After another heart-breaking Superbowl loss, the New England Patriots leave the past behind them as they prepare for another run to glory. The Patriots have reloaded with a handful of new players, and the new rookies and veterans could be the ones to give the Patriots that extra push to becoming a championship team. Head Coach Bill Belichick has put together a solid roster that will be very interesting to see who makes the cut. Positions like wide receiver and defensive linemen are filled with talent and potential.
With no lockout this year, free agency was able to resume it’s regular schedule in the 2012 offseason. The Patriots were able to re-sign players like Matthew Slater, Deion Branch, and got Wes Welker to sign his franchise tender. The biggest splash in free agency was former Ram and Bronco wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd has 311 receptions in his 10 year career, as well as 31 touchdowns and over 4,700 yards. Lloyd could be that missing piece if he can be a deep threat and continue to have some of the best hands in the NFL.
Other notable free agent signings were safety Steve Gregory, runningback Joseph Addai, linebacker Bobby Carpenter, and the resigning of ex-Patriot Jabar Gaffney.
When much is gained, much is also lost. The Patriots lost an all-time Patriot in left tackle Matt Light, who retired this off-season. Light blocked for quarterback Tom Brady’s blindside during the Patriot’s dynasty era. The Patriot’s also lost Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis to the Cincinnati Bengals, and effective pass-rusher Mark Anderson to the Buffalo Bills.
This year’s NFL Draft seemed like a success to the Patriots, focusing all on defense. The Patriots traded up for both Chandler Jones, defensive end from Syracuse, and Donta’ Hightower, line backer from Alabama. Both Jones and Hightower seem like they can come in and be superstars, even though Jones is a “raw talent.” The Patriots drafted other great players like captain of the Arkansas defense Jake Bequette, Illinois safety Tavon Wilson, Ohio State Rugby captain turned safety Nate Ebner, and stole Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. They also signed undrafted free agents runningback Brandon Bolden, defensive lineman Marcus Forston, and offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren.
As far as new breakout players, expect Hightower to have a big rookie year, and maybe even contend for defensive rookie of the year. One of Brady’s favorite targets was Gaffney, so don’t be surprised if Gaffney produces more statistics than Lloyd this year.
Some key things that must work for the Patriots to be successful are the health of defensive players Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung. The absence of Spike and Chung made the regular season more difficult on the secondary due to lack of pass-rush and coverage. Also, Nate Solder has big shoes to fill at left tackle, it may be wise to move Sebastian Vollmer to left tackle, Solder right tackle, Marcus Cannon and Logan Mankins at guard, and Dan Koppen or Dan Connolly at center. Brady will be well protected if the offensive line stays healthy.
The Patriots may still have some question marks in the secondary, but they are still one of the best teams in the league. The Belichick-Brady era may be coming to an end, so this could be one of the last shots at the Superbowl. The Patriots have all the talent, in the end, it all comes down to winning.