June 16, 2010
Will Youth Hold Patriots Back in 2010?
BY: Mike Saver
Back in May; newly acquired Patriot, Gerard Warren, revealed to the press that his signing with the Patriots was strongly influenced by his Raider teammate, Richard Seymour. The former New England Great impressed him with descriptions of a winning environment, a far cry from the atmosphere Warren witnessed in Oakland in three straight losing seasons.
"[I was] just looking for a team that was trying to win," he said. "That was pretty much the basis of my situation. I just wanted to be in an organization that was focused on winning".
While the Patriots are still very much an organization with a dedication to racking up victories, the team has a much different look than the ones that Seymour was a part of.
"It's changed a lot", said 10 year Patriot, Matt Light, on Patriots Today. "The locker room is definitely different. You go back and look at some of these team photos that are hanging on the walls or go through an old program or something; and it's like, man, there's only a handful of guys that are still on this team."
An unfortunate reality. It's no longer fair to say this is the same winning club that raised those three Lombardi trophies early last decade. Same name - different faces. The question that begs to be answered this season is, "Are the Patriots too young to realistically grab another trophy"?
There's a lot of key areas being filled by young players. First, let's look at the defense. While veteran Vince Wilfork will be back filling the holes on the defensive line, there are some very young players expected to make great strides. Myron Pryor is a name that comes to mind. Pryor did little to stand out in his rookie season, but with Jarvis Green gone he's going to be expected to step up big in sub-packages. In college, Pyror brought some toughness that - if he can duplicate it at the pro-level - is sure to please Patriots fans. He was among the leaders in forcing fumbles - recording 10.
The also Patriots did not address their pass rush deficiencies through free agency this off-season. Instead, they're turning to young and unproven talent. The Pats are hoping that Shawn Crable can stay healthy and finally contribute after being an utter disappointment for the last two seasons. The progress of this year's second round pick, Jermaine Cunningham, also figures to be significant for New England, as the rookie makes the transition to Outside Linebacker.
"Every week I sat there and prepared myself as if I was going to play in a game. I mean, I didn't get a chance to play, obviously, because of my injury, but I just got myself together and learned everything, week-by-week, to get ready for the season".
This type of dedication combined with the on-field skills he impressed so many with prior to his injury could make McKenzie a deadly force alongside Jerod Mayo at ILB. However, to this point, he remains an unknown.
On the offensive side of the ball, a lot is depending on the production of newly-drafted rookie TE's, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Both figure to contribute significantly this season to a position that was lacking last season, with only aging veteran Alge Crumpler sharing time at the spot with them. Yet, tight end is not the only area of need which the progress of new players is so heavily dependent. The lack of a solid third wide receiver was also a key area the Patriots needed to address. While David Givens and Torry Holt give the position an added veteran presence, the Pats will undoubtedly need some big production from their youth. Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate and Taylor Price will all need to step in big in 2010 - especially with an uncertain timetable on Welker's return.
A lot of this team is young - and a lot of key areas hold some question marks. If the Patriots are to make a contentious run, it's going to come down to their young players. Does this mean that we can count the Pats out of a trip to the Super Bowl this season? Not necessarily. The inexperience of this team represents an unknown. It could be good - it could be disastrous. A key factor in the progress of these young players is the leadership of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. If they can get through to the younger guys - we could see a different club than the one that disappointed last year. Let's hope they do.
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