Tedy Bruschi, left, and Adalius Thomas are back to lead the linebacking corps. (Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff)
Ninth in a series of position snapshots leading into Patriots training camp, focusing on linebackers:
|STRENGTH||Intelligence, versatility, and physicality. Given the complexity and diversity of the teamís scheme, it helps to have heady players who can handle adjustments in the middle of the defense, play different roles, and be willing to take on contact.|
|WEAKNESS||Uncertainty in the middle. If the Patriots line up with Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas as outside linebackers in their 3-4 alignment, that puts Tedy Bruschi, Victor Hobson and Jerod Mayo as the top options in the middle. At this time, both Hobson and Mayo are projections, as Hobson has not played inside in a 3-4, and Mayo, while a first-round draft choice, has not played an NFL game.|
|TOP QUESTIONS||What type of rotation, if any, will be employed with the inside linebackers? Will Adalius Thomas shift more permanently to outside linebacker? Can Pierre Woods continue to develop at outside linebacker and add needed depth? How much will third-round draft choice Shawn Crable contribute, and in what role?|
|INSTANT ANALYSIS||Given the teamís personnel at linebacker, it appears as if Adalius Thomas will see more work on the outside from the get-go. He seemed to be explosive in Super Bowl XLII as a rusher, so that change could help spark the overall defense. But for Thomas to lock in on the outside, the Patriots will need to feel comfortable with their personnel inside, so the progression of Jerod Mayo will be an important storyline in camp. Also, Victor Hobson played on the line of scrimmage at outside linebacker in the Jetsí 3-4 alignment the last two years, but now heís off the line on the inside, another adjustment worthy of monitoring. Junior Seau could always return in a pinch, but for now, nothing is imminent or on the horizon with his situation. Overall, the linebacker crew seems to have versatile parts to aid the defense in putting various packages on the field at different times.|
|FUTURE||Of the players near the top of the depth chart, Victor Hobson has the shortest deal, as he inked a one-year pact in the offseason. Tedy Bruschi (2009) and Mike Vrabel (2009) have two years remaining, while Adalius Thomas is signed through 2011. Jerod Mayo has yet to sign what will likely be a five-year or six-year pact.|
For more on the linebackers, check out this survey gallery and vote for how you think the position might shake down during training camp and beyond.