Jan 22, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) and Rob Gronkowski (87) warm-up prior to facing the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots: Top 3 Concerns

Throughout this offseason I think the Patriots have done a very good job of addressing their needs and making sure that there is not a huge weakness on the roster. They made some nice moves in free agency (Amendola, Talib, Kelly, Wilson) and they had a very solid draft. In my opinion, receiver and cornerback were the biggest needs going into the draft for New England and they filled them nicely by selecting Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce at receiver, and picking Logan Ryan at cornerback. Even though it looks like the Pats have filled their needs for the most part, I still believe that there are some big concerns left on this team. Here are my top three concerns for the Patriots as of right now.

1. Gronkowksi’s and Hernandez’s Health

I am not concerned about this one, I am absolutely terrified. If either of these guys miss a significant amount of time in 2013, then the Patriots offense could really be in some trouble. Last year they had to deal with this, and they performed just fine. But that was when they had Wes Welker, and they could rely on the chemistry between Brady and Welker,  however now they have Danny Amendola in Welker’s place. While I am very opportunistic about the things that Amendola will be able to do for New England, he is not going to have the same type of chemistry with Brady that Welker had with Brady right away. If a part of the ‘Boston TE Party’ is missing I think Brady will struggle and as Brady goes, the Patriots go. From what I have read about each players’ situation, Hernandez should be back in time for training camp, and Gronkowski has a good chance of being back in time for the start of the season. However, lots of things can go wrong in rehab from surgery and if that happens in either guys case, they will miss some time. I think the new addition of Aaron Dobson should help, but it will take him some time to learn the Pats playbook, that is assuming he will be able to learn it. Everybody has heard of how hard the Pats playbook is, and there is not guarantee that Dobson will be able to grasp it. The bottom line is the Patriots need Hernandez and Gronkowski in their offense, and hopefully they both can rehab on schedule from their surgery’s and be ready for the start of the 2013 season.

2. Youth At Cornerback

Even though I really like the players that the Patriots have at corner going into 2013, I still don’t like the fact that they are all so young. Right now the Pats two starting corners will be Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib. I love both of these players and I really am glad that they will be on the Patriots roster in 2013. However, they are both young guys. Dennard is only 23 years old and Talib is 27 years old. Youth at a position like cornerback can be a very good thing, but it also can be a very bad thing. When playing cornerback, you are often left out on an island and as a result of this, you will be burned quite a few times. In order to be a top corner in this league, you have to be able to forget these plays where you get beat and move on to the next play. This is where being a younger guy is not a good thing. They are both very talented players but they aren’t experienced enough (Dennard more so than Talib) to be able to forget the bad plays so quickly. This leads to a snowball effect, and bad play will just be followed up by bad play after bad play. Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan are 26 and 23 years old and the same thing applies to them, especially in Ryan’s case. Only experience will be able to help these guys forget the plays they get beat, and hopefully they are able to grasp this concept fairly quickly for next season.

3. Defensive Tackle

What seems to be the one thing that always slows down Tom Brady? Pressure up the middle. We have seen it countless times, where a team is able to get pressure up the middle on Brady and it immediately makes the rest of their defense look good. This was one of the things that I really wanted the Patriots to address this offseason, and they sort of did by adding defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. However I don’t think that this will be enough. Vince Wilfork is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in my opinion, but he needs help in the pass rush department because he gets double teamed so often. Tommy Kelly is a very good inside pass rusher, but he is also a very inconsistent player. Armon Armstead is another question mark, because he is a very talented guy, but he has never played a snap in the NFL. If Kelly and Armstead can play to their full potential I think the Patriots inside pass rush will really improve next season, and open up a lot more opportunities for Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the edge. But there is a good chance that Armstead turns out to be a bust and Kelly could play like he did in 2012 (which was not good) and not play like he did in the years before that (which was good). If this happens, then the Patriots would have zero solid inside pass rushers other than Wilfork. This would be a problem, and just like a good inside pass rush makes a defense’s secondary better, a non existent one makes a defense’s secondary worse. In the Patriots case, their secondary is an improving one but it was not that long ago where they were the second worst pass defense in the NFL. Hopefully Kelly and Armstead are able to produce for New England and help out Wilfork on the inside, because if the Pats have a defense that has an inside pass rush, watch out.

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