Defensive Players On The Bubble
We've broken players down into three categories:
Keepers: The most likely starters and top sub players
In, Unless: These players will make the cut unless (a) an injury (b) surprises choice
On The Bubble: These players are looking from the outside in
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Patriots have a strong front seven for starters, but the backups are the main concern fro this group. Every player gets tired, and with the Patriots' affection for situational substitutions, that holds especially true on the defensive line. The team's top three linemen - Wilfork, Warren and Seymour return to their familiar spots with [Jarvis] Green filling in as the No. 1 backup. Although he's missed a fair amount of camp, Mike Wright should get the nod to fit in at DT for Wilfork.
The newcomers are the question here. Steve Fifita, Titus Adams, and Kenny Smith are competing with Wright, Santonio Thomas and Le Kevin Smith for the one or two additional spots. None have impressed enough in camp to win a roster spot, though Kenny Smith's performance in place of Wright has given him a leg up from where he normally would be.
In, Unless: Mike Wright, LeKevin Smith,
On The Bubble: Kenny Smith, Steve Fifita, Santonio Thomas, Titus Adams
LINEBACKERS: In a world where Tedy Bruschi can do no wrong in the court of public opinion, it was his performance, or lack of during 2007, which prompted Bill Belichick to do something he's never done - draft a linebacker in the first round. Not only did the Patriots add an interior linebacker in rookie Jerod Mayo, they drafted an outside backer in Shawn Crable in the third round, and an reserve backer, Bo Ruud, in the sixth round. Add in the free agents signed off the street: Victor Hobson, Vince Redd and Gary Guyton, and you can see how important it was to add depth to the unit.
The starters from last season should remain, with the obvious exception of Junior Seau who remains unsigned. Seau wasn't a starter, but he very well could have been considering how many times he substitutes with Tedy Bruschi. The 3-4 defense scheme allows for four full-time linebackers on the starting unit. They would be Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas. Backing them up is where the questions arise.
Fourth year player Eric Alexander has used his experience on Special teams to win a roster spot, even when he's not part of the team's primary sub packages on defense. Alexander follows Larry Izzo, who has made a career of doing just that and should be safe for now. But the competition for those spots has become intense with Victor Hobson vying for one role while undrafted rookies Vince Redd and Gary Guyton contend for the remaining spots. In the end, the team needs experience more than youth at every spot in this group, so Mayo and Crable look to be the ones to stick, while the rest are in limbo.
Keepers: Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo, Adalius Thomas, Shawn Crable
In, Unless: Larry Izzo
On The Bubble: Eric Alexander, Victor Hobson, Vince Redd, Gary Guyton, Bo Ruud
CORNERBACKS: There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Patriots defense, and most of that began with the cornerback position. Ellis Hobbs suffered from groin and shoulder problems, while three of his teammates (Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Randall Gay) departed via free agency. The change led to a near complete turnover from last seasons' unit. Hobbs returns to hold down one spot, while new additions Fernando Bryant, Lewis Sanders and Jason Webster work to find a role for themselves. The team opted to draft a pair of defensive backs in Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite to flesh out the group, while young holdovers Mike Richardson and Antwain Spann look to fend them off. Spann is listed as a safety (Much like Randall Gay from 2007), so he'll be listed with the safety group.
When the list of players missing camp practices grew to an unreasonable level, the Patriots signed another pair of cornerbacks for depth, and a possible role. Jeff Shoate remains in the mix while Ade Jimoh was let go in the past week.
So aside from Bryant and Hobbs who stays? That's probably the toughest place to make decisions for the team. Here's our guess.
Keepers: Fernando Bryant, Ellis Hobbs, Terrence Wheatley
In, Unless: Jonathan Wilhite , possibly Lewis Sanders
On The Bubble: Jason Webster, Mike Richardson, Jeff Shoate
SAFETIES: Tank Williams could have meant so much to this group, but when he was lost with a season-ending knee injury, the Patriots wasted little time finding a player with similar talents in John Lynch. Lynch joins Rodney Harrison to provide veteran leadership and depth at the strong safety position, while a host of other players jockey for position at the other safety spot. James Sanders returns opposite Harrison as the team's other primary starter. Brandon Meriweather - a first round pick in 2007 - is the team's situational substitute.
Keepers: Rodney Harrison, James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather
In, Unless: John Lynch
On The Bubble: Mark Dillard, Antwain Spann