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April 26, 2009
A Solid Group On Day One
BY: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com

They said heading into this weekend that this was one of the weaker drafts in recent memory.

It appears that Bill Belichick agrees.

If Belichick had his eye on anyone in the first round, apparently that player disappeared from the board. So as a result the Patriots traded out of the first round and opted instead to make all of their selections in the second, selecting a safety (Patrick Chung), a DL (Ron Brace), a DB (Darius Butler), and an OL (Sebastian Vollmer).

In Chung it looks like they drafted another tough, fast hard-hitting safety, and more importantly a guy who many to consider to be one of the more intelligent football players in the game. According to his bio the University of Oregon standout is also extremely strong, posting the program's second-best bench press (345 pounds) in the 2008 winter testing.

He's got all the tools that make him an intriguing addition to this football team. While at Oregon he also filled many roles on defense, and as we all know Belichick likes a player who can fill different roles in the team's defensive scheme.

"You do everything," said Chung of his role in the "rover position" on defense in college. "You're like a strong safety, free safety, corner, linebacker, you blitz, cover slot, cover tight ends, cover a deep pass, cover deep middle, curl, slide. Rover is just pretty much everything. It's the most versatile position."

It's no wonder Belichick drafted him. It's no secret that the likelihood of Rodney Harrison returning is pretty slim, so it appears New England took a guy who could become a long-term replacement. Chung has seen Harrison in action, and enjoyed the way he played the game.

"He is very physical," said Chung of Harrison. "I love that in a guy. He's very intense, passionate about the game. He's a leader. He makes plays. I mean, what more can you ask for?"

As for defensive lineman Ron Brace, it must be nice as a local player to get to play for the team you followed growing up. That's what happened when Brace got the call after the Patriots traded up with Oakland to take Brace with the 40th pick.

"I was actually walking upstairs to get myself a drink," said Brace when the phone rang. "I saw the call come in and I picked it up and talked to Bill Belichick and [Robert] Kraft. I was actually speechless. My sister was standing right next to me and I just couldn't believe that I was getting ready to play around my home area."

The Springfield, MA player was a standout at Boston College, and he definitely appears to be an interesting selection. According to the scouting reports, Brace is a guy who doesn't look to be a speed rusher, but a guy who will do a good job holding his position and making tackles inside. He's said to have excellent lower body strength, and a guy who is real good filling the hole and making the tackle at the point of attack. He should be an excellent addition to the Patriots defensive line, and lining up next to guys like Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork should definitely help him develop into a good player.

"I just can't wait to get in there and learn the system from the coaches and also just learning from [Wilfork] because he's been in the league for however amount of years that he's been here," said Brace. "I actually remember watching him get drafted by the Patriots. I just can't wait to actually learn from him and the coaches."

Meanwhile New England's next selection game one pick later when they took defensive back Darius Butler. According to published reports where Belichick was recently present for Butler's Pro Day at the University of Connecticut, many fans had a feeling that Butler could have been on New England's radar. It turns out that was indeed the case.

In Butler they gain a guy who is intelligent, quick, and is also someone who has filled many roles during his collegiate career. He also saw time at receiver with the Huskies, and returned kickoffs on special teams. More importantly his work ethic and mindset seem to fit the mold of what Belichick likes in a player.

"Everybody at the next level is talented," said Butler. "I know I'm talented. I'm confident in my physical gifts, but that can only keep you in the game or get you so far. It becomes a mental game and obviously film study, how hard you work in the offseason in the weight room and things like that…I know I want to get stronger, I want to get smarter as far as the game goes, and I look forward to doing that in New England."

Butler already has a relative in the league. His cousin, Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee, was a first-round draft choice by the Buffalo Bills after a solid career at the University of Miami.

"He was actually supposed to make it [to my draft party]," said Butler of McGahee. "He didn't make it because of something medical, but he's been great throughout this process. Willis, Tyvon Branch, he's been great letting me know what's coming and how it's going to go, and also Donald Thomas. Both of those guys are here at my party and it was just a great day."

The Patriots final selection on day one was offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer from the University of Houston. Vollmer saw time as a tight end as a sophomore when we weighed 250 pounds, and instead grew into a first-team All-Conference USA left tackle as a senior. With the constant injuries in recent years on the Patriots offensive line, Vollmer's pick wasn't exactly a surprise. By drafting him it adds another building block in protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and he should have a great opportunity to learn in this offense. "I think that it's a great organization, good people," said Vollmer. "I really like the O-line coach. I think that I'm coming in just to learn things, to learn the system, to become a better football player. I think that that's really the right place for a guy like me just to develop and become a better player. It's just amazing to be a part of this."

The good news is that all of these guys seem to fit the mold of the type of player they tend to look for, so Patriots fans should feel pretty good about the guys they walked away with on day one. They also addressed some needs with what seem to be quality guys who are intelligent and have a solid resume.

Guys who are smart and here to work. They should fit in pretty well.


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