By: Steve Balestrieri
With the OTAs and Mini-Camps behind them, the New England Patriots are officially “off” until training camp begins, in about a month, on July 26. While the time will drag for us football fanatics, the players will get a last chance to get in a vacation and prepare for the long season ahead.
The Patriots have a lot of new faces in 2012, so in this column, my friend and co-host of Patriots 4th and 2 Russ Goldman and I will take a look at and give an opinion on who we think will step up and contribute in a big way this season. We’ll each take a player from the offense and defense. With my choices, I tried to pick players who aren’t necessarily will be looked to as big contributors.
Brandon Lloyd, WR (Goldman) The player on offense that I feel will make a huge impact this season is Brandon Lloyd. He offers something that the Patriots lacked last season, and that was a deep threat. He should fill this void in the Patriots offense, and possibly make it even better.
Lloyd is going to be 31 years old, and has had an inconsistent career. However, his numbers have gone up tremendously the last two seasons in the offensive system under Josh McDaniels. In 2010, Lloyd had 77 receptions and led the league with 1,448 yards. Last season he had a combined 70 receptions in Denver and St. Louis.
It is pretty obvious that Lloyd has flourished under McDaniels, and I expect him to pick up where he left off in St. Louis with the Patriots. He is not Randy Moss, but his threat of getting deep could make the Patriots even more difficult to defend. I heard a great deal last season, that the Patriots have no deep threat. Well, Lloyd I feel takes care of that issue.
Also, there should not be this huge learning curve that has plagued many new receivers coming to the Patriots. Lloyd should be able to pick up the offense since McDaniels ran a similar system in Denver and St. Louis.
So, Lloyd should take care of a weakness the Patriots have had since Moss left. Defenses will now have to cover the entire field, and that should open up the middle of the field even more.
Shane Vereen, RB- (Balestrieri) Vereen and Stevan Ridley are expected to share reps this season as veterans Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai will be looked to provide the veteran presence. Vereen is arguably the best athlete among the Patriots running backs and was expected to contribute last season. But injuries limited him to just 15 carries last year, which should change this season.
I expect both to get plenty of snaps and expect Vereen to push Woodhead for a lot of snaps on third down. An inch taller and 10 lbs heavier than Woodhead, Vereen has good speed and should provide a nice presence out of the backfield. I expect the Patriots to re-visit the screen game more this season, something they’ve gotten away from. With teams looking to be more aggressive in rushing QB Tom Brady, the screen game will be a nice way to off-set that and Vereen and Joseph Addai will be looked upon to help out.
Vereen saw a lot of snaps with the first team offense during OTAs, which doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a starter, however it could mean the team wants to see if he’s healthy and ready to take on a big share of the load. I think Vereen will see the most carries and catches out of the backfield this season and expect him to thrive in the role.
Ras-I Dowling, CB (Goldman) The player on defense that could make a huge impact this season for the Patriots is Ras-I Dowling. The potential of this cornerback is tremendous, but he has been injury prone which is a concern.
He was taken with the 33rd pick of the 2011 draft, he is 6-1 tall and weighs 198 pounds. He is a much taller cornerback than the Patriots have had in the past, and his height could bring a different element to the cornerback position. The Patriots have had issues over the years with tall wide receivers. Dowling might be able to be a solution to this problem.
Dowling showed much promise in the pre-season last year, and then continued to show ability in his first two games with the Patriots. In the Chargers game, he did get hurt, and unfortunately was never seen the rest of the season as this injury put him on the injured reserve several weeks later.
If he can stay healthy, the Patriots have a player that might be that cover corner that they desperately need. With Devin McCourty having a poor season last year, the importance of a good season from Dowling could be crucial.
If you have a cornerback that you can count on to handle the number one receiver of your opponent, that can have a positive trickle-down effect throughout your defense. Rushing the passer is very important, but if you have a reliable cornerback, it certainly can help the players getting after the quarterback.
The Patriots have not had a real shut-down corner since Asante Samuel. You look at the Jets, and watch the impact that Darrelle Revis has on their defense. Knowing he is back there I feel allows their defense to be even more aggressive.
If you have a real cover cornerback that can stay with his man, it could potentially give the pass rushers that extra second they need to get to the quarterback. I think the Patriots need a player to really step up at the cornerback position, and I am hoping that Dowling can make that type of impact that could set up the entire defense.
Trevor Scott, OLB/DE- (Balestrieri) Scott was signed by the team as a free agent this spring, and his signing barely registered a ripple on the NFL radar, but shouldn’t be overlooked. Scott was off to a very solid start with the Raiders in his first two seasons as a pass rusher before a serious knee injury threatened to derail his career.
There’s a lot of hype this spring on the rookies drafted by the Patriots, Chandler Jones, Donta Hightower and Jake Bequette and rightfully so, Scott however, if healthy provides a proven veteran presence that can step in now and contribute. The Patriots wasted no time in mini-camp in testing him out giving Scott the lion’s share of first team reps playing the Willie McGinest “Elephant” position.
He should be an intriguing guy to watch this pre-season, he’s tailor fit for the role at 6’5, 260 lbs, he has the length to disrupt the passing game, and is proven at getting after the passer. While the rookies will need time to find their way in the NFL game, Scott should provide the pressure off the edge that the team needs. Last year, placed in similar positions, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson each had solid seasons rushing the QB. Scott in 2012 should have a big role in the revamped defense. With a healthy, and better secondary, the edge rushers will have more opportunities to excel.
Listen to our podcast radio show, Patriots4thand2 every week as we bring you the best in Patriots talk as well as some great guests. With host Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, Damien Jarrett and myself it’s always an entertaining and informative show.
Check all of us out on PatsFans.com, there are always interesting stories, features and great stats compiled by Ian Logue on there. Kind of like, your one-stop Patriots news source for information.