And that’s just how much younger the team has gotten at inside linebacker.
The Patriots took just three ILBs in Bill Belichick’s first eight drafts — 2001 seventh-rounder T.J. Turner, 2005 fifth-rounder Ryan Claridge and 2007 seventh-rounder Oscar Lua. Turner was the only one who so much as suited up for a game.
In the three drafts since, the team has spent three Top 100 picks on the position … Jerod Mayo (10th, 2008), Tyrone McKenzie (97th, 2009) and Brandon Spikes (62nd, 2010) … and that’s supplemented by the “find” of 2008 undrafted free agent Gary Guyton.
So I went back and looked at the group at ILB for Super Bowl XLII (roughly 27 months ago). The first four guys in at the position would’ve been Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel. The latter two were more natural edge players, but saw action on the inside. On that Super Sunday, Bruschi was 34, Seau was 39, Thomas was 30 and Vrabel was 32.
Fast-forwarding to this year, on Opening Day 2010, Mayo, McKenzie and Guyton will be 24, and Spikes will be 23. That’s quite a transformation at, perhaps, the most mentally demanding position on the defense — the average age dropped about a decade.
Better or worse? We’ll see. But there’s no question that the team has bucked the notion that this spot in Belichick’s defense is reserved for vets.