With September 10th creeping closer and closer, let’s take a look at three areas of the roster that should be on all Patriots’ fans radars.
This is universally the biggest area of unease for Patriots fans and principal source of ammo for Pats haters for the upcoming season. It seems the general pulse of the fan base concerning the secondary is one of disgust and tremendous concern. I won’t go that far. I am very high on Malcolm Butler, who picked up right where he left off in last week’s preseason game against Aaron Rodgers and his first team offense. Reports from his camp performance are also glowing. Listen, I’m not saying we are getting Revis 2.0 here, but I truly believe Butler can be a very good cornerback in this league and plus starter for Patricia’s defense. The other cornerback spot I’m obviously not as high on. Tarrell Brown was a solid starter on a ridiculous 2012 San Francisco defense that lost in the Superbowl. Although his best days are probably behind him, I expect him to beat out Bradley Fletcher and Logan Ryan for the spot alongside Butler. Keep an eye on scrappy rookie 7th round pick Darryl Roberts, who’s had some bright spots in camp and seems to be on Belichick’s good side. In the nickel, newcomer Robert McClain (Kyle Arrington lite) seems to be the favorite, but he’ll have to hold off the aforementioned Logan Ryan, who can play outside or in. Mr. Consistent and 48 million dollar man Devin McCourty is one of the top free safeties in the league, and I have a hard time thinking of one I’d rather have sans Seattle’s Earl Thomas. The other safety spot will be game plan and situation specific. Pat Chung will get the first look in the base defense, especially against run heavy teams, and in sub-packages expect Duran Harmon and rookie 2nd rounder Jordan Richards to be in the mix. Overall, on paper, this unit is certainly not as impressive as last years’, but assuming an improved pass rush and in-house player development, it may surprise some people.
Overall level of concern: 4.5/10
I’m marginally more anxious when I think about the O-line. If the first four games of last season taught us anything, it’s that a patchwork O-line can paralyze an offense. Thankfully, last season’s unit figured it out and the rest is history. At center, Stork should take a step forward with a full year and offseason under his belt, and the bookends (Solder and Vollmer) quietly put together an incredible second half of last season. Ryan Wendell is gritty, but undersized. With 4 of 5 starters returning, most of the continuity will be there, but it can’t be underestimated the dependability retiree Dan Connolly brought to the table. His spot will be taken by one of two rookies, Tre Jackson, the 6’4 330 pound mammoth from Florida State, or the explosive 6’1 310 pound Shaq Mason from Georgia Tech. My gut says Jackson will be the guy, partially because he has familiarity with the aforementioned Bryan Stork, and partially because Mason has very limited exposure as a pass-blocker due to Georgia Tech’s run heavy scheme. On paper, this unit is OK, but my apprehension comes from looking over at the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins defensive lines. The unit needs to be more than just average to keep Brady upright this season. Luckily, I could probably head down the street to the “Last Drop”, grab the four biggest dudes to play alongside me, and open up running lanes against the “rival” Colts D-Line, but that’s for another blog…
Overall level of concern: 5.5/10
3rd down/Pass catching running back
With the departure of Shane Vereen (52 catches, 447 yards), Brady needs to gain trust in one of the incumbent pass-catching backs. Judging by recent reports from camp, and preseason production, James White seems to be the favorite. The 2nd year pro out of Wisconsin basically red-shirted last year (same as Vereen his rookie year) but has put together some momentum the last few weeks. The ability and explosion is there, however, a more important factor may be whether or not he can effectively pick up the blitz in blocking situations, which is something Vereen did particularly well. Newcomer (ex-Saint) Travaris Cadet may also be a factor, and I could see him flanking White and Brady in certain passing situations. If neither can sufficiently pick up the blitz on a consistent basis, the solid, if unspectacular Brandon Bolden would get the nod. My gut tells me White gets the job and brings a high percentage of Vereen’s production, who, while I freaking love him for his Superbowl performance, wasn’t exactly the model of consistency (injuries, drops) during his tenure with the Pats.
Overall level of concern: 2.5/10