New England Patriots: Positional review

Patriots positional review: DT

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
5:00
AM ET
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots defensive tackles, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Chris Jones
Age: 23
2013 status: Started 11 of 13 games played after being claimed on waivers during Week 2 of the regular season. Played the second most snaps among rookie defensive tackles in the NFL with 786.
2013 highlights: There are two lenses to examine Jones through. One the one hand, he gave the Patriots much more than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, including 54 tackles and six sacks. Conversely, there were times when Jones was overwhelmed as an anchor. Nonetheless, he’s a piece of the puzzle going forward, as he’ll continue to learn from Vince Wilfork and grow within the Patriots’ system. He deserves credit for hanging tough given the unlikely circumstances surrounding his rookie season.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Joe Vellano
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in every game, starting eight in total. Played just fewer than 58 percent of the regular season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: An undrafted rookie who worked his way on to the roster, Vellano, like Jones, exceeded expectations. He had flashes of both pass-rush and run-stuffing ability, but his modest size also left him susceptible to being run at by the offense. A player that is better suited as a reserve than a starter, but offers developmental depth going forward.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Tommy Kelly
Age: 33
2013 status: Started five of five games played, registering 2.5 sacks and playing 221 defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Became an immediate starter alongside Wilfork after signing as a free agent last offseason. Provided size, girth and discipline along the defensive line to bolster both the run defense and interior pass rush. A reported ACL tear shelved Kelly for the final 11 games of the season, though he should be healthy by the time training camp rolls around, if not sooner. He was a big loss.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Sealver Siliga
Age: 23
2013 status: A late-season riser who ended up playing in the final five regular-season games, starting four. Also started each of the two playoff games.
2013 highlights: Siliga played the fewest snaps among the Patriots’ unheralded young defensive tackles, but by the end of the season he appeared to offer the most long-term value. He plays with a stout base and good leverage along the line of scrimmage, not getting his shoulders turned and not giving ground. Should benefit from learning behind Wilfork for a full offseason.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Vince Wilfork
Age: 32
2013 status: Started all four games that he played before going down with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
2013 highlights: Wilfork’s production according to the box score wasn’t anything to write home about, but the consistent message to convey with his play is that it transcends statistics. He’s a force at taking on double teams and clearing space for his linebackers. The injury ended his season and contributed to a run defense that struggled throughout the season. Has a big salary for the 2014 season, and the team could view him as an extension candidate.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Isaac Sopoaga
Age: 32
2013 status: Acquired via trade from Philadelphia, played in six regular-season games, starting two. Became an inactive player down the stretch.
2013 highlights: Desperate for bodies in the middle of their defense, the Patriots added Sopoaga via a trade. The maneuver didn’t cost them much (essentially about 25 draft spots), but Sopoaga had a limited on-field impact. With a big contract for the next two seasons, he seems like a likely cap casualty.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: Marcus Forston, Armond Armstead, Cory Grissom

POSITIONAL NEED: During an interview this past season, Bill Belichick referenced the team’s “top three” defensive tackles being on injured reserve. The first two -- Wilfork and Kelly -- were obvious, but the third was Armstead, a former Canadian Football League standout who had surgery on an infection just before training camp. If all three return next season -- each is coming off of a serious injury -- the Patriots will have very good depth and talent at the position. Wilfork and Kelly are both in their 30’s and entering the final year of their contracts, so this could still be an area where the Patriots look to add a young body. But while some might perceive this to be the first area of need for the team entering 2014, getting healthy would go a long way towards resolving the woes of the run defense from last season.

Patriots positional review: defensive ends

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
5:00
AM ET
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots defensive ends:

Chandler Jones
Age: 23
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, totaling 79 tackles and 11.5 sacks.
2013 highlights: Blossomed as a second-year player, making the leap after a promising rookie season. Led the Patriots with 11.5 sacks and had dominant stretches. Was an every-down player who logged an astonishing 98.1 percent of the defensive snaps. Looks like a cornerstone along the line for years to come.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Rob Ninkovich
Age: 29
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, racking up 91 tackles and eight sacks.
2013 highlights: Was part of a bookend pair of ends with Jones that anchored the edges for the Patriots. The team’s belief and commitment in Ninkovich was cemented with a contract extension early in the season that keeps him in New England through 2016. One of the team’s most consistent players. Exceptional in run defense, tough and a leader who was named a team captain after injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Andre Carter
Age: 34
2013 status: Played nine games without a start. Third among defensive ends with 13.4 percent of defensive snaps played.
2013 highlights: Carter was brought back after a year away, as he spent the 2012 season with the Oakland Raiders. He chipped in two sacks but was an emotional leader in the locker room. Carter played mostly in sub packages and has indicated that he’ll only continue his NFL career if it is with the Patriots.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Michael Buchanan
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in all but one regular-season game, logging 121 defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: A seventh-round pick that had a larger defensive role early in the season, Buchanan showed some flashes of pass-rushing presence. His role was eventually shifted to almost exclusively special teams, where he played on core units. Given the lack of depth at this position, Buchanan’s development is critical for 2014.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Jake Bequette
Age: 24
2013 status: Played just 1.2 percent of the defensive snaps. Has appeared in eight games over two pro seasons.
2013 highlights: Hardly a factor on defense or special teams. Bequette was drafted in the third round in 2012 but it isn’t too soon to wonder whether or not he’ll be on the roster again next season. He needs a strong offseason of growth to ensure his future.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

POSITIONAL NEED: Around this time last year, one of the positions that we believed the Patriots may address during the offseason was their depth at defensive end. The team courted both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney in free agency, but neither veteran was signed. Marcus Benard flashed during offseason workouts but was eventually waived, as was former second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham. While the team has its rock-solid duo in Jones and Ninkovich as starters, depth remains an area of need. A veteran with pass-rushing juice to play in a situation role -- similar to what Carter did this season -- would be a big boost.

Positional review: Safety

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
5:00
AM ET
Wrapping up our positional reviews with a look at the Patriots safeties in 2012:

Final Depth Chart: Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner

Devin McCourty
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaDevin McCourty and Steve Gregory make a solid safety tandem, but the Patriots need more coverage players.
Key Statistics: McCourty: 82 tackles, 5 INTs, 3 forced fumbles, 13 pass breakups (98.2 percent of snaps played); Gregory: 36 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries; Wilson: 41 tackles, 4 INTs, 6 pass breakups; Chung: 44 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 pass breakups

Overview: The shift to safety by McCourty made a world of difference for this group, as early-season struggles climaxed in a Week 6 loss to the Seahawks. With McCourty serving as a defensive rearguard, the Patriots had a reliable, instinctive, smart communicator who had the reactive athleticism to see the field and make plays on long throws. He became the starter at free safety alongside Gregory, who typically was used to buzz down over an opposing tight end. Gregory had a tough AFC Championship Game, but was solid overall when he was on the field. Beyond those two, a gap existed on the depth chart, as Chung's defensive role shrunk in 2012, a sign he may not be back with the team next season. Wilson was part of the rotation early, but his role shrunk as well before settling in as a member of the team's dime defense. Should McCourty be kept at safety, which seems likely, the team needs to build depth around him and find athletic safeties who can defend the deep part of the field.

2013 Personnel Preview: The only free agent in the group is Chung, who could be a candidate to test the open market and seek a starting job elsewhere. McCourty established himself as a staple at safety this season, but the team needs to add coverage players around him. In a league with more and more tight ends who can work the middle of the field, a capable safety to cover them is essential.

Positional review: Cornerback

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
5:00
AM ET
Shifting our attention now to the secondary, where we continue our positional review with the cornerbacks.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesWill Aqib Talib don a Patriots helmet next season?
2012 Final Depth Chart: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Marquice Cole, Derrick Martin, Malcolm Williams (Ras-I Dowling placed on injured reserve early in the season)

Key Statistics: Talib: 19 tackles, 1 INT, 2 pass breakups in 6 games played; Dennard: 35 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble in 10 games played; Arrington: 74 tackles, 1 forced fumble in 16 games played

Overview: The Patriots' secondary was once again the target of criticism in 2012, and the cornerback position underwent its share of shuffling. The year began with Arrington and Devin McCourty as the starters, but early struggles and injuries at safety eventually propelled McCourty there. Upon Aqib Talib's arrival at the trade deadline, he joined Dennard to comprise the new starting pair, with Arrington as the slot cornerback in sub packages. Talib gave the Patriots their best cover cornerback; he is a reactive athlete with good ball skills. Dennard proved to be a shrewd seventh-round investment. Arrington had an up-and-down season after securing seven interceptions in 2011, and now enters free agency. The secondary was almost two different groups in 2012, as the post-Talib trade version was able to cut down on big plays and enhance the defense's ability to blitz up front. It wasn't perfect, but strides were made.

2013 Personnel Preview: Questions abound at cornerback, as Talib, Arrington, Cole and Martin are all set to become free agents. The first domino to fall is likely what the team does with Talib, as he could be in line for a handsome payday on the open market. Bill Belichick has spoken highly of Talib, but it's too early to know what will happen. The group under contract includes Dennard, Williams and Dowling, who missed extended time again due to an injury. His development is critical in 2013.

Positional review: Linebacker

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
5:00
AM ET
We take a look at the linebackers as the next position in our 2012 review.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Starters -- Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower; Depth-level players -- Tracy White, Mike Rivera, Niko Koutovides

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Spikes continued to be very strong at stopping the run, but could improve on pass coverage.
Key Statistics: Mayo: 147 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, 95.9 percent of snaps played; Spikes: 92 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 66.2 percent of snaps played; Hightower: 60 tackles, 4 sacks, 51.1 percent of snaps played.

Overview: The All-SEC trio of Mayo, Spikes and Hightower teamed up for a number of big plays during the 2012 season and carries promise into the future. Mayo was Mr. Everything in the linebacking corps, playing a leading role as both a run stuffer and pass defender. He is the leader of the group and a coach on the field for Bill Belichick’s defense. Spikes continued his effective ways against the run in 2012, playing downhill and being a tone setter on defense. He was used frequently in the team’s sub package, but has coverage limitations against the pass, similar to Hightower. Hightower showed very good playing strength as a rookie and the ability to set the edge as an end-of-the-line player. He too saw some time in the sub package, but has room to grow as a pass defender. The Patriots relied most heavily on these three, but the position has a comparable feel to the defensive tackle spot; a player who can contribute on passing downs is needed. In today’s NFL, when many teams rely on pass-happy attacks, those linebackers are growing in terms of value.

2013 Personnel Preview: White, Koutovides and Dane Fletcher (who spent the season on injured reserve) are all free agents, while Jeff Tarpinian was signed to a reserve/future deal off the practice squad. White, Koutovides and Fletcher all bring core special teams value, while Fletcher could be an option to bolster the sub package defense.

Positional review: Defensive end

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
5:00
AM ET
Moving along with our positional review, we’ll examine a spot that the Patriots had good depth at in 2012, defensive end.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Justin Francis, Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette

Key Statistics: Ninkovich: 8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 83 percent of snaps played; Jones: 6 sacks, 67 percent of snaps played.

Chandler Jones
Matthew J. Lee/Getty ImagesChandler Jones had six sacks in his first eight games, but none thereafter.
Overview: It was sort of a tale of two seasons for Patriots defensive ends, as the group started out very strong on the whole before having a less productive finish. Jones raced out to 6 sacks in his first eight games, but failed to register another the rest of the way. Cunningham had 2.5 sacks before being suspended in December and played a minor role upon his return. Ninkovich was the most consistent performer, finishing with 10 total sacks (including the postseason), and becoming a difference-maker. The Patriots were exceptional at forcing turnovers this season, and Ninkovich seemed to find his way around the ball in critical situations. But nonetheless, the defensive end group lacked a dynamic pass rusher that could get to the quarterback consistently when the team rushed just four players after Jones suffered a pair of ankle injuries. Jones’ ceiling remains high, and he should improve this offseason with a full slate of workouts, team activities and training camp to build from. Francis filled in as a late rookie surprise, and had 3 sacks in Week 17. He looks like an undrafted keeper for the team going forward.

2013 Personnel Preview: Scott is the only free agent of the group above, and the team is likely counting on Jones, Francis, Cunningham and Bequette to make strides as they develop in the early portions of their careers. Bequette was seldom used in 2012, but the year to learn may pay off in a busier sophomore season.

Positional review: Running back

January, 27, 2013
1/27/13
4:00
PM ET
Continuing our positional reviews from 2012, focusing on the running backs:

2012 Final Depth Chart: Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
AP Photo/Nick WassStevan Ridley proved to be a workhorse back, finishing seventh in the league in yards rushing.
Key Statistics: Ridley: 290 carries, 1,263 yards, 12 TDs (44.8 percent of snaps); Woodhead: 106 combined carries/receptions for 747 yards, 7 TDs (34.1 percent of snaps); Vereen: 62 carries, 251 yards, 3 TDs (3 TDs in divisional round win over Houston).

Overview: The Patriots had arguably their most productive and diverse running-back group since the days of Corey Dillon, as Ridley established himself as a workhorse. He finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards, sparked by a terrific first half of the season. He showed himself to be a runner with very good contact strength, burst, good speed, elusiveness and a willingness to break tackles. Woodhead once again was the change-of-pace back, and the Patriots' most well-rounded backfield player. He found a role in the Patriots’ up-tempo, spread attack and was the same reliable player he’s become known as. Vereen has similar skills to Woodhead, but was not able to consistently get on the field for the Patriots. He flashed dynamic athleticism, speed and pass-catching ability in playing just less than 13 percent of the snaps this season. With Woodhead set to become a free agent, Vereen could be in line for a larger role next season.

2013 Personnel Preview: Ridley, Vereen and Bolden are under contract for next season, as are fullback James Develin and running back/returner Jeff Demps, the former Olympian who spent last season on injured reserve. Woodhead would seem to be on the team’s radar for a return, but could be lured elsewhere in free agency. Demps’ unique speed could be the answer for the Patriots’ recently pedestrian kickoff return game.

Positional review: Quarterback

January, 26, 2013
1/26/13
5:00
AM ET
Next up on our 2012 positional review is quarterback.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett

Key Statistics: Brady: 401-for-637 (63.0 percent), 4,827 yards, 34 TDs, 8 INTs, 98.7 rating

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick with quarterbacks
AP Photo/Charles KrupaWith Tom Brady still going strong at 35, Ryan Mallett must bide his time under Bill Belichick's tutelage.
Overview: At 35, Brady proved that age has not yet caught up to him, as he posted yet another highly productive season during his first year reunited with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Many of the strengths that have carried Brady throughout his career showed up again in 2012, with premier decision-making, strong accuracy and a comprehensive understanding of the up-tempo offensive system that allowed him to serve as a coach on the field. The Patriots' offense evolved into an on-field torpedo in 2012, running more plays than in any season previous, and Brady was the catalyst on the field to orchestrate it. Unfortunately, Brady was not at his best when the stakes were at their highest, struggling through the AFC Championship Game. A couple of decisions gone awry hurt the Patriots, and the offense was unable to execute in the red zone. Brady is 7-7 in his past 14 playoff games. Nonetheless, he remains among the best quarterbacks and players in all of football, and put together a stretch of 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season that served as notice of his elite stature. There’s no reason to think he can’t play close to the same level in 2013.

2013 Personnel Preview: Brady and Mallett remain under contract, while Mike Kafka was signed to a reserve/future contract earlier this month. There’s been some scuttlebutt about potential interest in a trade for Mallet, but it’s unsubstantiated and seems unlikely. The Patriots went with just two quarterbacks on the active roster in 2012, and the depth chart could well stack up the same way next season.

Positional review: Tight end

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
5:00
AM ET
Next up on our 2012 positional review is tight end, where the Patriots dealt with key injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Aaron Hernandez, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells (Gronkowski was placed on injured reserve)

Key Statistics: Gronkowski: 55 catches, 790 yards, 11 TDs, Hernandez: 51 catches, 483 yards, 5 TDs

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaIf Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez can stay healthy, tight end will continue to be a position of strength for the Patriots.
Overview: Injuries to Gronkowski (a twice-broken forearm) and Hernandez prevented the duo from repeating their 2011 season, but long-term extensions given to each prior to the season reaffirmed that they will be a focal point for many years to come, assuming good health. Gronkowski is the most dominant tight end in football, with overwhelming physical traits that render him virtually uncoverable. When he was on the field, he was Brady’s best weapon, but the forearm injuries cost him six full games. Hernandez is an X factor on offense, with unique versatility and athleticism for the position. A Week 2 ankle injury lingered for much of the season, but he had a strong performance in the playoff. This duo gives the Patriots building blocks for many more seasons, but 2012 illustrated just how key their health, as well as depth behind them, truly is. Hoomanawanui proved to be a solid pickup off the Redskins’ practice squad, leapfrogging Fells on the depth chart. Fells did not become a regular part of the rotation, something that was expected based on the contract he signed before the season.

2013 Personnel Preview: Gronkowski and Hernandez are locked up for years to come, and Hoomanawanui is a restricted free agent. Given Fells' 2012 season and his contract, he was colleague Mike Rodak’s pick as most likely player to be released. One under-the-radar name to keep in mind is Jake Ballard, who spent the 2012 season rehabbing from major knee injuries. He can help as a blocker and receiver.

Positional review: Offensive line

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
5:00
AM ET
Turning our attention now to the offensive line for the next edition of 2012 positional review -- offensive line.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer. Top reserves: G Donald Thomas, OT Marcus Cannon, C/G/T Nick McDonald

Key Statistics: Mankins missed 6 games due to injury, Connolly 2, and Vollmer 1.

[+] EnlargeRyan Wendell
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsRyan Wendell wound up doing a stellar job as a plug-in center.
Overview: The Patriots' offensive line entered 2012 with a number of key questions, but largely answered them with conviction. The loss of left tackle Matt Light was squared away by a fine second season from Solder, while Wendell turned into a standout plug-in center following Dan Koppen’s release. Connolly was forced to move to guard to fill the spot vacated by Brian Waters’ decision not to report to the team, and though Connolly had some struggles compared to his 2011 season, the line remained a strength. Mankins was recognized for his work with second team All-Pro honors, but was not as dominant as he has been in seasons past. He finished strong, however, with good showings in the playoffs. Given that the Patriots had three players starting at new positions this season, the line deserves credit for the transition. Brady was kept largely upright, and the running game was effective. Not to be overlooked is the conditioning of these linemen, as Wendell and Solder were among the NFL leaders in snaps played this season.

2013 Personnel Preview: Four starters are locked into contracts for 2013, with Vollmer the lone player set to hit free agency. Given his performance and fit within the system, he would seem to be a player the Patriots will be interested in bringing back. Thomas is also set to be a free agent, and has the ability to be a starter if signed elsewhere. The lone offensive lineman on the Patriots practice squad, Colin Miller, has not yet been signed to a reserve/future contract.

Positional review: Wide receiver

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
5:00
AM ET
We’ll take some time to look back upon the 2012 season for the Patriots, doing so by breaking down each position with a reflection on the performance, some stats of note and areas of strength/weakness.

In addition, we’ll look ahead to 2013 and look at what’s on tap from a personnel standpoint.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater, Kamar Aiken (Julian Edelman was placed on injured reserve in December)

Key Statistics: Welker: 118 catches, 1,354 yards, 6 TDs; Lloyd: 74 catches, 911 yards (12.3 avg), 4 TDs; Edelman: 21 catches, 235 yards, 5 total touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaJulian Edelman's combination of athleticism and slippery open-field running make him a candidate to return.
Overview: The Patriots were one of the best passing offenses in the NFL again this season, and it was done with both of their top tight ends missing extended time due to injuries. Welker was the stalwart of this group, trailing only Calvin Johnson for most receptions in the NFL and leading the league in yards after catch with 619. He displayed unparalleled toughness and remains a coverage nightmare for defenses in the slot. Lloyd was expected to inject a perimeter threat for the Patriots, and he was solid overall in his first season. Unlike Welker, Lloyd provided limited yards after the catch, but was a dependable outside threat who quarterback Tom Brady suggested was open much more than his targets would indicate. Edelman was featured early in the season when Welker’s role was limited, but a pair of injuries cost him multiple games. He is a free agent this offseason, but his combination of athleticism and slippery open-field running makes him an intriguing option to bring back going forward. Deion Branch, who bounced back and forth from the roster, provided dependable depth.

2013 Personnel Preview: It’s a big offseason for the Patriots relating to wide receivers, as Lloyd, Slater and Aiken are the only members of the active roster under contract for 2013. Welker could be a franchise-tag candidate, but would earn a hefty $11.4 million under that designation. Edelman played his best football before being injured, and the team could experience some turnover at this position. Practice squadders Jeremy Ebert and Andre Holmes were signed to reserve/future contracts on Monday.

Patriots specialists quick hit

January, 25, 2010
1/25/10
12:45
PM ET
Final entry in a 12-part series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:

Specialists: Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Chris Hanson (punter/holder), Jake Ingram (long snapper)

Stat check: In the regular season, Gostkowski was 26 of 31 on field-goal attempts, 47 of 47 on point-after attempts, and tied for sixth in the NFL with 21 touchbacks. In 56 punts, Hanson had a 39.7 average and 34.1 net, which ranked 32nd in the NFL but also came in Northeast conditions.

First instinct: While Hanson is a directional punter who is known more for hang time than an ultra-powerful leg -- which is Bill Belichick's preference -- it wouldn’t be surprising if a change is made at the position after three seasons.

Storyline not to be overlooked: Ingram stepping into the large cleats of Lonie Paxton. For nine years, the Patriots had few worries at long snapper because of the steady presence of Paxton. When Paxton departed in free agency, the Patriots identified Ingram as the best prospect in the draft and selected him in the sixth round (198th overall). Ingram, who made the jump from the University of Hawaii to often-frigid Foxborough, didn’t have a botched snap all season in 134 attempts (extra points, field goals, punts).

Future: Hanson is scheduled for free agency. In a season without a salary cap, which appears likely, Gostkowski would be a restricted free agent and the Patriots project to tender him at the highest level to retain him. Ingram is signed through 2012.

Final thought: It seems like only yesterday that the Patriots were rolling the dice by not assigning the franchise tag to Adam Vinatieri in 2006, then drafting Gostkowski. Four years later, Gostkowski has proven to be a capable replacement.

POSITIONAL QUICK HITS
Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Center/guards
Defensive line
Hybrid DE/OLB
Inside linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties

Patriots safeties quick hit

January, 24, 2010
1/24/10
11:55
AM ET
Eleventh in a series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:

Safety: Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Brandon McGowan, Pat Chung and Bret Lockett.

Stat check: Meriweather played more snaps than any defender (95.5 percent) and tied for the team high with five interceptions. McGowan started 11 games alongside Meriweather, before Sanders regained the starting spot late in the season.

First instinct: Meriweather was too up-and-down for a Pro Bowl player. His third-and-1 stop against the Jaguars was one of the best defensive plays of the season. On the flip side, his breakdown in fundamentals contributed to Ray Rice’s backbreaking 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the playoff game against the Ravens. Those plays seemed to reflect his season -– sometimes terrific, sometimes a liability.

Storyline not to be overlooked: Shuffle between McGowan and Sanders. At the midpoint of the season, McGowan was one of the team’s surprise performers, helping to limit opposing tight ends and adding a physical edge after wrestling the starting job away from Sanders. But McGowan couldn’t sustain the momentum and Sanders was reinserted into the lineup late in the season.

Future: No free agents in the group. Sanders' salary spikes to $2.3 million and based on him being in and out of the lineup in 2009, one wonders if he'll be back in 2010 when factoring in salary considerations.

Final thought: Chung, the team’s top draft choice (34th overall), played in 20 percent of the defensive snaps (mostly between Games 6 and 11). With the top four players under contract next season, this doesn’t look like a primary position of need but one in which the Patriots will focus on getting more out of the personnel on the roster.

POSITIONAL QUICK HITS
Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Center/guards
Defensive line
Hybrid DE/OLB
Inside linebackers
Cornerbacks

Patriots CB quick hit

January, 23, 2010
1/23/10
8:00
AM ET
Tenth in a series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:

Cornerback: Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley, Kyle Arrington

Stat check: Bodden led the team with 17 passes defended and tied for the team high with five interceptions. Springs started and finished the year as the left corner, appearing in 12 games with eight starts.

First instinct: Butler, a 2009 second-round draft choice (41st overall), shows promise to develop into a quality starter. He played in 14 games with five starts and his athleticism was impressive. On the flip side, improving his physicality in run support will help him become more of an all-around corner.

Storyline not to be overlooked: Wilhite’s inconsistencies and Wheatley's inability to break through. Wilhite (2008 fourth-round pick) leapfrogged Wheatley (2008 second-round pick) on the depth chart, appearing in 14 games with eight starts. While he displayed fluid movements and was often competitive in coverage, he still struggled to make plays on the ball. Wheatley played in just five games.

Future: Bodden, the most consistent corner this season, is a free agent. Every other player has multiple years left on their contracts.

Final thought: After a rough 2008 season with Deltha O’Neal and Ellis Hobbs 1-2 on the corner depth chart, there was improvement in 2009, especially considering there wasn’t always help in the form of a consistent pass rush.

POSITIONAL QUICK HITS
Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Center/guards
Defensive line
Hybrid DE/OLB
Inside linebackers

Patriots ILB quick hit

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
7:00
AM ET
Ninth in a series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:

Inside linebacker: Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Junior Seau, Eric Alexander, Tyrone McKenzie

Stat check: Mayo led the team with 113 tackles (as credited by the coaching staff), while Guyton was second with 93. Mayo missed three games while Guyton played more snaps (84.5 percent) than every defender but Brandon Meriweather.

First instinct: Mayo, the 2008 Associated Press defensive rookie of the year, didn’t deliver the big plays he hoped for in his second season. After injuring his knee in the season opener, he returned for the team’s fifth game in a reserve role but was never dominating this season.

Storyline not to be overlooked: McKenzie tearing his ACL in rookie minicamp. A third-round draft choice, he would have been third on the depth chart and presumably helped on special teams. The void contributed to the decision to bring Seau back.

Future: Mayo and Guyton are two building blocks who will be under contract for multiple years. Seau is retiring, while Alexander – solely a special teamer at this point – is signed through 2010.

Final thought: If McKenzie can come back, the Patriots have a nice young core to build around.

POSITIONAL QUICK HITS
Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Center/guards
Defensive line
Hybrid DE/OLB

SPONSORED HEADLINES