Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New England Patriots Pre-Season Preview

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Matt Cassell, Matt Gutierrez, Kevin O'Connell
Comments: For the seventh straight season, Tom Brady will be the starting quarterback for the Patriots. Brady had a breakout season in 2007 as he passed for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns. His interceptions (8) total was a career low. The question is whether he will be able to replicate last season's performance. Brady's will likely have another amazing performance in 2008 albeit without the likes of Donte Stallworth, who signed with New Orleans this off-season after reeling in 697 yards as the Patriots number two receiver. Behind Brady is Matt Cassell. Cassell, a four year back-up to Brady, hasn't played too much because of Brady's consistent good health. Cassell doesn't have too much long term staying power -- Gutierrez and O'Connell make just as good a back-up as Cassell is. Each of the back-ups will have to prove themselves in the pre-season; inevitably one or two will be released by the start of the regular season.

Runningbacks: Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis
Comments: Might as well get this out of the way first: Green-Ellis won't make the team no matter how well he does in the exhibition games. Maroney, on the complete other hand, will be heavily relied upon as the starter. A very powerful and crafty player, Maroney rushed for a respectable 4.5 yards per carry average in 2007. Maroney must (definitely must) stay healthy throughout the entire upcoming season if he wants to reach the pinnacle status of 1000 yard rusher. He has shown streaks of greatness (such as two 100+ yard games in games 15 and 16 of last season), and lousiness (five straight games under 60 yards) as well. Morris is an interesting player in that he had a solid first six games last season before injuring himself. Had Morris played in all sixteen games, he would have easily surpassed the 1,000 yards rushing plateau. The Patriots must keep that in mind in the pre-season. It wouldn't be crazy for Morris to get 10-15 carries a game during the regular season. A third down back and an incredible receiver out of the backfield, Faulk will be inserted in the same role that he has been in for the past four seasons. The ten year veteran caught 47 passes in 2007 on a team with a plethora of good receivers. The loss of Donte Stallworth might equal even more catches for Faulk in 2008.

Fullbacks: Heath Evans, Kyle Eckel
Comments: Evans is one of the best of his kind and that is because he is a strong blocker. It is unfortunate because the Patriots haven't had a top of the line running back for Evans to pave the way for since Corey Dillon. Eckel is a younger version of Evans. Both are strong special teams players, a complement to their offensive talents. Right now though, Evans is the more experienced and will be given preferential playing time.

Wide Receiver: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Kelley Washington, Sam Aiken, Chris Dunlap, C.J Jones, Matt Slater, Robert Ortiz
Comments: Moss, also known as the best wide receiver in league, caught 46% (23 TD) of Brady's touchdown passes. Will we be seeing that kind of production again in 2008? You bet. Even with double and triple coverage, Moss still excelled. At 31 years old, he still has room for improvement. Welker was a godsend in the slot for the Patriots in 2007. He caught 112 passes for 1,175 yards -- the kind of stats that makes other teams pissed...really pissed. With the loss of Stallworth, Gaffney is now a part of the team's core receiving group. Even in a limited role in 2007, Gaffney still caught 5 touchdown passes. I wouldn't be surprised if he surpasses his 2005 high of 55 catches. Behind Gaffney is Jackson, who will be entering his third professional season. Jackson has been quite the disappointment, but it isn't his fault. Injuries limited him in 2007 (to 0 games played); may God grant Jackson a healthy upcoming season. In 2006 Jackson caught 13 passes...we can only hope him to catch 14 this season! If Jackson has a lousy pre-season, don't get panicky if he is cut. Last on the depth-chart is Washington. The poor guy had more special teams tackles (18) than catches (0). Of course, he led the team in special teams tackles and that's the reason why he is back.

Offensive Line: Does anybody really care?
Comments: They block so that Brady doesn't get sack and so Maroney can pick up decent yardage. What am I supposed to say about the specific players? "He had 100 pancakes...stop right there!"

Coming up next: Defense + Special Teams

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