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Is Bill Belichick as DC the thing to watch?

Posted by Albert Breer  February 16, 2010 09:47 AM

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As we get ready for the combine and the start of free agency, and all the roster tweaking that promises to bring, SI.com's well-respected football man Jim Trotter is quick to remind us that the biggest questions remaining in New England may be on how the coaching staff's structure shakes out.

He asks two questions of each AFC team
. The first one: Will the Patriots' defensive struggles vanish with Bill Belichick calling the plays? Trotter's answer:

The unit was uncharacteristically porous in losses to quality teams, surrendering 38 to the Saints and 35 to the Colts, who trailed by 17 in the second quarter. The impact players who contributed to three Super Bowl wins are largely gone, and the one who remains, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, is an unrestricted free agent who wants big money or his walking papers. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo has the potential to be an elite player, but the cupboard is sparse from there. Linebacker Adalius Thomas hasn't lived up to expectations and will probably be released. Carolina free-agent end/linebacker Julius Peppers would cure some ills, but the Patriots' problems on defense run deeper than one player.

*And another thing: New England has to find a running back. It's not a coincidence that they are Super Bowl-less since shifting the offensive emphasis to the passing game. Laurence Maroney clearly is not what they envisioned after drafting him in the first round in 2006, and Fred Taylor turned 34 last month.

Both questions are interesting, and worth asking. On the first, I'd say Belichick had a pretty strong say in what the Patriots were doing defensively last year, so things with the "titles" might not be as they seem. The key, really, will be what the position coaches can add to the room. Matt Patricia's been groomed to run a defense, and did run the sideline last year, and Pepper Johnson's got a world of experience with Belichick's system.

The second question? Well, if you're looking for a bellcow this offseason, good luck. To me, C.J. Spiller is the only back in the draft that doesn't come with a host of questions -- and he won't be available when the Patriots pick -- and Chester Taylor is probably the only UFA worth talking about.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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