In the time leading up to the beginning of training camp, we will be bringing you previews for each New England Patriots positional group. Up next is the linebackers.
The expected starting trio of linebackers for the Pats will be Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins. If nobody gets hurt, New England will boast one of the best group of linebackers in the entire league. All three of these guys have a lot to bring to the table, and when you combine their talents, you will get some great results.
Despite a bad upper-body injury suffered last season, Jerod Mayo will not only be the leader of the linebackers, but of the entire defense. He is a tackling machine, knows all the looks opposing offenses throw at him, and he can direct this defense like no other. Hightower is progressing well, and while I think he will struggle against the pass in 2014, his presence in the running game will be needed, especially with Brandon Spikes now in Buffalo.
Jamie Collins is the wild-card. His athleticism is off the charts, he gained some valuable experience late in the 2013 season, and if all goes well, he will have a breakout 2014 campaign. When the Patriots shift to a nickel defense, he will be on the field with Mayo. There are few tight ends that Collins can’t handle, which is something that will really help this defense in the coming months. In today’s NFL, the tight end is a huge weapon for the offense, so if you have a player like Collins that can contain him, your defense will instantly be elevated to the top of the league.
However I won’t be watching those guys come training camp. Even though the starting three are set, there is not much depth behind them. The real question that will have to be answered as move towards the regular season, is who will be able to legitimately back up the starters.
Bill Belichick went out and acquired James Anderson to help this cause, which takes care of one potential backup spot. But who will rise up as the other guy? Steve Beauharnais has the most experience in this system, but one of the undrafted guys may work their way past him over the next couple of weeks.
It will certainly be a fun battle to monitor.