Assignment is a rush job
Starters: E Willie McGinest, E Bobby Hamilton, T Brandon Mitchell, and T Chad Eaton.
Backups: E Greg Spires, T Dave Nugent, T Henry Thomas, and T Reggie Grimes.
The Patriots, who plan on going to a three-man line, don't have the big bodies in the middle. They need Brandon Mitchell to step up his performance, and hope that Henry Thomas still has something left in the tank playing in an unfamiliar two-gap style. Willie McGinest plays more of a linebacker, but he had nine sacks last year, which should fit very well in Belichick's defensive style. Greg Spires has shown he can fill in quite capably for McGinest if an injury should occur. But the big thing that Belichick's defensive line needs to do is help stop the run. The Jets' defensive line was limited to four sacks last season, but it stopped the run.
Starters: OLB Chris Slade, ILB Andy Katzenmoyer, and MLB Ted Johnson.
Backups: Tedy Bruschi, Rob Holmberg, and Matt Chatham.
With four LBs, McGinest will line up on one end, Chris Slade on the other. Belichick said he will let Slade rush the passer almost exclusively, which is his strength. The biggest competition will be inside between Tedy Bruschi and Andy Katzenmoyer. This is probably the best unit on the field. The Patriots haven't yet seen much of Ted Johnson, and this week Johnson will show whether he's ready or still reeling from a bothersome hamstring injury that kept him out of the exhibition season for the second straight year. As much as Lawyer Milloy might be the heart and soul of the Patriots' defense, Johnson is also a key component. Rob Holmberg has proven to be a versatile guy who can play inside or outside and understands Belichick's defenses from his days with the Jets. Matt Chatham got rave reviews in St. Louis from former Patriot Todd Collins and was a victim of numbers. He could be a very decent special teams player.
Starters: LC Ty Law, RC Antonio Langham, FS Tebucky Jones, and SS Lawyer Milloy.
Backups: SS Tony George, SS Larry Whigham, CB Kato Serwanga, CB Antwan Harris, and CB Otis Smith.
Ty Law and Milloy are Pro Bowlers hauling in millions and are two of the most physical players at their respective positions in the league. Law will play with a plate and screw in his hand all season which could restrict him, but the starting left corner wants his Pro Bowl status back and it appears Belichick will use him in a variety of different looks. Antonio Langham appears to have beaten Kato Serwanga in a close competition on the right side. Tebucky Jones has made the transition from corner cormer to safety well enough to take the free safety spot, which gives the Patriots two very hard hitters in Milloy and Jones. Don't underestimate the value of Otis Smith. Maybe he's been beaten deep a time or two over the years, but there are few corners who blitz as well as Smith and who are capable of creating turnovers.