By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 23, 2010

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Bill Belichick is forward thinking, sometimes to a fault.

One of the most talked about elements of Training Camp 2010 was the removal of all pictures and reminders of the successes of the great decade of the 2000s. The Patriot head coach ordered all the pictures of the great players of last decade, either in the stadium or behind the scenes, to be taken down. It was time, the coach thought, to have this current bunch of Patriots make their own legacy and to not rest on any laurels.

It's good thinking in one sense, but rather disappointing as well. For a franchise which had to endure years and years of laughingstock status, all tangible symbols of the great run of the Patriots in the 2000s is a marvel for all to behold, and an inspiration for those who try and continue that great legacy, a legacy that is among the finest dynastic runs in league history. But Belichick has a point when he tells this current group of players to go and make their own history, because what happened yesterday has no bearing on today. In other words, they wrap fish in yesterday's newspapers, so it's time to forget the past and move on to a new Patriotic era.

Well, some of us still like to reminisce, so…

If you could come up with a 53-man squad featuring the best of the best from last decade for the Patriots, it might look something like this. To make a quick qualifying comment, players who are on this team played in the entire decade and may have only been involved in the one Super Bowl loss (XLII), but still deserve a spot on this team.

QUARTERBACK Starter: Tom Brady. Reserves: Matt Cassel, Damon Huard (emergency third quarterback). Brady's career may be scrutinized henceforth stemming from the one Super Bowl loss he sustained as he failed to complete a perfect season, and whether or not he can lead the Patriots to any more titles before he heads off to Canton. Brady has enough jack to get him into the Hall of Fame right now, but he wants more than just the three Vinces he already has. As he once said, "My favorite Super Bowl is the next one!"

RUNNING BACK Starters: Antowain Smith, Heath Evans. Reserves: Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, Patrick Pass. Smith had a longer tenure and a longer run of excellence than Dillon. Faulk is the best third down running back in the NFL and has been for many years. Pass fills out the lineup here based on longevity and will be a special teams stalwart. Faulk will also return kicks.

WIDE RECEIVERS Starters: Deion Branch, David Givens. Reserves: Troy Brown, Randy Moss, David Patten, Wes Welker. Branch and Givens were the best tandem, though Moss has the big numbers from 2007. Brown comes in as slot receiver in 3 and 4 receiver packages. Patten has longevity and some moments of brilliance. Brown will also serve in kick returns, and may also play some defensive back as well.

TIGHT ENDS Starter: Daniel Graham. Reserves: Benjamin Watson, Christian Fauria. Graham starts in one tight end package because of his superior blocking skills and because the tight end receiving skills were downplayed in the 2000s in general on the Patriots. Fauria is terrific in recovering onside kicks, lest we forget.

OFFENSIVE LINE Starters: Matt Light, Joe Andruzzi, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Tom Ashworth. Reserves: Grant Williams, Greg Robinson-Randall, Russ Hochstein, Mike Compton, Logan Mankins. Over the years, right tackle hasn't been one of the Patriots' solid positions, and Nick Kaczur is currently struggling to keep his job. Andruzzi starts over Mankins because of his Super Bowl pedigree. And can anyone forget the nice job Hochstein did against Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII? Compton could snap the ball in a shotgun, Damien Woody could not.

DEFENSIVE LINE Starters: Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour. Reserves: Bobby Hamilton, Ted Washington, Jarvis Green. Top to bottom, an elite group if there ever was one. This assumes a 3-4 base, though the Patriots did use a base 4-3 in Super Bowl XXXVI. Green's pinch hitting for Seymour when the latter was injured in Super Bowl XXXVIII was among the most noteworthy for the team last decade.

LINEBACKERS Starters: Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel. Reserves: Rosevelt Colvin, Roman Phifer, Larry Izzo, Matt Chatham. Another elite group. Assumes a 3-4 base, like the down linemen. Colvin has to be on this team despite losing a season to a hip injury. Izzo and Chatham are more needed on special teams, and Izzo was one of the league's finest on kick coverage throughout the decade.

DEFENSIVE BACKS Starters: Ty Law and Asante Samuel at cornerback, Rodney Harrison at strong safety, Eugene Wilson at free safety. Reserves: Randall Gay, Otis Smith, Tyrone Poole, Lawyer Milloy, Tebucky Jones. To be able to replace an injured Law with Gay and a disgruntled Milloy with Harrison is why no player ever complained about the Patriot Way. These guys were all solid at their positions, but Wilson was injury prone and almost totally reliant on what Harrison told him to do. Letting Samuel walk was simply wrong, and Harrison made the Milloy disaster turn into a positive.

KICKER Adam Vinatieri. Again, the Patriot Way worked nicely when you are able to replace the best clutch kicker in league history with someone even better. But Belichick did not trust Stephen Gostkowski in Super Bowl XLII, and we're still not sure why. Vinatieri, on the other hand, carved his own unique league legacy as one of the bridge players between the Belichick era and the Bill Parcells era. Letting Vinatieri bolt to Indianapolis was as bad as Carlton Fisk putting on a White Sox uniform, but it was NFL business at its ugliest and it seemed that that was the only way the Patriots could avoid overpaying for a kicker. While the Patriot kicking game today is better than ever, at times it's hard to see Gostkowski out there and not Vinatieri.

PUNTER Josh Miller. His punt to pin the Eagles back in the late stages of Super Bowl XXXIX was enough right there. But Ken Walter was too inconsistent and was actually benched for one game in 2003. Miller had a great 2004 season for the Patriots, but a punter on a team which features Tom Brady on offense won't get a lot of work or be counted on heavily to affect the fortunes of the team.

SPECIAL TEAMS Lonie Paxton. Paxton had a long run as long snapper, and showed everyone that this is a position that cannot be taken lightly. Bring in Izzo, Chatham, Faulk, Brown, Pass and others and you can piece together some nice return and coverage units, as long as Brad Seely is patrolling the sidelines as their boss.

One other thing Belichick should do is to bring back the stud coaches that helped him along the way, most notably Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, along with Seely. Some of the other guys like Dante Scarnecchia and Pepper Johnson, he still has. As for Eric Mangini, he could coach the secondary, but he and Belichick may need an intermediary in order to communicate with each other. Mike Woicik needs to run the weight room, and of course, Berj Najarian needs to advise Belichick on how to talk to the media.

There. What a team, folks. Your New England Patriots in all their finest glory. Move forward, yes, but looking back once in a while is not always a bad thing.

And it sure is a terrific view.


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