Pats hope for improvement at receiver, defense
The New England Patriots lost just three regular-season games
last season and didn’t even have a deep receiving threat, a solid
defense or a soft schedule.
How much better would they be if they had all three?
That question should be answered this year.
The Patriots reached the Super Bowl, losing to the New York
Giants 21-17 on a last-minute touchdown, then spent the offseason
adding players at positions of need.
Brandon Lloyd is the long-distance receiver they lacked. Rookie
first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower could vastly
improve the defense that gave up the second most yards in the NFL.
And the schedule seems packed with pushovers with only four games
against teams that had winning records last season.
So the Patriots are looking forward. Reflecting on the Super
Bowl disappointment is just a distraction.
”I honestly don’t think about last year much,” quarterback Tom
Brady said. ”This is a whole different team and we’re in a
different situation. All of us have pretty much moved on from last
year. You have to go out here and establish what this team’s going
to be all about.”
The Patriots signed Lloyd as a free agent and he and Brady have
developed a good connection. It helps that Lloyd picked up the
complicated offensive system after playing the last two seasons
under new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, first when
McDaniels was coach at Denver and then when McDaniels moved to St.
Louis as offensive coordinator.
”We are developing as an offense and we’re trying to integrate
as much of the running game and pass catchers as possible,” Lloyd
said, ”but I think what it is coming down to is that we all need
to make plays and be more consistent.”
The offense scored just six touchdowns in the first three
preseason games. Two of them came on throws by third-stringer Ryan
Mallett in the last five minutes of last Friday night’s 30-28 loss
at Tampa Bay after the Buccaneers had taken a 30-14 lead.
Once the regular season starts, Brady, whose 5,235 yards passing
last season were the second most in NFL history, should have a
strong group of targets – wide receivers Lloyd, Wes Welker and
Deion Branch and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The running game should be more dynamic now that BenJarvus
Green-Ellis, a sure-handed but straight ahead back left for
Cincinnati as a free agent. Second-year pros Stevan Ridley and
Shane Vereen should get most of the carries, and both have greater
breakaway potential than Green-Ellis.
The Patriots fastest player, though, is former Florida running
back Jeff Demps. He signed after winning an Olympic silver medal in
the 4×100 relay then ran three times for 41 yards against the
Ridley, second on the Patriots last season with 441 yards
rushing, has a simple goal: ”That this team can depend on me at
the running back position and that’s (in) all aspects of the game.
It’s not just one thing. I just have to go out there and just be
the player they know I can be.”
The offensive line has struggled during the preseason since left
tackle Matt Light retired.
Left guard Logan Mankins has played sparingly after offseason
knee surgery, right guard Brian Waters hasn’t reported and right
tackle Sebastian Vollmer has back problems. But all three could be
ready for the regular season. And 2011 first-round draft pick Nate
Solder, Light’s replacement, has improved after a shaky start in
”They’re doing their job and I have to worry about my job,”
Brady said. ”Part of what our team has always been built on is
guys having trust in each other to do what they need to do to be
The defense should be better with tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle
Love and ends Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Young veterans Jerod Mayo
and Brandon Spikes will be joined at linebacker by Hightower. New
safety Steve Gregory, a free agent from San Diego, should stabilize
”We’re doing some things well, but it’s a long way for us (to
go),” cornerback Devin McCourty said. ”The good part is that you
have a lot of guys that have played that are building a good bond
Improved coverage would help the pass rushers. New England had
40 sacks last season, 14th most in the NFL. But ends Andre Carter
and Mark Anderson, who had 10 each, are no longer with the team. So
Jones and Hightower must jell with the holdovers.
”You’ve got to have coordination of the rush,” Ninkovich said.
”You can’t just be out there doing your own thing in this league.
Obviously, you’ve got to have good rush lanes or else the
quarterback can see down the field and scramble on you.”
Fortunately for the Patriots, the opposition is hardly imposing.
The first four quarterbacks they’re scheduled to face are Jake
Locker (Tennessee), John Skelton or Kevin Kolb (Arizona), Joe
Flacco (Baltimore) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo).
Minutes after the Super Bowl loss, Brady said, ”I think every
guy in the locker room wishes they could have done a little
The Patriots appear better equipped to do that this season.
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and