Young Players Continue to Make an Impact

Derek Havens
October 13, 2010 at 11:11am ET

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As the 2010 season plays out, the youth injected roster of the New England Patriots is forced to grow on the fly. First and second year players have had an impact on this team more than ever in the last few years in various roles. Whether these players are starters or contributing in on sub packages, they are making their mark on this franchise.

While not all of these players have been consistent, many of these players have shown both flashes of brilliance and made bone-headed decisions.  That is the harsh reality of this team and while it may not always be pretty; this comes with the strategy of reloading with out rebuilding.

Many may question what the term “reloading” might be compared to the dreaded “rebuilding” phase sports franchises will go through from time-to-time. To me, the difference goes down to the foundation of the roster and team as a whole. If a team is truly rebuilding, the franchise is looking at a new coaching staff, front office personnel, young or new QB, and even new ownership at times.

While the Patriots are not rebuilding by any stretch, do not fool yourself, this team has been undergoing serious roster turnover throughout the past few seasons. A move that inevitably came with the veteran laden team the Patriots represented during the early part of the millennium.

This current rookie class has already seen playing time that far exceeds rookie players in the past. This of course, has a strong correlation to both the talent on the roster and retooling strategy the coaching staff has chosen to deploy.

Teams continue to go after rookie CB Devin McCourty (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
Devin McCourty is the only player to participate in every defensive snap this season. While he has struggled in all four games, he is being targeted, and 31 other NFL teams will continue to go after him until he proves he can make stops consistently. However, he is already one of the teams best tacklers, contributing well in both pass and run situations. Lets not forget, he was supposed to have a veteran corner in Leigh Bodden on the opposite side of him to help the transition into the pro level.

Aaron Hernandez, is the youngest player in the NFL today, and already has been placed with high expectations. And why would he not be?  He's been targeted 20 times in the first 4 games, making 18 receptions, and maximizing the play with yards-after-catch.

I will not go through the entire roster that holds over two dozen rookies and sophomores in that much detail but, there are many players contributing in all three phases of the game. Gronkowski has been solid, Tate has been explosive, Patrick Chung is emerging as a playmaking safety that can deliver in both defense and special teams.

While Darius Butler has had hit a sophomore slump of sorts, he had a strong rookie campaign and I still feel confident he can bounce back. Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham have shown some signs they can contribute but they still have a lot of work to do; in fact, all of these guys do.

The reality of that statement is, it’s ok. We are four games in to this season and off to a 3 -1 start. These rookies have played four games, and second year players continue to develop. There is no need to make knee jerk reactions based on a game performance.

These young players are under the microscope on a daily basis because this team lacks the veteran leadership and elite talent of the past few years. Most fans and analysts hold this organization to a high standard because of their success this past decade, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick.

This team will improve overall in the long run, whether or not they make the playoffs and become a contender this season will be determined by how the team responds to this tough schedule upcoming (Ravens, Pittsburgh Chargers, Vikings). There will be both good and bad days for these young players ahead. However, I think we all have a lot to look forward too judging on what we have seen so far.