Patriots Free Agency Focus

As the 2009 season draws to a close, teams have set their sights on next year. In 2010 the Patriots have plenty of questions to answer. What will it be like with no coordinators? Will Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork get new deals? Who will the Patriots Draft? So many questions as New England turns the page on 2009.

A year after going without an offensive coordinator following Josh McDaniels' departure to Denver, it seems the Patriots are set to go without coordinators on both sides of the ball in 2010.

Though there could be minor changes moving forward through the offseason, New England's coaching staff is essentially set at this point. And the group does not include the addition of a veteran offensive or defensive coordinator, as many Patriots fans had been clamoring for.

Last month, with his contract due to expire, defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced that he was not returning to New England. To fill the void left by Pees, coach Bill Belichick will not name a coordinator, but will instead be more involved on defense to share the workload with his assistants.

That includes the newly arrived Corwin Brown, a former Patriots safety from 1993-96 who has experience both as a player and a coach in Belichick's systems. Brown, who most recently served as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, will be assigned to assist the defense, where he will share responsibilities with Josh Boyer coaching New England's defensive backs.

The other members of the defensive staff from 2009 are expected to return as well, and Belichick expressed his desire to work with them more closely in the coming season.

"Titles are fine, nothing wrong with them," Belichick explained, "but the most important thing is each person's role, that we do everything we can to help the players succeed -- everyone collectively getting the job done.

"Corwin Brown is one of the high-class people in football. He was a tough, smart leader who was great to coach and those are the traits he brings to our staff. He has stepped in well with Josh Boyer, Matt Patricia, Pepper Johnson, Pat Graham and myself, and as a group we are committed to putting a competitive defense on the field. This is the best course for us to move forward in 2010."

On the offensive side of the ball, the core of the staff remains the same. Assistant head coach/offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears, longtime New England assistants, will be back, as will quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien, who oversaw much of the play-calling last season.

"Bill O'Brien has demonstrated excellent leadership and organizational skills in our offense," Belichick said. "He is a sharp and passionate coach. It is a good mix on that side of the ball, with Bill working with some extremely experienced coaches in Dante Scarnecchia and Ivan Fears, who have been here my entire time in New England, and some more recent additions to the staff in Chad O'Shea and Brian Ferentz."

It's always been Belichick's show in New England, apparently that rings true now more than ever.

It is still only February, of course, and the Patriots' off-season evaluation process is far from complete. After all, as Belichick has often indicated, it is a work in progress. But it's work that he will have a heavy hand in on both sides of the ball moving forward with a largely unproven staff of assistants.

"That first step of the process is always very important," he added. "The teambuilding process for next year starts with evaluating ourselves on every level -- plays, players, coaching, practice, how we run our meetings, basically everything we do from A to Z."


Lucky Break?
--LT Matt Light, who missed five games in mid-season with a knee injury, revealed the extent of his predicament during an ESPN Radio interview last month. Light explained that he dislocated his left kneecap and damaged his medial collateral ligament in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos.

"It does sound a little awful," Light said. "(The kneecap) actually went out and then went back, which is a good thing. You don't want it to stay out, which is a little more painful."

However, Light described the injury as "ugly," though he was encouraged by the fact that he was able to limp off the field with some assistance from the team training staff.

"Just as long as you can get off the field and you don't have to have the cart come out there and get you, that's when you kind of get your hopes back up. But you take a little time after you fire everything back up. You have little wizards that work on you. You're in the training room every day. And you got back out there."

Team Of The Decade
--For one night, at least, Richard Seymour, Ty Law and Adam Vinatieri were on the same team again with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

The three former Patriots were chosen along with the quarterback, head coach and current Patriots receiver Randy Moss for the NFL's All-Decade Team that was announced at the Pro Bowl. The 53-man roster of all-stars from the 2000s was selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, a group of nearly four dozen media members who choose the Hall of Fame inductees each year.

Brady, Belichick and Vinatieri were each one of two people named to the roster at their position. Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy and David Akers were the other quarterback, coach and kicker named to the squad. Seymour was one of four defensive tackles chosen, Law one of four cornerbacks and Moss one of four receivers.

Pro Bowl Talent
--Three Patriots took part -- started, in fact -- in the Pro Bowl in Miami on the weekend before the Super Bowl, and the one who was least likely to make a game-saving play did just that.

With the game tied 34-34 late in the fourth quarter, the AFC squad had the ball deep in NFC territory. Quarterback Matt Schaub of Houston dropped back to pass but was sacked and fumbled. Patriots guard Logan Mankins scooped up the ball and rumbled back to the line of scrimmage before being tackled by NFC defenders.

"I just saw it go rolling by, and I dove right on it," Mankins said. "Then I realized no one touched me, so I took off. That was important that we kept the ball. I was just thinking don't get blown up. Thankfully, they just wrapped me up and let me fall down."

Two plays later, Titans running back Chris Johnson scored the game-winning touchdown, as the AFC prevailed 41-34.

"Maybe," added Mankins, who also earned second-team All-Pro honors, "they'll remember me in this Pro Bowl."

Retired For Sure?
--During an interview on Showtime network's "Inside the NFL" program last month, Patriots linebacker Junior Seau made an unofficial retirement announcement, telling host Cris Collinsworth that New England's playoff loss to Baltimore was his last NFL game.

"Cris, I'm going to go surf. Yeah, I'm not going to give you another speech. It's all over with the speeches. Whatever happens, I can say, honestly say, that that probably was my last game ... Yeah, that, that's going to be my last game."

The 41-year-old linebacker has been with the Patriots, on and off, for the past four seasons. He has come out of semi-retirement twice in the past two years to bolster New England's linebacker corps. Seau, a former Chargers first-round pick, played 20 years in the NFL for San Diego, Miami and New England.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're all way overpaid." -- Tom Brady when asked about the potential for a lucrative long-term extension as he heads into the final year of his current contract.

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