As the duck boats rolled through a snowy Boylston Street in February, the sights of Gronk victoriously chugging beers and Brady’s adorable little son kissing the fourth Lombardi trophy for this franchise were all anyone could rant and rave about.
What a difference five months makes.
With a few of the most crucial pieces of this Super Bowl winning team gone, Bill Belichick must find a way to keep his team competitive for a shot at a fifth Lombardi trophy – particularly on the defensive side of the ball, for as the old adage goes, “Offense scores points, but defense wins championships.”
The obvious is clear. With their two star cornerbacks moving on to new teams, opponents are going to try to expose a weaker Patriots secondary. Say goodbye to that glorious lockdown secondary and welcome a new defensive identity – one who will have to rely on interior pressure to push the pocket, disrupt the quarterback and force more passes down the middle instead of the sidelines. Easy to envision for a rushing defense that ranked 9th in the league in 2014, but losing a stalwart in Vince Wilfork along with Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers leave said defense with some holes to fill in order to maintain (and hopefully) improve that ranking.
The spotlight will turn to the unproven and injury-riddled. Enter stage right – Sealver Siliga, the 6 foot 2 inch 325 pound nose tackle who was sidelined with a foot injury last season and Dont’a Hightower, who is recovering from the shoulder surgery he underwent in February. Also stepping up will be Dominique Easley, the second year defensive tackle who is coming off of two torn ACLs and rookie Malcom Brown.
Reason to panic? Not quite.
Versatility is a key component that every player who wants to play for Bill Belichick must have. Thankfully, this defense is filled with guys who can rush the inside and outside or drop into coverage. Chandler Jones can line up as an outside linebacker or help on the defensive line. Jamie Collins excelled as a tackling machine and in coverage, ending last season with four sacks and two interceptions. Free agency brought in Jabaal Sheard from the Cleveland Browns, who is an effective run-stuffer and can cover the edges. The Patriots added another successful edge rusher who can drop into coverage in the third round of the draft by selecting Geneo Grissom.
It will take time to breed cohesion with all of these multi-faceted players, but Bill Belichick and his staff have a knack for maximizing the talent they bring out on the field every game.
Is it football season yet?