AFC East: Shawn Springs
Now he's out of work.
The Patriots released Springs on Tuesday and signed sixth-round draft choice Ted Larsen, an offensive lineman from North Carolina State.
The Patriots previously re-signed last year's starter on the right side, Leigh Bodden. If Bill Belichick doesn't switch him over, then left cornerback becomes New England's biggest battle of the summer.
As ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss wrote Monday, the Patriots have a crowded depth chart at cornerback. Several are recent draft choices. In 2008, Terrence Wheatley was a second-round pick and Jonathan Wilhite was a fourth-rounder. Darius Butler was a 2009 second-round pick. Devin McCourty was selected 27th overall last month.
Wilhite and Butler both started games at left cornerback last year.
Springs, who signed a three-year contract a year ago, and joins a sizable list of failures from last offseason (receivers Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway, tight ends Chris Baker and Alex Smith).
ESPN's Adam Schefter suggested the Patriots might re-sign Springs, which would make sense. If Springs was good enough to start at left cornerback down the homestretch and into the postseason, then he should be good enough to remain on the roster for less money in 2010.
Springs missed four games but finished with 39 tackles, an interception and four passes defensed.
Make it as a second-round draft pick entering his third NFL season. Or break it, as in a wrist or a leg or a ...
In two years, Wheatley has played in 11 games and started one. He has endured a series of setbacks that includes a broken wrist, a knee injury and having his appendix removed.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss takes a look at Wheatley's evolution with the Patriots. He's on crowded depth chart with Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite and rookie Devin McCourty, their first-round draft pick last month.
"I think the one thing that has my attention now is that the time is now," Wheatley said. "You can't have any more 'free' years. If you got it, you got it. If you don't, you don't. That lights a fire under me and you have to go out there and show what you can do.
"You have to stay healthy. That's been my biggest issue for the past two years and in college. It's kind of been the story of my career. I think if I stay healthy, I'm going to be all right."
Reiss projects Wheatley as a player on the bubble to make the final roster.
"I haven't really done a whole lot in some people's eyes," he said. "That's fine. Everybody is going to have an opinion on whether I should have been drafted where I was and stuff like that, but obviously, Bill [Belichick] has faith in me or I wouldn't be here. So I have to go out there and just really do what I need to do to gain his trust back and allow him to put me out there and stay healthy."
But in reviewing ESPN analyst Todd McShay's pre-draft video breakdown, it doesn't sound like the Patriots should have trouble finding ways to get McCourty on the field. McShay called McCourty a "special-teams demon" who blocked seven kicks at Rutgers, and his coverage skills are elite.
"What you can't coach is his athleticism, instinct and his overall ability to turn and run in coverage," McShay said. "This is one of the most fluid cover corners in the 2010 class. He has great top-end speed, and eventually he should develop into a No. 1 cornerback at the next level."
The Patriots have veterans Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs and recent draft picks Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler and Terrence Wheatley.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was big on McCourty as a "four-down football player" who can play in any defensive situation and then contribute on special teams.
"It's hard for me to picture a player who can do more than that," Belichick said. "There aren't too many players that can really impact the game on first, second, third and fourth downs. I think that he can be a player that can contribute in all four of those areas, and I think that gives him a lot of versatility and a lot of value. You may disagree, but I don’t see it that way."
Why the Patriots took him: You never can have enough cornerbacks, and the AFC East is turning into an aerial division. The New York Jets will field an offense that features Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery. The Miami Dolphins recently added Brandon Marshall.
Where McCourty fits on roster: He joins a crowded depth chart. The Patriots re-signed Leigh Bodden and have Jonathan Wilhite (fourth round in 2008), Darius Butler (41st overall last year), Terrence Wheatley (62nd overall in 2008) and Shawn Springs.
Scouts Inc. says: Seasoned and savvy. Understands routes concepts and get into proper position in zone coverage. Flashes anticipation in man-coverage but needs to show more consistency in this area. Plays bigger than size suggests. Displays good short-term memory to move on once beaten. ... Willing and active in run support. Sound overall tackler. Does not have a lot of ammunition in holster but not afraid to throw weight around when filling on the perimeter. Does a good job of anticipating and is effective going down low to knock bigger ball carriers off feet. Uses hands well to disengage from blocks by can be controlled by bigger receivers on occasion.
Their latest research grades out the best and worst tacklers in the defensive backfield.
ProFootballFocus.com analyst Sam Monson tracked the game film, tallied up the missed tackles and applied them to a formula called "tackle inefficiency rating." The equation is pretty simple: missed tackles divided by attempted solo tackles multiplied by 100 to keep some numbers left of the decimal point for easier digestion.
Monson's first installment examined cornerbacks. While his story at ProFootballFocus.com doesn't break down all 88 cornerbacks he monitored, he was kind enough to let me scan his spreadsheet.
Reggie Corner of the Buffalo Bills rated highest in the AFC East. His TIR of 7.14 (52 solos, four misses) tied with Denver Broncos star Champ Bailey for ninth in the league.
But the other two Bills on the chart were way down. Terrence McGee was tied for 69th with a 14.89 TIR (40 solos, seven misses), while Drayton Florence was 63rd with a 13.46 TIR (45 solos, seven misses).
The Miami Dolphins had the division's worst tackling tandem. Sean Smith slotted 82nd with a TIR of 18.60 (35 solos, eight misses), while fellow rookie Vontae Davis was tied for 54th with a TIR of 11.76 (45 solos, six misses).
What makes their tackling troubles sting even more is that two months ago, we learned Davis and Smith ranked in the bottom 11 of all NFL cornerbacks in passing yards allowed, according to Stats Inc.
The New England Patriots had the division's most efficient group with three cornerbacks within the top 32. Shawn Springs tied for 12th with a 7.69 TIR (36 solos, three misses). Leigh Bodden tied for 44th with an 11.11 TIR (48 solos, six misses).
New York Jets standout Darrelle Revis tied for 28th with a 9.62 TIR (47 solos, five misses). The recently released Lito Sheppard was 61st with a 12.90 TIR (27 solos, four misses).
New acquisition Antonio Cromartie, who has a reputation for being a poor tackler, ranked 77th. He had a 16.22 TIR (31 solos, six misses).
1. New York Jets
A lot has been written about Darrelle Revis. Like many, I put him at the top of the cornerback list. He would have been my NFL Defensive Player of the Year for 2009. But he can cover only one receiver at a time.
I contend that New York’s biggest offseason need is a starting cornerback opposite Revis. Donald Strickland, Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery are all best suited for third cornerback duties. Lowery is my favorite of these three, but he has physical limitations.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan obviously expects a lot out of this position and an upgrade could make an excellent defense even better. Strong safety Jim Leonhard is a personal favorite of mine. The guy has some limitations of course, but he just makes plays -- especially as a coverage player. Free safety Kerry Rhodes took some criticism during the 2009 season, but I contend that he is a well above average all-around safety. Year 2 in this defense could really yield dividends for Rhodes. Backup free safety Eric Smith could leave via free agency, but he was a liability for most of the season.
Overall, the Jets get the edge as the best secondary in the division weighted heavily on what Revis brings to the table.
2. New England Patriots
While I give the Buffalo Bills’ set of safeties the nod as the division’s best pair, I’m high on the Patriots’ Brandon Meriweather. He’s the best safety overall in the AFC East. As good as he is at strong safety, Meriweather and the Patriots would benefit from an upgrade at free safety. Brandon McGowan is a force against the run, but is too often exposed in coverage. Fellow free safety James Sanders is too ordinary in both facets.
At cornerback, veterans Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs caught way too much heat for New England’s pass defense issues. Remember, this is a defense that lacks much of a pass rush. These two are still starting caliber, particularly Bodden (an unrestricted free agent).
The younger guys are the problem. Surely they will improve, but Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite collectively did little to get excited about in 2009. If Bodden is retained, the Pats squeak ahead of the Bills as the second-best secondary in the division. Without Bodden, Buffalo has a distinct advantage.
3. Buffalo Bills
When evaluating the safeties in this division, I think you have to give that position to the Bills. In 2009, safety Jairus Byrd obviously made a ton of impact plays as a rookie and was an extremely pleasant surprise. His ability to play the ball and his coverage abilities overall are very strong, but when it comes to playing the run, let’s just say that isn’t his specialty. I am a big fan of safety Donte Whitner, too. Last season wasn’t his best campaign, but he is very talented and versatile. Fellow safeties George Wilson and Bryan Scott are not household names, but both are very solid players who deserve playing time, though Scott might leave via free agency. I still have hope for Leodis McKelvin to develop into an upper-tier cornerback. Overall, the threesome of McKelvin, Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee was underwhelming in 2009.
4. Miami Dolphins
Vontae Davis and Sean Smith get a lot of ink as the Dolphins’ starting rookie cornerbacks. Smith began the season strong, but his unusual body type and struggles flipping his hips always might hold him back. To me, he finished the season as a somewhat overrated player.
But Davis could be on the verge of stardom. Like Smith, he made some rookie mistakes, but this kid has it all physically. He will be a true No. 1 cover man -- maybe as soon as next season. Third cornerback Will Allen is serviceable, but not dynamic.
Gibril Wilson and Yeremiah Bell are both average starting caliber strong safeties. But the problem in Miami is that neither has the skill set for deep patrol. The lack of a true free safety-type hurt this pass defense and is a clear offseason need.
The field is awash in sunlight. The forecasted high temperature is 76 degrees.
Big game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. I still think the Patriots are the class of the division by a significant margin, but if the Dolphins can score an upset, then they and the New York Jets will be only one game behind the Patriots with four to play.
Buzz in the press box is about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's finger. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the injury, announced Friday by the Patriots, isn't bad enough to keep Brady from starting.
But there's skepticism over the injury, especially with the way Monday night's game in New Orleans unfolded. Brady threw two interceptions and was pulled from the game with 5:26 to play. His removal was Bill Belichick throwing in the white towel, but now folks are speculating Brady might've been hurt back then.
The entire inactive list for each team:
New England Patriots
- Running back Fred Taylor
- Receiver Julian Edelman
- Guard Stephen Neal
- Tackle Sebastian Vollmer
- Defensive tackle Ron Brace
- Cornerback Shawn Springs
- Cornerback Terrence Wheatley
- Safety Bret Lockett
Left tackle Matt Light will play tonight after missing five games games with a knee injury, but rookie Sebastian Vollmer, who was playing very well in Light's absence, is out. He suffered a head injury in last week's victory over the New York Jets.
Running back Sammy Morris also returns to help out Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk in the backfield. He sat out four games with a knee injury.
Linebacker Junior Seau has been deactivated for the first time since signing with the Patriots.
Rookie slot receiver Julian Edelman will dress, but as the third quarterback. That means he cannot step on the field until the fourth quarter without disqualifying quarterbacks Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer for the rest of the game. Edelman played quarterback at Kent State before the Patriots converted him.
The Patriots' total inactive list as follows:
Action should be plenty heated when the rivals kick off at 4:15 p.m. The Patriots want to avenge that Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands and are coming off a foul-tasting defeat to the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets need a victory to salvage their drain-circling season.
The Patriots have some interesting inactives. Left tackle Matt Light remains out, but right guard Stephen Neal will join him because of the head injury he suffered in Indy. Running back Sammy Morris will be held out again after speculation he would play.
Most notably scratched for the Jets is outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, the sixth overall pick in last year's draft. Gholston has been benched for two straight games.
All of Sunday's inactives are below:
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kevin O'Connell (third quarterback)
- Quarterback Erik Ainge
- Guard Matt Slauson
- Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua
- Linebacker Vernon Gholston
- Linebacker Ryan Fowler
- Linebacker Kenwin Cummings
- Cornerback Justin Miller
The inactives lists are circulating through the Lucas Oil Stadium press box, and the big news is that the Patriots have scratched left end Ty Warren, who had been listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Right end Jarvis Green was an expected scratch.
Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light, who returned to practice this week, is out again. Rookie Sebastian Vollmer should get his fourth straight start and will have the pleasure of fending off Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.
A name not on the inactive list is rookie receiver Julian Edelman. He missed the past two games with a broken forearm.
The complete this of inactives:
New England Patriots
- Running back Sammy Morris
- Running back Fred Taylor
- Guard Rich Ohrnberger
- Tackle Matt Light
- Defensive end Ty Warren
- Defensive end Jarvis Green
- Linebacker Eric Alexander
- Cornerback Shawn Springs
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Jake Long will have his hands full with All-Pro defensive end John Abraham.|
Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long will have his hands full against the Atlanta Falcons. Long, last year's No. 1 draft pick, was a Pro Bowl rookie. His preseason performances, however, haven't been up to par. Now he gets to rumble with All-Pro right defensive end John Abraham in the Georgia Dome. Long gave up only a couple of sacks last year, but Abraham set a Falcons record with 16.5 sacks and has the ability to make linemen look foolish on any play.
Can Shawn Springs and Jonathan Wilhite contain Terrell Owens? With the Buffalo Bills' offensive line in tatters, the only fathomable way they can outscore the New England Patriots on Monday night is through the air.
Owens, making his Bills debut, will be a chief concern. Springs has missed significant preseason time with an undisclosed injury, but he and Owens have engaged in some great battles over the years. (Owens' infamous Sharpie touchdown came against Springs.) They've been in the same division since 2002. If Springs isn't ready, then the job will fall on Wilhite, who started four games as a rookie last year. Wilhite would be overmatched.
Mark Sanchez will have a better performance than Trent Edwards. While Edwards has the receivers for the bigger stats, Sanchez has two significant edges: a cement wall in front of him and Brian Schottenheimer talking into his headset. Schottenheimer will be an NFL coach within the next couple of years. Bills offensive coordinatorAlex Van Pelt hasn't called a play since 2005 for the Frankfurt Galaxy. The Jets probably won't win in Reliant Stadium, but I'm predicting the rookie will look better than Edwards.
Don't expect Jon Runyan to play for the Bills on Monday -- and probably not ever. The veteran right tackle visited the Bills for a workout Friday. But there's a belief his interest in playing for them is limited, that he's making the rounds in hopes of motivating his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, to bring him back in light of right tackle Shawn Andrews' injury. Runyan has started 144 straight games for Philly, not counting playoffs, and could play in Andy Reid's offense without much adjustment.
Runyan is said to be in great shape, but even if he does sign with the Bills, inserting him in their no-huddle offense Monday night with one practice to prepare would be too much to ask. Plus, the Bills would be wise to wait until after Week 1 to sign him. Players on the active roster for opening day have their contracts guaranteed. Those signed after do not.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
|Al Bello/Getty Images|
Rodney Harrison, right, said that Terrell Owens is "a phenomenal talent," but that his "clown antics" detract from that.
Rodney Harrison doesn't have to honor Bill Belichick's one-voice policy anymore.
Harrison doesn't belong to the New England Patriots anymore. The former safety is an analyst for NBC. So he can say whatever he wants about an upcoming opponent.
On Thursday, he blasted Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens with both barrels on Boston radio station WEEI's "The Dale and Holley Show."
"I'm pumped about T.O. opening up his big mouth about the Patriots," Harrison joked. "It's fair now. I can actually put a bounty on T.O. if I wanted and not get in any trouble."
Reggie Dunlop would be proud.
What triggered Harrison's response was what Owens told the Boston media on Wednesday.
Owens joked he was going to bring his spy camera to Monday night's season opener between the Bills and Patriots.
"He's a clown," Harrison said. "He's all about the circus show and the cameras, and it's all about that. But you best believe he'll have Shawn Springs in his grill and Brandon Meriweather will be putting his helmet down his throat. So I'm excited about seeing that on Monday.
"He's just so, so miserable. He wants to seek so much attention. I don't know. Something happened a long, long [time] ago, before we even knew T.O., that just made him like this. The guy is such a phenomenal talent, but his clown antics and his tactics just take away, year after year.
"The story we should be talking about is the playmaking ability, the big plays and his potential Hall of Fame career."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
When the New England Patriots open their season Sept. 14 versus the Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football," their defense will lack three mainstays fans have grown accustomed to seeing for the better part of a decade.
Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison have been erased from the depth chart over the past few months. Bruschi and Harrison retired. Vrabel was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
They've played a combined 40 seasons, 27 of them for New England. Bruschi and Vrabel played on all three Super Bowl winners, Harrison for two.
The loss of that much experience might give the Patriots their youngest opening-day starting lineup since Pete Carroll was in charge and almost certainly their youngest since Bill Belichick's first season as head coach.
On Sept. 14, the Patriots will be as young as 26 years, 278 days old -- almost three years younger than last year.
Elias Sports Bureau data reveals the last time the Patriots were that green was in 1997, with an average age of 26 years, 199 days.
New England's defense got a little younger each year from 2004 through 2007. But the average age jumped a full year in 2008 to a ripe 29 years, 85 days.
It's difficult to calculate precisely what the average age of New England's starting defensive lineup will be on opening day because Belichick is expected to lean harder on a 4-3 scheme this year. That, plus the fact cornerback Shawn Springs has been hurt for most of training camp, makes projecting the starting defensive line a little tricky.
For the accompanying chart, we've penciled in second-year pro Jonathan Wilhite at left cornerback instead of the 34-year-old Springs, an offseason free-agent acquisition. We've also factored in rookie Ron Brace as the second defensive tackle to give us the youngest average.
But even if we include eight-year veteran Derrick Burgess and Springs in the starting lineup and remove Brace and Wilhite, the average age comes out to 27 years, 352 days, knocking two-plus years off last year. It still would be their youngest lineup since 2000.
Belichick's defense averaged 27 years, 49 days for his first game as Patriots coach.
Special thanks to ESPN researchers Andrew Villa, Peter D. Newmann and Lisa Brooks for their help in putting these numbers together.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
How tedious was the game? The highlight was a second-quarter extra point.
Let's take a look at a few items that stood out:
|Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE|
|Patriots quarterback Tom Brady bounced right back from his first contact of the season.|
But defensive end Robert Geathers delivered the hit everybody had been waiting for later in the first quarter, bolting untouched past right tackle Nick Kaczur and into the pocket and flattening Brady, who landed directly on his rebuilt left knee. How did Brady respond? He scrambled to his feet and immediately signaled the next no-huddle play. That's a great sign for Patriot Nation.
Uncommonly sloppy performance for the Patriots. It could be said about any unit from the first-stringers to the deep reserves. There were a slew of missed tackles (cornerback Shawn Springs badly whiffed to give up a 13-yard Cedric Benson catch and run on a third-and-27 play in the first quarter), a touchdown allowed on a fourth-and-17 play (Chris Henry over Terrence Wheatley late in the second quarter), nine penalties for 96 yards, four sacks allowed and a pair of fumbles.
Wheatley's timing couldn't have been worse. Cincy's touchdown wasn't the only play Wheatley will want to forget. One play earlier, Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson beat Wheatley for a touchdown but was called for pushing off -- apparently before they reached the end zone because replays showed Simpson didn't make contact there.
A lackadaisical effort allowed Chad Ochocinco to pick up 35 yards on an earlier second-quarter series. Wheatley, a 2008 second-round draft pick, had his bad performance on a night when rookie Darius Butler started at left corner and Springs finally got on the field.New England threw it around the yard. Randy Moss didn't catch a pass, yet the Patriots still completed passes to 13 different receivers. They targeted 15, with Moss and tight end Alex Smith being thrown to twice without a connection.
Fred Taylor and Wes Welker made their preseason debuts. Neither played in Philadelphia, but both were in the starting lineup Thursday night. Taylor ran hard, getting seven carries for 26 yards. He also made a nice spin move for extra distance on a 12-yard pass play. Welker had a 32-yard catch and dash.
|AP Photo/Stephan Savoia|
|Quarterback Tom Brady hopes to test his knee early and often in preseason games.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The folks residing in Patriot Nation find it unfathomable their team is not returning to the Super Bowl.
Any team coached by Bill Belichick and with Tom Brady throwing passes to Randy Moss must be a Super Bowl favorite, right? There's no other conceivable prediction for fans who harbor blind faith after so many years of being rewarded.
Yet there's a different mood at Patriots training camp this year. They're not the defending champs -- league, conference or division.
The Patriots have something to prove in 2009.
There's a sense of optimism around Gillette Stadium, to be sure. But last year -- following their reality-check loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII -- was a stern reminder nothing should be taken for granted.
How will Brady respond to a live pass rush?
This question cannot be answered as long as Brady's clothed in a red, do-not-touch practice jersey.
But the eventual answer will indicate whether the Patriots should be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Those who've crowded around the upper practice fields to watch Brady work out can't tell he underwent reconstructive surgery -- save for the black brace that clasps his left knee. His throws have the same zing. He's accurate. His command during two-minute drills is obvious.
That's all well and good, but if he gets jumpy in the pocket, there will be trouble. What has made Brady a future Hall of Famer is his pocket presence. He has been unflinchingly willing to take a hit to give his receivers one more half-second to separate.
|AP Photo/Robert E. Klein|
|Leigh Bodden is one of the early candidates to start at right cornerback for the Patriots.|
We don't yet know how he will react when defenders start falling at his feet, lunging for his legs, dragging him down.
Brady has stated his desire to play as much as possible in the preseason. He knows he'll need to face a few live opponents to see if the mental side of his rehabilitation is on par with the physical part.
What will the revolving door at cornerback turn out next?
Seven players have started at cornerback over the past two years. The Patriots will have at least one more new starter this year, possibly two.
Before we try to get a feel for how Belichick will handle one of the game's most important positions, remember that Fernando Bryant was the first-team left cornerback throughout 2008 training camp and the preseason. Then Belichick cut him before the regular-season opener.
For now, it appears free agent Leigh Bodden is the right cornerback. The left corner could come down to a pair of second-year pros: Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley. The Patriots also added veteran free agent Shawn Springs and drafted Darius Butler in the second round.
First-team reps have gone to Wheatley while Wilhite, who replaced Deltha O'Neal for the final four games last season, has missed practices with an injury.
"Certainly, based off the offseason, both of those players have made significant progress," Belichick said, "and hopefully they'll be able to carry that onto the field and into training camp and build on it and have strong seasons. Their offseason has been good. They are way ahead of where they were last year."
Will the Patriots regret not bringing in veteran help to replace Mike Vrabel at outside linebacker?
Neither has much experience. Woods, undrafted in 2006, has made three starts. All of them came last year in place of an injured Adalius Thomas.
Crable, a third-round pick last year, is a somewhat unknown. Crable didn't play a game last year because of a shin problem and opened camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Unless the Patriots eventually do bring in help, it would appear to be Woods' job to lose.
Rodney Harrison's age and health weren't the only reasons the Patriots declined to bring him back for another season at strong safety. Brandon Meriweather's performances in Harrison's place truly nudged them forward.
Meriweather, the 24th overall draft pick in 2007, has been elevated to starting strong safety and should be ready for the job.
He started only the final 10 games after Harrison suffered a career-ending quadriceps injury. That was enough time for Meriweather to make more tackles (79) than Tedy Bruschi, record as many sacks (two) as Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren and lead the team with four interceptions.
Newcomer to watch
The Patriots welcomed back four capable running backs, but Belichick felt the need to enlist more help. Fred Taylor, with his 11,271 career rushing yards, has joined the crew.
How the 33-year-old Taylor's role develops will be an interesting storyline. There's enough depth at the position that Belichick won't need to lean heavily on Taylor, who gained the nickname "Fragile Fred" for the various injuries he endured in 11 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Taylor already has dealt with a wrist injury since signing with New England, but in all fairness, he generally has been reliable over the past seven years, missing a dozen games.
Observation deckBelichick has been turning over the roster since camp began a week ago. The most interesting moves have occurred at backup quarterback, where Belichick obviously isn't happy. Third-stringer Matt Gutierrez was cut and former Oakland Raider Andrew Walter brought in to compete with last year's third-round draft pick, Kevin O'Connell, who seems to have lost reps to undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer. ... Greybeard receiver Joey Galloway is running just fine. A foot injury kept him off the field for all but nine games last year with Tampa Bay. ... Mammoth offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, viewed by many to be a reach as the 58th overall draft pick in April, has been impressive. The 6-foot-8 German émigré could push veteran Nick Kaczur to be the starting right tackle. ... Julian Edelman always seems to be on the field. The Patriots drafted the Kent State quarterback in the seventh round and are converting him into a receiver/punt returner/gadget guy. Edelman's often compared to Wes Welker, but they've been on the field together quite a bit with the first team. ... Oft-injured back Laurence Maroney is running with conviction. He's coming off a broken shoulder bone and looks powerful.