NFL Nation: George Bussey

 
  Rich Kane/US Presswire
  Protecting quarterback Tom Brady needs to be a priority for the Patriots in 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Steve DeOssie is neither a hater nor a homer when it comes to the New England Patriots.

The linebacker-turned-sportscaster is aggravated easily by contrarians, those in the local media who "make [expletive] up to find something wrong" simply because the Patriots "have been so good for so long."

Yes, DeOssie grew up in Boston, played a couple years for the Patriots and now makes a couple bucks talking about them.

But that doesn't mean he'll shill for the Patriots either.

"People say, 'You always say nothing but good things about the Patriots.' Well, you know what? This team's had the best record in football for the last eight years," DeOssie said. "You call it as you see it.

 
  Getty Images
  Broadcaster Steve DeOssie played 12 seasons in the NFL.

"If not, I'd have too many people beating down my door to call me an idiot, and I would be off the air for five minutes and get a call from my dad to ask, 'What the hell are you talking about?'"

So when DeOssie perceives a critical issue that could reduce the Patriots' chances of returning to dominance, it's probably a good idea to listen.

DeOssie has identified the chief area of concern for 2009, and it might surprise you. The problem isn't outside linebacker or cornerback or nose tackle Vince Wilfork's contract.

It's all about protecting Tom Brady. Their quarterback's left knee was sewn together in two places, and regardless of how far ahead he is in his recovery, he could be one thwack away from crutches.

"The offensive line's going to be under the gun," said DeOssie, a 12-year veteran who won Super Bowl XXV with the New York Giants. "The offensive line becomes more important this year than in any year that I can remember.

"Defenses like to smell blood. If they think that there's a little weakness there, they're going to be coming after Brady."

New England's entire offensive line returns intact, and three of the five have been to the Pro Bowl: Left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins and center Dan Koppen.

None of them, however, was selected for Honolulu last year -- not after the Patriots surrendered 48 sacks. Only four teams allowed more. The Patriots gave up 21 sacks a year earlier.

"Granted, [Matt] Cassel held onto the ball longer than Brady, but you can't allow Brady to be touched," DeOssie said. "You don't want to come close to letting that risk happen."

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