Unit by Unit Analysis

<b>QUARTERBACK: </b> Starter -- <!--Default NodeId For Tom Brady is 759505,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:759505]>Tom Brady</A>. Backups -- <!--Default NodeId For Damon Huard is 759551,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:759551]>Damon Huard</A>, Rohan Davey, <!--Default NodeId For Kliff Kingsbury is 759560,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:759560]>Kliff Kingsbury</A>.

Brady threw a league-high 28 touchdown passes last year and should have more and better weapons at his disposal, which will help him continue to improve. He avoids critical mistakes for the most part and is a superb game manager and two-minute performer. To truly evolve into an elite quarterback, he needs to hit on the intermediate outside passes more consistently and throw the deep ball with better accuracy. If he does those things, he'll have better success going to his bread-and-butter slants over the middle that defenses smothered toward the end of last season. Davey could push Huard for the No. 2 job while Kingsbury may force the Patriots to keep four quarterbacks on the roster just as they did Brady's rookie season. Brady's shoulder injury suffered in the season finale last year should be completely healed.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Antowain Smith, FB Fred McCreary. Backups -- RB Kevin Faulk, RB J.R. Redmond, RB Mike Cloud, FB Patrick Pass, RB Derek Watson, FB Mike Malan, RB/FB Antwoine Womack.

Smith is allegedly in much better shape than he has been in the last two years when he failed the training camp conditioning test, but it's the Sunday tests in which he must perform this year. He ran indecisively last year, seemingly searching endlessly for big plays rather than hammering the ball inside to take what the defense gave him. He needs to return to the bullish runner that scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2001. If he doesn't run for power and pickup yards after contact, he is not a factor since he is not a back with big-play speed and elusiveness. McCreary should do a solid job replacing Marc Edwards as a fullback who can catch the ball out of the backfield, block adequately and get an occasional carry. Redmond could be gone or may stick around until Cloud serves his four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. Faulk will continue in his role as a third down back and as in-space runner where he excelled last year while Womack remains the unknown entity after rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in college for all of last season. If there is a back on the roster who can push Smith, it's likely Cloud, who won't play until October.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Christian Fauria. Backups -- Daniel Graham, Fred Baxter, Rodney Trafford, Spencer Nead.

Fauria was a major red zone weapon last year with seven touchdown receptions, but didn't do much as a receiver in other areas of the field. Graham should take over the No. 1 spot because of his receiving skills, and both are capable blockers. Graham did struggle with drops last year, but showed flashes of brilliance while battling shoulder and rib injuries. He and Fauria combined for 42 receptions and that number should climb in 2003. If the Patriots keep three tight ends, it's difficult to imagine Trafford or Nead beating out Baxter.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Troy Brown, David Patten. Backups -- Deion Branch, David Givens, Dedric Ward, Bethel Johnson, Dan Stricker, Kerry Watkins, Scott McCready, Chas Gessner.

If the Patriots keep five wide receivers, the battle for the last spot between Givens and Ward could be intense. Branch could certainly push Patten for the role as the No. 2 receiver, but since the Patriots play so many multi-receiver sets, it doesn't really matter who gets labeled the starter. If Branch builds on a solid rookie season, he could emerge as a major threat. Johnson is a raw burner with 4.27 speed who can stretch the field and must be a home run hitter in the offense. The rest of the receivers on the roster are long shots behind the five veterans and the rookie second round pick.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Matt Light, LG Mike Compton, C Damien Woody, RG Joe Andruzzi, RT Adrian Klemm. Backups -- T Kenyatta Jones, T Tom Ashworth, T Brandon Gorin, T Joe Schey, T Corey Mitchell, G Stephen Neal, G Mike Clare, G Dave Petruziello, G Gene Mruczkowski, C/G Bill Conaty, C/G Dan Koppen.

Three-fifths of the line remains solid and intact with Light, Compton and Woody, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. Joe Andruzzi's surgically repaired knee will limit him during training camp, but it would still have to be considered an upset if he loses the starting job. He is as tough as shoe leather, which is why Belichick is so fond of him. Expect him to be on the field by Week One. Klemm, who battled injuries for all of his first two seasons, finally remained healthy last year and will not have the chance to nail down a starting job at right tackle, although both Ashworth and Gorin are developmental players to watch who could be reaching their NFL day of reckoning. Conaty was a late signing and as long as he doesn't retire, he will provide experienced depth at center and guard. Koppen is a very smart player who could sneak into the lineup once he matches up better physically. He is probably a year away, but is certainly a player to watch this summer.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Bobby Hamilton, NT Jarvis Green, DE Richard Seymour. Backups -- DE Anthony Pleasant, DE Ty Warren, DE Buck Rasmussen, DE/DT Rick Lyle, DT Dan Klecko, DT Ken Kocher, DT Ethan Kelley.

By switching to a three-man defensive line and adding young talent in Warren and Klecko, the Patriots should be able to keep older, but still capable defenders Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant fresher through the season. Hamilton didn't show up as much last year as in his first two in New England, and fatigue may have been a factor. Belichick would like to play Seymour and Warren at end, but f Jarvis Green can't handle the nose, either of those two plays could move inside. Seymour is blossoming into one of the league's top defensive linemen, and the group as a whole has improved depth while maintaining all-important experience. Pleasant, Warren, Klecko and Lyle should see plenty of action in the line rotation, but the pressure will be on for this group to play tough run defense following a miserable 2002 season in that area.

LINEBACKER: Starters -- SOLB Mike Vrabel, SILB Ted Johnson, WILB Roman Phifer, WOLB Rosevelt Colvin. Backups -- OLB Willie McGinest, ILB Tedy Bruschi, OLB Tully Banta-Cain, OLB Jason Hunt, ILB Matt Chatham, ILB Don Davis, ILB Larry Izzo, ILB Chad Lee, ILB Maugaula Tuitele, ILB Courtney Ledyard.

The Patriots are extremely deep with six linebackers who will all play significant roles in the 3-4 scheme. Phifer will move inside the 3-4, but remain a weakside linebacker while working in a rotation with Bruschi and Johnson similar to the way Belichick used the latter two and Bryan Cox in 2001. Colvin is quite obviously the prize addition here in that he gives the Patriots the bona fide edge pass rush that was missing. His presence should help make Vrabel and McGinest more effective rushers as well. Johnson and McGinest have injury histories that are a concern but they were healthy all of last season while Bruschi and Phifer missed time. Adding Davis, who will play on special teams, gives the Patriots an emergency linebacker who could fill in both inside and outside if needed. Izzo also fits that mold.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Ty Law, CB Otis Smith, S Lawyer Milloy, S Rodney Harrison. Backups -- CB Tyrone Poole, CB Eugene Wilson, CB Leonard Myers, CB Asante Samuel, CB Ben Kelly, CB Dyshod Carter, S Aric Morris, S Antwan Harris, S Je'Rod Cherry, S Chris Akins, S Shawn Mayer, S Scott Farley.

Law is coming off another standout season in which he matched up with the opponent's best receiver every week and he shows no signs of slowing down. Smith seems ageless as a reliable, unspectacular corner who has earned the trust of coaches. He allows an occasional big play because he lacks true cornerback speed, but he has excellent hands and ball skills and contributes with big plays defensively as well. Smith will be pushed for his job by Wilson, the 2003 second round pick, who will challenge Poole for the nickel back job in training camp and vie for Smith's starting job by midseason. The Patriots should be much improved when they go to five, six and seven defensive backs with the additions of Wilson and Poole along with holdovers Leonard Myers and Antwan Harris, who have experience playing in subpackages. Law and Harrison will have their coverage skills tested and will have to play well in that area for the Patriots to thrive on third down, but both of those players are headhunter types who can intimidate.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Adam Vinatieri, P Ken Walter, LS Lonie Paxton, PR Troy Brown, KR Kevin Faulk, KR Bethel Johnson. Others -- P Dan Pope.

Vinatieri was the best kicker in football last year, converting 90 percent of his field goal tries while playing in tough New England conditions. He is clutch under pressure and as reliable as any at his position. Walter needs to improve on a poor 2002 season in which his net average plummeted to 33.3 yards per punt and he had had nine touchbacks with only 19 punts downed inside the 20 -- a ratio that must improve. The Giants proved how valuable a reliable long snapper is and Paxton is just that. Brown should return to form as the punt returner after battling a knee injury for the final three months of last season. Faulk led the AFC in kickoff returns with a 27.9-yard average that was aided by touchdown returns of 86 and 87 yards. Johnson is a pure burner who will likely get the opportunity to take over as the No. 1 kick returner. The Patriots must cut down on penalties in the kicking game.


RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS UNSIGNED: S Victor Green (has individually negotiated right of first refusal; options seem limited after up-and-down 2002 season).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS UNSIGNED: OL Matt Knutson (tendered at $225,000); OG Stephen Neal (tendered at $375,000; former world class wrestler will battle for a starting job this year).

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: NT Dan Klecko (4th; $1.69M/4 yrs, $320,000 SB; 2003 cap: $305,000); CB Asante Samuel (4th; $1.682M/4 yrs, $312,500 SB; 2003 cap: $303,125); DT Ethan Kelley (7th; $931,500/3 yrs, $21,500 SB; 2003 cap: $232,167).

VETERANS RE-SIGNED: OT Tom Ashworth (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); TE Fred Baxter (UFA; $780,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; terms unknown); LB Matt Chatham (RFA; $1.525M/3 yrs, SB unknown); S Je'Rod Cherry (UFA; $680,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB/$100,000 base guarantee; 2003 cap: $475,000); CB Ben Kelly (RFA; $610,600/1 yr); DE Rick Lyle (UFA; $685,600/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $480,600); FB Patrick Pass (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); LS Lonie Paxton (RFA; $3.075M/5 yrs, $305,000 SB; 2003 cap: $517,000); LB Maugaula Tuitele (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr).

VETERANS ACQUIRED: S Chris Akins (UFA Browns; $555,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000); RB Mike Cloud (not tendered as UFA by Chiefs; 1 yr, terms unknown); LB Rosevelt Colvin (UFA Bears; $25.9M/6 yrs, $6M SB; 2003 cap: $1.56M); C Bill Conaty (not tendered as UFA by Bills; terms unknown); LB Don Davis (UFA Rams; $680,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000); S Rodney Harrison (FA Chargers; $14.49M/6 yrs, $2.5M SB; 2003 cap: $1.08M); FB Fred McCrary (FA Chargers; 2 yrs, terms unknown); S Aric Morris (RFA tender of $605,000 rescinded by Titans; 2 yrs, terms unknown); CB Tyrone Poole (UFA Broncos; $8.024M/4 yrs, $1.8M SB; 2003 cap: $1.11M); WR Dedric Ward (FA Dolphins; terms unknown).

VETERANS LOST: CB Terrell Buckley (UFA Dolphins; $785,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB); TE Cam Cleeland (UFA Rams; $555,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB); WR Fred Coleman (not tendered as ERFA); FB Marc Edwards (UFA Jaguars; $3M/3 yrs, $875,000 SB); S Chris Hayes (not tendered as UFA); WR Donald Hayes (cut); DL Bernard Holsey (not tendered as UFA); S Tebucky Jones (traded Saints); S Rob Kelly (not tendered as UFA); OT Greg Randall (Trade Texans); C/G Grey Ruegamer (UFA Packers; $2.655M/3 yrs, $275,000 SB).

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