(Sports Network) - The Patriots' offseason was ... hmm, what's the word?
Complicated? Messy? Tumultuous?
Probably a little of all that. But first, let's discuss last season.
For the most part, 2012 was a good year for the Pats.
Tom Brady, the greatest living American as SportsCenter's John Anderson often
quips, was sensational. He served up 34 touchdown passes to just eight
interceptions. Eleven of those touchdown throws went to Rob Gronkowski while
slot wizard Wes Welker hauled in six more for the blue and silver.
New England's rushing attack was just as relentless. The Pats ate up 2,184
yards on the ground, their most since 2008. Stevan Ridley led the charge with
1,263 yards on 290 carries. He found the end zone 12 times.
The Patriots' D bled yards last season but at least they were stingy near the
goal line. Overall, they allowed just 331 points, ninth-fewest in football,
despite giving up the eighth-most yards.
When the Ravens took out Denver it looked like the Patriots would have a
cakewalk to the Super Bowl. Instead, a lackluster effort in the title game
ended with Baltimore celebrating on the Patriots' home field.
Things only got worse from there. In March, Wes Welker left to go play with
Peyton Manning, leaving the Pats without their best pass catcher. His
replacement, Danny Amendola, has only played a full 16-game slate once in four
Meanwhile, Aaron Hernandez is in a Massachusetts state prison awaiting his
murder trial and Rob Gronkowski remains without a timetable after undergoing
offseason back surgery.
All signs point to New England taking a step back in 2013 but remember,
eventual Hall of Famer Bill Belichick is still the coach and golden boy Tom
Terrific is still under center. Will those two be enough to catapult New
England to its fifth consecutive AFC East title?
2012 RECORD: 12-4
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012, lost to Baltimore in AFC Championship
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Bill Belichick (14th season with Patriots)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Josh McDaniels (fifth season with Patriots)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Matt Patricia (second season with Patriots)
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Danny Amendola (from Rams), RB LeGarrette Blount (from
Buccaneers), WR Aaron Dobson (second-round Marshall), DT Tommy Kelly (from
Raiders), TE Zach Sudfield (undrafted, Nevada), QB Tim Tebow (from Jets), WR
Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted, Cincinnati), RB/KR Leon Washington (from
KEY DEPARTURES: S Patrick Chung (to Eagles), TE Aaron Hernandez (released), WR
Brandon Lloyd (released), WR Wes Welker (to Broncos), RB Danny Woodhead (to
QB: In the Pats' preseason opener against the Eagles, Brady picked up right
where he left off last season. After going the entire first series without
throwing a pass, Brady's next drive was textbook stuff. Ten plays, eight
passes, seven completions, 65 yards and zero resistance.
Never the fleetest of foot, the Michigan product has had to make a living off
his right arm. Turns out, the guy's got a cannon. Brady's 334 career TD
ranks fifth all-time and he's less than 2,000 yards behind Vinny Testaverde
seventh in career yards.
More importantly, No. 12 is a winner. Brady has come out on top 136 times in
his career and owns the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in
The 36-year-old says his confidence is at an all-time high. If you're one of
the thirteen teams that has to play against the Pats this season, that can't
RB: The Patriots haven't had a running game this potent since ... well, maybe
ever. Ridley ran for 1,200 yards last season and he did it as a two-down back.
If Ridley had played even a handful of third downs he could have been a
But that won't happen because the Pats have Shane Vereen, a shifty back who
would probably be a starter on most other teams. Vereen won't see as many
carries as Ridley but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes
him equally dangerous. Vereen should get some work in as a wide receiver,
especially with rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins still learning the
And then there's LeGarrette Blount, a 250-pound bowling ball who rushed for
1,000 yards with the Buccaneers back in 2010. The Oregon standout was lethal
in the preseason opener with 102 yards on 11 rushes. If he can play the Mike
Tolbert role and bang in a few touchdowns from close range, the Pats' running
game is going to be almost impossible to stop.
WR: Well, there's no Welker anymore. But they do have Amendola and he might be
the next best thing. Heck, these two are so similar they even went to the same
college (Texas Tech).
Brandon Lloyd, who was cut in the offseason, is another receiver the Pats will
have to replace. Rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are both
candidates to fill Lloyd's role.
Julian Edelman has been a jack of all trades for the Patriots, logging snaps
at receiver, cornerback and punt returner. This year he'll be asked to play
wideout a bit more than he has in the past. Edelman has had some success in
that role (69 catches, 714 receiving yards in four seasons) but it remains to
be seen whether or not he can be a game changer.
All in all, this is probably one of the weaker receiving groups Belichick has
assembled during his tenure in New England but that doesn't mean it won't
Keep in mind, this team won multiple Super Bowls with David Patten and Troy
Brown starting at wideout.
TE: Huge mitts, giant strides, a nose for the end zone: these are just a few
of the things that make Gronkowski one of the most dangerous tight ends in
Of course, none of these apply when Gronkowski is on the sidelines, which will
probably be the case for at least the first handful of games in 2013.
With Hernandez no longer an option, that leaves Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and
rookie Zach Sudfield to pick up the pieces.
Yikes. The good news is Gronkowski hasn't been placed on IR yet, which leaves
the possibility that he could be back sometime before Week 6. If that's the
case, the Pats will still be getting at least ten weeks of Gronk.
Going by last year's stats, that equates to around 700 yards and ten
touchdowns. That wouldn't be so bad, would it?
OL: The Patriots' offensive line has a lot of big humans on it. Both starting
tackles are 6-foot-8/320 while the inside guys average 6-foot-3/307.
The key is experience and these guys have a lot of it. With the exception of
left tackle Nate Solder, all of the Patriots' starters have been with the team
for at least five seasons.
Everyone on New England's front line is talented but left guard Logan Mankins
is definitely the ringleader. Tom Brady's personal bodyguard has been selected
to five Pro Bowls since 2007.
The Pats have allowed fewer than 30 sacks three out of the last four seasons
and if all goes according to plan, they should be able to make it four out of
DL: Second year Syracuse product Chandler Jones (45 tackles, three forced
fumbles as a rookie) has the look of a perennial Pro Bowler. His linemate
Vince Wilfork already is one (four consecutive invites).
While not as heralded as Wilfork or Jones, defensive end Rob Ninkovich is
still plenty valuable. Ninkovich showed that he can be a playmaker by leading
the team in sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (five) a season ago. Outside of
Jones, he's probably New England's top pass rusher.
The wild card will be newcomer Tommy Kelly. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder has been
remarkably durable throughout his career (hasn't missed a game since '07). But
at age 32, is Kelly still nimble enough to bother opposing quarterbacks? Last
year he wasn't (just one sack) but perhaps a change of scenery after nine
years in Oakland will lead to a rebound season in 2013.
LB: You won't find many linebacking units as solid as the one defensive
coordinator Matt Patricia has constructed here in New England.
It starts with two-time Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo, a tackling machine who covers
as much ground as any weakside linebacker in the game. Last year, he finished
with 147 tackles, three sacks, four forced fumbles and a pick. It was the
second time in three seasons Mayo has finished among the NFL's top four
Dread-locked middle linebacker Brandon Spikes may not be as talented as Mayo
but he's just as fierce. The Florida alum came away with 92 tackles last
season, easily his most as a professional. Spikes tied left end Rob Ninkovich
for the team lead in forced fumbles (five each).
2012 first-round pick Dont'a Hightower had a monster rookie year with 60
tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. It's scary to think of what
Hightower might become when he finally maximizes his enormous potential.
There really isn't a weak link in this linebacking corps.
DB: The Patriots nabbed Aqib Talib at the trade deadline and were fortunate
enough to re-sign him this past offseason. Talib is a gambler but more often
than not, he guesses right. He's already recorded 19 interceptions in his
first five seasons.
Devin McCourty made a seamless transition from cornerback to free safety last
season. He led all Patriots defensive backs with 82 tackles and five
Talib and McCourty are the anchors of what has become a very deep secondary.
Alfonzo Dennard had a sensational rookie season and should be even better this
year if he can walk the straight and narrow (he's been arrested twice since
2012). Steve Gregory is the father figure of the group with 97 games of NFL
experience. The three picks he had last year were a career-high.
Kyle Arrington has slipped behind Dennard on New England's cornerback depth
chart but remember, he's only two years removed from an epic 66-tackle, seven-
interception year in 2011.
The Patriots were fifth in the league in interceptions last season (20) and
should be hovering around the top-five again in 2013.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Stephen Gostkowski has a strong resume (170-for-202 in seven
seasons) but has looked shaky this preseason (3-of-6 with a long of 39 yards).
If that keeps up, the kicking game could be an adventure.
Pats fans shouldn't be all in on punter Zoltan Mesko, either. His punt average
(43.1 yards) was 28th in the league last season.
Luckily, New England's return men, Edelman and Leon Washington, are top-notch
and special teams captain Matt Slater might be the best gunner in football (13
tackles last season).
At the end of the day, the Pats should be just fine on special teams.
COACH: Ten division titles, five AFC championships, three Super Bowl rings,
187 victories, two cutoff sleeves and zero shame. Year after year, regardless
of who's on the roster, the Patriots are always in contention. And it all
starts with Belichick.
Originally a defensive specialist, Belichick has transformed the Patriots into
one of the leagues premier offenses. They've finished in the top eight in
scoring every season since 2006.
Sure Belichick can be a daredevil, going for it on fourth down and
occasionally using linebackers at tight end. But usually, the buttons he's
pressing are the right ones. At this point, how can you possibly bet against
THE SKINNY: The Patriots lost a ton of big names this offseason. But they've
done this before. Many times, actually.
Here's a sampling of some of the big names who have left Foxboro in recent
years: Richard Seymour, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Ty Warren, BenJarvus
Green-Ellis and Asante Samuel.
Those are huge losses. Yet here they are, favorites to win their fifth
straight division title.
Even with all the departures, New England still has one of the most talent-
filled rosters in all of football. When all is said and done, they should be
right there with Denver and Houston at the top of the AFC standings.
The Sports Network