2009 Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

July 8, 2009

Overview

The Patriots had the sixth ranked rushing attack in 2008, and with nearly the entire core of rushers returning (sans Heath Evans and Lamont Jordan, who departed to the Saints and Broncos via free agency), plus newly acquired Fred Taylor, the Patriots running back group looks to be a force to be reckoned with in 2009.  While the Patriots have a great group of backs this year, there really are no defined roles for the backfield.  Kevin Faulk will more than likely continue to handle the 3rd down role, but after that, nothing is decided.  Laurence Maroney, in his fourth year, still has the potential, but he hasn’t been consistent and he hasn’t been able to put the injury bug behind him.  Sammy Morris was the Patriots leading rusher in 2008, he runs with good power and consistency, but is 32.  Fred Taylor is quick, agile, strong, but also 33; so there are questions of how many carries he can handle.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a powerful no non-sense back, but he doesn’t have the most natural talent.  Eric Kettani, a HB/FB from Navy, is a longer shot to make the roster.

Projected Depth Chart

1. Laurence Maroney

2. Fred Taylor

3. Sammy Morris

4. Kevin Faulk (3rd down)

5. (BenJarvus Green-Ellis)

CUTS: Eric Kettani

Burning Questions

1. With the oldest groups of backs in the NFL, will this group be able to hold up throughout training camp?

2. Will Laurence Maroney finally be able to bite the injury bug and live up to his potential?

3. Who will be the Patriots starting back opening day?

Training Camp Battles

Everyone vs. Everyone: The great thing about this group is that nothing is decided.  Who will start?  Who will be #2?  Age, injuries, and skill will all be factors.  There’s only so many carries that can be given out, and the backs are going to go out and have to earn them in training camp.

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Seau Up For Another Mid-Season Return?

July 6, 2009

Junior Seau has hinted that he may like to return to the Patriots at some point during the season.  Christopher Gasper of the Globe reports:

Junior Seau, who rode to the rescue of the Patriots last December, coming off the street and his surfboard to join New England for the final four games of the regular season, told a San Diego radio station that he would evaluate playing in a 20th NFL season at the end of October or November.

I think the readers of this blog know my opinion of Seau, I’d love to have him back.  However, with the addition of Paris Lenon and Seau’s inability to contribute on special teams, you’d have to wonder if the Patriots would take him back.

The Patriots could instead elect to sign Willie McGinest, who fills a need at left outside linebacker and who has expressed his desire to return to the Patriots.

However, as much as I’d like to see either or both players return to the Patriots, I believe they make more sense as emergency options who could be signed mid-season should the Patriots be faced with a plethora of injuries.


2009 Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

July 5, 2009

Overview

One thing’s for sure, there won’t be a battle for the starting quarterback job this training camp, as a hopefully healthy Tom Brady will be back in pads for the first time in nearly a year.  But just because Brady is the starter doesn’t mean there won’t be competition and other storylines at the position.

Projected Depth Chart

1. Tom Brady

2. Kevin O’Connell

3. Matt Gutierrez / Brian Hoyer

Burning Questions

1. How will Tom Brady, coming off knee surgery, perform the first time in full pads?  Where will his confidence be?  Will he be his old self?

2. Is Kevin O’Connell ready to be the 2nd quarterback behind Brady?

3. Will the Patriots opt to keep three quarterbacks, or will they stick with just Brady and O’Connell?

Roster Battles

Matt Gutierrez vs. Brian Hoyer: The competition for 3rd string quarterback looks to be stiff.  Guttierez has a strong arm and is in his third year in the system, while Hoyer looks poised and accurate for a rookie.

Courtesy Patriots.com

Courtesy Patriots.com


Report: Greg Ellis Chose Raiders over Pats

June 18, 2009

When outside linebacker/defensive end Greg Ellis was released by the Cowboys earlier this month, I thought he made a very ideal target for the Patriots considering his size, experience in the 3-4, and pass rushing ability.

However, I found this report by Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News very interesting:

Greg Ellis, recently released by the Cowboys, has never won a playoff game in 11 NFL seasons. In choosing to play for Oakland, it certainly looks like his career will end without celebrating a playoff win.

Shed no teams for Ellis because he decided to take the cash instead of playing for a team with a chance to win in the playoffs.

He signed a three-year, $10 million deal with Oakland, the NFL’s worst franchise. He’s guaranteed to earn $5 million in the first two years.

He was scheduled to earn $5.6 in bonuses and salary this year. Just so you know, the Patriots offered him a one-year deal for $1.5.

That’s the same Patriots who are perennial championship contenders every year, and have three titles this decade.

I don’t have a problem with that. Neither should you. Few of us, given the choice between two companies, would choose the job that pays us the lower salary.

I just find it interesting because it’s always about the money, especially in pro sports.

Always.

While I disagree it’s always about the money, I think Taylor summed it up pretty well.  It’s disappointing, but I think the Patriots can live without Ellis.

Raiders defensive end Greg Ellis

Raiders defensive end Greg Ellis


Five To Watch in ’09: Who Will Rise?

June 12, 2009

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


Patriots Sign Patrick Pass

June 5, 2009

The Patriots just made the second greatest move possible.  The first would be re-signing Antowain Smith.  But, well, yeah.

The Patriots have announced the signing of veteran running back Patrick Pass.

Patrick Pass: Hells yeah!

Patrick Pass: Hells yeah!

Pass, as you may remember, won three Super Bowls with the Patriots from 2000-2006.  His rookie year he was purely a halfback, but he later bulked up and was actually the Patriots’ starting fullback for the 2004 Super Bowl season (and part of 2003).

Patrick Pass can do a little bit of everything.  He can carry the ball on first and second downs as a tailback.  He can catch the ball out of the backfield.  He can both return and cover kicks, play third down back, and even line up at fullback.

Pass most recently played for the Giants in 2007.  He also played for the Texans.

Pass joins a backfield that includes Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk.  While he may have a hard time making the 53, his versatility should give him an added boost.

The Patriots also announced the release of four players; Angelo Craig, Kenny Smith, Omar Cuff, and Marcus McClinton.


Rodney Harrison to NBC

June 2, 2009

Although it has long been speculated, Rodney Harrison appears to be moving on from professional football.  The Boston Herald reports:

One of the most storied players in Patriots history, Harrison will be introduced as the newest member of NBC’s broadcast team during a conference call tomorrow, according to a source with knowledge of Harrison’s plans.

And while the possibility of a comeback can never be discounted, Harrison is already on record that when he walks away from the game, it will be for good.

“Whatever Rodney decides to do, he’ll be great at it,” said teammate James Sanders this afternoon at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots were holding an optional team workout.

Reached this afternoon, an NBC spokesman declined comment. NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol will hold a conference call tomorrow at noon to announce the network’s new talent, and Harrison is expected to be on that call.

“If that’s what he chooses to do, he’ll be great,” Sanders said. “He’s very photogenic. He talks well, carries himself well, speaks real proper. He looks like he was born for the camera.”

The 36-year-old Harrison won two Super Bowls with the Patriots and was a three-time first team All-Pro selection. He is the only player in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career.

Harrison previously said that he would make a decision by June 1st.  He will hold a conference call tomorrow, so we’ll see if this becomes official.