The Patriots rookies are already signed and working in Foxboro, but today marks the real start of another run at the Super Bowl.
In New England, we count rings, not victories, and this could finally be the Patriots year . 2010 and 2011 were years that brought unexpected results. 14-2 and 13-3 seasons ended with disappointment, but those over achieving teams earned everyone’s respect.
2012 is a different beast, as Bill Belichick has put together an off-season that rivals 2007, and we know how good they were that year.
All the rookies are signed and in Foxboro, and getting acclimated to the NFL. On Thursday, they will start to compete against the veterans.
It’s about sealing the deal now. Losing to the New York Giants in the final seconds of the Super Bowl has left the Patriots hungry to hoist the Lombardi trophy after a 7-year drought.
The return of Josh McDaniels brings a fresh approach, and his experience with Belichick, along with Tom Brady should lead to an even more lethal offense.
Tom Brady isn’t dealing with a weapons shortage on the outside with the additions of Brandon Lloyd and Jabbar Gaffney.
The former Denver duo is reunited with McDaniels, who convinced Belichick that they were the perfect fits for the offense. Lloyd is the athletic, precise route runner who has great hands. His fluid style is a great fit with Brady, and Brady won’t have to be perfect in delivering the ball. Lloyd has the hand/eye coordination that will excite fans.
Jabbar Gaffney returns to book end Lloyd, and he’ll also provide precise route running in conjunction with Lloyd, and provide reliable outside the hash mark targets.
Wes Welker, the ultra reliable slot receiver will have to forget about being franchised and be his normal productive self. He should have a big year now that defenses can’t bracket cover him with the new wide outs.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez return as the best tight end tandem in the NFL. Once upon a time, the tight end position was so not sexy, but Gronkowski and Hernandez brought the sexy back (on and off the field) to the position. Having two good wideouts will take a ton of pressure off the young duo, and that’s a fearsome thought.
The big question mark is in the back field. Joseph Addai has been released and that leaves a gaping hole in the depth department. The Patriots will look for a veteran running back to provide a solid in-between-the-tackles runner who can pass block and catch the ball out of the back field. Danny Woodhead now becomes the elder statesman for the group, but lack of size limits him to a variety of small roles. Second year running back Stevan Ridley could be the lead back, but his penchant for fumbling landed him in the dog house at the end of last year, and he’ll have to show he won’t cough up the rock. Shane Vereen will be his main competition, and his skill set, which fits a third down style, could be a sleeper. Vereen is an excellent receiver with the lateral speed Ridley lacks. Ridley is a north south runner, but Vereen has the wiggle and speed to make things happen in the open field. It will be interesting how much development has taken place for Vereen; it’s his time to show the coaches what he’s got.
The offensive line bids goodbye to long time left tackle Matt Light, and hello to promising second year tackle Nate Solder.
Solder, who stared on the right side for the majority of last year, did a nice job. So nice in fact that the Patriots didn’t miss 2010 AP All-Pro right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Right guard Brian Waters returns for his second season with the Patriots, but second year guard Marcus Cannon, who overcame cancer, will be an important part of the offensive line. His ability to slide over and play tackle gives the Patriots the versatility the Patriots covet. Dan Connolly will battle Dan Koppen for the staring center position, however, with two starting centers on the roster, it will be tough for whoever loses out, but it’s a winning combination for the Patriots. Connolly has the versatility to slide over to guard, so the Patriots seem to have every base covered.
All-Pro left tackle Logan Mankins is expected back despite late season knee injuries that lead to surgery. Mankins is the straw that stirs the drink so to speak; he’s the enforcer, and adds that certain toughness that keeps defensive linemen in check.