....Well with a week to go I thought I'd summarize my preseason thoughts....such that they are. its been a rather chaotic preseason with what seemed like a lot more downs than ups. But the single most glaring impression one gets after 6 weeks and 40 odd practices is that you would have to go back to 2001 to find a Pats team that engendered as many question marks as this team. Lets break it down. Offense: QB- I think we are demonstrably better at the most critical position on the field. Not only has Brady looked sharper and more comfortable in the pocket, Brian Hoyer for the first time (IMHO) looks like he could be counted on to come in and do an adequate job as back up. Every chance he got to work with the ones he seemed to move the ball. i'm very happy with this duo going into the season. - UPGRADE RB - Not much to say. At least at this point we will have 5 HEALTHY RBs. We couldn't say that for most of last season. I know individually they don't look like much, but as a group, for what the pats want them to do, I think we will be OK. Think of how we use the running game back in the days of ASmith. He was a guy who NEVER averaged 4 ypc, but was effective enough to give our offense balance and get the tough yardage to move the chains and score TDs on the GL. And remember this was in a time where our passing game wasn't nearly as accomplished. NEUTRAL TE- I think we went 3 for 3 in the TE position. Crumpler is the best blocker we've had at that position since Graham, and Gronk might eventually be better than both. Both Gronk and Crumpler have been revelations as receivers, while Hernandez has been as good as advertized. These 3 addition will not only help the Red Zone offense it will have a very positive affect on the running game regardless of who carries the ball. BIG UPGRADE OL- Mankins is clearly a loss, but Connolly seems like he's been adequate, and fortunately a drop off at LG will not critically effect the total offense. However the loss of BOTH Mankins and Kaczar greatly reduces the depth we had at the positions. The fact that BOTH Connolly and Neal missed the last pre season game didn't fill me with confidence about their ability to make it through and entire season. i think Volmer will be an upgrade at RT and the OL will still be a good one. Compared to last season its a DOWNGRADE WR - WE are way ahead of were we were last season. Welker is ready to make limited contributions right from the get go, and this makes it more likely that he will be back at full speed by December. Tate looks like he "is who we thought he was', with every game he plays. Price looks like he is not quite ready from prime time yet, but is way ahead of David Givens at similar stages of their careers (He reminds me of a slightly bigger, faster David Givens) I see him helping this year, but excelling down the road. Randy Moss didn't miss a single preseason practice and I look for him to have a monster contract year. However my hopes for this being a superlative WR group rests on the continued development of Julian Edelman......and he as been no where to be seen the last 3 weeks. So many freaking injury questions UPGRADE DEFEMSE: DL - Questions added to questions - Will Warren be able to hold up his DE position. Will we be able to find another DE to work with Wright on the other side. Was that flash by Ron Brace substantial or was it just a pre season mirage. Will we be able to actually play a true 2 gap 3-4 this season. Wilfolk is a given in the middle but everything else remains to be seen - We could be OK but there is no way to know that now. DOWNGRADE ILB - I saw a thread wondering if Mayo is just a one hit wonder a la Jonathan Vilma. I think it was a fair question. Neither he, NOR Spikes looks like they were true anchors of great run defense, and were down right liabilities vs the pass....at least in the last 2 preseason games - Still a foursome of Spikes Mayo, Guyton, and Merriweather is a lot better group than we had last year.....even if it isn't saying much. upgrade (I couldn't make myself use caps on this OLB- I don't think we will know what we have outthere until we see what the final roster looks like on Monday. Not being able to see Cunningham play in preseason REALLY hurts RIght now it looks like TBC and Nincovitch, and that doesn't fill anyone with confidence. TBC has proven that he can be a better than average pass rusher. That's a start. Ninkovich and Cunningham are 2 developing players and are huge question marks - like the DL, we could be OK, but....... DOWNGRADE CB- I had such great hopes for a Boddin, McCourty, Butler trio of CBs I really liked that group. Boddin's loss hit me much harder than Ty's, even though Warren is the better player. I just saw Boddin as being the rock of a young but talented group. I still think the group has enough talent, (with Wilhite and Wheatly progressing) but its SOOOOO green that it is hard to see how it canl excel, at least in the first half of the season. Wheatly had looked like he could turn into the guy we hoped he would be when we drafted him, and what happens....he out again for the Giants scrimmage. DOWNGRADE One thought - one would think that when you have such young inexperienced CBs like the Pats have you'd be wise to protect them with a lot of Zone coverages. However after watching them this pre season, I think the Pats would be better off letting them be more aggressive in one on one coverages. They seem to play them much better than the zones at this point in their careers. If you have to help them do it with S help over the top S- I liked this group before McGowan went on IR and I like it even better with Page, who at worst will be the same, or who has the potential to be better than McGowan. This will have to be the strength of the secondary. Don't be surprised to see a lot more 3 Safety packages than last season UPGRADE SPECIAL TEAMS Returns:For the first time in my memory the Pats have mulitple game breaker kinds of returners on BOTH the KO and punt return game. IIRC they said the Pats had had 4 KO returns of 50+ yds in just the last 2 preseason games. I can't remember a full season where the Pats had 4 KO returns of 50+ yd. This could really be a hidden gem for our team. BIG UPGRADE Punting: Another big plus. the Zoltan probably has as many punts inside the 20 this preseson as Hanson had all last season. ANOTHER hidden gem - BIG UPGRADE Kicking - Its not an upgrade because he's the same guy we've had for a while, but it is a huge plus when you have one of the best FG kickers in the league, who is also one of the best KO guys NEUTRAL Coverage- Consistency is the issue here. When its been good, its been very good, but there have been lapses, so I can't say its an upgrade....yet NEUTRAL Summary - -Clearly the offense is going to have to carry this team, especially for the first half of the season, but they are capable of being that good. This defense has more talent than last year's group, but is so damned young. Its going to have be one of BB's vintage coaching years here if we are truly going to be anything more than a playoff contentder. Finally I think this years special teams are really going to be "special". amd special enough to win us a game or 2, which as we know, can be the difference between a wildcard berth and bye ...And my immediate angst? Well thats simple. Its the health of Edelman, Neal, Connolly, Tate, Brace, Cunningham, and Wheatly All players who would look like they could play key roles in our opener, yet for all we know, all could be inactive This is going to be a very fun year, IMHO. The first year in many where expectations are initially low, but here hopes are high. looking forward to your comments.