There may be a stumbling block early
Starter: Drew Bledsoe.
Backups: John Friesz, Michael Bishop, and Tom Brady.
Drew Bledsoe, protecting him with new wide-open schemes, familiarity with the old system, and new nuances should help his options. The Patriots have seen what Michael Bishop can do in short situations running the option, but will they use it during the regular season? The Patriots chose to keep four quarterbacks, including John Friesz and rookie Tom Brady, whom they didn't want to lose on waivers. Friesz has a 13-25 record 13-25 (.342) as a starting quarterback, compared with Bledsoe's 58-47 (.552). The only active quarterbacks who are better than Bledsoe with 100 or more decisions are Brett Favre, 82-43 (.656), Randall Cunningham, 79-50-1 (.612) and Troy Aikman, 90-64 (.584).
Favre has three rings, Aikman two and Cunningham, like Bledsoe, has gotten to the Super Bowl but hasn't won it. Bledsoe is second to Favre in passes thrown (1,255), yards (15,410) and touchdown passes (94) in the last four seasons.
Starters: RB Kevin Faulk (RB) and FB Tony Carter.
Backups: HB-FB Harold Shaw, (HB-FB), FB Chris Floyd, (FB), and HB J.R. Redmond. (HB).
Kevin Faulk has made quite a leap from his rookie year to the point where he may have beaten the ``third-down back'' rap.'' The next hurdle is proving he can carry the ball up to 20 times and catch it up to five times per game.
J.R. Redmond is now where Faulk was a year ago. He never got a chance to prove what he could do because he was recovering from groin surgery in last April, but he will assume Faulk's kick return and third-down roles. The fullback position is open. Harold Shaw makes the team for his splendid special teams work, Tony Carter for his ability to catch the ball, and Chris Floyd for his ability in short-yardage situations and blocking. If the Patriots don't at least threaten to run, it'll be a long year for the offense.
Starter: Eric Bjornson.
Backups: Rod Rutledge and Chris Fontenot.
The post-Ben Coates era begins and so far it's been ugly. Eric Bjornson, who played behind David LaFleur in Dallas, is the pass catcher in this group. Rod Rutledge is a good blocker, but hasn't shown much else. Chris Fontenot is everyone's last cut. A once-productive position is turning into one of the least productive. If Charlie Weis had a dominant player he'd use the tight end position more, but instead the Patriots will be a wide receiver-oriented offense.
Starters: Terry Glenn and Troy Brown.
Backups: Tony Simmons, Chris Calloway, Shockmain Davis, and Dane Looker.
With Coates out of the picture, guess who gets major attention? That's right, Terry Glenn, who caught 69 passes and made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Tony Simmons will be running Shawn Jefferson's long routes while Troy Brown, who was signed to a five-year, $12.5 million deal, will take a new role as a starting receiver for the first time in his career. When Brown's on the field with Glenn he'll be running outside routes, but when he's on the field with Simmons, he'll run his slot routes. Suffice to say, Brown must be the big-play receiver that's missing without both Jefferson and Coates. The Patriots cut Vincent Brisby feeling Simmons, in his third year, was on the verge of breaking out. A key indicator on the success of the receiving corps: will it be better at freeing itself at the line of scrimmage? That was a huge problem last year that severely reduced Bledsoe's options.
Starters: LT Bruce Armstrong, LG Jason Andersen, C Damien Woody, RG Max Lane, and RT Greg Robinson-Randall.
Backups: T Grant Williams, T Adrian Klemm, and G-T Derrick Fletcher.
Many veterans are just returning from injuries, so the Patriots will likely start a rookie (Greg Robinson-Randall) at right tackle. Belichick wanted to to establish at least one rookie lineman and Robinson-Randall, who held off Courtney Brown at Penn State last year, will be developed over Adrian Klemm, who is injured. Belichick likes the versatility he's seen from Jason Andersen and Derrick Fletcher. Damien Woody is solid, but he continues to have problems snapping out of the shotgun, which might necessitate a swap of positions with Jason Andersen. Weis and Dante Scarnecchia will put their line into schemes conducive to pure run blocking and pass protection, similar to the schemes they had in '96.