PATRIOTS 2015 Preview

By | July 12, 2015

Repeating as Super Bowl champions has become one of the toughest tasks in the world of sports. Today’s NFL era of Free Agency and a hard Salary Cap make each new season a starting over point for most teams. 2015 looks to be just that for the PATRIOTS, but for right now I still think they have enough gas in the tank and engine under the hood to repeat as AFC East Champs.
Item one for the team is still hanging out there in limbo as QB/TOM BRADY battles with Roger Goodell to get his suspension of 4 games eliminated (more likely reduced). Going 4 games to open the season without TOM TERRIFIC could put the PATS is quite a potential hole. One deep enough that they never quite climb out of it. Then again some years back BELICHICK and his staff plugged in a guy named MATT CASSEL when BRADY was injured, and won quite a few games. JIMMY GAROPPOLO looks like he will get his first test in the face of live ammo as the heir apparent to BRADY sometime this decade. Interesting though, that the team picked up ex-Packer MATT FLYNN as a veteran insurance policy of sorts.
And luckily, the PATS offense is returning most of last year’s cast plus a few key additions for BRADY/GAROPPOLO to work with. The current roster of 88 players includes 34 who are new to the PATRIOTS locker room. Even though the team is renowned for its ability to round out the roster annually with short term vet signings it should be noted that 54 of their current players came into the league as PATRIOTS through the draft process. The top 3 PATS receivers are all back in EDELMAN (92), GRONKOWSKI (82) & LaFELL (74). VFA/TE/SCOTT CHANDLER was added to the mix after 47 catches in Buffalo, as was BRANDON GIBSON from Miami. AARON DOBSON & JOSH BOYCE face make it or break it years in their 3rd seasons. Keep an eye on URFA CHRIS HARPER/WR/CAL who could sneak onto the roster if the previous two mentions don’t step up. The running game is usually set up by the passing attack success, but dual threat SHANE VEREEN is gone in VFA. The team is looking for JAMES WHITE/RB/ a second year man out of Wisconsin to pick up some of that slack. Also watch for TYLER GAFFNEY/RB/Stanford, who they stole on waivers last summer from Carolina and nursed on IR all season to make some noise if he’s healthy, behind vets BLOUNT & BOLDEN. After GRONK & CHANDLER it looks like a battle between vets and youngsters to provide some depth at TE. Long term, ex-QB draftee A.J. DERBY/TE looks to have interesting potential as well. The IOL looks to be ready for another infusion of youth as Rookie OG/TRE JACKSON was running with the first unit much of OTA. He could start right beside his college teammate OC/BRYAN STORK, who was a serious upgrade as a Rookie starter last year when healthy. The bookend OT tandem of VOLLMER & SOLDER are both now healthy and ready to protect the franchise from the outside rush. Long shot to watch here could be URFA/OC/DAVID ANDREWS, who is undersized and modest athletically but reminds me a lot of RYAN WENDELL, who is now entering his 7th season as a versatile IOL starter/reserve. He could sneak onto this roster, while R/SHAG MASON/G/C goes on a reserve list while he learns to pass block after 4 seasons in that GA Tech offense.
Where the PATS clearly put in their biggest effort was adding youth and talent on the defensive side of the ball. DARRELLE REVIS continued his mercenary ways and took his ring with him back to the JETS for max money. Also gone are BRANDON BROWNER/CB, KYLE ARRINGTON/CB & VINCE WILFORK/DT (now 33). BELICHICK & DC/MATT PATRICIA will try to rebuild their secondary with a combination of volume and youth. The real loss here is clearly REVIS. BROWNER drove his coaches mad with his propensity for ill-timed penalties and is already a distant memory to JOSH BOYER CB Coach. DEVIN McCOURTY & retread PATRICK CHUNG both rerun at S with draftee JORDAN RICHARDS trying to get into the mix. CB will be manned by LOGAN RYAN and Super Bowl hero MALCOM BUTLER, with plenty of spare parts and competition coming from VFA BRADLEY FLETCHER & ROBERT McCLAIN. Maybe not this season, but watch for the potential of Rookie CB/DARRYL ROBERTS/Round 7, who may be the most athletic DB on the roster. The PATS got a huge break when DT/MALCOM BROWN fell to them at the end of Round 1. He’s a strong, big body at 6/2/320, but brings them more athleticism than any other DT on the current roster.The team also added Rookies GENEO GRISSOM & TREY FLOWERS, who are both hybrid LB/DE types whose specialty is edge rushing. Another major addition to the D should be DE/ER/JABAAL SHEARD who is still only 26-years old. The team is also expecting more this year from 2014 Round 1 Pick DOMINIQUE EASLEY/DL who should now be fully recovered from a 2014 knee injury. In essence, the team may have more pass rush players to rotate than it has room for on the roster, and of course a better pass rush would help cover up some for the loss of REVIS. The PATS were +12 on the Turnover charts in 2014, 2nd in the League. Expect that trend to continue.
The team also put time, money and effort into bringing in players to help them improve on Special Teams as well. Ex-PATS ILB DANE FLETCHER is back from Tampa. LB/JON FREENY has been brought in from Miami. CHRIS WHITE/LB was re-signed. The previously mentioned DARRYL ROBERTS could shine in this area as well. I fully expect life for Punter/RYAN ALLEN to get easier in his holding duties. Erratic DANNY AIKEN will be replaced by Rookie JOE CARDONA/R5, who was arguably the best LS in the Draft, and has been cleared by the NAVY to postpone his military obligation until after the 2015 NFL season. R/MATT WELLS/R6, is also in Camp primarily for his Special Teams coverage abilities.
This September’s roster is likely to look a lot different from that of 2014. Depending on how many games BRADY actually misses, as long as the team comes out of September 2-2, they should be able to defend their AFC East title because the teams chasing them just aren’t as good… yet. But it would be another “BELICHICK Miracle” if the team returns to defend it’s Super Bowl title in February of 2016.