By: Derek Havens
Still young into the 2010 season, the New England Patriots have already faced multiple obstacles. With only the pre-season completed, the Patriots have already lost two defensive starters from the 2009 season to the injured reserve list and have plenty of questions heading into Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Patriots have already lost CB Leigh Bodden for the season, so it’s time to see if the young guys can step in and carry them through 2010. (PHOTO: Icon/SMI)
Ty Warren was the first to go, weakening an already shallow defensive line that struggled after the departure of Richard Seymour. Then on the first day of roster cuts, Leigh Bodden was placed on IR – which is disappointing after the club just rewarded him with a new 4 year deal earlier in the off-season. The move was a surprise to many fans and analysts throughout the league, but through 37 practices, nagging injuries to his knee and shoulder ultimately disabled him for the year.
Brandon McGowan, although not a starter, played a large role in the team’s defense last year, playing in 72 percent of the snaps. His placement on IR again hurts a very young secondary. The average age of the defense is now 27.5 years old, and losing three savvy veterans in Bodden, McGowan and Warren will only make this defense that much more inexperienced. Not only will this defensive unit start 5 or 6 first or second year players on Sunday, but they also find themselves with the added pressure of potentially deciding the fate of the course of their season.
After an early exit of the playoffs last season, the team seemed to be retooling and reloading. Bill Belichick’s plan was to take more control of his defense, which let the Ravens “pound and ground offense” render them helpless in that ugly game in Foxboro earlier this year. Now a defense obviously in transition, for the first time they need leaders on and off the field.
However, there are a lot of young players on the defense that hold great potential. If these players can live up to it on the field, this could end up being one of the NFL’s best defenses and surprise a lot of people. To this point there’s obviously plenty of doubt after Rams QB Sam Bradford carved the unit in the third week of pre-season, so it seems there is still work to do. But if these young players can put in the time and develop into legitimate defenders, the Patriots defense could be one of the more dominant squads in the coming years.
Other than the loss of offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, the team has not been hit as hard with the injury bug on the offensive side of the football. The unfortunate holdout of OL Logan Mankins has been the only real issue for the offense. It’s a dispute that seems to have no resolution in sight, but after losing Kaczur Dan Connelly has done a great job stepping in and playing well overall. The real test will be at the start of the season, when teams will be game planning and targeting the middle of the offensive line.
Meanwhile with reports that Tom Brady is close to signing, most can assume a deal is in the near future. Randy Moss briefly discussed his feelings for a new contract, but being in a contract year the expectations are he’ll step up and play well. These two players are the lock and key of the offense, and hopefully both can go out to the field and perform despite their uncertain financial situations, with Moss’ future being the only one really in question at this point.
Although the team has faced many challenges so far, the season is still obviously young. How the Patriots respond to these obstacles will say a lot about who these players are and a lot about the future of this franchise. Even though I see this team having a good season, I could see this team going 11-5; but I could also see things turning out the other way. It’s tough because there are so many unknowns facing them, so I have to say I am intrigued to see how they respond.
If this team responds positively and these young players grow, this could be a very deep and talented roster both this year for years to come. I’m excited for the start of the NFL season, as I know many of you are as well. So let’s keep our heads up and hopefully the Patriots can respond the way we all want them to.