When you picture a core of linebackers rotating you tend to think of a group of solid players at that position filling in for one another in a heated match-up. These types of linebackers are a well-rounded, the do-it-all style of athlete, playing inside or outside, and forming different packages/sub-packages that gives opposing offenses a run for their money.
The New England Patriots are undergoing a different kind of rotation. The Patriots are not rotating different linebacker schemes just during the game, they are swiftly adjusting their roster, moving linebackers on and off the team in an uncoordinated manner. It's a cyclical change of events that has fans nation-wide scratching their heads.
What originally spun this madness (and spun it pretty damn hard) was the loss of Mike Vrabel (OLB/captain) trade via Kansas City, then and Junior Seau (ILB/former captain) via retirement. If that wasn't enough during the 2009 NFL draft the Patriots traded up the draft board, dodging some new NFL prospects at linebacker that happen to be producing big numbers for our enemy teams (names here I would rather not mention).
Either way, 'In Bill we Trust', at least in Bill I trust, I was not worried about the big Boss' draft moves. After all he did use his third round pick for the progressive ILB Tyrone McKenzie out of South Florida. It's just too bad McKenzie went down way too early, injuring himself in practice, he was placed on IR for the entire 2009 season.
Still, everything remained cool at the linebacker spot, we still had depth from our 2008 linebacker draft picks, where much time and money were invested. This was seen in Shawn Crable and Vince Redd, both returning from 2008 injuries themselves. This is where Coach Belichick made things thin, very thin; he cut both Crable and Redd before the pre-season schedule began. The linebackers were left with Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Tedy Bruschi on the inside, and Adalius Thomas, Pierre Woods, Eric Alexander and Rob Nonkovich (yet untested) on the outside. The group seemingly hit an all-time-low when Bruschi announced his retirement at the end of pre-season. That decision was the one no fan wanted to see, but respectfully knew it would have to come at some point. No high-end pick-ups were made either, to sign an elite pass-rusher like Julius Peppers before the free-agent deadline ended.
The position seemed to move rather linear at this time, the exit door seemed like the only option at the position for the players. That was until movement was made in the opposite direction which begun to strengthen the group, picking up free-agents; former pro-bowl pass rusher Derrick Burgess from the Oakland Raiders, and former Patriot ILB/Special Teams ace; Tully Banta-Cain from the 49ers. Burgess had been riddled with injuries, putting a damper on his numbers the last few years. Banta-Cain was mishandled by a head coach that played the exact same position years ago, at that time better than anyone, Mike Singletary and staff couldn't get production from him like the Patriots did, which seems quite ironic for an ex-linebacker head coach.
We can thank the lord that when Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 Jerod Mayo went down with a knee sprain in week 1, that it only put him out for five games. Jerod Mayo is the defenses new play-caller and captain, he is a powerhouse at inside linebacker capable of producing over 20 individual tackles a game. On the negative side, Derrick Burgess has had an extremely slow start, I don't even know what the hell his role is at this point. On the positive side, the Patriots know what to do with Banta-Cain, and he is running around like a wild-man dropping into coverage when needed, laying out running backs and return specialists, on top of that he has already registered three sacks.
The twist lies here, Banta-Cain was released two days ago. Also, ILB Alexander was released by New England, the moves sent shockwaves through Patriots Nation. How could they possibly thin out the linebacker position to the point where it has no depth what-so-ever. Christopher Gasper got the inside information on the moves and helped explain the mystery's in the Player Personnel office. To put it simply the two were released, only to be re-signed, this locked both linebackers down with waivers. After the trade deadline, they could have been bantered by other teams, but with the new deals this puts them on a year safety with the Patriots. This is a great thing, the coaches see value in these players and don't want them to be pestered by other teams contract negotiations.
Another bold move was made seen in the re-signing (for the third time) of ILB Junior Seau, at the ripe age of 40. I feel great about the signing, and like I said before, they didn't sign Laurence Taylor, this guy played last year, and begun playing well. I believe Junior will begin getting rotated into different packages after the bye week, by then he will be fully readjusted and conditioned for full contact game speed scenarios. All-in-all, his leadership and overall knowledge of the position is going to help feed our core of young linebackers.
Last but not least, formidable OLB Adalius Thomas has also been involved in some rumors floating around the Patriots camp as of late. The 6'2'', 270lbs pass-rusher has been criticized about his play since his move from the Ravens in 2006. The three years prior to the trade he was seemingly at his peak, registering 28 sacks and played in 48 consistent games as a starter. At the same time he provided a powerful run-stop, working beside the likes of Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Thomas sat out of last Sunday's game while healthy for the first time since his rookie season in 2000.
VP of Player Personnel and Bill Belichick have not said much on why he sat, other than that they were trying out different defensive schemes that his role wasn't necessary for. I for one am extremely surprised, when healthy Thomas is a monster at OLB, using his huge wingspan to knock down passes and pressure quarterbacks, of course, only when called for. At age 32 Thomas still has a lot of kill in him, and his ability to stop the run has not slowed down either. He knows the defense very well and provides some of the veteran leadership the youthful linebackers and entire defense desperately needs.
Thomas looked great during training camp. In fact, he was one of the best looking players on defense, rarely making mistakes, and a couple of times making Tom Brady look stupid by batting his pass attempts out of the air in some of the offenses red-zone operations. If the coaches are having a hard time fitting Thomas into a role they should look at his 2004, 2005, and 2006 season resume'. It was then he was healthy, and whatever he was doing under Rex Ryan was putting up massive numbers, some of these numbers might not be matched again, but he sure as hell can start gearing himself more towards accomplishing them. Thomas can only be as successful as his coaches want him to be, he is upset he is sitting out and he should be. If Pierre Woods can post 80+ tackles and 8+ sacks this year then we can think about a trade, until then, let Thomas do his thing, then sit back and watch and see what can happen.