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    June 01, 2006
The 06 Team Better than Last Year's (At this Point)?
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

What better time to look at this roster and last year's and do a comparison.

I know there is still some time for players to be added and I do think a vet QB,a punter and possibly a few others will be added before camp. On the other hand, there will be 7 cut from the team, plus a player for any additions to the squad.

Last year, there were 89 players at this point compared to 95. The 05 team averaged about half a year more experience per player, but this year's team averages just under a year younger than the 05 squad. The make up of the team is similar in some respects. In 05, 56% of the players in camp were on the team or IR the year before, while this year it is just under 53%. The vets brought in by free agency or trade made up 15% last year, but only 9.5% this year. Rookies (Draft and UDFAs) comprised 21% of last year's roster, but ballooned to 27% of the roster. Adding in the NFLE players to those rookie numbers, makes the margin even larger, 27% to 06's 36%. What is significant age wise is that last year, 11% were 33 and older, while this year that number is a bit over 4%.

Last year, there were 8 subtractions and 4 additions made before camp started. There was an exchange of UDFAs as RBs Birmingham and Charles were replaced by WRs Childress and Musinski, as wideouts were needed. Three other UDFAs were cut, OL Lorenz, NT McNeil and LS Conway. Another WR McGrew was placed on IR. A vet S/CB Edwards replaced CB Charlton and vet returner Chad Morton was brought in. The Big surprise was the day before camp retirement of LB Ted Johnson. These additions and subtractions did not change age or experience averages as well as change the teams composition or age ranges. The delta that was the largest was a small reduction of players 23 and under, just under 4%.

That was last year, but at this point, with a few possible vets to sign and cuts to be made to shave the roster, there will be a large difference. I looked at the most extreme situations that could occur; 9 young UDFAs cut and two older vets, Law and Fiedler signing. The results of that put age and experience average and the team makeup very close to last year's training camp numbers. The big difference is in age, a minus 5% in the 33-35 age group and a plus 5% in 30-32. The bottom line is that unless some unusual things happen, this team will be younger going into training camp.

More about that later, but first let's look at the positions and how the Pats of 06 compares to the 05 version. The players on this year's team are in parentheses. Those with no plus or minus were with the team in both years. Those with a minus sign were not with the team last year and those after with a plus sign were on the team at this time last year.

QB-----(Brady, Cassel, -Mortenson, -Bramlett) +Davey, +Flutie-----Brady has always been in a "sandwich" so to speak, with an older vet QB to help on one side and younger QBs who wish to learn on the other. Unless Fiedler or Maddox or another vet is brought in, the QB situation will be different. The large question to me is how much a vet QB really adds to things in the background panning phases as well as with the scout team. How much of a drop off would there be without that vet QB?? Also of interest is whether they would bring in a vet and keep 5 QBs, something out of the ordinary. Bramlett and Mortenson both are young QBs and either could be a 3rd or a PSqd player. Is this bunch stronger than last year? If they bring in a vet, they are much stronger if they don't, I think it will depend on Cassel's improvement on the field as well as helping the scout team. For sheer youth alone, I would say it is the same or stronger than last year's crew.

RB-----(Dillon, Faulk, Pass, Charles, -Evans, -Maroney, -PCobbs) +CCobbs, +Birmingham, +Eckel, +Chapman-----This group is of higher quality by far. Dillon didn't have a good season last year, but given his injuries, he did a tremendous job doing his best to keep the D honest. Faulk as well was injured and he came up big when he returned. Pass had an improved season despite aches and pains. What makes this group so much improved is the young players in the mix. Maroney is far superior to NFLE's Chapman or 2nd year CCobbs. Add in fullback Evans and H-back Mills and one has a choice of two fullbacks. Throw in PCobbs, an intriguing UDFA who led the nation in rushing and one has some older seasoned backs as well as solid young prospects. Maroney especially may be the heir apparent to Dillon and Cobbs may be a sleeper who could be on the PSquad this year, and more in the mix next. It is the starting of a transition. Pass, who was great in his versatility, may be replaced by another who is more so. Added depth and a 1st round pick are big steps which are a few feet in front of last year's team.

WR-----(Branch, TBrown, BJohnson, McGrew, -Childress, -Musinski, -JStone, -ZSmith, -Caldwell, -CJackson, -EDavis, -Shelton, -JWallace) +Givens, +Sam, +Dwight, +Terrell, +RBryant, +James, +Schifino-----There is a bit of a problem here, as obviously Givens and Dwight are more talented than Caldwell and rookie CJackson. Both have potential, but comparing the duos is a no-brainer. If a sold vet was brought in, that would definitely strengthen the corps and the mix, but as it stands now, the comparison leans toward the 05 squad. There are many question marks and much potential, but every year there always is. This year, players are needed to step up and fill larger shoes; the 3 wideouts that have left. Caldwell may not reach the level of a Givens this year, but neither will rookie ChadJ. He may in time take a bigger role. BethelJ has had much of an upside and this year opportunity knocks big time, but there is only a small chance he will take advantage of the situation. There is no David Terrell type vet who is trying to make the squad, but there are many on the peripheral edge, who will have a shot to capture backup spots. Childress especially seems in the running as a possible Brown 3 way player. There is more competition lower on the roster, but the top 3 wideouts are weaker where it counts.

TE-----(Graham, Watson, -DThomas, -Mills) +Fauria, +Weaver, +Jacobs, +AStokes-----The two rooks have great potential, more so than Fauria and any of the other 3 and Mills may have the versatility to play in the backfield. Many draft experts (including ESPN and Street and Smiths) had Mills rated as the best fullback. Quality is there, but depth is not. Having only 4 in camp is at least one two few, so an expected vet signing before camp is really probable. With that, there is no question that this group is stronger, but now, an injury, not all that uncommon in camp, would bring the numbers down to a barely passable 3.

OL-----(Koppen, Light, Neal, Mankins, Kaczur, Gorin, Yates, Hochstein, Roehl, Mruczkowski , -Tucker, -Britt, -Steitz, -O'Callaghan, -Stevenson, -Hand, -Barthelmes) +Ashworth, +Lorenz, +Krug, +Levay-----The big question is if whether Light or Koppen will start the year on PUP and if either do, there will be linemen on the 53 who will get a bit of a reprieve. If neither are, the competition will be fierce and there may be a few surprises. This group is quite strong and the battles will be a notch upward from last year's camp. Mankins and Kaczur are not rookies and the only vet lost was Ashworth. In looking at that loss and the players in camp last year, there are far many more and better players here this year. Besides the very large and versatile draftees and UDFAs, O'Callaghan, Stevenson, Hand and Barthelmes, there is Practice Squader Britt, vet Tucker and NFLE's Roehl and Steitz. There are some interesting decisions to be made and this might be the place to look at (at least on offense) for interesting battles.

DL-----(Seymour, Warren, Wilfork, JGreen, Hill, Klecko, Wright, SThomas , -KSmith, -Ayoldele,- Drame) +Bailey, +EKelly, +McNeil-----This is a strong group of young players but backups are the ones in question. Last year, Bailey's addition pushed the group, while this year, the backups are more hanging on and a good surge of newbies would make the team. An added vet would really help, but I don't think that will happen. Hill was injured and not effective. Wright ended up on IR and LSmith should compete for Wilfork's backup. UDFAs Ayodele and Drame are projects and may not be as close to making the team. The big need is to find a good backup for Big Daddy Vince, but if Hill or another steps it up, it will be all gravy and this line will be even stronger.

LB-----(Bruschi, Colvin, Vrabel, Izzo, Beisel, DDavis, Banta-Cain, Alexander, Claridge, -Mincey, -Woods, -Roach, -Mays, -Gardner) +McGinest, +TJohnson, +Mallard, +CBrown, +Chatham, +Torrey-----Vets are gone and there are holes and while Bruschi, Vrabel and Colvin are solid, finding the 4th starter will be one very large important task. Whether that be inside with Beisel, Gadner, Claridge or Roach or outside with Banta-Cain, Mincey or another, identifying that 4th starter is vital. WIllieMcG's loss will hurt, but at the same time, there has been talk that the backers have to get younger and this year, that will be the case. There will be some good competition to stay on the squad as the transition really starts in full. Special teams may be an important factor as to who sticks. Davis and Izzo, while solid are older and will need to keep up the strong play to remain. This will be an interesting training camp to see who steps up and who falters.

DB-----(Harrison, Samual, Hobbs, Poteat, Gay, CScott, GScott, Wilson, Sanders, Ventrone, -Spann, -Warfield, -MMitchell, -AHawkins, -VBrown, -GWilliams, -TJones, -Andrews, -KJackson, -Herring) +Poole, +Starks, +Charlton, +Reid-----There will be great competition here, more so than in any other position on the team. If a vet, like Ty Law is brought in, the backfield will be stronger than it has in years. The other big question is whether Rodney will be ready to start the season or not. If he starts on PUP, Hawkins or Sanders will be needed to take a spot with Wilson and another will be needed to be the 3rd safety. The same can be said if Law is brought in. If that happens, the battle for the other starting CB will be between, Samuel, Gay and Hobbs. There are special teamers as well, both vets and rookies and that will also play a part in who stays. The last two years, the team has been decimated in the backfield even with last year's stronger camp team. But then injuries hit and it was again a rush to get players to fit. Some will be cut before camp, but it is possible that a UDFA pushes for a spot on the Practice Squad or even the 53. Many interesting story lines here, with surprises galore.

ST-----(JMiller, Paxton, -MGramatica, -Gostkowski, -Condo) +Vinatieri, +Steen, +Conway,+Gould, +Kopp-----They have the best long snapper in the game and one of the best punters, but one of the best kickers, AdamV has departed. Gostkowski will have the job to lose and MGrammatica can only battle and show the rook a great deal. Whoever emerges will boot for the team. There are large shoes to fill, but in time, SG may be the guy. Having a lot of pressure on him will make it even tougher. Here's hoping Brady's new weapons help the offense and take some of the weight off of him. He needs a cushion and breathing space to understand and learn. Condo will battle Paxton, but I am sure both Mills and Thomas will gets shots at snapping. Having an emergency long snapper is not a bad idea. A punter will be signed, to work with Miller.

A summation of the positions follows.

PosGrp--------Strength-----------------------------Competitiveness----------------Youth-----

-QB-------Wth added vet, very strong------Strong backup battle----------Even wth vet,much younger------

-RB--------Much stronger---------------------FB & backup competition-----With Pass +2, without +! yr-----

-WR-------Questionable;bit weaker--------Open battle for many spots---Younger by 1 or 2 years---------

-TE-------- Much stronger; need depth----Players needed to compete---Younger by 1 or 2 years---------

-OL-------Stronger; much depth--------------Fierce competition-------------From +2 to similar age------------

-DL----------Backups needed-------------------Big battle for backups-------Older by a year, but still young------------

-LB-------A bit weaker; backups key--------Fight for starter, backups------Younger, to possibly 3+ years------------

-DB-------With a vet OTT; strong group---CB starter(s), Backups battle---Younger, to possibly 3+ years------------

-ST----------Weaker in kicking----------------A bit with the K and LS only-----Much younger------------------

There will be fierce competition in all areas in camp and clearly, 4 groupings will be stronger than last year. Two will remain the same or only a bit stronger. Two others are questionable and possibly a bit weaker and the only group that will be weaker, will be the special teams; AdamV's departure and large shoes will not be easy to fill immediately. The team will be younger than last year and I think will be even more prepared than the 05 version.

Last year, it seemed getting to the camp number of 85 seemed harder than usual. Both RBs Charles and Birmingham were good training camp hopefuls, but did not even get there. This year, there may be harder decisions to make and I think some vets might be gone as well. It will be an interesting few weeks before camp.

As for other goings on, a big yawn was my reaction to Bonds's 715. It was going to happen and I really could care less about it. There are not many in sports that I truly have a deep dislike of, but Bonds is one of them. He's the Poster Child of Steroids and this era and what is so so wrong with baseball. The one thing I always liked about the sport were the records and how much they meant. In this Steroid-Drug age, they mean even less. Why after so many years has Bud Selig decided it was time to look at steroid use?? Did it have something to do with corporations pulling away from the drug mess?? Did the books telling truths about the use of steroids push the commish to do something?? Mitchell is one of integrity, but having ties to a baseball club and a company that is involved in sports smells bad. It is far too little, too late in my book. Why did the commish wait so long to investigate?? Why not earlier when the problem was a bit less rampant and less in the news?? Why didn't he do it to nip it in the bud before it sprouted and grew?? Were the home run battles so vital to baseball that to find out that they were tainted even worse?? They have dropped the ball and made throwing errors and I doubt they will get anyone out advancing.

Michael Matz, Barbaro's trainer was a true hero, saving 3 children from a burning plane. Having them attend the Derby was an incredible high as Barbaro won with a strong showing. It was incredibly sad that two weeks later, Barbaro's leg was fractured and his racing days were gone. I think all fans of the sport hope that Barbaro will recover and have a long life in the stud farm.

The playoffs go on, on the court…(go Miami!! Go Phoenix!!) as well as on the ice (snore…snore…) but there is a training camp starting in less than 60 days…and that is something I am looking forward to BIG TIME!!

 Stan Jaksina
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