Too Much Focus On Offense?

The Patriots decision to focus on offense in the top half of the Draft has raised some eyebrows, especially due to the team's glaring need for depth on the defensive side of the ball. With their first defensive player not selected until the sixth round, there's good reason to wonder if there are enough healthy and talented bodies on that side of the ball. More on the team's Draft moves, and where things may be headed.

If you're a sucker for wild conspiracy theories, here's one: Bill Belichick likes Josh McDaniels a lot more than he likes Dean Pees.

Belichick, of course, is the Patriots coach. McDaniels is his first-year offensive coordinator, Pees his first-year defensive coordinator. By spending their first four draft picks (and six of 10 overall) on offense, the Patriots appeared to be making McDaniels' life easier while doing nothing of substance for Pees.

Another way of looking at it is that McDaniels' side of the ball was in more urgent need of reinforcements.

Corey Dillon is coming off a miserable season and will turn 32 in October, so the Patriots presented McDaniels with his potential successor in first-round pick Laurence Maroney of Minnesota. Receiver David Givens flew the coop in free agency, so in comes second-round wideout Chad Jackson of Florida. And with No. 3 tight end Christian Fauria now a Redskin and Dan Graham's contract expiring after this season, the Patriots fortified the position with third-rounder David Thomas of Texas.

As for the defense, Pees had to be content with some moves the Patriots made before the draft -- namely, re-signing defensive backs Hank Poteat, Artrell Hawkins, Chad Scott and Guss Scott and signing three lower-tier free agents (cornerback Eric Warfield and safeties Tebucky Jones and Mel Mitchell.) He'll also have to keep his fingers crossed that heart-and-soul strong safety Rodney Harrison makes it all the way back from a serious knee injury.

The name of former cornerback Ty Law, still unsigned, has come up. Published reports have listed the Patriots as one of a handful of teams interested in him, if he drops his asking price. Belichick declined to discuss Law, saying, "I can't comment on anybody that is not on our team."

Then there's the Willie McGinest-sized hole at outside linebacker. The Patriots could have dipped into this year's draft pool, which was deeper than usual at the position. Instead, with top prospects A.J. Hawk, Ernie Sims, Chad Greenway and Bobby Carpenter off the board when they made their first pick (No. 21 overall), the Patriots ignored the position until the sixth round when they took Florida defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who will convert to outside linebacker.

The Patriots' only other defensive picks were Nebraska defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith (sixth round) and Baylor safety Willie Andrews (seventh).

In short, the draft was good news for the in-house candidates to fill McGinest's spot -- a group that includes veteran Monty Beisel (a free-agent flop a year ago), Ryan Claridge (a fifth-round pick in 2005 who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve), Tully Banta-Cain (a seventh-round pick in 2003) and Eric Alexander (a former rookie free agent). Beisel played inside in his first year with the Patriots; he could stay there if the team opts to shift Mike Vrabel back outside.

Asked if he thought an extra year in the system would make Beisel and Banta-Cain, in particular, more ready to fill a starting role, Belichick spoke only in generalities.

"I think that every player that has another year in the system should be better with that year of experience," Belichick said. "If they work hard and improve, they should be a better player than they were the year before and that goes for everybody, whether they're two-, three-, four-, eight- or 10-year guys. That's the way I feel about everybody.

"How everybody will perform, how all that will work out, I don't know. I think we'll be competitive but exactly who does what and who does it better than who and who doesn't do it as well as somebody else and what roles everybody has ... I think we have competition for a lot of spots and we'll just see how that competition plays itself out."

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