With the off the field issues that the Patriots and their fans have had to deal with, we've lost focus of the most important thing- the team and how they do on the field. When it all comes down to it, it's about wins and losses, not air pressure and appeals. The Patriots are coming off their fourth Super Bowl win and they have a young, talented core of players in place with their Hall-of-Fame quarterback and head coach, so they're clearly a contender. They took some hits in the offseason, but most of those hits came on the other side of the ball. That's a story for another day (tomorrow). The focus today is on the offense, an offense that tore apart the Seahawks for 328 passing yards and four touchdown passes in the Super Bowl.Brady was 37-50, and although he did throw two interceptions, the two drives and comeback he led in the fourth quarter to bring the Patriots from down 24-14 to up 28-24 will go down in history as one of the best performances a player has ever had in the Super Bowl. There were no questions about air pressure or any other garbage; it was simply a fourth quarter clinic in which Brady tore apart the best defense since the 2000 Ravens. Now we are less than two weeks from training camp and the questions from some will begin again- can they keep it up, even with personnel changes and a looming suspension for Brady? The answer is yes, and there are multiple reasons why this historic offense will continue to roll right along.
There have been changes at the running back position, with third down back Shane Vereen moving on to catch passes for the Giants. New England drafted running back James White in 2014 and basically redshirted/stashed him for a full season; he should be more than ready to compete and win the job, assuming he knows his blocking assignments, something Vereen did well. White will also have to hold off free agent signee's Dion Lewis and Travaris Cadet, two third down backs that have had success in the NFL. White holds the lead at the moment, but his competition has looked good in mini-camps. This will be an interesting battle to watch. LeGarrette Blount should get the bulk of the carries at the lead back position, and Brandon Bolden will also have his share of the load. Jonas Gray is a question mark going into 2015; he may be a flash in the pan.
The offensive line is also going through a change with the retirement of Dan Connelly, the underrated guard that helped solidify things after the Patriots struggled for the first month. There are multiple candidates to fill that position, with Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, and rookie fourth round pick Tre' Jackson all having a chance to win the job. Left tackle Nate Solder revealed that he was recovering from testicular cancer and was still rehabbing basically when the 2014 season began. His play mirrored that as he struggled early then returned to form as the season wore on. Center Bryan Stork returns an impressive rookie season, as does guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Having to fill one spot may seem easy, but they'll still take a couple weeks to gel. Nothing to worry about though Patriots fans, this group is very deep and experienced.
The Patriots did make some personnel changes at tight end, signing ex-Bill Scott Chandler, a player that's had a lot of success against New England. Patriot's opponents are going to have a hard time dealing with multi-tight end sets with Gronkowski and Chandler simply because of the size advantage they pose. With those two twin towers on the field, it will open up things underneath for Edelman, Amendola and whoever wins the third down back position. Michael Hoomanawanui should make the 53-man roster, although he did feel footsteps in mini-camp from free agent signee Fred Davis, who was released along with Tim Wright, which was somewhat of a surprise. Wright had six touchdowns last year in limited time and appeared to find his spot in the offense, but Belichick and Caserio had other plans. Rookie A.J. Derby will have a tough time making the 53-man, but the Patriots will find a way to keep him around.
The wide receiver position didn't have any changes at the top of the depth chart, but they did add a few players to compete for the fifth receiver role. New England typically carries six wideouts because of special teams ace Matt Slater, so that leaves one roster spot up for grabs, assuming Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Aaron Dobson make the roster. Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce, free agent pickup Brandon Gibson, Jonathan Krause, and rookie free agent Chris Harper will be the group battling for the same spot; expect to see Gibson win the battle. LaFell is going to be in his second year in the offense and he has a chance to break 1,000 yards receiving. Danny Amendola played 16 games last year, which is significant. If he can do that again, he may have a strong season. Edelman, assuming health, will continue to be one of the best weapons in football, be it in the passing game or punt returns.
Like we discussed earlier, there's still a four-game suspension looming for Tom Brady, and even though he appealed it, he still may miss games. If this thing goes to federal court and Brady's team can't get an injunction, the suspension could stick and Jimmy Garoppolo will start instead. Garoppolo, who was a second round pick in 2014, has shown in practice and minicamp that he is ready to start if needed, and the Patriots should be fine if this is the case. They'll simplify the gameplan, run the ball A LOT, and put Garoppolo in a position to succeed. The Patriots offense hasn't changed much over the last 15 years, and they've proven that even with a different quarterback (Matt Cassel, 2008) they can still be very productive. New England will finish in the top five and scoring and yardage, Brady suspension or not, and they'll continue to give defensive coordinators headaches.
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