By: Russ Goldman
Derrick Burgess being released by the New England Patriots certainly came as a surprise on Saturday. I actually believed he would be an important part of the Pats defense this season. However, now that I’ve had a day to think about it, I’ve realized I should have seen this coming. I now also see his release as a blessing in disguise for the Patriots.
Burgess turned out to be a disappointment at outside linebacker. His inability to get to the passer and stop the run definitely showed itself during the pre-season. I think Bill Belichick finally saw enough to make the decision to move on after he was exposed as a liability in the Giants game. He did not set the edge on one play, and Giants running back Brandon Jacobs was able to run right by him. Plus, he showed no ability to put pressure on the quarterback.
I really should have seen this coming sooner. Looking back, Burgess showed very little last season, and this pre-season he continued his poor play after he missed the first couple of weeks reportedly pondering his future. Now it’s been made for him, and I am actually glad this decision was made.
I think the key to the entire defense this season will be the outside linebacker position opposite Tully Banta-Cain. I have mentioned previously that Banta-Cain deserves more respect for the job he continues to do with the Patriots. He is not the problem. It is on the opposite side of the defense that the Patriots are struggling with getting production from.
In the Patriots glory years they had balance at the outside linebacker position. In the 2003 season they had Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest. Later on in the decade they had Vrabel and Roosevelt Colvin. These three players were able to set the edge against the run, and get after the quarterback in passing situations. In the 3-4 Patriots defense I think this outside linebacker position is crucial.
It pains me to give this example, but for all the criticism that the Colts get on defense they do a better job rushing the passer. In their 4-3 scheme it is predicated on the defensive ends of the Colts in getting to the quarterback. The reason their scheme works is the pressure the Colts receive from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Last season Freeney had 13.5 sacks, and from the opposite side Mathis had 9.5 sacks. This kind of pressure makes life easier for their defensive backs, since the quarterback has less time to make his reads and throw the football.
For all the complaining I hear about the Pats missing Vrabel, I don’t think he is the player they really miss. It is actually Roosevelt Colvin, and his production opposite the position that Banta-Cain plays that is really hurting the Patriots. Say what you want about Colvin, but I thought he did his job well while he was here. In the end his injuries caught up with him, and now the Patriots desperately need to fill his position.
With all that said, I see the Burgess release as a blessing in disguise. He was not going to be your future at outside linebacker. It is time to usher in the youth movement for the Patriots, and I say take this situation as an opportunity to throw Jermaine Cunningham and Marques Murrell into the fire and see what happens.
Cunningham has not played in the pre-season. Most feel that the Burgess release might be an indication that the second round draft pick could finally be ready to see some game action. Only the Patriots’ coaches really know what they have in Cunningham, since the public and the media really have not seen much of him in all the practices this preseason. If he is healthy and the coaches think he is ready, I say let him on to the field.
If the Pats go in the direction of Murrell, I am certainly not against giving him a shot to see what he can do. He is young and only 25 years old. He has shown moments during the pre-season, and again – if the coaches believe in him – then they should let him loose to see what he can do against the Bengals.
In the end, it’s a good thing that youth is on at the outside linebacker position opposite Banta-Cain. Let’s see the young players try to grow into the role. We know what we had in Burgess. Now it’s time to find out what we have in Cunningham and Murrell.
Even if it is difficult to admit, the New England Patriots are going through a rebuilding process on the defensive side of the ball. It is a work in progress that will have its growing pains. But, it is time to unleash it to the league next Sunday. I can live with taking steps backwards to make a leap forward. The only way to do this is to actually let the young players see live action and learn from their mistakes.
I think their is talent in players like Cunningham, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, and Brandon Spikes. If this youth movement is in effect from the beginning of the season, we could see dividends after Thanksgiving when it is really needed.
Like I’ve said, let’s embrace the young because I think they are the future of the New England Patriots.
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