Now that the Draft has passed and teams get a closer look at the revamped rosters depth charts begin to take shape. Gone – for the most part – are the aging veterans with inflated paychecks and a history of underperformance. In are the wide-eyed, inexperienced rookies hoping to make a mark along with a bevy of savvy veterans hoping their decision to join New England will result in a chance to make a postseason run.
We want to know from our roundtable, what they thought of the team’s offseason moves and what their expectations are for the future.
1) Did the move to part ways with Adalius Thomas surprise you? Who do you expect to fill that role going forward?
Kisha Tapangan (@KishaT): Adalius Thomas' departure didn't come as a surprise in my opinion. Thomas flourished in a more actively blitzing defense and the Patriots do not do this nearly as much as they did in Baltimore. Thomas never became the pass rushing threat in New England and he's admitted that he felt somewhat lost with the organization and team. On top of his struggles on the field, Thomas' also became a negative locker room presence, all of this pointed to his inevitable departure from New England.
The re-signing of veteran outside linebacker Derrick Burgess is an excellent candidate to fill the vacancy that Thomas has left. Burgess, unlike Thomas, expressed interest in returning as Patriot. I think half the battle is wanting to be there and in this aspect, Burgess is already way ahead of Thomas.
James Christensen (NEPatriotsDraft): We never expected Adalius to play for the Patriots in 2010, although we thought the Patriots might hold on to him a bit longer to help determine where he ended up. We'd expect Jermaine Cunningham, Derrick Burgess, and believe it or not, Dane Fletcher to compete for the OLB spot opposite Tully Banta-Cain
LoVell Parkman (Morpheus11): No it didn’t surprise me or anyone else for that matter. He had a rather disappointing year so filling his role shouldn’t be too hard especially from a production stand point. You don’t know what you will get from the younger players who have not played yet, so I would have to say Derrick Burgess will take his place. He played better toward the end of the year and should be more comfortable in this his second year in the system.
Shane Leketa (myPatsSpace): This move did not surprise me at all once the rumors were flying around the Patriot locker room and media about his disconnect with Bill Belichick and the way that he runs his team. These guys will never learn, you are either on board or you are not. You must be a team player and leave your ego at the door or you will not be playing in Foxboro. I remember as Tedy Bruschi walked off of the field for the last time in New England when asked what it takes to play here, he stated with conviction, “You do your job”. As for who will replace Thomas, I think that Shawn Crable has talent and potential to do so at the linebacker position but only time will tell.
Kevin Saleeba (Patriots Insider): After being in Bill Belichick's doghouse for the whole year and the lack of any production, I was not surprised at all. I was surprised the Patriots didn't cut him sooner.
I think their 53rd pick in the 2010 NFL DRAFT, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, has a chance to make an impact in Thomas' place, but a scarecrow could have made a bigger impact on defense for the Patriots than Thomas.
Jon Scott (Patriots Insider): The old saying tells us sometimes people just need a change of scenery. That turned out to be the case – from the Patriots’ perspective anyway – with Adalius Thomas. After signing one of the biggest free agency deals in Patriots history, Thomas proved to be little more than a flash in the pan in New England. His terrorizing ways from Baltimore may have been the result of the system rather than the player.
The Patriots are still looking for that outside threat that they thought they had in Thomas. Tully Banta-Cain did a fairly decent job applying pressure when protection broke down, to lead the team in sacks, but he’s not the answer. New England is obviously hoping one of their 2010 Draft picks can be the guy, and the most likely one is Florida’s Jermaine Cunningham. I can see him in the Vrtabel / McGInest role that Thomas was supposed to fill.
2) Which rookie will have the biggest impact this year and why?
Kisha Tapangan: This is a tough question considering the vast amount of talent in the 2010 draft class. In terms of making the biggest and most immediate impact? I would have to say it would be Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots' offensive front lacked so much versatility and it was partly due to the fact that the tight end position wasn't utilized. Gronkowski will shine some much needed light on tight end usage for the Patriots simply because of his versatility. Gronkowski showed great hands, agility and an ability to block outstandingly, these are great assets and will guarantee that the Arizona alum will make an immediate impact.
James Christensen: Our money is on Brandon Spikes. If he is able to take over the "Mike" position, I think we'll see a much more dynamic Jerod Mayo this year.
LoVell Parkman: Some will say Rob Gronkowski but I’m going with Brandon Spikes. In my opinion he gives the Patriots a thumper to play next to Jerod Mayo. A smart physical presence the Patriots have been lacking at MLB since the days of Ted Johnson. His presence should allow the Patriots to different things on defense and really solidify the middle of the Patriots defense.
Shane Leketa: Devin McCourty is an easy choice because he was picked 27th overall, but I think he will have the most impact on a secondary that was at times suspect last year. He has great potential and if he can stay home on some of these receivers in the limited playing time he will get, I think he can be a star in New England.
Kevin Saleeba: I mentioned Cunningham having an impact, but Brandon Spikes at inside linebacker could be deadly up the middle alongside Jerod Mayo this season.
Jon Scott: I think one of the defenders will shine sooner, than the other picks the Patriots made. Perhaps Devin McCourty becomes the kick returner and nickel corner the team hoped for in Ellis Hobbs. One player I wouldn’t be surprised to see be successful is WR Taylor Price. I think he has the tools to do rather well in this offense. Should one of the veteran receivers not make the cut, and Wes Welker take longer ot return to form, I could see a scenario where Taylor makes his mark. But the safe bets are one of the defenders or one of the TE’s . They’re all talented.
3) Is Torry Holt a viable role player or just an extra body?
Kisha Tapangan: Torry Holt is not just another experiment for the Patriots. Arguably one of the smartest wide receivers in the league, the 12-year veteran joined the Patriots with the intention to win and be a part of successful franchise. At the same time, he seems to understand that he isn't as explosive or as fast as when he was part of the "Greatest Show on Turf." That being said, I believe that the biggest role he will play is being the mentor for the younger receivers. He has the experience of being part of a winning team and understands what needs to be done to be successful. Experience has only made Holt a smarter and patient player. I think that having Holt's presence for the younger talent like Edelman and Price, will be extremely beneficial.
James Christensen: Torry Holt is going to have two roles on this team. First would be plugging the gap with a solid route runner for the first couple of weeks while Taylor Price learns and Brandon Tate / Wes Welker get healthy. Secondly, he is going to be a mentor for these young Patriot receivers.
LoVell Parkman: Is this a trick question? Holt is still a good football player who should be just what the Patriots wanted as a third or perhaps second wide receiver. He is a pro’s pro. He can run crisp patterns and still get open and has good hands. He will catch what’s thrown to him. He is great option that Brady will have so he can have any dependable receiver besides Moss and Welker. In fact he may help open the field more for Moss and Welker because defenses will have to account for him. The questions should have been can the person calling the offensive plays make up a non predicable game plan and can he at least make one proper in game adjustment all year?
Shane Leketa: I think that is up to Torry Holt. If you play within the system and accentuate the threat of Brady to Moss on the opposite side of the field, things should open up for Holt. But, as we have seen in wideouts of the past, if you do not fit into the system, you will not last in the system.
Kevin Saleeba: If he still has some tread left, Holt can still be an impact on possession situations. He will be serviceable. At least a better option than Joey Galloway.
Jon Scott: Holt seems to be a better fit than Galloway or a guy like Jabar Gaffney or Doug Gabriel. Still, I’m not sure how durable he can be if called on to run some routes over the middle and take the punishment. Holt may be best used as a situational receiver, much like Jabar Gaffney was. Gaffney became a default target because of injuries. It’s unclear if Holt has the capacity to fill that role. I do see him as a strong addition in veteran leadership to a club desperately needing some veteran guidance.
4) What is your impression of Wes Welker’s recovery so far and when (if ever) do you think he’ll be able to get back his old self?
Kisha Tapangan: Wes Welker's recovery so far seems very promising. There's a part of me that feels a little more at ease knowing that he has such a positive and determined attitude about his recovery. At this point, seeing Welker at practice, with his teammates and running routes comfortably, showed massive progress. I'm not sure when Welker will be back to the healthy slot receiver that Patriots fans are used to seeing, but Welker's dedication to getting healthy makes it hard to think that he won't be on the field by the middle of the season.
James Christensen: I am shocked that I am not shocked about Welker suiting up for OTA's. When will people ever start doubting this guy? I see no reason that Welker won't be at least 95% of the same player he was before. It's not like he tore his heart.
LoVell Parkman: Not believing the hype. I think he will still start the season on PUP. I don’t expect him to return to his old self until next year.
Shane Leketa: The way that Wes was making cuts and utilizing the brace enforced knee on the practice field this week, I think that he will make it back much sooner than expected. As for how he will play, coming off of major reconstructive surgery on a knee for a wide out will have growing pains, literally, and hinder his breaks and cuts, but as we all know with Wes Welker, no one can tell this guy that he cannot do something.
Kevin Saleeba: After watching him run drills and make cuts at practice recently, his recovery has been nothing short of a miracle. He just had knee surgery in February. We still need to wait and see how he reacts to contact though, but I'm very optimistic he'll be in uniform and on the field in Week One. Who would have thought?
Jon Scott: Talking to PT’s (Physical Therapists), I hear a lot of success stories about athletes who make comebacks from major knee injuries. We’ve since learned that Welker’s injury wasn’t quite as sever as some initially thought it could be. Hence, Welker’s ability to get on the field sooner than a lot of people expected. Credit his solid determination to be ready for 2010 as his driving force. One word of caution I was told by those same PTs; people try to come back too early and end up re-injuring themselves. I’m hoping that isn’t the case with Wes. He has tremendous talent, but was never that fast. If he can get most of his quickness back, he’ll have a good shot at being the player he’s been the past 3 season in Foxboro.
5) Who will have a breakout season this year?
Kisha Tapangan: Based on the fact the Patriots will be lacking Wes Welker for the beginning of the season, I think that wide receiver Julian Edelman will have a surprising breakout season. Already known as the "mini Welker", Edelman was unexpectedly called on to replace #83 in the slot position and was actually pretty good. In 2009, Edelman managed 37 catches for 359 yards. What's more impressive is that he averaged 9.7 yards per catch, not bad for a quarterback turned receiver. If he continues his progress and improves his overall technique as a receiver, Edelman could very well earn a spot as one of Brady's prime targets.
James Christensen: We see Julian Edelman catching 50-80 balls this year, depending on when Wes is able to return. Even if Wes defies the odds and comes back Week 1, Welker and Edelman should be able to co-exist just fine. Tom Brady should have an embarrassment of riches to throw to in 2010.
LoVell Parkman: I won’t say breakout but instead will classify it as a return to form. Tom Brady will be Tom Brady and will a year over his knee injury and any mental hurdles that he may have had. I expect him to have the type of year we have gone on to expect from Brady. I also think Vollmer will have a stellar year and prove he is the Patriots offensive tackle of the present and future.
Shane Leketa: I think that SS Patrick Chung and LB Shawn Crable, barring any injuries will be a huge compliment on the defensive side of the ball. Chung’s role with the team has been more on special teams if anything last year, I think he is going to break out and be a force with the other young rising stars on the defense in Brandon Merriweather and Jerod Mayo. Since his draft year in ’08, Crable has lacked in performance due to injuries. I think this will also be a breakout year for him.
Kevin Saleeba: For the Patriots sake, I hope it's Laurence Maroney, but realistically I think Mayo will elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level. Injuries hampered him last season, but a healthy Mayo means big plays for the Patriots on defense.
Jon Scott: I’ve been a big supporter of Shawn Crable and the Pierre Woods, but have been disappointed in their ability to have an impact on defense. Maybe it’s the Michigan factor. To make a prediction would require me stacking the odds in my favor which means I should say it's one of the skill players on offense. Though I doubt it will be one of the running backs, I do expect Julian Edelman to have a good season. My pick would be to see Sebastian Vollmer establish himself as the future starter on the OL resulting in better production for Brady, the WRs and the RBs.