By: Bob George/
April 23, 2004

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski skip OTA
No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill

FOXBOROUGH -- What good is Corey Dillon if nobody can block for him?

Assuming that the Patriots won't face a preponderance of men like Julius Peppers during the coming year (great rush -- no run stop), Dillon will want some big guys to open up big holes for him. Over the last few years, the priority of the offensive line is to keep pass rushers away from Tom Brady. Whatever Antowain Smith gained on the ground was considered gravy, so to speak.

Dillon can bring a whole new dimension to the Patriot offense, a dimension not seen since the Jets pilfered Curtis Martin six years ago. The Patriots have a high-octane running back for a change, and a renewed focus on the running game is in order. This is especially urgent now that the Patriots no longer count Damien Woody as one of their own anymore.

So, what will Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli do over the weekend in the Patriot War Room? Probably anything but draft offensive line.

With Dillon on board, the biggest need area of the Patriots has been taken care of. Dillon will pair with the resigned Kevin Faulk to form a formidable backfield combination, with one man focusing on rushing and the other on receiving. Belichick could also try and grab a premium back early on just in case Dillon is more nutcase than saviour, but for now, running back seems to be okay.

This makes offensive line the next area of greatest need on the Patriots, but Belichick may look to other ways to make upgrades. In the Belichick Era, the Patriots have drafted four tackles: Matt Light, Kenyatta Jones, Adrian Klemm and Greg Randall. Light has turned out well, but Jones was let go after trying to spill boiling water on his agent, Klemm has been injured most of the time, and Randall fell out of favour with Belichick due to a failed conditioning test and is now a Houston Texan. Belichick has never drafted a guard as Patriot GM. Belichick seems to favour veteran help versus unproven rookies, and that trend is likely to continue this weekend.

And that is a shame, because the Patriots need the most upgrading on the offensive line. It's obvious that the Patriots have no shot at Iowa's massive Robert Gallery, but they might have a shot at Shawn Andrews of Arkansas at 21, rated the second best tackle in the draft. A natural right tackle, he could come in and challenge Tom Ashworth for the starting job. Andrews is not exactly a pup, weighing in at a whopping 366 pounds. If he is gone at 21, Jacob Rogers of USC might be a fall back plan.

And if Belichick should buck trends and take a guard, BC's Chris Snee might be a nice pick at 32. Some mock drafts have the Patriots taking Snee at this position. With Alabama's Justin Smiley and Miami's Vernon Carey probably gone by then, Snee would be the logical pick here. Some mocks project Snee as a second rounder, but if the Patriots are serious about bulking up the O-line, they may not want to wait.

If they go tackle and guard in round one, they would likely go for either wide receiver, linebacker or cornerback in the second round. Many reports say that Belichick is interested in dipping into the deep wideout pool just to find someone who is tall and can become the "top receiver". With the final pick in the second round, the Patriots might look at Ohio State's Michael Jenkins or Syracuse's Johnnie Morant. Both of these men are 6-4, but Jenkins is projected as a number two wideout and Morant brings some personal baggage to the table. Belichick would go linebacker to help deal with the aging corps he currently has, and cornerback for insurance if Ty Law leaves the team as is his want.

Another scenario has the Patriots pulling off a cute deal with Miami and Washington. The Patriots send their second first rounder and their remaining second rounder to Miami for their first rounder (20), then the Patriots take 20 and 21 and send them to Washington for their top pick (5). The Patriots use that pick to take Miami safety Sean Taylor, touted by some as the best player in the entire draft and one of the best safeties to come down the pike in many years. It has been reported that Belichick covets Taylor, and plucking this guy would send Eugene Wilson back to the corner, and Law on his way out of town.

All that said, here is how this weekend will likely turn out.

It has never been shown that Belichick will pull the trigger on a daring deal which would cause the Patriots to move up into the top ten. It is therefore unlikely that Taylor will be coming to Foxborough. Belichick is more into stockpiling picks and shows more of a propensity to trade down. In addition, Belichick has made the art of picking second-tier talent and turning it into championship material somewhat akin to Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Don't look for a blockbuster trade from Belichick, unless it is in the downward direction.

If Belichick hangs on to picks 21, 32 and 63, he will probably go nose tackle (Marcus Tubbs of Texas?), linebacker (Michael Boulware of Florida State?) and wide receiver. If LSU's Michael Clayton is available at 32, Belichick might snatch him up at that point. If Miami LB Jonathan Vilma is somehow available at 21, look for Belichick to grab him there.

After the second round, Belichick and Pioli will merely do the "best athlete available" routine. The Patriots can simply draft for depth, and act like little kids in a candy store. Once the second round is over, much of the draft suspense for the Patriots will be gone.

Yet we still advocate that Belichick go offensive line in the first round. He probably won't, but here's why he should.

Belichick need not draft wide receiver at all. Why go for a tall wideout when the shorties are working just fine? In Deion Branch, David Givens, Bethel Johnson and Troy Brown, that's all Belichick and Charlie Weis need. All the tall people (Tony Simmons, Donald Hayes, Charles Johnson) were busts. The Patriot offense works great with the little guys.

As for linebacker, the only reason to address this area early is if Rosevelt Colvin cannot come back this year. Otherwise, the Patriots are okay with a few more years from Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and perhaps Tully Banta-Cain at outside, and Tedy Bruschi on inside. Roman Phifer is an age concern as is Ted Johnson, so perhaps take a later round pick (or two) here at inside backer.

Nose tackle? I have one word for you. Tractor. Keith Traylor means that Belichick does not need to spend a first round pick on a nose tackle.

Simply stated, it would be surprising if Ashworth and Russ Hochstein were part of the long-term future for the Patriots. These guys are backups who did very well in relief roles in the playoffs. Hochstein will get a challenge from Stephen Neal in training camp, and Klemm will get one more shot to wrest the starting right tackle job from Ashworth. Or, Belichick could quash these potential battles and simply bring in first rounders to settle things.

If 2004 is anything like 2003, predicting is a waste of time. Some team will screw up the draft. Archie Manning is trying to do just that all by himself. For all we know, Belichick will take his first round picks and trade them both down for a 2005 gold mine.

But Patriot Nation can take comfort in the fact that their team is the reigning champs, and that they could trade their entire draft away and still be Super Bowl faves.