The start of Patriots Training Camp is just days away and there has been a lot of change in the team’s roster than how it looked in February when the team won their sixth Lombardi trophy. The Patriots have a lot of depth throughout the roster and should be a couple compelling battles throughout camp for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks (3)- Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarred Stidham: The Patriots selected Stidham in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft and don’t think they’d be comfortable having him as the only option behind Tom Brady, especially with veteran Brian Hoyer on the roster.
Running Back (6)- Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (Fullback): The first three guys listed and Develin are locks to make the roster and expect all three to contribute this year, and with his contract I expect Bolden to be a lock as well and be a key contributor on special teams. The only potential question when it comes to this grouping is Rex Burkhead, who the team could choose to cut or trade due to his injury history and depth at the position, but expect the team to hold on to.
Wide Receiver (5)- Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Demaryius Thomas (PUP): The wide receiver battle in training camp and preseason is going to be an interesting one to watch as really no one besides Edelman and Harry are true locks to make the roster. Dorsett has been a solid contributor and a very consistent player when given the opportunity the past two seasons and expect him to make the team. After that the team could go in several different directions. Berrios had an impressive minicamp and hopes to become the heir slot receiver to Julian Edelman that the Patriots have struck out on finding the past few off-season’s with guys like Austin Carr and Riley McCarron. Inman didn’t have a good minicamp but has been a steady veteran his whole career and could add some size to the Patriots receiving core. The team could keep both, one, or neither Berrios or Inman and instead keep a player like Maurice Harris who had a good minicamp or Jakobi Meyers, who the team signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. Demaryius Thomas has reportedly been making positive strides towards being ready to play week one but I expect the veteran wideout to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the seaosn to fully recover from a torn achillies he suffered in December. Also, maybe a hopeful and potential Josh Gordon reinstatement at some point?
Tight End (2)-Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Ben Watson (Suspended): The position with the most change following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Izzo has no NFL experience and LaCosse has virtually no experience, and with Watson being suspended the first four games for a PED violation I don’t see the tight end position being one to have any impact during that time.
Offensive Line (8)-Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Frodholdt: 2018 first round pick Isaiah Wynn is likely to fill the big shoes of Trent Brown who signed with the Raiders this offseason. Wynn is recovering from an achillies injury he suffered that forced him to miss all of last season. Karras and Froholdt both have the ability to play guard and under center, while Cajuste is likely to be the teams backup tackle. Cole Croston is a name who could also make this list depending on how many lineman the team decides to keep.
Defensive Line (8)-Adam Butler, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, Michael Bennett, Chase Winovich, Mike Pennel, Lawrence Guy, John Simon: I loved the Patriots pick of Chase Winovich, who was great at Michigan both against the run and as a pass rusher despite being a little undersized. Both Winovich and Wise should be solid contributors at defensive end opposite Michael Bennett, who the team acquired this offseason in a trade with the Eagles.
Linebacker (5)-Donta’ Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts: This is the best the Patriots linebacking core has been in several years entering the season. Kyle Van Noy had a fantastic 2018 season and looks to continue that in 2019. The team brought back Jamie Collins this offseason after spending the last few seasons in Cleveland and he reportedly looked great during minicamp. Bentley was the star of training camp and preseason last year and got off to a good start in the regular season before suffering a torn biceps in week 3 that ended his season. If Bentley can get back to the form he was showing last year he could be in line for a great season.
Cornerback (7)-Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen: The best depth the Patriots have by far is at the cornerback position. Keeping seven corners is a lot but you can never have enough good corners in the NFL. I can’t wait to see the progression of J.C. Jackson and how good of a corner he could be building off his great rookie season. The selection of Williams in the second round of this year’s draft was somewhat surprising given the depth the team had at corner; but Williams is a big, physical corner who can also lineup at Safety and also be a potential Stephon Gilmore replacement in the future with his cap number being over $18 and $19 million in 2020 and 2021 or if the team decides to not bring him back when his contract is up after 2021 with the young pieces they have at the position. The Patriots may have the best cornerback group in the NFL.
Safety (4)-Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner: Ebner gets the nod over Terrence Brooks and Obi Melifonwu due to his special teams play. Melifonwu has a lot of potential as a former second round pick just two years ago and the team could see enough promise and potential in him to keep him on the roster.
Special Teams (5)-Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brandon King: At one point Ryan Allen was actually in the conversation for Super Bowl MVP against the Rams, but with the Patriots moving up in the draft to select Bailey there must be something that they see in Bailey that they like. Releasing Allen would also save the team $1.4 million in cap space.
Training Camp has begun and with it, comes the injuries. As of August 8th, 24 out of the 90 players on the roster are missing practice due to health/rehab issues. So, with that, we get to see more unknown players get more reps and show why they should wear a Patriots uniform come September. Here are some players to keep an eye on as the Packers game approaches on the 12th.
RBs Jonas Gray and Tyler Gaffney: With incumbent RB LaGarrette Blount spraining his MCL and missing Game 1 against Pittsburgh with a suspension, the backup running back position is something that really needs more attention. Gray had that 4 TD game against Indianapolis last year and did nothing else and Gaffney was hurt all last year. Seeing that James White, Dion Lewis and Travaris Cadet are battling for the “Vereen” Role, we need to figure out who can be the road grater for whomever is playing Quarterback. Both Gray and Gaffney are likely fighting for one roster spot, so this is something to look for.
TE Jake Bequette: As Bequette pretty much washed out as a defensive end, the former 3rd round pick was moved to TE this offseason and has been a pleasant surprise in camp. He’s been stretching the field and catching the ball well. With this size (6’5, 275) and quickness (4.07 shuttle and 6.90 three cone drill at his Pro Day in 2013), he could be an intriguing player to watch. Obviously, he is still a big project, but definitely someone to keep an eye on.
G/C Josh Kline: One of the biggest areas of uncertainty is at Guard. With rookies Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason starting together the other day, you still have the void left by not resigning Dan Connolly (and then his subsequent retirement). Kline is a guy who has appeared in 21 games, starting 6 starts (one in the AFC Championship against Indianapolis) since joining the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2013. He has the ability to play all interior spots, and could be a surprise starter at one of the guard spots if he plays well enough. With Ryan Wendell on the PUP, Kline will see more reps and could come out ahead as a starter or top reserve.
DE/OLB Eric Martin: After bouncing around the Saints and Browns rosters in 2013 and 2014, Martin signed to the Pats Practice Squad last year. At 6’2, 250, he ran a 4.53 at his Nebraska Pro Day in 2013. He has raised some eye brows with his pass rush. He could make noise as Dane Fletcher and Chris White are on the PUP as a good special teamer/backup pass rusher. Keep an eye out on how he does with the pads on.
S Tavon Wilson and Jordan Richards: Although the attention has been on the corner back (and rightfully so), the attention needs to be on how well these two have played as of late. Both are getting a lot of playing time and surprisingly enough, Wilson has been a better player. Will he remove his borderline bust status as a 2nd rounder? We’ll see, but it’s an encouraging sign. With that being said, hearing good things about Richards makes it interesting to see if guys like Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner get put on notice with their play.
Before last year with Darrelle Revis and the early 2000s with Ty Law the Patriots pass defense has tended to struggle and lacked a true shutdown corner. With Revis leaving New England and returning to the New York Jets the Patriots may again go into the 2015 season without a shutdown corner. Last season, New England ranked 17th in pass defense but the numbers didn’t really show how good and effective the Patriots secondary and defense as a whole was in 2015, with the Patriots often leading early in games and by a good margin teams were forced to throw the ball the whole game. Lets take a look at the Patriots pass defense throughout the Belichick era both with and without a shutdown corner and what we could expect to see out of this years defense.
In Belichick’s first year as coach the team ranked 21st in pass defense allowing 220 passing yards per game. The league wasn’t as big of a passing league at the time compared to how it is now. The secondary was lead by cornerback Ty Law and safety Lawyer Milloy who each led the team in interceptions with two a piece during the teams disappointing 5-11 season. The team also ranked 21st in rush defense, which is a compelling reason why the team finished at 5-11 with a poor pass and rush defense.
The following season is one all pats fans will remember, the year the franchise won its first Super Bowl championship, the year our franchise quarterback took the realms and the dynasty in New England started. That year the Patriots ranked 24th in pass defense but allowed less yards per game than it did the year before allowing 218 yards per game. Again, the league was more run oriented compared to the way the NFL is today. The team was again lead in the secondary by Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy and despite the low ranking in pass defense allowed less yards than the year before and had 22 interceptions as a team, returning 5 for touchdowns. The high interception total showed how with a top safety and corner the team was able to be more aggressive in play making.
The Patriots suffered a Super Bowl hangover in the 2002 season missing the playoffs for one of the three times in the Belichick era. Despite not making the playoffs the teams pass defense increased tremendously improving to the 11th ranked pass defense in the league allowing 198 yards per game. Where the Patriots increased in pass defense they decreased in rush defense ranking 31st in the league allowing 137 yards per game.
The Patriots secondary had a new look to it in the 2003 season compared to the seasons before. Veteran safety Rodney Harrison and cornerback Tyrone Poole both signed with the team in the offseason, drafting safety Eugene Wilson in the second round, cornerback Asante Samuel in the 4th round and releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy prior to the start of the season. Milloy signed with division rival Buffalo Bills and started off the year by beating the Patriots 31-0, which I’m sure made the Patriots question their decision to release Milloy. The team ended up ranking 15th in pass defense at the end of the year allowing 202 yards per game. The teams run defense had a huge improvement from the year ranking 4th in rushing yards allowing only 86 yards per game. Behind the teams strong defense the team went on to win their second Super Bowl in three years.
2004 was a tough season for the Patriots secondary suffering many injuries, which forced wide receiver Troy Brown to the defensive side of the ball to play corner. Brown played well and better than I and I’m sure most people expected and was the model of the “Patriot Way”, doing anything you can to win. Brown ended up finishing tied second on the team in interceptions with 3, with his first coming against former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The only member of the secondary to play in all 16 regular season games was safety Rodney Harrison. The team ranked 17th in pass defense allowing 212 yards per game despite all the injuries and went on to win their third Super Bowl ring in four years and started the Patriots dynasty.
Veteran cornerback Ty Law left the team in free agency, which made the Patriots bolster a new look secondary for the 2005 season without Law. Without Law the teams secondary struggled ranking 31st in the league in pass defense allowing 231 yards per game. The teams rush defense also struggled in 2005 ranking 25th in run defense. With Law leaving in free agency the Patriots struggled with not having a true shutdown corner despite Asante Samuel playing well and molding into a future number one corner.
After the defensive struggle in 2005, the team improved in both pass and rush defense ranking 12th in pass defense and 5th in run defense in 2006. The defense was led by corner Asante Samuel who had 10 interceptions on the year and became a dangerous threat for opposing quarterbacks to throw at and taking away one side of the field. Injuries again hit the Patriots secondary in the 2006 season with a variety of injuries to multiple members of the defense.
The Patriots had their famous 16-0 Regular Season and rewriting the whole record book while doing so. With Tom Brady and the offense setting new records every week and gaining the majority of the attention, the Patriots defense had one of if not their best defense statistically in the Belichick era. The team ranked 6th in passing allowing 190 yards per game and the run defense ranking 10th allowing 98 yards per game. Harrison and Samuel were again leaders of the New England secondary. Sadly what this team will be remembered for will be for falling just short of the perfect season with their only loss coming against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. As well as the defense played all year they struggled in the Super Bowl against the Giants. The defense as a whole struggled and the offense didn’t play as well as they did all year long. If it also wasn’t for a miracle helmet catch by Giants receiver David Tyree the Patriots may have ended up winning the Super Bowl and completing the “perfect season”.
Coming off a devastating loss in the Super Bowl the Patriots were looking to return and were the early season favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2008. Then quarterback Tom Brady went down in the first quarter of week 1 with a torn ACL and MCL. The offense was now set to look different without their MVP quarterback. In free agency that year cornerback Asante Samuel left New England to join the Philadelphia Eagles. Safety Rodney Harrison only played in 6 games before being injured and out for the year. The defense was now led by rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo and 2nd year safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerbacks Deltha O’Neil (who was terrible at this point in his career), the inconsistent Ellis Hobbs and Jonathan Wilhite. With all the injuries and lack of a true number one corner the Patriots defense was better than ultimately expected. The defense ranked 11th in passing allowing 201 yards per game and 15th in defense allowing 107 yards per game. Even with the multitude of injuries on both side of the ball the team still finished at 10-6 but missed the playoffs after the Jets lost in week 17 to the Dolphins, which sent Miami to the playoffs. This helped show how great of a coach Bill Belichick is, doing as good as he did with the amount of injuries the team had and after losing arguably its best defensive player in free agency and still play well.
Veterans Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retired prior to the 2009 season, which left New England with a loss of leadership and two key members of the teams defense, as well as trading star defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders. The team was also playing with Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite and Shawn Springs at cornerback, which is not very good to say the least. Wilhite struggled since the time he was drafted and Springs and Bodden were older veterans that were past their prime and weren’t nearly as productive as the team was hoping they would be when signed in free agency. Despite the lack of star power, especially in the secondary the team wasn’t too bad as a whole on defense ranking 12th in passing allowing 210 yards per game and ranking 13th in run defense allowing 110 yards per game. Again this showed that Belichick doesn’t need a “star” corner to lead his team.
The Patriots 2010 defense was ugly to say the least. The team ranked 30th in pass defense allowing 259 yards per game. One bright spot was rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who had 7 interceptions on the year and looked like he could be the shut down corner New England was missing the past few seasons. Despite the terrible pass defense the team played fairly well against the run ranking 11th in the league allowing 108 yards per game.
New year, same problems, the 2011 Patriots were again TERRIBLE against the pass ranking 31st in the league allowing 293 yards per game. It was ugly to watch, I remember watching the game against the Peyton Manningless Indianapolis Colts and Dan Orloksky was at quarterback and they just kept driving up the field and scoring. I remember my dad and I yelling at the TV and asking each other “are we really going to lose to the f***ing Colts?” before he threw the TV remote at the ground and broke it out of anger. The lone bright spot from the year before, Devin McCourty had a huge sophomore slump and couldn’t have covered me if I was out on the field. The defense was so bad andlacked depth that wide receivers Julian Edelman and matthew Slater were both playing in the secondary, and were playing better than just about all the other members of the secondary. New England played in way too many shoot-outs and close games this season. The offense would get up big to start the game and then the defense would play a prevent zone and just couldn’t stop anybody, it was painful to watch. Despite the terrible defense the Patriots still made it to the Super Bowl after a heroic pass deflection by Sterling Moore and a shanked Billy Cundiff field goal in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. New England again went onto lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl after a Wes Welker drop that would have sealed the victory for New England and another lucky pass by Eli Manning where his receiver again made an amazing catch bailing out Manning.
Yet again New England’s secondary struggled against the pass in 2012. Devin McCourty continued to struggle at cornerback, which prompted the team to move him to safety, where he has played great since, and make a mid-season trade for cornerback Aqib Talib. Adding Talib was huge for New England giving them a true number one cornerback and someone who could take away an opposing teams top receiver. Despite the acquisition of Talib the Patriots still ranked 29th in pass defense allowing 271 yards per game. If Talib was never acquired the rankings surely would have been lower. Talib was good during his time in New England besides constantly being banged up, especially in the big games. The Patriots ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship after a Talib injury sidelined him and forced Devin McCourty back to corner halfway through the game and forcing Kyle Arrington, a slot corner, to cover wide receiver Torrey Smith, a speedy deep threat.
With having a full season of Aqib Talib the Patriots pass defense improved drastically ranking 18th in the league allowing 239 yards per game. With Talib at corner allowed McCourty to play the center fielder role and roam around the secondary. Talib played like the top corner in the NFL for most of the 2013 season. Another bright spot for New England’s defense was rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan led the team with 5 interceptions and showed a lot of promise for the future as a playmaker and potentially improving into a number one corner for the Patriots. Talib was again injured during the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos and the Patriots went on to lose to the Broncos and be eliminated from the playoffs.
And lastly we have last years 2014 pass defense. Last years pass defense was great and the best that I have seen and can remember the Patriots having. Darrelle Revis was, well Darrelle Revis, he shut down any receiver he was matched up against. Brandon Browner provided the physicality and swagger that the defense needed, always giving big hits and being physical with the receiver he was matched up against even if it would draw the occasional pass interference call. Kyle Arrington played a key role as the teams slot corner and did it very well most of the year. Second year rookie Logan Ryan, like Devin McCourty, had a sophomore slump and didn’t play nearly as well as he did during his rookie year. He was constantly getting beat by receivers and didn’t play the ball as well as he did the year before. Then there was Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler who played well when he was on the field and was a good depth player. Butler is now most popular for his Super Bowl interception, throughout the year Butler was impressive in limited action and showed very good man coverage skills. And with this secondary with the shut down corner in Revis and great complimentary number two corner in Browner the Patriots went on to win their 4th Super Bowl.
Based on the past teams during the Belichick era the team has won their Super Bowls with a top, shutdown corner. After losing Revis, Browner, and Arrington in free agency the secondary is set to look a lot different than it did in 2014. The current cornerbacks on the Patriots roster who are expected to make the roster and potentially play key roles for New England’s defense this upcoming year are Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, free agent signee Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Derek Cox, as well as safety Devin McCourty who some have suspected could make the switch back to corner with the current cornerback depth.
Ryan and Butler have spent time in New England and are expected to be the team’s two starting cornerbacks to start the 2015 season. Ryan is looking to bounce back after struggling last year and go back to the form he showed as a promising rookie in 2013 when he recorded 5 interceptions and played a big part of the teams defense. Butler will look to continue to shine after his game-winning interception in the Super Bowl. Butler already has high expectations heading into the 2015 season and time will tell if he will live up to the hype that has surrounded him since the Super Bowl.
Bradley Fletcher spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles after spending his first 4 seasons in the league with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher was inconsistent last season with the Eagles, with not much safety help over the top and would occasionally be beat on the deep ball with a lack of safety help. With safety Devin McCourty giving hep over the top to corners Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib the past few seasons, McCourty could also look to help Fletcher and transition Fletcher to potentially be a number one corner for New England. The Patriots are hoping that with the help of McCourty he could transition into that and not be the corner who was beat repeatedly by Dez Bryant and was seen crying on the sidelines at one point after constantly being targeted by Romo and beat by Bryant.
Robert McClain is a smaller corner at 5’9 and has primarily been a special teamer throughout his career. He played more defensively last year after injuries to Falcons corners. McClain could be used as a slot corner to replace Kyle Arrington, who was released by the Patriots this offseason and signed with the Baltimore Ravens. With McClain’s experience at both corner and special teams gives him a better chance to make the Patriots roster with Bill Belichick’s love for versatile players.
Derek Cox has been a journeyman throughout his NFL career playing for the Jaguars, Chargers and brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. Cox was a member of the Ravens briefly last year and didn’t see the field before being released by the time. Cox is a bigger corner like Fletcher (Cox 6’1, Fletcher 6’0) and has been inconsistent throughout his career, like Fletcher. Cox is said to be more of a zone coverage defender than a man defender off the line of scrimmage. Cox role in New England is still unknown and isn’t a roster lock by any means but could provide nice veteran depth to the Patriots secondary.
Without a true number one corner to start the year the Patriots defense will look to rely more on their pass rush then the team has the past few seasons. The team is also expected by many people to switch to a zone defensive scheme rather than a man scheme like they have the past few seasons when they had a top corner.
Looking over the eight divisions in the NFL, the AFC East division has had a great deal of success over the past 15 years. Don’t remind any Bills, Jets and Dolphins fans about this though, for all twelve division titles, six Conference Championships and four Super Bowls won over this time belong to just one team – the New England Patriots.
But the reigning Super Bowl champs have had an offseason that has casted some reasonable doubt for fans ahead of the upcoming season. With the anchor to their defense and their two starting cornerbacks gone and an impending ruling yet to be handed down by the Ginger Hammer (#exonerateBrady), the rest of the AFC East has made moves to improve their teams with some key acquisitions. Is that enough to sink the tight ship run by Bill Belichick and Co.? Let’s take a look at how the three other teams stack up against the Kings of the AFC East:
Jets – Aside from the big (*cough* robbery *cough*) free agency signing of Darrelle Revis, the Jets also brought back Antonio Cromartie to the secondary to beef up an already tough and talented defense who will have Sheldon Richardson back by the time they face the Patriots in their Week 7 showdown. To complement the defense, the Jets improved their receiving corps by acquiring Brandon Marshall in free agency and drafting Devin Smith in this year’s draft. The bad news? The Jets may be in a better position to expose a weaker Patriots secondary by forcing them to put more cornerbacks on the field against a stronger set of wide receivers. The good news? The Jets don’t have Rex Ryan. Or a QB that can lead them to a division title. And while the Jets will have Sheldon Richardson back, the Patriots will have Tom Brady ready to go too, so I’ll be placing my bets on the Brady Bunch.
Dolphins – Ndamukong Suh decided to bring his talents to South Beach and that is huge for a franchise whose fans have been left with a sour taste in their mouths from watching teams full of hope and promise disintegrate the past two seasons. Having Suh join Earl Mitchell in the interior while Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon rush the edges will be the cause of many headaches for offensive coordinators in the division and across the league. The Dolphins also did a pretty good job of getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (a massive contract and) some new weapons by signing Greg Jennings and drafting DeVante Parker with the 14th pick of the draft to join a balanced run game for the offense. But are these improvements enough to overcome the major holes this team has at guard, linebacker and at the cornerback position? Or will Dolphins fans face another tumultuous season that will end in more heartbreak for their fans? Too soon to tell. One thing that is certain – Bill Belichick’s bread and butter is taking away what every team does best and making them beat his team without their strengths. If the offensive line for the Dolphins struggle to create openings for their running backs and keep Ryan Tannehill upright, their secondary won’t be able to save them from the Patriots’ elusive passing attack.
Bills – No other team in this division (or in the league for that matter) had quite the offseason the Bills had. No other team in this division will have the pleasure of potentially facing a Brady-less Patriots offense (*knocks on wood*) this season and that is quite the advantage to have on your side, especially with an elite defense led by Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. These three ended the season with double-digit sacks on a team that racked up 54 sacks in 2014. It only gets better for this team because guess who’s at the helm for this Bills this year? Rex Ryan, defensive mastermind. But, said defensive mastermind is no offensive mastermind, and he’s going from one quarterback debacle with Geno Smith and the Jets to another with E.J. Manuel and the Bills. His other options at quarterback (Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Tuel) don’t seem to represent the long term answer to lead a good running combo in Fred Jackson and LeSean McCoy and a good wide receiving corps that includes Sammy Watkins, who is coming off a stellar rookie season. It’ll be quite the chess match when these two teams meet up in Week 2 and in primetime on Week 11. Rex will focus on disguising his defense with intricate blitzing schemes to faze the Patriots quarterback while Bill will squash the running game and force the Bills quarterback to beat the defense with his arm. There is no doubt that the Bills have the biggest chance to dethrone the Patriots for the AFC East throne, but their biggest hole is at the most important position on the team. With that said, I will give Bill Belichick and Co. the benefit of the doubt and another division title for the 2015-16 NFL season.
The defending Super Bowl champs will have a lot of different faces on both sides of the ball to start the 2015 season.
On the defensive side of the ball the team will look to replace longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas who were good depth and situational players for the team last season, as well as cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis who went back to the division rival New York Jets. The losses of Browner and Revis will hurt the Patriots the most. Last year New England played primarily a man coverage defense, this year it looks like the team will be focusing on more of a zone defense and pressuring the quarterback through their front seven.
The Patriots defense will look to rely on 1st round pick defensive tackle Malcolm Brown to replace Wilfork, cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler to take on larger roles this season as well as free agent signee Jabaal Sheard to add to New England’s pass rush and pressure the quarterback for the new look defense.
Offensively the Patriots will look similar to last year, only losing running back Shane Vereen to the New York Giants in free agency.
Also guard Dan Connolly is currently a free agent and according to some reports is considering retiring from football after winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots will also be without running back LaGarrette Blount for the first week of the season for a violation of the leagues substance abuse policy last year as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who New England plays week one. New England may also be without quarterback Tom Brady who is currently appealing his 4-game suspension handed down to him by the league for the “DeflateGate” scandal and there is no timetable for the league to make their decision regarding Brady’s appeal.
The offense could look a lot different than it has the past 15 years if Brady ends up losing his appeal and accepting his suspension (which I do not think will happen). 2nd year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would likely be the starter for the duration of Brady’s suspension and though no one knows how the offense would operate with Garoppolo under center, it is almost guaranteed to take a step back to when Brady is under center. With Blount out for week 1 and running backs Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley gone the offense could look very different than it did back in February when the Patriots were playing for the Super Bowl.
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