Who will replace Willie?
Seems like we have 3 or 4 players on the roster right now capable of taking Willie McGinest's spot at LOLB. Who do you think will emerge as the starter next season?
Here are the candidates:
A former California Golden Bear, going into his fourth NFL season. Banta-Cain was selected in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, and was labeled a 'work-in-progress' by the Patriots' coaching staff. Since joining the team, Tully has been a regular contributor on special teams, and has logged an increasing amount of playing time with the regular defense, spelling both McGinest and Rosevelt Colvin, and in 5 and 6-linebacker sets that Bill Belichick occasionally runs in passing situations. Over the last two seasons, Tully has logged 37 total tackles, 2 sacks and an interception.
The brother of former NFL guard Travis Claridge, who died earlier this year, Ryan Claridge was selected in the fifth round by the Patriots, out of UNLV in 2005. A dark horse pick, considered by many to hold more value than his draft position indicated, Claridge was known at UNLV for his leadership ability and his instincts. At 6'2", 259 pounds, Ryan has prototypical size for a 3-4 linebacker, and can play both inside and outside. However, it is difficult to know just how far along he is, because his rookie season was ended by a leg injury in training camp.
Ostensibly scouted by the Patriots on the same trip down to Florida in which they grew enamored with receiver Chad Jackson, Mincey is, like Banta-Cain, another former defensive end who is a project at linebacker in Belichick's 3-4 defense. Known as an aggressive pass rusher who didn't always have the speed to get to the quarterback during his time in Florida, Mincey's greatest asset is his hustle. It's hard not to like Mincey who, despite having limited speed and agility, is always making an effort to get to the ball carrier. It will serve him well in the NFL, where effort is at a premium, over natural talent. However, for the moment Mincey seems to be at a disadvantage in the race for a starting job, having never played linebacker, and thus needing to improve his skills as a stand-up edge rusher and in coverage before he can really contribute.
Pierre Woods was a highly-recruited prospect entering the University of Michigan, and was considered an early Day 2 pick on many draft boards. However, concerns about a possibly poor work ethic that resulted in him underachieving in college kept teams from drafting him at all. A lot of people were ecstatic to learn that the Patriots had signed Woods as an undrafted free agent because of the sheer upside he has. Woods' measurables are terrific. He's 6'5", 250 pounds and has posted 40 times in the high 4.6/low 4.7 range. At Michigan, he logged snaps at both linebacker and defensive end, and was considered a force as a pass rusher from both positions. However, despite his athletic talent, Woods is not known as being especially instinctive, needing to learn not to overpursue and bite on play fakes, as he was known to do in college. He must also add bulk in order to shed blockers at the pro level. His work ethic, as previously noted, was a concern that turned off many pro scouts, but so far he has earned praise for his effort at the Patriots' rookie minicamp, and seems to understand the shape-up-or-ship-out attitude of NFL coaches, particularly Bill Belichick. If Woods can show enough of an improvement to his game during camp, he will not only make the roster, but also challenge for a starting job.
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A.Samuels #1 fan