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Monday, July 25, 2011
Patriots back-to-work FYI

By Tim Graham

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Patriots' organization might have the NFL's most established infrastructure. Players dutifully follow Bill Belichick's scripted, proven routines. Leadership from players such as Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Logan Mankins, Matt Light (if he returns) and Vince Wilfork will help the Patriots galvanize more speedily than most clubs.

Biggest challenge: The Patriots need to manufacture a pass rush. It will be interesting to see whether Belichick pursues assistance through free agency or sticks with the youngsters on his roster. The Patriots tied for 14th in sacks last season with 36. Starting outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham combined for just 10 sacks and 26 quarterback hits.

Backfield in motion: The Patriots had an entertaining tandem with BenJarvus Green-Ellis pounding out the carries (1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Danny Woodhead electrifying fans as a combo runner-receiver (926 yards from scrimmage and six TDs) last season. But the rest of the backfield depth chart could be erased (see below), and the DanJarvus Green-Woodhead attack probably won't handle as much responsibility. The Patriots drafted running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley back-to-back in the second round.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Mankins' contract has expired, but the Patriots placed the franchise tag on him. Light, running backs Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor and safety Brandon McGowan are up in the air.