By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 07, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH -- David Ortiz is now in the steroid Hall of Fame and the Red Sox are heading towards raking leaves in October instead of ground balls. Thank goodness for football.

The Patriots have been at it in training camp for about a week now, and from all reports you have seen and read, so far so good. The only thing to worry about Tom Brady thus far is the ridiculous contract Eli Manning signed the other day down in Gotham, where he is now outearning even his older brother. Randy Moss looks happy out there as he continues to work on his Eagle badge, Vince Wilfork has chosen to play rather than to go Asante Samuel on his team, and Matt Light, who is vastly underrated at the team comedian position, seems poised to take over for Mike Vrabel as team spokesperson on local television shows, even though Vrabel may not have an on-field replacement yet.

The AFC East looks to be a tough division once again in 2009. Miami is the returning champion, but they won't surprise anyone in '09 like they did in '08. Buffalo now has Terrell Owens, who may still not know how to spell "Cheektowaga" yet. The Jets have a new head coach, Rex Ryan, who talks like his dad but has shown no one yet if he knows how to coach like his dad, and that's not really saying much since his dad was much better as a defensive coordinator than being a big boss.

That leaves your Patriots, who are favored to win the whole thing in 2009, not just the division. The Patriots are still smarting from their failed attempt at going 19-0 two years ago, but never really got to wipe away that smarting last year thanks to Brady's knee injury. This year, the Patriots will be primed to not only return to the pinnacle of the NFL, but to put down talk of the Steelers being the real team of the decade and not the Patriots.

That said, here are what the Patriots will need to address in camp if they want to make a serious run at more Super glory in 2009.

Smoltz not making a good case for relying on old folks

Yes, this requires comparing sports, which really isn't a good idea, but it at least deserves some mention.

The John Smoltz era in Boston should be over after Thursday night's disaster in Yankee Stadium. Smoltz should be congratulated on his great career and for being a real professional to the end, but it is time for him to retire. The 42-year-old pitcher will be in Cooperstown in a few years, but he needs to end his career now. He is hurting the Red Sox more than he is helping them.

Will the Patriots wind up saying the same things about Joey Galloway, Fred Taylor or Shawn Springs?

Galloway was a teammate of Vrabel at Ohio State. In November this guy will turn 38 years old. He has been in the league since 1995, splitting his career almost equally with Seattle, Dallas and Tampa Bay. According to football-reference.com, his career is mostly compatible with John Stallworth, Andre Rison and Harold Carmichael. None of these three players were playing pro football at age 38. Galloway has no Pro Bowls nor All-Pro honors next to his name. Known mostly for his speed, his career numbers are good but not great.

Taylor was the top running back selected in the 1998 draft, the same year the Patriots took Robert Edwards. Taylor has had a great career with Jacksonville, made even better in recent years with the pairing of Maurice Jones-Drew. He has rushed for 11,271 yards in his career, 16th on the all-time list. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards seven times in his career. But at age 33, when most running backs are in sharp decline, how much gas does this guy have left in the tank?

Springs was the third player chosen in the 1997 draft. He, like Galloway, was a Buckeye teammate of Vrabel. Springs spent seven seasons in Seattle, then five in Washington. He has 32 career interceptions and made the Pro Bowl once. Springs is now 34 years old and has missed significant playing time in two of the last three seasons.

The Patriots are hoping that Galloway will claim the second wideout spot which will allow Wes Welker to go back to being a slot receiver, Taylor to push Laurence Maroney to produce better, and Springs to add veteran presence to a secondary decimated by retirements and attrition. Veteran smarts mean a lot, but as Smoltz is showing up at Fenway, they don't necessarily mean an upgrade on the field. These three guys will be under the microscope to see how much of a negative being long in the tooth is for them.

Vince more about player than trophy in these parts right now

All media members are clamoring for Ortiz to finally speak about his being on "the list". They need to shut up and let him handle it in his own way.

The same courtesy needs to be extended to Wilfork.

All this speculation about Wilfork staying or leaving the Patriots beyond 2009 is pointless and useless. Neither side will offer anything right now, period. Wilfork will help the team the best he can, and most likely be on his way after the season. The only thing worth mentioning is that at least Wilfork is not acting like Samuel, extorting a promise to not franchise him in return for one more year of service before hitting the free agent market.

Here is probably what is going on with Wilfork: The team has told him to report to camp, play ball and shut up. In return, the team won't franchise him at the end of the year. If Wilfork were in the team's long range plans, he'd've been locked up already and no one would be talking about Ron Brace being the nose tackle of the future or the team switching to a base 4-3 next year. Given the team's decline in quality linebackers and the understanding of the importance of the nose tackle in the 3-4, the Patriots might be heading in that direction, where Richard Seymour is the one who will finish his career as a Patriot and not Wilfork.

Burgess is now the new Vrabel, it seems

That photo session the other day with Pierre Woods, Gary Guyton and Shawn Crable mugging for the camera looks as silly and as stupid as Freddie Mitchell calling out the Patriots prior to their last Super Bowl win.

Bill Belichick showed that he has a ton of confidence in these guys replacing Vrabel at outside backer by trading for Derrick Burgess on Thursday. The Patriots sent two draft picks to the Raiders for the former NFL sack leader. Burgess, 31, who had been a down lineman in Oakland, now becomes the pass rushing complement to Adalius Thomas. Burgess is seen as a situational rusher, not as an every down linebacker, which is how he was used in Oakland with adverse results.

Crable was injured last year and has shown the Patriots nothing thus far. Woods is overrated as a backup linebacker. Guyton has some potential and is seen by some as the best of these three. The Patriots brought back Tully Banta-Cain, who had two lousy seasons in San Francisco after four decent seasons as a backup linebacker here. But Banta-Cain is not of starting caliber.

For all the talk of the secondary in decline, linebacker may turn out to be equally as troubling, especially with Vrabel now gone. Tedy Bruschi will probably be playing his final season, he and Jerod Mayo will hold down the inside. Burgess will be counted on to bring the rush along with Thomas. Banta-Cain knows the system and can fit right in. As for the other guys, they need to refocus and figure out how they can help the team, not how clownish they can be.

Brady "knee-ds" to be his old self

Naturally, all talk of a Patriot championship begins and ends with Brady. His knee will be scrutinized more closely than Bobby Orr's some 35 years ago. All reports thus far have Brady moving with good mobility, and nothing has come out thus far to cause any alarm.

But the real test will come when things get real. When Brady actually sees game action, that's when you will know how good his knee really is. Brady will likely see scant action in the preseason, as Kevin O'Connell will need plenty of reps and if Brady gets hurt again, it needs to be in a game that counts versus one that doesn't. Until then, no one, not even the Patriot brain trust, really knows how well Brady will be in 2009.

And if Brady plays the entire season afraid of getting hurt again, the Patriots are doomed. The Patriots will have some competition for Nick Kaczur at right tackle, and Kevin Faulk behaved himself this offseason. Blockers need to be more acutely aware of who it is they are protecting.

The post-Charlie Weis era turns a new chapter

Josh McDaniels, the replacement for Weis, is now the head coach of the Denver Broncos. All McDaniels has done so far is to drive his quarterback out of town and turn Bronco Nation into a bunch of scared legions. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick grooms McDaniels' successor, who will maybe take over in 2010. For now, McDaniels' successor as offensive coordinator is, well, Belichick, of course.

Belichick will basically run the offense in 2009, while quarterback coach Bill O'Brien is presumably being groomed to take over as offensive coordinator the following year. But Belichick will run the offense for now. Some folks may quiver at that thought, but Belichick may prove to be smarter at it than you think.

Belichick has been at the epicenter of two major quarterback controversies in his career. He deposed Bernie Kosar in Cleveland in favor of Vinny Testaverde. Then in New England, he installed Brady as the top quarterback when Drew Bledsoe was healthy enough to return following the vicious hit he took from Mo Lewis early in the 2001 season. Belichick was dead right on both counts, though he was vilified in Cleveland for dissing Kosar, who grew up in Cleveland and was a hometown favorite, and had to endure being called a liar by Bledsoe.

The point here is that Belichick knows offense better than you may think, even though his hallmark has always been defense. Still, look for Brady to call a lot of plays on the line this year while O'Brien learns the system and how to run the offense on his own. But the buck will stop with Belichick on both sides of the ball no matter what.


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