STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Patriots filled two of their coaching vacancies last week when they hired former Dolphins running backs coach Joel Collier to assist with defensive backs and added Harold Nash as the team's assistant strength and conditioning coach.
Collier is expected to assist defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who seemingly will retain the title of secondary coach even as he handles his new coordinator chores. Collier will start his second stint with the team, having served as an assistant to Patriots head coach Dick MacPherson in 1991-1992.
Nash, who recently finished an 11-year career in the Canadian Football League, replaces Markus Paul, who left to accept a position with the Jets.
That left the Patriots with two coaching vacancies, both on the offensive side of the ball. New England has yet to name an offensive coordinator replacement for Charlie Weis or a replacement for tight ends/assistant offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.
New England also released four players, the most notable of which was cornerback Earthwind Moreland, who played in nine games last year with two starts. He did not fare well when activated off the practice squad to fill in when a rash of injuries hit the cornerback position and it's no surprise that he will not return. Veteran wide receiver Troy Brown handled nickel back duties over a healthy Moreland, which said everything about his future with the club.
The Patriots also cut defensive lineman Buck Rasmussen, who spent 2004 on the practice squad, guard Wilbert Brown, who was on the reserve/did not report list all season after failing to show up for training camp, and tight end Zeron Flemister, who ruptured his Achilles in training camp and spent the year on injured reserve.
Law will not return. Tyrone Poole has two years left on his deal, but reportedly almost walked away and retired before playing a down in New England. So his future might be in question after he missed most of 2004 with a knee injury. The Patriots need a young shutdown-caliber corner to replace Law and provide depth at a position that depended on an undrafted rookie and a 12th-year wide receiver to stay afloat this season. Amazingly, the Patriots still won the Super Bowl, but Bill Belichick is smart enough to know he can't go back to that well in 2005 and expect similar success. With Law given his walking papers, now is the time to bring in a young, top-level corner.
2. Inside linebacker
Thirty-six-year-old Roman Phifer may retire now that the team has given him his release. Ted Johnson, 32, and Tedy Bruschi, 31, aren't getting younger. The Patriots need to groom or find a younger replacement to anchor the 3-4 defense and remain strong up the middle. If Bruschi's health status surrounding his recent hospitalization for a mild stroke affects his playing status, this becomes priority No. 1.
3. Wide receiver
David Patten is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Troy Brown is 33 and has a $5.7 million cap number that has to be re-worked for him to stay. Bethel Johnson hasn't developed as a receiver and P.K. Sam ended the season on the reserve/suspended list and must claw his way out of the doghouse. David Givens is a restricted free agent. The Patriots need to address this situation, one that could change if Givens, Patten and perhaps Brown are back in the fold. Durability has been an issue for New England's wideouts and depth is imperative. The Patriots have yet to pick up the option on Brown's contract for 2005.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: PK Adam Vinatieri.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
PLAYERS LOST: TE Zeron Flemister; CB Earthwind Moreland.
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