Gaping holes within a defense can slowly chip away at all aspects of a team. For the New England Patriots, these holes have continuously been getting deeper.
Outside linebackers have the job of outside containment and maintain that the opposing team's offensive attempts are less than effective. Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense thrives on having a strong nose tackle at its core. Vince Wilfork's contract of five years worth $40 million adds solidity to this core. The additionof a strong outside linebacker would drastically improve the outside containment of the Patriots 3-4.
Currently on the Patriots' roster for outside linebackers, two names arise: Tully Banta-Cain and Adalius Thomas. Banta-Cain led the the team in sacks while Thomas led the headlines with deactivation from games and being sent home for tardiness.
Both players have been closely examined in the off-season.
Tully Banta-Cain: Ready for the Future
|Banta-Cain led all Patriots defenders in sacks in 2009. (getty images)|
In March 2010, the New England Patriots finalized a contract with eight-year veteran outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain for three years worth a total of $13.5 million. Banta-Cain has the opportunity to make up to $18 million based on the achievement of certain incentives.
The California native discussed coming back to the Patriots, "I was honored to get the opportunity to come back. Not many people get to come back to where they originally started."
In the realm of defenses in the league, the Patriots were average. During games, the Patriots defensive strategies were designated as struggling and collapsed. The lack of playoff experience by the younger defensive players were exposed later in the season. Unlike the others, Banta-Cain was able to execute plays that shed some light to the defensive front. For the 2009 season, Banta-Cain amassed 55 tackles, 10 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Statistically, it was the University of California alum's best career year. With a massive lack of pass rushers, Banta-Cain showed significant prowess as the top outside linebacker for New England.
Adalius Thomas: Ready for the Fallout
Linebacker Adalius Thomas was signed with the Patriots in early March of 2007. Thomas' signing was out of the norm for Bill Belichick. Never a team that signed the big names, many were surprised when the Patriots offered a five year contract worth $35 million to the two-time Pro Bowler.
While in Baltimore, Thomas played with tenacity and was versatile playing inside linebacker and even cornerback for a short time. The 186th overall pick in 2007 recorded 239 total tackles and 28 sacks in his last three years as a Baltimore Raven.
This was the last time that Thomas saw noteworthy numbers since his time in New England. In comparison, Thomas' last three years with the Patriots have only equated to 146 total tackles and 14.5 sacks. In Thomas' defense, the Patriots used the Southern Mississippi alum differently then when he was with Baltimore.
With such a drastic decline in production, Thomas was asked by Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston where he wants to be in the upcoming season, "..somewhere where I'm wanted and where I'm going to have fun. That's where I want to be."
Thomas is restless in New England and his unhappiness has raised several questions as to who could fill the other outside linebacker position.
In Comes the Draft: Prospective Outside Linebackers
For the Patriots, the veteran leadership position for the linebackers is already in place. Tully Banta-Cain's presence for the next few years will greatly benefit the new talent that will soon fill the gaping holes.
The outside linebackers in the 2010 Draft class has shown to be productive and extremely versatile. Many of these players have played in all aspects defensively and can be easily molded into an asset. As for New England, choosing an outside linebacker with their sole first round pick would be a smart investment.
|Clemson DL Ricky sapp projects as a 3-4 LB in the NFL. |
Ricky Sapp, the towering 6'4, 252 lbs defensive end from Clemson strikes rapidly off the snap and has an innate ability to hone in offensive strategies. With a 4.65 in the 40 yard dash, Sapp shows all-around athleticism and can grow into an effective outside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 defense. During his time at Clemson, Sapp recorded a total of 139 tackles, 16 sacks and just two forced fumbles.
Sapp draws slight comparisons to the Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and with more efficient blocking techniques and greater overall strength, the comparisons could be more justified.
Texas Christian University produced a Ted Hendricks Award winner in 2010 with defensive end Jerry Hughes. The Defensive End of the Year had 142 tackles, 28.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions for TCU. Scouts have applauded Hughes expertise as a pass rusher and ability to read a variety of offenses. Hughes has played as a top running back in high school and even better defense end at TCU. Having such an assortment of experiences makes Hughes a potent defensive end/outside linebacker in the NFL.
Outside linebackers that are effective in the 3-4 defense do not come easily. Although the signing of Banta-Cain is vital for the Patriots linebackers, fresh talent could ease the struggle. Perhaps the addition of Clemson's Ricky Sapp or TCU's Jerry Hughes at 22nd overall in the 2010 Draft would assist in the rebuilding of the collapsed defense.
Kisha Tapangan covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for PatriotsInsider.com. To read more of her material, visit her blog at www.nrwithkisha.com . Follow Kisha on Twitter: @KishaT
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