By: Bob George/BosSports.net
May 01, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH -- It's simple. You want a replacement for Tom Brady? Get a Michigan Man.

Both Brady and Ryan Mallett can say that they used to play for Lloyd Carr. Brady was behind Brian Griese on the depth chart when the latter led Michigan to a 21-16 victory in the 1997 Rose Bowl over Ryan Leaf's Washington State Cougars. Brady would battle Drew Henson for the starting job over the next three seasons, but would wind up 20-5 as the starting quarterback in Ann Arbor and a perfect record in bowl games. On the other hand, Mallett was there at the end of the Carr era in Ann Arbor, including an unspeakable 34-32 loss to Appalachian State to begin the 2007 season, Carr's last as Michigan head coach.

Michigan was ranked number 5 in the 2007 preseason poll, but losses to App State and Oregon, combined with late season losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, drove Carr to retirement. Michigan was able to induce West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez to forsake his cozy job in Morgantown to come to the pressure cooker in Ann Arbor. Mallett, a pure pocket passer, had to transfer, as he did not fit Rodriguez's offense. Mallett transferred to Arkansas and played out the rest of his college days in Fayetteville.

Under former Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Petrino, Mallett's Razorback squad improved every year from 2008 to 2010. Arkansas finished the 2010 season at 10-2 and got a Sugar Bowl invite, resulting in a 31-26 loss to Ohio State. Mallett's stats got progressively better after leaving Michigan, with a pass completion rate of just under 65 percent and 3,869 yards passing in 2010 and a college passer rating of 163.6.

The knock on Mallett is that he has had numerous off-field issues. The Patriots have shown that in recent years, they have been willing to take on potential high-maintenance young stars (Brandon Spikes, for example) and turn them into Boy Scouts. The Patriots are well known for having that kind of structure, and Bill Belichick certainly knows how to bend players to fit his system, or cut them loose if need be.

Now, if Mallett is going to be the eventual replacement for Brady, we now know who will be protecting him.

With Nate Solder being taken on Thursday in the first round to become the presumptive left tackle heir to Matt Light, the Patriots made an interesting selection on Saturday in the fifth round. The Patriots selected TCU tackle Marcus Cannon, which despite him being a tackle, could signal that the Patriots intend to part ways with Logan Mankins. Cannon was projected as a low first-high second round pick by most analysts. But Cannon has been battling testicular cancer, and the somewhat confusing probability stats being thrown out there is that in about a month or two, it will be learned whether Cannon will have an 80-90 percent chance of being 100% cancer-free. Cannon is huge (6'5", 358 pounds) and has quick feet, but may be put at the guard position and thus be there to replace Mankins if he intends to bolt the Patriots like he seems bent on doing.

This would project a line that would look like this, from left to right: Nate Solder, Dan Connally, Dan Koppen, Marcus Cannon, and Sebastian Vollmer. With Dante Scarnecchia there to do the molding and sculpting, it is not a reach to assume that good things lie ahead for the Patriots on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage. Koppen could possibly be replaced down the road, as he is signed only through 2011. He turns 32 in September, so he bears watching when this season is over.

Not only will the quarterback be protected, but lots of holes may be opened up for lots of running backs.

The Patriots, assuming Kevin Faulk makes a full recovery from his 2010 injury, are chock full of guys in the offensive backfield and have tons of options at hand. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had the first 1,000-yard rushing campaign by a Patriot since Corey Dillon, and Danny Woodhead was a pleasant surprise in filling in for Faulk on third down situations. But Belichick loaded up on young backs, sending word that perhaps the days of Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor (who may retire) as Patriots may be numbered.

The Patriots on Friday took two running backs, one of which relates more to Green-Ellis and the other relating to Faulk. Shane Vereen of California may be the next attempt at finding the home run hitter that Laurence Maroney never was. Vereen didn't get near the press that Alabama running back Mark Ingram got, but his numbers are good ones: 5.1 career rushing average at Cal, with 1,167 yards rushing in 2010. He left Cal as a junior and figures to push Green-Ellis for playing time.

In the third round, the Patriots took LSU back Stevan Ridley. He is built like Faulk (5'11", 225 pounds), and also attended the same college as Faulk. Ridley looks more like a situational back than an everydown back, so trying to work Ridley in with Faulk and Woodhead will present Belichick with some very pleasant problems.

The Patriots also opted for some more depth at the cornerback position, which won't appease those experts and fans who want more pass rushers but might pay dividends in other areas. Leading off the second round on Friday, the Patriots selected Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Dowling is 6'1" and just under 200 pounds, and projects out as a Devin McCourty clone. If this be true, the Patriots would have a young cornerback tandem for quite some time. This also means that either Darius Butler or Leigh Bodden isn't a part of the future for the Patriots, and Jonathan Willhite's days are also most likely numbered.

Belichick almost completely ignored the glaring need for pass rushers and defensive linemen with his last three picks, drafting for more depth and value. The second fifth round pick went for Marshall tight end Lee Smith, who projects to be nothing more than a third tight end behind Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. In the sixth round, the Patriots took Markell Carter, a linebacker from Central Arkansas, and finished things by taking TCU defensive back Malcolm Williams. Neither Carter nor Williams attended the combine, so little is known about these two guys.

At some point, the Patriots will address the defensive front seven. Ty Warren will be back, and Vince Wilfork is still one of the best in the game at nose tackle. But if Belichick thinks that Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham are the future at outside linebacker, he may be seeing things that the rest of us aren't. And Gerard Warren is going to be 33 in July.

But the big news is that the grooming begins. Brady and Mallett can both say that they played for Carr. That's a good place to start.


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