Dec 8, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Dont

New England Patriots Final Report Card: Linebackers

Sep 12, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots outside linebacker Jerod Mayo (51) during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next couple of days, Musket Fire will be running an end of year, ‘report card’ feature, that will give a final grade to each positional group for the 2013 season. Up next is the linebackers.

Final Grade: B+

Like every other positional group for the Pats, the linebackers were hit in a big way, by injuries to important contributors. First they lost their leader Jerod Mayo, who not only was the best backer in New England, but arguably one of the best in the entire league. This forced Dont’a Hightower to step up, which he did in a big way. Hightower definitely struggled in pass coverage early on, but he finished the year strong, and I think his big year will help propel the Pats’ linebackers to big things in 2014. Then they lost powerful inside backer Brandon Spikes, who missed the entire postseason because of a nagging knee injury.

Spikes had an interesting 2013 campaign. He was solid in the running game, but not nearly as dominant as what we are used to seeing, which was probably due to his knee. As usual, he was horrible in pass coverage, which led the Patriots to shutting him down for the playoffs, and likely shutting the door on his career in Foxboro. However this allowed rookie Jamie Collins to bust out into the spotlight, and his play in the postseason cemented his place among the starters for next season. Collins is an athletic freak, which makes him a terrific coverage guy. But I thought he was decent in other phases of the game as well, specifically the pass rush, where he made a lot of plays not only in the playoffs, but throughout the regular season as well. Dane Fletcher was also forced into action due to injuries, and he filled in quite well for Spikes and Mayo. Fletcher is a very good coverage linebacker, but he showed that he also has the ability to play tough against the run, which may lead to him landing another contract here in New England.

When it was all said and done, I think it was a very good year for this group. Yes, they lost their best player early on, but the resolve they showed was extremely impressive, and Mayo’s injured paved way for some new stars to arise. If Mayo can stay healthy next year, the Patriots’ group of linebackers won’t just be good, but they could be one of the best starting trios in the entire league. Hightower’s forte is stopping the run, but he improved vastly in pass coverage. Collins is the athletic “hybrid”, who can check just about any tight end in the league, and Mayo is an all around great defensive player. I look forward to what this group will be able to do in 2014.

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Tags: Brandon Spikes Dane Fletcher Dont'a Hightower Jamie Collins Jerod Mayo New England Patriots

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