By: Ian Logue/
April 22, 2005

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

FOXBORO, MA -- For the first time in recent years, the NFL Draft doesn't exactly hold a lot of intrigue for New England Patriots fans.

After all, when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, receivers like Deion Branch and David Givens, along with a running back like Corey Dillon, the flashy positions that the majority of people will be talking about this weekend aren't exactly top needs here in New England.

The obvious needs are cornerback and linebacker, with the latter being the most glaring need with the uncertainty surrounding Tedy Bruschi's future. After suffering a mild stroke after the Pro Bowl, Bruschi's bad luck may force the team to finally turn their focus to a position that hasn't exactly seen much youth in recent years. With veterans like Roman Phifer, Rosevelt Colvin, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, and Mike Vrabel, up until now there hasn't been much need to start a youth movement. The last high draft pick the team spent on a linebacker was Ohio State standout Andy Katzenmoyer back in the Pete Carroll era, and Katzenmoyer's career was cut short by a neck injury which lead to his retirement.

During Belichick's tenure he hasn't really addressed the position in the draft. He's selected just three players, with all of them coming in the seventh-round. Only one, Tully Banta-Cain, made it onto the roster.

With Phifer's release and Bruschi's injury, along with the fact the rest of the veterans aren't getting any younger, it would be hard to believe that the team won't address that position this year. There is certainly a case to be made that the team could use some help at cornerback, but right now the team is definitely in need of addressing a position that is in desperate need of some younger players. They got off to a good start during the offseason by signing Wesley Mallard and Monty Beisel, but the funny thing is that they've drafted players who have become starters at every other position on defense except for linebacker in recent years. Needless to say this would definitely be a good year to draft one.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told the media earlier this week that there are a wide range of players to pick from at that position, but the question will be whether or not they can find a player who can fill their needs.

"I think you have some bigger guys, like [Adam] Seward is a bigger, 250 [pound] type guy. People like that,” Belichick told reporters earlier in the week. "And go through the Derrick Johnsons who are a little more athletic, could possibly play outside linebacker in a 4-3 system, down to players that would probably be considered undersized but are fast, have some coverage skill, are much better athletes than the bigger group and they all can play the same position, depending on what defense you want to put them in.”

" I think that there is definitely a range and that's why I am saying, if you are looking for a player that can run 4.5 and that's what the criteria is based on your coverage scheme and defensive coverage responsibilities, then it's going to be hard to find a guy that's 260 pounds and does that. You are going to be looking for a different type of player than a player who is a run-stopping guy that can play inside, that can take on guards, that can down after down handle big people, you are looking at different players.”

According to Belichick, Beisel is slated to be a first down type of player who he feels is more than big enough to take on offensive guards, while Mallard is a former 6th round pick who was drafted in 2002 and is considered by some to be nothing more than a special team player.

That leaves them with a limited group heading into next season, and they definitely need to work on adding some depth. However Belichick says that the team won't draft based on position alone, saying that there's no point in drafting based on a position since it won't be good for either side if the player can't fill the role.

"I don't think if you start drafting by need or try to come out of the draft and say, ‘Well, we needed and guard and we got a guard. We needed a receiver and we got a receiver'," said Belichick. "But, if they can't perform and fill that role for you competitively on the field, then you really haven't done anything, so it still comes back to drafting players that can be productive in your system and that is what we will continue to do, not based on any particular player's status or anything else"

At linebacker the most popular potential candidate includes University of Florida linebacker Channing Crowder, a player whom the Patriots had in for a visit. Crowder is considered to be one of the best linebackers in this draft, although there are some mock drafts that have him being taken before the Patriots could have a shot at him.

As far as the cornerback spot is concerned, with Ty Law off to free agency, only Asante Samuel is left as a sure candidate to start next year. That leaves the Patriots with some decisions to make. They obviously must feel pretty confident in Duane Starks after giving up a third-round selection for him in a trade to Arizona back in February. Some theories even have them taking another safety in the first round and moving Eugene Wilson over to cornerback full time, but the problem with that is the fact he's become such a heavy hitter with Rodney Harrison that it would be tough to give him up at a position he's become so good at playing.

If you take a look at all the mock drafts online the majority of them favor the Patriots addressing the defensive backfield in the first round on Saturday. Whether or not that comes to pass is another story. For now fans will simply have to wait until very late in the day on Saturday to see which way the Patriots end up going.

Needless to say it will make the day interesting, but it definitely won't make for "must see" television.