Q&A with Pats Daily
I had a chance to swap questions with Bruce Allen of Patriots Daily earlier this week. Here’s my questions, and his thoughts, about the Pats and the AFC East in 2009.
1. Who is the most under-rated player on the Pats right now?
A guy who Bill Belichick always has praise for is safety James Sanders. Belichick praises his preparation, knowledge of the defense and leadership. Fans don’t always see those things as he isn’t particularly fast, nor a really hard hitter. Sanders is a guy who you really don’t think about as a key component to the Patriots defense, yet he’s almost always in the right spot to make a play, and his teammates seem to really respond to him. The team made it a priority to sign him to a three-year extension this offseason, yet another sign of how much they value him.
2. Who is the most over-rated?
It’s tough to say this, but at this point, Tedy Bruschi is really not much more than a bit player on this team. He’s been to five Super Bowls with the Patriots, he’s a long-time captain, and definitely still a leader in the lockerroom, but at this time it sure seems more and more like he’s handed off the mantle of key middle linebacker to Defensive Rookie of Year Jerod Mayo. We’re all still happy to have him as part of the team, and maybe he can surprise us, but at age 36, he’s definitely slowed a bit. Outside of New England some might still think of him as a big part of the Patriots defensive schemes, but that’s just not really the case anymore.
3. The Pats have to be considered the class of the AFC East. Which division rival will give them the biggest fits?
The AFC East as a whole is a much tougher division than it has been in recent years. The Bills were a surprise team the first half of last season before fading down the stretch, and by adding Terrell Owens, they have another deep threat. They might be able to keep things up for the entire season this time around. Common opinion has the Dolphins taking a step back from their surprising 11-5 season last year, but this team was built by Bill Parcells specifically to attack the Patriots. They’ll still be tough. The Jets have a rookie head coach and a rookie QB, but they’re making plenty of noise, with Rex Ryan seemingly unable to get through a press conference without telling the media he’s not intimidated by Bill Belichick. I say that the Bills will be the surprise team this year, finishing second behind the Patriots, but I see the Dolphins as the team that actually gives the Patriots the toughest games.
4. With camp over and the preseason underway, are any of your rookies looking like they’ll make a difference in 2009?
Early reports have this as one of the best rookie classes of the Belichick era. All four second round picks (safety Pat Chung, DT Ron Brace, CB Darius Butler and OL Sebastian Vollmer) all appear to have a chance to contribute. Sixth round pick DT Myron Pryor was impressive against the Eagles, getting in the backfield on a couple of occasions, and seventh round pick Julian Edelman has a chance to be one of the surprises of the draft. He played QB at Kent State, but is being turned into a wide receiver and kick returner in the NFL. He had a return for a TD last week, and made several nice catches as well. In practice, the team has also been toying with some “wildcat” formations of their own using Edelman. Of course, it’s still really early and none of these guys might pan out, but right now things are looking promising.