While the Patriots were wrapping up negotiations with their 12 draft picks and making moves to get under the 80-man roster limit entering camp, many fans were wondering if any summer veteran free agent additions to the roster could still be expected.
LB Willie McGinest has expressed a desire to return to the NFL and the Patriots, but nothing seems on the immediate horizon. LB Junior Seau has also indicated he might want to return to the Patriots, although he has little interest in training camp and would be a potential emergency/need addition during the season.
Though there is the chance that Bill Belichick could still be looking to add depth to his team at linebacker, in the secondary or maybe even at backup quarterback, at this point it looks like he's comfortable entering the preseason with the guys he currently has on the roster. But that could always change as battles unfold and the level of roster competition plays itself out, as was the case when Belichick traded for NT Ted Washington out of dire need in August of 2003.
Brady is back in the fold and recovered from his season-ending knee injury a year ago. The only question is: Will he be the same quarterback he was in 2007 when he set the NFL record for touchdown passes? The Patriots consider this a high-class problem since it appears certain Brady's surgically-repaired knee is ready for action. As for finding a backup, it's down to Gutierrez and O'Connell. The latter could be the front-runner since the Patriots used a draft pick to get him, but don't rule out Gutierrez. Edelman and Hoyer are rookies who likely won't be on the roster when camp starts but one could be on the practice squad.
Maroney is still considered the starter, but he's on thin ice after struggling early last season and missing the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. With Taylor in the fold and Morris still on board as a dependable journeyman, Maroney needs a strong camp to keep his job -- and, perhaps, his roster spot. Taylor could wind up getting the bulk of the carries if he stays healthy with Morris close behind. Faulk, as always, is the jack-of-all-trades who can do a little bit of everything and Green-Ellis proved last year he's a decent inside runner with a bit of explosiveness near the goal line. The Patriots have numbers here, but the question is whether or not they have legitimate strength.
Thomas and Watson split time last year with mixed results. Watson is a physical specimen, but has ball-control issues and, at times, drops easy passes. Thomas is a gamer who can make tough catches and get open in the red zone, but his durability has been -- and will remain -- a question until he proves he can stay healthy. The wildcard is Baker, who joined the team as a free agent and brings a veteran presence that's been lacking over the past few years. With Smith and DeVree, the Patriots have some options. In the end, they might wind up with three tight ends on the final roster, depending on how the receiver position shakes out.
The Patriots have their top two weapons intact with Moss and Welker back in the fold. Welker will continue to serve as the elusive slot man while Moss will challenge cornerbacks on the outside. With Brady back behind center, both players become that much more dangerous. Adding Galloway gives the Patriots a third option, which they lacked last year after Donte Stallworth bolted for Cleveland. Aiken is more of a special-teamer than anything else, which makes the addition of Lewis another wise move. This gives the Patriots four legitimate pass-catching threats -- arguably their best depth in years.
Starters -- LT Matt Light, LG Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, RG Stephen Neal, RT Nick Kaczur.
Backups -- Russ Hochstein, Dan Connolly, Wesley Britt, Mark LeVoir, Ryan O'Callaghan, Billy Yates, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer.
The front five has been set for quite some time and the only real change could come at the backup positions. Light and Kaczur are solid at each tackle position while Neal and Mankins continue to hold down the guard positions. Koppen is as solid as it gets at center. In Hochstein and Britt, the Patriots have two reliable backups with position flexibility. LeVoir joined the squad last year and showed additional versatility as a tight end and special-teamer. Injuries have derailed O'Callaghan's progress, but he remains an option to make the final roster like Yates, who has been a good soldier filling in as a starter in the face of adversity. Again, the Patriots have depth, so it's a matter of coming up with the right combination.
The Big Three of Seymour, Wilfork and Warren return, though Wilfork's situation remains tenuous given that he's unhappy with the slowed progress of his contract negotiations. Nonetheless, this is a solid starting group that feasts on penetrating opposing lines and setting up its linebackers
for big plays. Green remains an all-purpose backup capable of stepping in during an emergency while Smith emerged last year as an equally viable fill-in depending on the down and distance. Wright recently signed an extension, so he'll be in the fold for quite some time and, much like Green and Smith, will do the dirty work all backups are expected to do.
Junior Seau is gone (we think) and Mike Vrabel is in Kansas City, so the Patriots are stuck having to find a suitable replacement at outside linebacker while hoping Bruschi can hold up for one more season on the inside. The Patriots have spent years trying to get younger at this position and, with the exception of Bruschi, they've come close to succeeding. Thomas is a force on the outside and should be ready to go after breaking his hand last year. Mayo is back for his second year after a monster rookie season, giving the Patriots a leg up when it comes to stopping the run. As for that remaining outside position, Woods, Crable and Banta-Cain will be in the mix. Woods has the most experience, though one might argue Crable is the most impressive physical specimen among the group. Time will tell.
Starters -- CB Shawn Springs, CB Terrence Wheatley, S James Sanders, S Brandon Meriweather.
Backups -- Mike Richardson, Darius Butler, Patrick Chung, Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite, Herana-Daze Jones
Leigh Bodden (AP)
The Patriots have gone to a youth movement at safety, which means Meriweather and Sanders are the new last line of defense. They have plenty of experience after being thrust into the lineup last year because of injuries, so they should be ready to go. The only question now is who will start at cornerback. Ellis Hobbs was traded to Philadelphia, leaving Springs and second-year pro Wheatley as the potential starters. Wheatley had the job late last season until he got injured, so he is among the front-runners, but don't count out rookie Butler. For that matter, keep an eye on rookie safety Chung as well. The Patriots did themselves a lot favors by stockpiling talent and the next step is putting all the pieces together.
The Patriots are relatively set at kicker and punter, though Malone could push Hanson for a starting role. Gostkowski, of course, is coming off a Pro Bowl season, so there are no concerns in that regard. With Lonie Paxton in Denver, the Patriots will be ushering in a new long snapper. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Hodel should get the job done. The rest of the specialists will be determined, including who will be returning kicks and punts. Slater will get another look despite struggling mightily last year as a rookie. Keep an eye on some of the undrafted free agents and rookie receivers with speed. Perhaps Maroney could get his old job back as a kick returner.
Hot Topic: Defense still a concern?