The New England Patriots open training camp this week six months after a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants 21-17; the second time in four seasons New England has lost to the Giants in a Super Bowl's waning moments. The loss brought to light some lingering issues with the Patriots that the team looked to address through their offseason moves.
Since the Patriots' back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 2003 and 2004, the team has lacked a significant ground attack; relying more on Tom Brady to carry the offense. After the departure of the team's leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis to free agency, the Patriots' modest running game had become more suspect. New England looked to address this area of vulnerability by obtaining two-time 1,000 yard rusher Joseph Addai.
Once a formidable weapon in the Indianapolis Colts backfield, Addai's numbers have fallen off due in part to injury as well as the prolific Colts' passing game. Now on another team that relies heavily on the passing attack, Addai will be called upon to fill a role in a running back tandem and not be a primary ball carrier. Versatile Danny Woodhead and last season's rookie running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will also be vying for ball carries this season. The likely scenario again in 2012 will be a backfield tandem to carry the load for the Patriots with hopes of establishing a more balanced offense.
Last season's passing game was heavily weighted on the shoulders of the tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The dependence on the tight ends lessened the lack of productive wide receiver depth. Last season's big name acquisition, Chad Ochocinco turned out to be a disaster for New England and the team looked to reinforce the receiver corps this offseason. The first order of business for New England was to provide Tom Brady with a dependable wide out with big play potential.
Just one month after the Patriots let a Super bowl victory slip through their fingers, the team obtained Brandon Lloyd to fill the receiving void. Coming off a 1,400 yard season for Denver in 2010, Lloyd split the 2011 season between Denver and St. Louis; combining for 966 yards. With their new acquisition, New England now has a receiver who can stretch the field and open up passing lanes over the middle for dependable Wes Welker and the prominent tight end duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez. The team did not just settle for Lloyd as an addition; later signing former Patriot Jabar Gaffney to add to their receiver depth. Both Lloyd and Gaffney are familiar players for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was head coach while both were in Denver.
The Patriots had arguably one of their best drafts through their first round selections Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones. The team was coming off a season where their defense ranked among the worst in the NFL and still managed to make it to the Super Bowl. With the draft focus on defense, the Patriots look to strengthen two key positions (defensive line, linebacker). The sub par performance of the New England secondary was also addressed through the drafting of Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, and Alfonzo Dennard. This season's training camp will present an opportunity to improve for the returning secondary players through increased competition.
As with most seasons, the success of the New England Patriots will rely on how healthy the team remains. The offense will go as far as Tom Brady can carry them; and as long as he has his primary weapons at his disposal, there is no reason to think that a drop-off is imminent.
With reinforcements added to both sides of the line of scrimmage, there is reason to be optimistic that the New England Patriots have what it takes to make another Super Bowl run. The greatest level of uncertainty still lies in New England's ability to control the time of possession through a solid running game and in their defenses ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. The talent obtained through the draft gives some indication that improvement is possible. With draft focus on building young talent to supplement the defensive effort; along with veteran offensive components added to bolster Brady's weapons, the New England Patriots are well poised for another chase for a fourth Vince Lombardi trophy in the Bill Belichick / Tom Brady Era.
Scott Duhaime is a fan and follower of the New England Patriots for over 30 years, witnessing the team's ascent from league irrelevance to among the league's elite franchises.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime
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