By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff
We’re hearing a lot about the talent exodus from Foxborough in recent years, and about the Patriots’ failures in adequately drafting replacements. Well, the 2009 draft class showed some promise last season, and gave hope that there might be a new generation of Patriots starting to form. Is this going to be a 1995 draft (Ty Law, Ted Johnson, Curtis Martin, Jimmy Hitchcock, Dave Wohlabaugh) or a 2003 draft (Ty Warren, Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Tully Banta-Cain)? It’s still way too early to tell, but let’s check in on these second year players two weeks into their second training camp with the Patriots.
Round, Overall Pick, Name
2 (34) Pat Chung
Chung has been running with the first team in camp, and getting good reviews from reporters and coaches. Many are projecting him to make a huge leap in his second season, and seize the starting strong safety position across from Brandon Meriweather. He’s been burnt a little bit in the passing game in camp, but as the strong safety his focus is closer to the line. He seems to be on track.
2 (40) Ron Brace
Hoo boy. After a disappointing rookie season, Brace pronounced himself ready to go in his second season, but has yet to actually practice. This morning Nick Caserio stated that Brace has not passed his physical, and Ian Rapoport of the Herald reported that Brace failed the conditioning test. Whether this is the result of an injury, or just being out of shape, this does not bode well for Brace. He’s in danger of being a lost pick in this draft, which would be a killer considering how high he was taken.
2 (41) Darius Butler
The former UConn cornerback has done as expected in camp, mostly lining up with the starters, occasionally splitting time with rookie corner Devin McCourty. His athleticism is still his biggest asset, and he still seems to have the inside track on being the opening day starting cornerback for the Patriots. He’s got a lot of potential, and could be starting to show it. Seems like a good pick here.
2 (58) Sebastian Vollmer
Vollmer was perhaps the Patriots top rookie a year ago, and worked hard this offseason, being named one of the offseason award winners. He appears to be locked in at right tackle, and appears to have been a steal at #58 overall last year.
3 (83) Brandon Tate
Other than Randy Moss/Wes Welker, have you heard any receiver in camp being talked about more than Tate? An injury hampered his rookie season, but now healthy, he’s been making acrobatic catches seemingly every day, and flashing his return skills as well. He is a key, key player for this team this season. The early signs are encouraging. Lets hope he can keep it up and also be a steal.
3 (97) Tyrone McKenzie
Another guy who had lost his rookie season to injury, McKenzie is making up for lost time as he splits time with Brandon Spikes alongside Jerod Mayo in the middle of the Patriots defense. He’s been lauded for some big hits, and the coach has praised his intelligence and ability to read and call defenses. I enjoyed the tidbit from Shalise Manza Young that McKenzie enjoys tweaking Mayo by answering the coaches questions before Mayo can answer them. If he can remain healthy, he’s also looking like a nice third round pick.
4 (123) Rich Ohrnberger
I don’t recall hearing a whole lot about Ohrnberger thus far, but he is an offensive lineman, so perhaps that’s not entirely a bad thing. It’s hard to tell about this pick just yet, though you’d like a fourth rounder to be able to contribute at some point. We’ll keep an eye on him.
5 (170) George Bussey
Another offensive lineman that is hard to keep track of, Bussey did distinguish himself by also being named one of the offseason award winners, so he’s got that going for him. I have some vague recollection of his name being said in a positive manner by one of the coaches, but I can’t be sure. Another to keep an eye on.
6 (198) Jake Ingram
The Patriots thought enough of what Ingram did as a rookie long snapper that they didn’t bring in any competition for him this offseason. Some might think that the sixth round is pretty high to be drafting a long snapper, but they appear to have gotten this one right.
6 (207) Myron Pryor
He was a nice surprise last year, easily leaping past Brace on the depth chart (though it appears now that wasn’t as impressive a feat as it seemed at the time). Pryor has been injured thus far in camp, and so we need to get him back on the field in order to see what progress he’s made. Still, getting some production from a 6th round defensive lineman as a rookie isn’t to be sneezed at.
7 (232) Julian Edelman
It is a tossup between he and Vollmer as the most impressive Patriots rookie of 2009. Edelman made the transition from quarterback to wide receiver and became the team’s third best receiver almost immediately. He also is an offseason award winner, making that three players form this draft to be so honored by the team. He’s going to be counted on this season, but it seems safe to declare this seventh round pick a good one.
7 (234) Darryl Richard
Spent his rookie season on the practice squad, but did receive a bump in salary mid-way through the year. I know that I have heard Bill Belichick mention him in a good way this training camp, but he faces some stiff competition on the defensive line.
The fact that all of these players are still here has to be considered a positive. The failure of Brace is the biggest blot on this class’ record. He might just end up being the first one of his class to be cut, though that’s a bit premature to project at this point. Chung, Butler, Vollmer, Tate, McKenzie and Edelman all show signs of being at the least serviceable NFL players, with some of that group even possibly displaying star potential.
It’s early yet, but the signs are encouraging for this draft class overall.