Aside from the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots made perhaps the biggest splash in free agency. Going against conventional wisdom, the Pats shocked the league when they struck a deal with the Washington Redskins to trade for DT Albert Haynesworth. This was a very low-risk high-reward move as Haynesworth was the best DT in the league two years ago, but there are concerns about his character and motivation. If there is any coaching staff who can light a fire under him, its certainly Belichick & Co. They also added more veteran presence on their DL with the signings of Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, Gerard Warren, and former Chicago Bear Mark Anderson. They also locked up several of their own free agents in OG Logan Mankins, OT Matt Light, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and CB Kyle Arrington. While trading for Haynesworth was huge, the most publicized move was the team’s trade for Former Bengal WR Chad OchoCinco. Should he be able to keep his antics to a minimum, he could give the Pats that big receiver they have lacked since losing Randy Moss.
The Patriots are known for having the premier front office in the NFL and they always manage to find under the radar players who they develop into superstars A LA Tom Brady. The team was very active on trade day as usual, trading picks up and down to stockpile selections. They used their first pick on Colorado OT Nate Solder. Solder is a mountain of a man at 6’8” and while he will be developed to protect Brady’s backside down the line, many drat pundits felt this was a reach as they weren’t completely sold on Solder. With a total of 9 picks in the 2011 Draft, the Pats wheeled and dealed to move around to be in the position to select the players they had been targeted. Their second round pick, Ras-I Dowling, a CB from University of Virginia, was one of my favorites, as he could step in immediately across from Pro-Bowler Devin McCourty and battle Leigh Bodden for the starting spot. Of their remaining 7 picks, the two best were the selection of OT Marcus Cannon from TCU who could very well see time as a rookie at OG, and Ryan Mallett, the QB from Arkansas who was once projected as a lottery pick before character concerns arose. He will be groomed as an understudy to Tom Brady.
The Patriots have one of the most high powered offensives in the league led by former NFL MVP Tom Brady. The running game hasn’t been as productive as years past, but Brady will have a few capable RBs to hand the ball off to including former Jet Danny Woodhead, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, and Sammy Morris. The wide receivers will be lead by Wes Welker, Brady’s favorite target, as well as Chad OchoCinco. Depth will be provided by Julien Edelman, Deion Branch, Taylor Price, and Brandon Tate. The tight end position is in extremely good hands as the Pats have two of the premier young TEs in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, both draft picks form 2010. The line will once again be solid with Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer, a 2nd team All-Pro pick last year at bookends, with Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen at RG and C, respectively. Dan Connolly appears to be the starter at LG, but that could change over the year as rookie Marcus Cannon, out of TCU, progresses.
The Pats run a 3-4 defense and had one of their worst DLs last season, in the past few years. Vince Wilfork, one of the game’s premier NT, returns inside. It appears as though Shaun Ellis will start at one end with Albert Haynesworth playing the opposite side. The Pats will likely show several different fronts to take advantage of Haynesworth’s pass rushing ability, while Jermaine Cunningham (last year’s starter), will battle Andre Carter and Mark Anderson for playing time. At linebacker there are also significant holes, however Jerod Mayo, a Pro-Bowler, will anchor this unit. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson will also see sometime at the outside spots to act as pass rushers, and Rob Ninkovich will also see action after starting last season. Gary Guyton and Marques Murrell should provide depth, being that several players will move down a level in certain packages as the Pats use their OLBs and DEs interchangeably. The secondary appears to be in good shape as Pro Bowl CB Devin McCourty returns, as does last year’s starter Leigh Bodden. Bodden will be pushed by Dowling, with one manning the nickel cb position. Safety looks good with Brandon Merriweather and Patrick Chung, backed up by former high draft pick Darius Butler.
The Special Teams are definitely a strong point for this Patriots team as they return Stephen Gostkowski, one of the premier kickers in the league, as well as Punter Zoltan Mesko, who finished in the Top 5 last year for most major punting statistics. Keep an eye out on Brandon Tate as a kick returner, who prior to his injury returned several kicks for touchdowns at UNC. Julian Edelman will man the punt returns.
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PTS NFL Preview: New England Patriots by promc58blog