maybe from the media. Does that free you up a little?

TB: I don’t give a damn, really. I don’t care what you guys think. I know what we think and what we think we can accomplish. What my dad thinks, I don’t really care about. What my mom thinks, I don’t care about, because they don’t know. The only guys who can do anything about it are the guys on this practice field. It feels pretty good to me what we are doing, what I see out here. We just have to continue to put the work in.

Q: A year ago, you were coming off an injury, coming off rehab. How do you feel now?

TB: I’m feeling good. I feel good. I’ve always tried to find ways in training to stay in good shape and keep my arm in good shape, and I’ve found different ways over the years to do that. Whether it was my knee or my back, I’m feeling pretty good.

Q: Wes Welker said that you helped him a little bit by giving him advice and all that. When you see him out here with the bags and everything else, how impressive is that knowing the time table that you went through and everything else?

TB: Wes is the toughest player I’ve ever been around. He’s all heart. When you are his size, he’s had to fight his whole career. Nothing really surprises me with him. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever played with. It’ll be really fun when he gets back out here with us because it adds a whole different dimension to the offense when he’s out there.

Q: How much do you miss Logan Mankins? Are you concerned about that situation?

TB: Logan has been a great player for this team and a great representative of the organization. He’s a great player. We miss him, there’s no doubt. He’s a good friend of all the guys on this team. He’s got a lot of fans in the locker room. We’re hoping that at some point this situation gets resolved, but in the meantime, we’ve got to go out there and do our job.

Q: Have you spoken with him?

TB: Yeah. I’m not really going to share that with you guys.

Q: (On the Patriots receivers and tight ends)

TB: [There are] a lot of guys and they all kind of do something different. Who knows how it’s all going to piece together, but there’re a lot of different skill sets out there – some fast guys, some quick guys, some short guys, some big guys. It’s nice. You can really mix it up. Add that to the tight end group [and] there’re a lot of different guys who can make plays out there. It’s been fun. You feel like you’ve got a lot of guys that can do something with the ball.

Q: How do you get comfortable with them?

TB: You’ve got to keep it simple enough for everyone, so that they are confident in what they are doing. I wouldn’t say that we have the easiest offense for receivers or tight ends to learn. A lot of teams probably have it a lot easier than we do. Just making sure that those guys know what they are doing so we can go out and execute at 100 percent, rather than them being unsure or indecisive because that’s when you get into problems. If they know what they can do and they know what they are doing at ball snap and they are doing at full speed, it’s a real good [thing].

Positional Previews – Quarterbacks

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Much of the talk about the Patriots this offseason has centered around the quarterback position. Most of it has been annoying. Certain members of the media have dedicated themselves to creating the impression of a chasm between Tom Brady and the Patriots, and creating uncertainty about his future with the Patriots. For this season at the very least, Brady will be the quarterback for your New England Patriots.

On Day 1, Brady's Hair Was The Biggest Story.

Tom Brady

One of the all-time greats, and still one of the best, if not THE best quarterback in the NFL. A year removed from his knee injury should result in a move confident, more accurate Brady this season. While some members of the media were openly rooting for, even encouraging him to hold out to start camp, Brady showed up for training camp on time, and is ready to go. Some have questioned his commitment to the team because of his decision to spend most of the offseason back home in California with his family. Others started rumors of a “disconnect” between he and the team. What we know for sure is that he is here, and as long as that is true, the QB position is in good hands for the New England Patriots.

Brian Hoyer

The undrafted free agent from Michigan State was a surprise in last year’s training camp, beating out the competition to win the backup quarterback spot behind Brady. He was the only QB on the roster other than Brady, showing the trust that the coaching staff held in him right from the start. Hoyer played in five games as a rookie, getting some garbage time duty in a four games, and then splitting his playing time in the season finale against the Texans. Hoyer handled himself pretty well in the time he saw the field, not forcing things, and showing some decent ability to move around. He looks to be the top backup for Brady again this season.

Zac Robinson

The Patriots thought enough of his kid to spent a draft pick on him, selecting him in the seventh round out of Oklahoma State. Robinson had a fine college career and looked good in the Senior Bowl. Some thought he would go higher in the draft, so getting him in the seventh would seem to be a pleasant surprise for the Patriots. He’s a great athlete, able to throw and run with equal skill. His decision-making skills are praised, and appears to be a good prospect to develop behind Brady and Hoyer. Whether that is on the roster or as part of the practice squad remains to be seen, but at first glance, it would seem tough to let him get through waivers to be placed on the practice squad. Do the Patriots carry three quarterbacks this season? That seems to be question.

Summary

This position is not a worry for the Patriots, at least for this season. I believe Brady will get a new contract from the Patriots, perhaps even before the season begins. Hopefully at that time, all the drama, speculation and silliness surrounding his future with the team will be put to rest. Should something happen to Brady injury-wise, Hoyer is developing nicely into at least a stop-gap option and Robinson shows some potential for future development.

The Boys of Late Summer – A Primer

by Scott A. Benson, Senior Foreign Correspondent
July 29, 2010

For me, the opening of Patriots training camp is the day when summer finally gets good. The weather gets better (eventually) and suddenly the days fill up with football again. If you don’t get mired in the details, it’s the most pleasant way to ease your way from the last hurrah into the fall. Then again, I don’t work for the Globe.

Here are the things I’m thinking about as the seasons begin to change. Perhaps you are too.

 

Its Not All Rainbows At Training Camp

Contractual Healing

Unless you’re going down to camp every day (sorry, that would be weird) you’re going to have to rely on the broadcast, electronic and print media to know what’s up. Just so happens that along with training camp, we have labor unrest on both the micro (Brady, Mankins, Moss, Gostkowski, others) and macro (NFL v. NLFPA) levels, and let’s face it, until the unrest is put to rest, it will cast a pall over everything. Worst case: millionaires on picket lines (a visual nearly as compelling as oil-soaked birds). Best case: we have to put up with some cable news-style posturing by both sides for awhile (interesting that the Commissioner has a new series of ‘fan forums’ debuting on his network soon) and professional football will go on uninterrupted in the United States of America.

Quarter-back to the Future

Tom Brady will be the quarterback for the Patriots this season and, right now, I guess that’s enough for me. Long-term, you’d have to go some to convince me that over the next 3 to 5 years, he won’t be among the best players at his position in the NFL. Certainly, he’s the most preferable to me. You’d also have to work overtime to prove to me that this sort of thing is easily replaced.

So that’s what it’s about to me – what’s the future of this team over the next 3 to 5 seasons? Or what we may reasonably anticipate as the terminus for the Belichick Era? What’s the plan? If The Plan includes taking a hard line with a player they can’t replace without despair, I’d like to know. So would 60,000 other people, at least.

Now, I think I already know and like the answer to these questions, and as surely, I think we’ll soon forget that we ever doubted it, so as to prepare for the next crisis unencumbered by nagging history. The problem is that takes time.

Left of the Dial

Any derelict with enough time on his hands could certainly comb the PD archives and find me – on more than one occasion – making the case that Logan Mankins is the Pats’ best offensive lineman since Hannah. So as annoyed I am at the “man of principle” storyline that’s been crafted, I don’t want to the Pats roster to be one Fresno State alum lighter in the future. God knows he’s not perfect (yeah, I know, Super Bowl XLII) but with the combination of durability, nastiness and agility he’s, as Judge Smails might say, top notch. Top notch! And he’s young enough to sustain it though our 3-5 year plan. The Patriots are better with him than without him.

That said, if I hear any more if this shit about broken promises (the players have become the worst offenders of “every time we say it’s a business, you say it’s a game. Every time we say it’s a game, you say it’s a business”) and if they think anything less than a premium is a slight, I’ll vote firmly for his ass out of town toot sweet. You may sign that guy, but you’ll be hearing from him again. And again. And you’re not the only one who will be hearing from him (see item 5 below). A left guard? It’s not worth it.

Tired of Waiting

Brady or no, this team is cooked if some (or most) of these players they’ve drafted over the past few seasons don’t step up and become players who have a consistent impact on the game. Start with tearing down the Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi posters if you like, but the end result will be altered, for better or worse, by how you coach production from not just the Mayos and Meriweathers but the Edelmans and Butlers and Chungs and Tates and Vollmers and Braces. The Prices and Cunninghams and Spikes and McCourtys. Significant resources have been spent and the immediate need is every bit as significant. This isn’t an organization that can afford to be wary of young people anymore, and none of these nascent newcomers can afford to take the Shawn Crable Path to Greatness. Even though this is placed fourth on my list today, no other issue facing this team gets me as fired up as this one. The time is now.

Let’s Stay Together

I’ll start by saying that I buy whole hog (not a second Hannah reference, believe me) the narrative that says there was not adequate coagulation in the Pats locker room last year. Granted, I have never been there, but I can’t imagine any organization can succeed when you have veteran players who openly and frequently question the on-field and off-field decisions made by their superiors. When you have the highest paid players show stubborn unwillingness to pay the price we all have learned must be paid. That kind of environment doesn’t breed success for anybody, in my experience. Don’t tell me I didn’t see what I saw here in the salad days of 01-04.

Anyway, the Vince Wilforks and Leigh Boddens and others like them (this time, see item 4) must begin to slip the surly bonds of leadership from the hands of the Bradys and Faulks and Lights and Neals and Warrens, and their words must have ever more passion for what can be out there for them and these kids they are surrounded by, and their actions must have ever more urgency about what it takes to get there. They have to show the way, before somebody forgets the map. That said, Brandon Meriweather can’t be whiffing tackles every so often if Wilfork is going to get any positive reinforcement for his effort. Here too, the time is now. Otherwise, the Patriots will one day (soon) become just another lonely outpost on the NFL’s vast landscape of middle class mediocrity. No pressure, though.

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Positions Are In)

We can talk about training camp’s ceaselessness, but things do get addressed in the dog days. We’ll know more about these hot spots in thirty days than we do now: Running Back – can anybody here play this game? For more than a few weeks, I mean? Fact is I like many of the players in this group, but collectively, they give me the heebie jeebies. You can’t move away from being a pass-happy bunch of lightweights if you can’t possess the ball and make fucking first downs. Tight End – I’m oddly optimistic about this group. For me it feels like they have the Role Model (Crumpler), the Immediate Contributor (Hernandez) and the Every Down Player of the Future (whatever his name is. I’m working on this). Short of throwing a bunch of money and a second round pick at a (then) 33 year old Tony Gonzalez, what do you want? Ben Watson? Left Guard – again, optimistic in an odd fashion. I think Nick Kaczur to LG might be passable – it takes him off the edge, where he struggled with speed and athleticism, and drops him inside, where he encounters less of both. It, in fact, plays to his strengths, which seem to me to be in the close area. Do your worst as far as the Oxy goes, and the kill shots on Brady, but he’s an experienced guy that has (if extensions are any indication) obviously signed on to The Program. Nobody wants the Mankins thing but your have to make the best out of it, and this seems like the best option right now. Plus it opens the door for full-time work for a guy – Sebastian Vollmer – the Patriots have to be counting on in a big way for the seasons to come. Defensive Line – honestly, the Pats should be better on the defensive line. They have upper echelon players in Ty Warren and Wilfork.  I guess the problem lies because the rest of the rotation is a confusing mess. Mike Wright is a steady back-up (and that’s a great thing, by the way), but someone(s) from the Warren-Lewis vet cartel and someone(s) from the underclassmen (Brace, Pryor, Richard, even Deaderick and Weston) play to a higher level. If they don’t, they may as well have kept Jarvis Green. You know what they need – a Tony McGee type. Somebody that drives a dent in the pocket every time they’re called. McGee was a fantastic, and sometimes forgotten, Patriot. Linebackers – Sigh. I’ve already written reams on this. Look – they have one linebacker truly capable of playing every down. That cannot stand. They’ll nearly gone all in on the kids – so they’ll be measured on that. All of them. Secondary – again, no pressure, but if Darius Butler doesn’t get his starter bona fides in a hurry, there’ll be a disconnect in Foxborough all right. No doubt the lethargic pass “rush” of 2009 shouldered its share of the blame for the Pats defense being 21st in passing yards, but it seems to me that’s not helped by guys who can’t get into position to play the ball. If I had a buck for every time a Patriot defender draped himself over a receiver who ultimately caught the pass, I’d have a shitload of bucks. By the way, like Butler, Patrick Chung’s “patient supportive nurturing environment” window is closing. Their safeties suck. Somebody’s got to do something, and that somebody is Chung.

Fixing A Hole

About Shawn Crable, who was released yesterday in his third season of ignominy with the Patriots; it’s easy to blame the kid (BTW, I defy you to see his bio pic without laughing like hell. He comes off as the ultimate sad sack), but I again reflect on what a shit show linebacker development was in New England after 2001. Somebody missed something pretty big when they were scouting this player, and somebody after them failed to ask the pertinent questions. Most aggravating is that this was the 78th pick in the draft (only Mayo and Cunningham have been picked higher as LB’s by Belichick), and they pooched it at a position that needed the most help. The position that was once central to their very identity as a team, and they got it WAY wrong, and wasted a lot of time. I’m sorry, but that’s almost worse than two Chad Jacksons. If a lesson can’t be learned from this episode, then this whole fucking thing will be a complete waste.

Scott Benson is enjoying semi-retirement in glitzy Augusta, Maine, hobnobbing in suits made of linen with ambassadors and their attachés. He can be reached by carrier pigeon, or by e-mail at [email protected]. Better yet, follow him for occasional bursts of Tweeted profanity at  http://twitter.com/scottabenson

Positional Previews – Running Backs

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots did not add to their stable of running backs this offseason, choosing to return with the same crew that took the field in the 2009 season. A very veteran group, health and performance is again a concern at this position.

Laurence Maroney

Patriots Best Hope At Running Back?

The enigmatic Maroney enters his fifth NFL season just as much of a mystery and frustration as when he was a rookie, splitting time with Corey Dillon. Is this the season he finally seizes the lead back role and fulfills his potential? He’s got a lot of skeptics to win over, including it seems, the head coach, who is not shy about benching Maroney after a fumble or bad play. At his best, Maroney is a fast, elusive and yet punishing runner. At his worst, he is tepid and indecisive. Entering the final year of his contract, it will be interesting to see if he is motivated this season to finally put it all together. If so, the Patriots could be in good shape here.

Fred Taylor

Injured much of last season (a recurring theme in his career), Taylor had a few good moments for the Patriots, and apparently showed enough to be brought back for another season. It’s hard to tell how much he has left, but his professionalism and work ethic are qualities that the possesses are perhaps traits that the team wishes would rub off more on Maroney. As his career winds down, hopefully Taylor can have a for more great moments with a team in the hunt.

Sammy Morris

Throughout his Patriots career, Morris has been a guy who, when healthy has been fun to watch. He runs hard, and has been used as a hybrid-fullback type on occasions. He’s a punishing runner who has also had his share of injuries over the last few seasons. Healthy, he is a valuable weapon to have in the offense.

Kevin Faulk

The Troy Brown of running backs. Faulk is one of the all-time great Patriots. Who would’ve imagined we’d be saying that in 2010 while watching him as a rookie under the Pete Carroll-led 1999 Patriots? Faulk is perhaps the ultimate third-down weapon. He can run it when needed, but his biggest strength is helping on the blitz, and then releasing underneath or heading out on the screen pass. He’s getting up there in age, and will be sorely missed when it comes time to say good-bye. Enjoy watching him while you can.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

He’s out lasted all of his namesakes on the Patriots. Ben (Watson) Jarvus Green-Ellis (Hobbs) is entering his third season with the Patriots, and remains someone that a certain segment of fans clamors for, confident he can be the answer to the team’s running attack. As a spot player, he’s fine, a pretty strong North-South runner. Probably not the long term solution.

Others

Chris Taylor

Taylor spent last season on IR for the Patriots. He’s actually been in the NFL since 2006, and once had 99 yards and a touchdown in an NFL game (for Houston at Cleveland). He’ll get a look in camp, not expected to be a serious candidate to make the final roster, unless there is an injury or he completely wows the coaches.

Thomas Clayton

Signed this offseason after being released by the 49ers, Clayton is another roster longshot. He’s looked good in the preseason in the past for San Francisco, but has been a practice squad or IR guy for his career.

Eric Kettani

Signed in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, Kettani is currently on the Reserve/Military list.

Summary

With the age and health of this group a concern, it’s hard to label this position as a definite strength for the Patriots at this time. Like so many other positions, the talent and potential are there, but unless Maroney can leap up and grab the lead back role and remain healthy, it’s going to be another year of running back by committee.

Positional Previews – Tight Ends

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Talk about position turnover. The Patriots motto at tight end this offseason was “Out with 2009, In with 2010.” Gone are last year’s tight ends Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker, and in are veteran Alge Crumpler and rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Rob Gronkowski - Can He Stay Healthy?

It’s a little difficult, in fact, to analyze this position as we have yet to see any of them suit up for the Patriots.

Alge Crumpler

Entering his 10th NFL season, Crumpler has undergone a transformation in his career from pass-catching tight end to blocking tight end. This has coincided with his already huge frame getting even bigger. This offseason, Crumpler has reported rededicated himself to conditioning  and is set to report in the (wait for it…) “best shape of his career.” We’ll see about that. Crumpler was the best of a very limited free agent crop at the position, and figures to be a short term solution while the Patriots train up the rookies. Crumpler is said to be a good mentor and locker room presence, so hopefully that smooths the transition.

Rob Gronkowski

He likely had some fans cringing with his antics after the Patriots drafted him, and his health history is a notable cause for concern. Still, he was too big of a talent to let get by in the second round, and his potential both as a receiver and blocker is huge. He’s got the size (6-6, 265) to be force. Keeping him healthy is a concern, as it’s never comforting when a guy his size has to miss an entire season with back surgery.

Aaron Hernandez

Hey, did you know Hernandez failed MULTIPLE drug tests in college, but Florida only reported one? We heard that about a million times from a certain Globe reporter this spring. Hopefully Hernandez has put his recreational drug use behind him and begun focusing on using his considerable talents in the Patriots offense. An accomplished pass-catcher, Hernandez could step in and play a big role in this offense immediately. During the spring camps, the Patriots had him all over the field, using him in a variety of ways.

Rob Myers

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing we can say about Myers, who was signed to the practice squad last November, is that he’s been assigned Troy Brown’s #80. That doesn’t to bode well.

Summary

There was plenty of outcry early in the free agent period when the Patriots had only practice squad tight ends under contract. Since the additions of the top three above, things have quieted down, and now there is even a bit of anticipation over the potential of the position. There is speculation that with the occasionally stone-handed Ben Watson out of town that Tom Brady might actually look to the tights ends more often this season. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but the Patriots are relying on young players here, and need them to come though. If they can, Gronkowski and Hernandez could be a formidable duo for seasons to come.

Postional Previews – Wide Receivers

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

On the offensive side of the ball, this position might be the most unpredictable. There is talent here, no question about it, but health (of the older receivers) and inexperience (of the younger receivers) make this position a tough one to gauge at this point. Offseason additions include veterans Torry Holt and old friend David Patten, and rookie Taylor Price. Going into camp, the Patriots have 13 receivers listed on the roster, though two of them are on the Reserve/Military list.

Does Randy Moss Have Another Big Year In Him?

Randy Moss

Made some noise this offseason by changing agents prior to entering what is the final year on his contract. He played in all 16 games last season, the third straight season he’s done so. Put up his usual strong numbers (1262 receiving yards, 13 TD’s) and took the usual shots from the media for perceived lack of effort. Following the season it was revealed that he had been battling several injuries over the course of the season. Most experts believe he is heading downhill, while some say that a contract year will bring out the best in Moss. With the team still trying to develop a number of young wide receivers, they need another big year from Moss. Whether he returns to the Patriots in ’11 is in doubt, but he did end up hiring and agent who has gotten several deals done with the Patriots.

Wes Welker

Welker’s knee injury and recovery from surgery have been one of the best stories of the offseason. Originally it appeared that Welker might be lost for most, if not all of the ’10 season, but recent reports have him being read to go for training camp with the idea of playing right from opening day. Welker has been Tom Brady’s favorite target from the moment he got here. He’s the guy the QB looks to most often. If Welker indeed can play on opening day, it will be huge boost for this offense. You saw what the offense minus Welker looked like in the first Jets game last season as well as the Wild Card playoff game. Without Welker sliding underneath, Brady was impacted by the aggressive pass rush of the defense. With 123 receptions in 14 games, it could be argued that perhaps Brady is too reliant on Walker. Having Welker from the start also bumps down everyone else on the depth chart.

Julian Edelman

A pleasant surprise as a rookie, Edelman made the conversion from college quarterback to NFL receiver seamlessly. When Welker was out, Edelman was thrust into the #2 receiver role, and didn’t embarrass himself. He is described by many as a Welker clone, but he’s bigger and more physical than Welker. His 2nd year development is very important especially if Welker is limited in the early going. He even had two touchdowns in the Wild Card playoff game, one of few Patriots not to completely lay an egg in that one.

Torry Holt

When injuries struck last season, the Patriots were too often forced to turn to the likes of Sam Aiken to line up as a receiver. Holt is the consummate professional, and while he’s not what he once was, he still caught 51 balls for 772 last season for the Jaguars. When the Patriots signed him, some reporters were unable to say “Torry Holt” without “Joey Galloway” also being in the same sentence. The biggest difference is that while Galloway has never been a strong route runner, Holt is. He can still catch the ball, and as long as the Patriots don’t need too much from him, he can be a valuable contributor, and still provide insurance in case of injury. His professionalism should also be asset in dealing with the younger receivers on the roster.

Brandon Tate

Oozing talent and physical gifts, Tate worked hard to return from a college knee injury, got himself activated for the Tampa Bay game in London, only to get injured again the following week against the Dolphins, and miss the rest of the season. If he can be healthy, and offseason reports indicate that he is, Tate is a young player who could have a big role this season as an outside receiver, stretching the field, and on kickoff returns. Tate is one of many first or second year players that is being counted on to step up and become part of the core of the next group of Patriots teams.

Taylor Price

I look at the rookie from Ohio University and think “David Givens.” The 2010 draftee is the same size as Givens was, and looks to be the same style of receiver as well. How he adjusts to the pro game is worth watching, as the college system he played in was not exactly a pro-style offense. He looked good and impressed onlookers in the spring camps, and I’m eager to see him in the preseason. He should get a chance to contribute this season.

David Patten

I’m really, really hoping Patten has a chance to make the team, but the reports that Welker might be ready to start the season might’ve sealed Patten’s fate. I had figured that Welker might be placed on the PUP list, giving Patten a few weeks on the roster to start the season. If there is an injury in the preseason, Patten might have a chance, but otherwise I see him on the outside looking in right now. The former Patriot did not play at all in 2009 after being a training camp cut by the Cleveland Browns. Patten will turn 36 during camp, and while he still has plenty of savvy veteran guile, he’s not the player he was earlier in the decade, when he became the first player in Patriots history to record a touchdown pass, touchdown reception and rush for a touchdown in one game.

Sam Aiken

One of the downfalls of the 2009 Patriots offense was that at too many key moments they had Aiken on the field as a wide receiver. Aiken made a few nice catches, but missed out on far too many others. He’s best utilized at the special teams role he was signed for.

Matthew Slater

Another special teams only guy, Slater should also only see the field as a receiver in a blowout. He’s got some value as a kick returner, but not much as a receiver.

Others

Darnell Jenkins

The Miami product has spent time on the practice squads of the Texans and Browns before being signed to the Patriots practice last season. A long shot at best.

Buddy Farnham

Farnham was an invitee to rookie camp following his career at Brown. He impressed enough to earn a contract and an invite to training camp. Farnham has some potential as a punt returner, and could stick around as a special teams player. He seems more likely to be a practice squad candidate.

Tyree Barnes, Shun White – these two are on the Reserve/Military List after being signed as undrafted free agents in 2009. They are both on active duty in the Navy.

Summary

If Moss and Welker can be healthy, they’re still the best 1-2 receiving combo in the league. Edelman and Holt figure to be big contributors as well, with Tate and Price learning the position and contributing here and there. This has the potential to be a very strong positional group on the roster, but like many others, there are a number of “ifs” and unknowns in play here. Having Welker to start the season would be huge.

Positional Previews – Offensive Line

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Now, the other “big fatties.” Because there are so many of them on the roster right now, we’re going to forgo the individual capsules and instead look at each position on the offensive line. Overall this is still a very strong group, even without Logan Mankins, who may never play for the Patriots again after tossing bombs at the Krafts. The Patriots have built in a system for developing offensive lineman under Dante Scarnecchia, they bring guys in, perhaps stash them on the practice squad for a year or two, and work extensively with them on exactly what they need to do under this system.

Sebastian Vollmer

Of course, the priority which trumps all others for the Patriots offensive line is keeping Tom Brady upright and healthy. The last two seasons have been rougher on Brady with the knee injury and the broken ribs, so he’s definitely getting hit more than in the past. That needs to change if the Patriots hope to hold off the historic defenses of the Jets and Dolphins (planes and porpoises) in the AFC East. (That was a little sarcasm there, if you didn’t catch it.)

Centers

Dan Koppen is still the man in the middle of the line, though he gets pushed a little more each year. A bit undersized at the position, Koppen sometimes needs a little help against the bigger nose tackles, but usually still holds his own quite well. The Patriots drafted Ted Larsen in the sixth round this season, and he’s got a bit more bulk than Koppen. Could he possibly be the Patriots center of the future? Koppen was a fifth round pick, so the Patriots have shown that you don’t necessarily need to find a top center at the top of the draft. Dan Connolly has also played some center for the Patriots, though he is more of the utility type on the offensive line.

Guards

Logan Mankins is one of the top guards in the NFL. Unfortunately it seems more and more likely that he’s played his last game for the Patriots after coming out with strong statements against the owners and demanding a trade. If he does play this season, it might be just to get the necessary service time to get through to unrestricted free agent status. The Patriots were able to re-sign Stephen Neal for another two seasons after there were rumors that the former wrestling star was thinking of retirement. Even at his age, Neal continues to perform at a high level. With Mankins out, the Patriots may turn to Nick Kaczur to man the guard spot, moving over from tackle. Mankins’ holdout might even save Kaczur’s job with the Patriots. Second year players Rich Ohrnberger and George Bussey may see more of the field this season, Bussey spent last season on IR. Undrafted free agent signee Ryan Wendell will also get a look, and the Patriots have hopes of developing the next Neal in John Wise, also a converted wrestler.

Tackles

Matt Light remains Brady’s primary bodyguard at left tackle. Though he too may be showing signs of age, he is still the one most responsible for keeping Brady upright. There was some talk in the media of moving Light over to right tackle, but that was quickly dismissed by all involved. Sebastian Vollmer was perhaps the biggest surprise on the Patriots last season, as the second round pick, who many ridiculed as a reach, stepped in and became one of the Patriots top performers on the offensive line. In the game against the Colts, the massive (6-8, 315) Vollmer handled Dwight Freeney exceptionally well. Listed as a tackle, the 6-7 306 lb Mark LeVoir actually took some snaps at guard last season, and also lined up as an eligible receiver on a few plays. Seventh round pick Thomas Welch is another massive (6-7 310) lineman who looks to be a Scarnecchia project this season.

Summary

With or without Mankins, the Patriots offensive line figures to be a solid, if aging, unit. Younger players such as Vollmer, Ohrnberger and perhaps Larsen need to be able to grow into larger roles with the line, eventually stepping in for some of the veterans. The line has been steady pretty much throughout the Belichick era, and figures to be so again this season.

Positional Previews – Defensive Line

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

The “big fatties” up front are a hallmark of a Bill Belichick 3-4 defense. Last season for the first time since Vince Wilfork was drafted in 2004, the Patriots front three did not start with Wilfork in the middle with Ty Warren and Richard Seymour beside him. Seymour was traded prior to the season opener to the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots plugged in Mike Wright and Jarvis Green into Seymour’s spot, but neither fared well as a full-time player. For a time it looked like perhaps Wilfork might be gone as well, as his contract ran its course and he approached free agency. In the end, he got his new contract, and the Patriots have their biggest piece in the middle of their defense. This offseason, Green was allowed to leave, signing with the Denver Broncos, and the Patriots added a couple of veteran starters to the DL mix, hoping to avoid some of the issues they faced last season.

Here’s a look at the D-lineman currently on the roster, in a semi-arranged depth chart:

Vince Wilfork

Obviously, getting Wilfork re-signed was the Patriots biggest priority of the offseason, though perhaps it wasn’t the huge no-brainer most people thought it was. Number 75 is one of the best in the business, and knows the Patriots defense in and out. With the contract, it’s time for Vince to take on a larger leadership role with the defense. Apparently with his contract situation uncertain, he was at times hesitant to speak up in the turmoil of last season. Hopefully that is all behind him, and he can be the force on the field and in the locker room that this team needs him to be. He occasionally gets handled by the likes of Jeff Saturday, or as in the playoff game against the Ravens. That sort of thing can’t happen either. They need him to be a monster.

Ty Warren

Ty Warren

He’s perhaps a step below what he was a couple of years ago, but Ty Warren is still a very good defensive lineman. He spent this offseason getting his degree, so he wasn’t around the team as much, so might have some catching up to do on the field and with his new teammates. Warren has been here since 2003, so he’s a nice bridge between the old and the new. His experience in the system is valuable and his play on the field is still at a very high level. He also needs to be able to take on more of a leadership role, having been a team captain in the past.

Gerard Warren

Seems the early choice to be the other starter. Warren actually played with Richard Seymour in Oakland last season, and came out in the same draft class as Seymour back in 2001. He was actually picked ahead of Seymour in that draft, going third overall to the Cleveland Browns. He hasn’t had a Seymour-like career, but he has been a solid NFL player over the course of his career, starting almost every game he’s played in, and is very durable, having missed only eight games in nine seasons. He looks to be an improvement over Wright or Green as a starter.

Damione Lewis

He’s another possibility to start, and might at times, depending on the opponent. The former Panther and Ram was also selected in that 2001 draft, going 12th overall. It seems more likely that Lewis is here to fill the Jarvis Green role as a backup lineman who can play multiple positions and get after the quarterback. He’s also got the reputation as a good locker room guy, adding another good influence for the younger guys.

Mike Wright

It’s no knock on Wright that he was asked to do a bit too much last season. He did have some very good games as a starter, including a two-sack performance against the Ravens early in the season. At times he was very good, at others times, he looked like a backup playing as a starter. His versatility on the line make him a big asset to the team, able to fill in on any spot on the line, and he’s shown an ability to get to the quarterback and make plays. Back in his familiar role this season, we can expect another solid year from the Cincinnati product.

Myron Pryor

A decent surprise as a rookie last season, the 2008 sixth round selection looks to build on his first year. He played in 13 games as a rookie, making 23 tackles. He seemed to catch on quickly to the defense, and his development make him someone to watch in camp and during the season.

Ron Brace

By his own admission, Brace was unprepared for NFL life as a rookie and had a hard time adjusting to the pro level. It showed. Drafted out of Boston College to be Wilfork’s potential understudy, Brace played in only eight games, though he did start two late in the season when Wilfork was injured. He’s got the size (6-3 330) for an NFL nose tackle, but needs to make big improvements this season or risk being labeled a 2nd round bust. He’s vowed to be better prepared this season, let’s hope he can make the leap he needs.

Brandon Deaderick

I put Deaderick ahead of the other youngsters below him on this list because he’s got the advantage of having been a starter in Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama. Drafted in the 7th round, Deaderick seems like he might be able to sneak onto the final roster with some strong play in the preseason.

Kade Weston

Drafted with the pick immediately after Deaderick, Weston is another big body (6-5, 315) with solid college credentials. When you get to this point on the depth chart, you’re fighting for the practice squad.

Darryl Richard

Last year’s seventh round pick spent the season on the practice squad. At 6-4, 290, he’s not quite as big as some of the other guys, but his intelligence draws raves from those around him. Could stick around on the PS for another season.

Kyle Love

An undrafted free agent, the 6-1, 310 Love comes from Mississippi State where he played as a true freshman and went on to a solid four year career. He figures as a long shot.

Summary

This group isn’t as good as it was a couple of seasons ago, but still has to be considered among the top units in the league. With Wilfork and Warren starting to get up there in age, it is imperative to develop younger linemen who can come in a contribute. Ron Brace might be the most important in that category. If he can develop into a guy who can spell Wilfork as well as play an end position, it will be a huge boost. Gerard Warren and Lewis provide some veteran stability and experience, giving the youngsters time to develop.

Positional Previews – Outside Linebackers

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff.

I’ve been pretty optimistic in the last three previews about the level of young talent on the defense. Now we come to the outside linebacker position, which at this point appears to be the weak link on the defense side of things. Much has been made about the Patriots lack of a pass rush, and at first glance, it doesn’t seem like much was done to address this need in the offseason. With Dean Pees out and Bill Belichick taking a more active role in coaching the defense, perhaps there will be strategic changes that will result in improved production from this group, but in terms of talent, it might be more if a case of addition by subtraction, with bad apple Adalius Thomas having been sent packing.

Here’s a look at the depth chart at outside linebacker:

Tully Banta-Cain

Even Tully Banta-Cain Is Praying that the Patriots give him more help at OLB.

Seeing that name at the top of the list kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? When Banta-Cain was brought in last offseason for his second tour of duty with New England, some felt he wouldn’t even make the team. Instead, he wound up leading the team in sacks, with 10 on the season. He also played relatively well against the run, racking up a career-high 60 tackles. He was rewarded in the offseason with a new three year contract from the team. Banta-Cain is a nice player, and a good team chemistry guy, having been here for two of the Super Bowl championships, but he shouldn’t be the best outside linebacker on a team with championship aspirations. Will he be able to repeat the success he had in 2009? It seems unlikely.

Derrick Burgess (Has yet to report to camp. Considering retirement.)

The butt of a lot of sports radio wisecracks last season, Burgess never became the pass-rushing force that many envisioned him to be when the Patriots traded for him during training camp. Burgess, who will turn 32 in August, is technically listed as a defensive end on the roster, but in reality he plays the role of a linebacker. He seemed to get more comfortable as the season went along, and earned the praise of coach Bill Belichick toward the end of the season for his ability to pick up the system and play an all-around game. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when the Patriots re-signed him this offseason. Perhaps with a season under his belt, we’ll see more of the player who was such a force with the Eagles and Raiders earlier in his career.

Jermaine Cunningham

The rookie from Florida is also listed as a defensive end, but will be counted on to provide youth and speed to the pass rush at outside linebacker. It came as something of a surprise that the Patriots passed up many highly-touted pass rushers in the draft before selecting Cunningham in the second round. At 6-3, 260, he’s got good size for the position, and his credentials in college as a pass rusher were very good. The Patriots need a significant contribution from Cunningham as a rookie.

Rob Ninkovich

Claimed off the scrap heap from the New Orleans Saints last preseason, Ninkovich played his way onto the team, and wound up be a solid contributor, mostly on special teams, but also at times with the defense. Seeing him wearing the #50 vacated by Mike Vrabel, I’ll confess to hoping that the Patriots had discovered the next Vrabel after watching him a bit in preseason. Probably not the case. If a guy or two below him on the chart, especially Crable can get on the field and show something, Ninkovich might find himself on the roster bubble.

Shawn Crable (released 7/28)

I think we already went over all that needs to said about Crable. This is it for him. He needs to get on the field, and show what he can do, or this is the end of the line. If they can get any sort of contribution from him it has to be considered a bonus at this point.

Pierre Woods

The time might have come to move on from Woods as well, though I give him a better chance of making the team than Eric Alexander. Woods has had chances to play in the regular defense over the last couple of years, even starting five games at outside linebacker a year ago. His production left a lot to be desired. At one time I had fairly high hopes for Woods, but now I think he’s fortunate if he just makes the club as a special teams player.

Marques Murrell

Murrell was one of the Patriots’ early free agent signings, coming over from the Jets, where he spent the last three seasons, mostly as a special teams player. Murrell was one of the top players in Division I-AA. coming out of Appalachian State where he posted back-to-back 13-sack seasons. Known as a speed-rusher, Murrell hasn’t had much of a chance to show his skills with an NFL defense. An interview with Murrell over at TheJetsBlog gives you a little more information on the former defensive end, who will seemingly get a chance with the Patriots defense that so badly needs a pass rush.

Dane Fletcher

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Montana State, Fletcher is yet another defensive end being transformed into an outside linebacker. A solid citizen off the field, Fletcher was productive enough at a small school that many scouts felt he had a chance to be drafted. He’s got some intriguing physical skills and experience, but is likely a practice squad candidate at this time.

Summary

At this point, this is one of the weakest areas on the team, and without much depth to speak of. Beyond Banta-Cain and Burgess, the Patriots are going to need a big rookie year from Cunningham, and hope that Crable can get on the field and live up to the promise he had coming out of Michigan two years ago. That might be a tall order. The Patriots have done a good job building up depth and experience at all other defensive positions, but this remains an area in desperate need of upgrade. Hopefully Cunningham can step in, but that’s a tall order for a rookie. Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots bringing guys in that have been cut by other teams over the course of training camp, hoping to find treasure in another team’s trash.

Positional Previews – Inside Linebackers

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

This figures to be one of the most competitive positions in camp, as the Patriots line up candidates to start beside Jerod Mayo. I’m genuinely intrigued by this group, as the team has been trying to find a starting pair in the middle since 2005 when Ted Johnson and Roman Phifer retired. Tedy Bruschi had several partners before Mayo arrived in 2008, then retired prior to last season. Can a couple players from this group step in to be the Johnson/Phifer to Mayo’s Bruschi?

Jerod Mayo

A healthy Jerod Mayo is key for New England in 2010

The 2008 defensive rookie of the year has his critics (Yeah, you, Hector), but was also playing with a pretty tough knee injury in his sophomore NFL campaign. He lacked the speed and explosiveness he showed in his rookie year, but still led the team in tackles for the second straight year. If he’s healthy this season, he could be in line for his first Pro Bowl selection – a view held by John Clayton, among others – and should be involved in more “playmaking” situations rather than just making tackles. Already a leader on this defense and team, Mayo is one of the building blocks Bill Belichick is counting on for the next decade.

Gary Guyton

Guyton is listed second only because of his status as the incumbent starter. He was out of place as a starting inside linebacker, but gave it a good effort last season. When Mayo was out with his injury, Guyton was the man in the middle, calling out the defensive  signals. He did okay, but was over-matched physically at times. Guyton isn’t the typical hard hitting inside linebacker, he’s relies more on his freakish speed and athleticism to make plays. He may be the starter to begin the 2010 season, but if he is still starting in December, it means that the next two players listed have disappointed or are injured. Guyton has a place on this team, but starting inside linebacker shouldn’t be the spot.

Brandon Spikes

The Florida product appears to be the player many are counting on to be the physical presence alongside Mayo. A very slow 5.0 40 time scarred many teams off from drafting him, but the Patriots were thrilled that he was still available at #62. His intelligence and strength inside are unquestioned, and he had a strong leadership role on the Gators defense. Interestingly at times, the Gators put him in pass rushing roles on third down, where you would think his lack of speed would hurt him, but he made several big plays as a pass rusher. He looks to be the prototypical big inside linebacker that Bill Belichick loves for his defense, and the offseason camps saw him calling plays and doing the things you could expect from that position. He might well be a starter from day one of the season.

Tyrone McKenzie

McKenzie is a guy I find particularly intriguing. His story is a great one, and you can’t help but root for him to succeed after tearing his ACL in rookie camp last spring. Of course, we here at PD also love him because he took some time to talk with our own Chris Warner earlier this year. McKenzie is coming off  that knee injury, but has played both inside and outside linebacker in his college career, and size, strength and good speed. Having a year to learn the system, which may actually give him a leg up on Spikes. Either way, I think (and hope) that we’ll see a lot of both Spikes and McKenzie this season, and in seasons to come.

Thomas Williams

He’s already been dubbed a “sleeper” in camp by some writers. The Southern California product has been a star at offseason camps, catching the eye of observers with big plays, as well as being used at fullback at times. He is someone to keep an eye on in preseason, and could find his way onto the 53 man roster when all is said and done.

Eric Alexander

Primary a special teams player, Alexander’s future has already been talked about here on PD, and in my opinion, it doesn’t look great. Alexander could still make the team because of his special teams play, but it appears he is no longer needed as a backup at middle linebacker. Hopefully the Patriots can make better use of the roster spot.

Summary

During the preseason, this is going to be one of the most-watched positions on the team. For the first time in several years it looks to be a competitive spot with some intriguing young talent that could break through. If Spikes or McKenzie can make Guyton a backup and situational player, than things will be looking up. If they can’t pass Guyton on the depth chart, the Patriots might need to go back to the drawing board yet again at this position.

Positional Previews – Safeties

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Between Rodney Harrison and Lawyer Milloy, the Patriots had an intimidating, hard-hitting safety patrolling the secondary and creeping up to the line of scrimmage to help out on the run during every season from 1996 to 2008. Last season, Brandon Meriweather was selected to the Pro Bowl at safety, but is not the hard-hitting type in the style of Milloy and Harrison. Could 2009 top pick Patrick Chung develop into that strong safety to carry on the tradition of the hard-hitters? It’s one of many things to watch for in this safety group in 2010.

Chung (25) and McGowan Pound a Receiver

Here are the safeties on the roster as of today, listed in my depth chart order:

Brandon Meriweather

Meriweather continued his improvement as a player in his third NFL season and was rewarded by getting to play in the Pro Bowl for the first time. However, Meriweather is still a frequent target of criticism by the media and some fans for not being in great position at all times, making risky gambles, and unsure tackling skills. Given how much improvement he can still make, it’s noteworthy that he still made that Pro Bowl. Meriweather is being counted on as one of the young leaders on the defense, along with linebacker Jerod Mayo, but his maturity level has been questioned at times by those observing him in the locker room. He needs to continue to make progress in all aspect of the game to validate that Pro Bowl selection.

James Sanders

Sanders lost his starting job to Brandon McGowan early last season, but by the time December had rolled around #36 was back in the starting lineup, providing the solid and steady presence and play that he has become known for during his time in New England. Sanders’ starting role is likely to be challenged once again, not only by McGowan but by Pat Chung as well. Sanders is best as a Meriweather-type centerfield free safety rather than being up closer to the line of scrimmage. Sanders has been praised by the coaching staff for his intelligence and knowledge of the defense. He’s a valuable piece to have around, and whatever his role, you can feel confident that he’ll be ready to go.

Patrick Chung

The 2009 second round pick has gotten a lot of attention this offseason for his work both in the weight room and on the field. He’s been spoken of as another potential leader on defense, and signs seem to point to him taking a big leap forward in playing time this season. He very well could leapfrog Sanders on this depth chart, and find himself starting at strong safety for New England. He’s a hard hitter, not afraid of taking on ball carriers, but also not uncomfortable in pass coverage. His progress will be watched very closely in camp and during the early part of the season.

Brandon McGowan

The former Chicago Bear and University of Maine product was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2009 for the Patriots. His stepped into the starting lineup and provided a physical presence that the secondary sorely needed. He also established himself as something of a tight end stopper, playing tough defense on Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and others. McGowan was at times overaggressive as well, costing the Patriots yards, and this ultimately resulted in the steadier Sanders being put back into the starting role.

Bret Lockett

Lockett was a late addition to the Patriots last season, being claimed and awarded off waivers from the Cleveland Browns just prior to the season opener. He was a special teams player for the Patriots until he was placed on IR on December 9th. Lockett has good size (6-1, 220), but it remains to be seen whether he is more than just a ST player.

Sergio Brown

Brown was one of most sought after undrafted free agents following the NFL draft, a result of a pretty good career under new Patriots defensive assistant Corwin Brown at Notre Dame. Brown has outstanding athletic skills, and is described as a coach’s dream. He faces an uphill battle to win a roster spot just as a safety, but if he can show something on special teams he might be worth keeping around. If he isn’t on the final 53-man roster, he seems like a very likely candidate for the practice squad.

Ross Ventrone

Seems to be a clone of his older brother Ray. Ventrone has the same hard-nosed style that endeared Ray to the Patriots coaching staff and kept him here for three seasons before moving onto the Browns last season. Ross also seems to face long odds, but might be another practice squad candidate.

Summary

These top four safeties might be as good top-to-bottom as any safety group in the NFL. They’re going to play a big role in this team’s success in 2010. If Chung can have a breakthrough year and emerge as that Harrison/Milloy type of presence, then this group can be very, very good for some time to come. Also keep an eye on Brown in the preseason to see if he is able to make a name for himself during those games.