NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - Pre-Training Camp Report
Patriots look to repeat as champions.
by Ajitpaul Mangat
Bills Daily Correspondent
June 25, 2002
Regular Season: 11-5 (Division Champions)
Post-Season: 3-0 (2001 Super Bowl Champions)
The New England Patriots in 2001 followed the St. Louis Rams (1999) and Baltimore Ravens (2000) by winning the Super Bowl after having a .500 or sub-.500 season. The Patriots will now try to do something the Rams and Ravens could not do, win back-to-back championships. It will not be an easy task as the Patriots play in the toughest division in football (AFC East), will be given a difficult 1st place schedule and NFL coaches will now have had an entire off-season to dissect Tim Brady and the Patriots offense and defensive schemes. DRAFT:
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady is now the number one man in New England with Drew Bledsoe’s departure to Buffalo. Brady is not an overly skilled or flashy player. Brady instead wins games by not making mistakes similar to what Trent Dilfer did in Baltimore. Brady showed some flashes of brilliance in the playoffs last year marching his team down for winning field goals in games against Oakland and St. Louis. Those drives and Brady’s knack for not making mistakes were the main reasons New England chose him over Bledsoe. Backing up Brady are Damon Huard and Rohan Davey. Huard is very similar to Brady in the way he plays and is a good backup. Davey is a project because of his raw and yet undeveloped skills.
Running Backs: Antowain Smith is a player Bills fans will know well from his playing days in Buffalo. Smith burst onto the NFL stage in 1997 with a very good rookie year and followed that up with a 1124 yard season in 1998. In 1999 Smith’s career began going downhill as he was unable to stay healthy for an entire season ultimately being released by the Bills in 2001. Smith was then picked up by the Patriots to compete for the starting job on their team. He not only won the starting job but had the best season of his career. The Patriots have many 3rd down backs to spell Smith on passing downs, including J.R. Redmond and Kevin Faulk who combined for 43 receptions last season.
Receivers: The Patriots’ Receivers position was hit hardest in free agency. Among the defections were Charles Johnson, who landed in Buffalo, Terry Glenn, and TE Jermaine Wiggins. Remaining as starting wide receivers are Troy Brown and David Patten. Brown was one of the biggest surprises of last year (101 Rec/1199 Yds) and Patten proved to be a very versatile player, throwing, running and catching a touchdown in one game. Donald Hayes brought in from the Carolina Panthers will help shore up the lack of depth at wide receiver. The Patriots are loaded at tight end with three starter quality players: Christian Fauria, Cam Cleeland and Daniel Graham.
Offensive Line: The Patriots offensive line remains intact from last season, which is a rarity in this day and age of free agency. That is great news for the team because offensive line play relies heavily on chemistry and with the same players the chemistry will already be there. No players stand out as big names on the line but that is not necessarily a bad thing since the Patriots stressed team work last year, as demonstrated by them coming out together before the Super Bowl. The main problem lies in the backups because there is very little depth.
Overall Grade: B+
Key Offensive Player(s): Antowain Smith. Smith will have to continue his strong play from last year to prove his comeback was no fluke and to take some stress off of Brady’s already burdened shoulders.
Defensive Line: The Patriots lost only one player from their defensive line, Brandon Mitchell who was a good player for the Patriots last season but will be adequately replaced by Steve Martin, brought in from the New York Jets. The other starting tackle will be Richard Seymour who played well as a rookie and should improve this year. The ends are Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant. The Patriots did not get very good play from their ends last season who were not exposed because of a great defensive backfield. A key for the Patriots will be to get pressure from just their front four which would allow the linebackers and safeties to remain in coverage.
Linebackers: The signing of Ryan Phillips from the New York Jets allows the Patriots to switch between their 4-3 and 3-4 defensive sets without much drop off because of their great depth. The Patriots line backing corps includes: Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi, Roman Phifer, Phillips, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest and Larry Izzo. The starters could come from almost any combination of those players giving head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel many options to work with.
Secondary: In last years Super Bowl it was the Patriots’ secondary that set the tone for the team; from the big tackles and hits to the interceptions and fumble recoveries the Patriots’ secondary comprised of Ty Law, Otis Smith, and safeties Lawyer Milloy and Tebucky Jones made the key plays when it counted. Tom Brady walked away with the MVP award but it could have just as easily gone to Law who scored 6 points and nullified every St. Louis receiver who lined up opposite of him. The starting cast remains the same but the backups have changed. Tom Knight will play in the nickel defense while Leonard Myers will play in dime packages. The backup safeties includeJe’Rod Cherry, Chris Hayes and Antwan Harris.
Overall Grade: A-
Key Defensive Player(s): Bobby Hamilton, and Anthony Pleasant Both Hamilton and Pleasant will be needed to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. SPECIAL TEAMS:
Kicker: K Adam Vinatieri returns after booting the first game winning field goal in Super Bowl history.
Punter: P Ken Walter doesn’t have great stats but provides a solid punting game.
Kick Returner: This position is up for grabs but will likely go to RB Patrick Pass and Deion Branch.
Punt Returner: Troy Brown not only emerged as a star receiver but also proved to be a valuable punt returner, when he brought back a punt for a major against the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Backup duties will go to Deion Branch.
The Patriots have all their key players returning and have replaced most major losses with adequate replacements. The team, barring any major injuries, especially to the QB, RB, WR and DE position should return to the playoffs but with an improved Dolphins team in Miami, will be hard pressed to win the division. OVERALL GRADE: A-
Projected Record: 10-6
Jets Pre-Training Camp Report
Dolphins Pre-Training Camp Report
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