Brady and Belichick have work to do to succeed this year
When was the last time any team in the NFL lost 75% of their offensive receptions and 56% of their receiving touchdowns in one offseason? Well lets just say that before now, you have to go back a while. But that is what Tom Brady and the New England Patriots face coming into training camp for this coming year. After losing Wes Welker, his favorite target, to Denver, Brady lost the controversial but reliable Brandon Lloyd because of his potential salary cap hit.
If that wasn't enough, Brady lost a reliable middle of the field option when Aaron Hernandez was released following his arrest, and he could be without elite tight end Rob Gronkowski for the first few weeks of the season as well.
So where does that leave the offense? Well in the hands of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady I am not nervous about the production, and I expect a stronger reliance on the running game than in recent years. Stevan Ridley is poised to break out, and Shane Vereen is a more dynamic version of Danny Woodhead. Also, LeGarette Blount is a power back who should be relied on in short yardage and goal line situations, and Leon Washington could be a dynamic returner the Pats haven't had in years.
The running game should not be a problem, but it will be interesting to see how the passing game develops during the preseason. A huge lift would be provided If Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski can stay healthy. Interesting name to watch are rookie Aaron Dobson, and veteran signees Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins. Those guys all are big bodied receivers who could develop into redzone threats for Brady to utilize. This is not the first time the offense and Brady have had to adjust to a roster overhaul, but Brady is much older now.
As for the defense, questions about the secondary still remain especially after Alfonzo Dennard's arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Aqib Talib will have to stay healthy and continue to perform the way he did down the stretch last year. Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Steve Gregory, and Tavon Wilson have to collectively improve to better defend against the deep ball.
Newcommers Adrian Wilson, Tommy Kelly, and rookie Jamie Collins will all have something to prove in camp. The Patriots ranked 29th last year in pass defense and that must improve if they want to make a deep run into the playoffs again.
The linebacking corps should be solid with do-it-all Jerod Mayo, thumper Brandon Spikes, and rising sophomore Dont'a Hightower. Plus with Jamie Collins in the fold, I think the linebackers will be a strength of the defense.
All in all, the Patriots should still win the AFC East and get around 10-12 wins this year. Although they do look vulnerable, as long as Bill Belichick roams the sidelines and Tom Brady commands the offense I don't doubt their status as a contender.