With the Patriots’ first mandatory minicamp coming to an end yesterday, there’s going to be a real lull in action the next six weeks leading up to training camp, which opens on July 30th. That being said, today, I thought I’d take a look at some players who I think can make a big leap, possibly as a role player or even as a starter this season.
1. Jonathan Wilhite, CB
Wilhite really impressed me with his four late season starts in 2008. He carried that momentum into 2009 with a solid mini-camp this week. Wilhite is an exceptional man cover corner who can stay stride for stride with just about any receiver in the league. He is fluid, and has shown better hands than advertised. I’m telling you, watch out for Wilhite in ’09.
2. Pierre Woods, OLB
This isn’t a hard pick. Mike Vrabel is gone, and Woods has the current edge for the vacant starting outside linebacker spot. Belichick has a lot of confidence in him, and Woods will need to back up that confidence, because Shawn Crable will be breathing down his neck.
3. Brandon Meriweather, FS
I felt Meriweather made a big leap last year, but 2009 could be the season the third year safety turns into a Pro Bowl caliber player. Only time will tell, but Meriweather has shown the ability to be a big time playmaker.
4. Ben Watson, TE
It’s now or never for Watson. He is blessed with all of the physical tools to be great, but he has never really put it together consistently. His contract expires after the season, and he is going to have competition making the roster in Alex Smith, Chris Baker, David Thomas, and the under-the-radar Tyson DeVree (watch out for him, I mean it)… so if those two factors don’t push him, I don’t know what will.
5. Mark LeVoir, T
LeVoir had two solid starts filling in for Nick Kaczur in 2008. While he likely won’t beat out Nick Kazcur, Sebastian Vollmer, and Ryan O’Callaghan for the right tackle spot, he could be only one injury away from seeing the field. Plus, he is a consistent contributor on special teams.
Honorable Mentions: Gary Guyton, ILB; Shawn Crable, OLB; Tyson DeVree, TE; Le Kevin Smith, DE; Vince Redd, OLB; Laurence Maroney, HB