COMMENTARY| This offseason has dramatically impacted the passing game of the New England Patriots because of vast changes to that part of the roster. However, the team still has future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, who has a number of secret weapons that will help him have yet another successful season in 2013.
Last year, Brady passed for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns on his way to a 12-4 regular season record. It may be difficult to believe but he could replicate such numbers again.
Shockingly, his top five targets in terms of receiving yards are either not returning or have major questions marks entering the upcoming season. Wide receiver Wes Welker and running back Danny Woodhead left via free agency; receiver Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez were released; and tight end Rob Gronkowski's availability is in doubt because of multiple surgeries.
The team brought in a crowd of veteran (including Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins) and rookie (including Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld) receivers and tight ends to compete as replacements. Some of them undoubtedly will develop into prime targets this year. It may feel like Brady is starting over with a brand new crew, but there are other under-the-radar players on the offensive side of the ball who will help him continue his run of excellence.
Running Back Shane Vereen: The third-year man is the likely choice to replace the versatile Woodhead as the team's third-down back. A second-round pick in 2011, Vereen has had limited opportunities thus far but has flashed potential as a dual threat, including hauling in an 83-yard touchdown pass in a November 22nd game against the New York Jets last season.
He has averaged 4.0 yards per carry on the ground and 18.6 yards per reception during his first two years. It appears New England will look to take advantage of his diverse play-making skills this season, as he did a bit of everything during spring practice, including lining up wide as a receiver.
Offensive Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer: Brady enjoys top-notch pass protection from his pair of 6'8" and 320-pound tackles. They lead an offensive line that enters this season ranked as the second-best unit in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com and first by RotoWorld.com.
Vollmer and Solder have developed into skilled tacticians as tackles. According to Pro Football Weekly, Vollmer was whistled for just three penalties and permitted 5.5 sacks last year. Solder was slightly better with three penalties and just 3.5 sacks allowed.
Having such effective behemoths protecting his front and blind sides will give Brady more comfort in the pocket to find his new receivers. With the potential of having many new targets with whom to develop chemistry, he will benefit from the added time to pick them out of the coverage.
Tight End/Fullback Michael Hoomanawanui: The 263-pounder isn't a lock to make the team but the uncertainty at the tight end position should give him a major leg up. He offers unique versatility with an ability to operate as a blocking back and making an impact as a pass catcher out of the backfield or as a tight end.
The 25-year-old played his first season in New England last year and had six starts among his 14 games. Although he caught just five passes, he accumulated 109 receiving yards, which demonstrates the kind of weapon he can be for his quarterback.
Hoomanawanui doesn't have the same talents as a player like Gronkowski. However, with him being so focused on blocking, defenses can sometimes lose him in the flow of the game, which can lead to opportunities for big plays. Assuming he makes the team, look for him to start getting even more attention from Brady.
Conclusion: Brady has produced excellent numbers in each of his 11 seasons as an NFL starting quarterback. Despite having to get used to an overhauled group of pass-catching targets, there's no reason to think his run of excellence won't continue in 2013. Other players may put up bigger numbers or receive more attention, but the team has some outstanding secret weapons to help ease the quarterback's transition.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.
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