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Patriots had a better than expected 2010

The New England Patriots started 2010 losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs and many unanswered questions regarding the leadership, defensive demise and concerns about the team rebuilding.

A few interesting moves in the offseason dropping defensive veterans Adalius Thomas and Shawn Springs both locker room cancers, while resigning defensive anchor Vince Wilfork to a long term deal and Leigh Bodden to a new contract to strengthen the defensive backfield. Bodden the most experienced defensive back on the Patriots roster was one of many players to go onto IR.

After a contract negotiations failed between the New England Patriots and guard Logan Mankins, Mankins held out through the beginning of the season and returned to the Patriots to help solidify a offensive line that is now without two of its 2009 starters Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal and starter/back-up Dan Connolly fitting in nicely for Mankins and moving to replace Neal and is now injured himself and has not played since recording an NFL record for the longest kick return by an offensive lineman 71 yards.

The already young and inexperienced defense had further issues with Ty Warren and Brandon McGowan joining Bodden on IR and other defensiveline men such as Mike Wright, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and Brandon Deadrick being banged up at various points of the season leaving Vince Wilfork to play all three line positions and having a pro bowl year doing it!

No pass rush – no problem? Last years sack leader and pass rusher Tully Bunta-Cain was expected to have  a big year after renewing his contract and actually has been pushed out of the starting lineup by rookie Dane Fletcher who joins rookie  Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich to pressure the QB. Also a big surprise from UFL signee Eric Moore playing many reps in the game and a number of different positions in the 3-4 than his previous 4-3 experience would lead you to believe.

Youngest group at the defensive backs position proving to be most improved area of the team as rookie Devon McCourty and second year 7th round pick Kyle Arrington has moved from special teams to starter beating out 2007 2nd round pick Darius Butler. With Bodden Jonathan Wilhite on IR and looking to return in 2011, this group could be one of the best in the NFL, especially if the Pats pick up a pass rushing OLB.

During preseason, the strength and depth of the defense seemed to be at the safety postion. With McGowan going to IR, that left Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders as the starters with second year 2nd round pick Patrick Chung and a late trade to acquire Jarrad Page from the Kansas City Chiefs to round out the position. With injuries to Bodden and Wilhite – Chung Page and undrafted Sergio Brown have taken turns in nickel and dime packages. This is another young group improving.

OK – so the offense has Tom Terrific and with a high dynamic passing attack what could be better?

Hhmm – how about Randy Moss finally being Randy and forcing the team to trade him during the season. WTF? No one outside the organization (well maybe Ron Borges) could have predicted that.

For the team to then trade for the return of Deion Branch to utilize a spread attack of quick and shifty receivers like Branch and Wes Welker who seemed nearly 100% after tearing his ACL/MCL at the end of the 2009 season. Branch and Welker run great routes and can get separation from the defensive backs. This is a return of Brady’s favorite receiver – no not Branch – the open receiver! Since Branch’s return Brady has been phenomenal not throwing a single interception in his last seven games and only having four so far all season.

Noteworthy pickups in the draft, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, under the tutelage of long time veteran and new team captain Alge Crumpler produced  beyond great expectations of a pwer and finesse combination from multiple formations, breaking tackles, moving the chains AND scoring touchdowns. A great addition and one would think this is what Coach Bill Belichick might have had in mind when signing Daniel Graham and Ben Watson so many years ago….

The offseason brought a few questions at running back, were Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor to old? Could Laurence Marony carry the franchise? And for a few media pundits – BenJarvis Green-Ellis’ days as a Patriots were sure to be over.

A trade of Maroney to the Broncos, a knee injury sending Faulk to IR and Taylor having severe cases of turf toe on each foot (a Rex Ryan pun not needed), what would the Patriots do? BJGE became the north – south runner fans wished Maroney could have been. Then the surprise jewel with the signing of Danny Woodhead to the team. The diamond in the rough was picked up before Faulk’s injury, but as luck would have it, Woody provided the Patriots just what they needed when their captain went down. Both BJGE and Woody are undrafted players and two of the 21 currently on the roster. For a team that had no identity for a running game the tunder and lightening coming at teams now are proving to be more than even the best teams can handle.

Above all else, we have Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. 2010 brought about concerns of no formal offensive and defensive coordinators and the roles and responsibilities falling on Belichick. Would the team suffer and possibly the coaching staff if coaches were not given their chance to perform?

Belichick knows his team and coaches better than anyone else and while rebuilding in 2010 has lead the team to a 13-2 record, AFC East division champions and first seed in the AFC with home field through the playoffs. Now the only thing left to do is win the Super Bowl!


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