Defense all about turnover
Personnel losses don’t worry Patriots
As the Patriots prepare for Monday night’s season opener against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium, the changing complexion of the team’s 53-man roster is reflected in the myriad personnel changes the defense has undergone.
A year ago, defensive coordinator Dean Pees had at his disposal proven veterans in safety Rodney Harrison, cornerback Ellis Hobbs, outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, linebacker Tedy Bruschi, and defensive end Richard Seymour. Now all of them are gone. Harrison and Bruschi retired, while Hobbs, Vrabel, and Seymour were traded.
When the Patriots dealt Seymour to the Oakland Raiders Sunday in exchange for a 2011 first-round draft pick, the move raised questions about the stability of New England’s defensive front and whether it would be compromised by the absence of a five-time Pro Bowl end.
“I think we all know what type of player Richard was and I’ve commented on that many times in the past,’’ Bill Belichick said yesterday during a teleconference.
“There are a lot of things that Richard did well, but that’s the way it is and we’re moving forward and our team’s moving forward.’’
Asked if the Patriots were as good defensively without Seymour, Belichick replied, “We’ll find that out starting this week.’’
Although Seymour did not report to Oakland as of yesterday, he was listed on the roster on the team’s website and the trade was listed among the NFL’s official transactions. There are rumors that the team is working on a new contract for Seymour, but Raiders coach Tom Cable said yesterday he had “nothing to report on that.’’
Meanwhile, Belichick shed no light on the matter, declining to confirm even that the trade was a done deal.
“Because we don’t have rights to Richard, there really isn’t anything I can say about him or his situation,’’ Belichick said.
With or without Seymour, Pees faces a challenge in preparing his defense for a Bills offense that has undergone a makeover of its own. The Bills acquired dynamic receiver Terrell Owens during the offseason, implemented a no-huddle scheme, and last week fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and handed the play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt.
Pees, though, declined to discuss how New England’s defense would be altered without Seymour’s commanding presence on the line.
“This is not going to be an interview about Richard,’’ Pees said. “It’s just simply about our defense and me getting ready - me getting the defense ready for Buffalo. It’s really about Buffalo and whoever we have here. It’s a matter of that’s who we get ready, and the different fronts and the different coverages or whatever we feel like we need to do schematically to prepare our team the best on defense against Buffalo and what they do.
“And I have my hands full with five great receivers, a great quarterback, running back, a bunch of good football players that I’m really getting ready for. The rest of the stuff is something that I’m really not going to talk about.’’
Pees was asked to respond - yes or no - whether Belichick sought his opinion on the Seymour trade.
“I won’t talk about Richard Seymour,’’ Pees replied.
Still, there is no denying that - without Harrison, Bruschi, Vrabel, Hobbs, and now Seymour - the Patriots will have to look to others to fill the leadership void on defense.
“Somebody’s got to step up and be the leaders, and we’ll find out who those are,’’ Pees said. “No disrespect to anybody who retired or [is] gone from the team or anything else, but things change. Coaches change, players change.
“It presents new opportunities for other guys to become leaders. The torch always gets passed on good teams to somebody else and now it’s their opportunity, the guys that are in the locker room right now, to step up and be those guys.
“And I’m actually looking forward to finding out who those guys are going to be.’’
“There’s a change every year on your team,’’ Belichick said. “That’s part of the National Football League. It’s part of every football team, really, and so we always deal with that. I think we have a lot of good leaders on our team and especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Belichick cited young players such as linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton, as well as safety Brandon Meriweather as potential leaders, along with more experienced players such as Adalius Thomas, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren.
“Each team has its own chemistry, its own dynamics, and I think ours is very good,’’ Belichick said. “It’s different, but I think that our players, especially some of the players that have not only been here longer, but have a significant role on our team, have done an excellent job with their ability to lead and set a positive example for our football team, regardless of what side of the ball they’ve been on.
“No doubt about it, it’s different, but I think it’s good.’’