COMMENTARY | Although they are expected to contend in 2013, the New England Patriots have suffered through their most negative offseason in team history because of the arrest of two prominent players. Looking beyond the drama, the team also has a number of underdogs that fans should be rooting for during the upcoming training camp.
Two particular incidents in particular have marred the Patriots offseason.
Former tight end Aaron Hernandez currently sits in jail awaiting his trial for murder. He was immediately released by the team following his arrest in June, and is also still being investigated for his possible involvement in an older double-homicide.
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard recently received a delayed 30-day jail sentence for assaulting a police officer last year. He was also just arrested for DUI, although reports have surfaced refuting that he failed any sobriety tests. Nonetheless, prosecutors are planning to try and have his probation revoked at a hearing later in July.
Besides the obvious bad press that has come with these legal cases, the Patriots have also been criticized for allowing such perceived bad apples to infiltrate their roster.
Fortunately, there are also some underdogs worthy of fan support who will be competing for places on the team during training camp.
Quarterback Tim Tebow: Although the lefty quarterback may be getting more press than anyone else on the active roster, he is far from a sure thing to make the team. With star Tom Brady a mortal lock to start, Tebow is fighting for a backup spot. His endlessly positive attitude, winning mentality and physical skills make him an intriguing project if the team decides to keep him as a long-term investment.
He may be a polarizing player but he makes any team he is on more interesting. With such a negative offseason, the Patriots could benefit from Tebow being a lightning rod for attention.
Tight End Jake Ballard: The massive 25-year-old had an impressive rookie season with the New York Giants in 2011, hauling in 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. He tore up his knee against the Patriots in the Super Bowl that year, was released and missed all of last season while on New England's injured reserve list.
Video of his attempt to get back into the Super Bowl despite his terrible injury gives an example of how gritty a player he can be. If healthy, he could be the recipient of many Brady passes this season, as the release of Hernandez and an injured Rob Gronkowski has cast major doubt on the tight end position.
Defensive Lineman Armond Armstead: The 298-pounder was a rising star at USC until a heart attack caused him to miss his senior year. He sued the school, claiming he was given medication that caused his condition, and because he believed he was prevented from transferring.
Nobody took a chance on Armstead in the 2012 draft and he wound up with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He posted 43 tackles and six sacks on last year's team that went on to win the Grey Cup (the league's championship) and reestablished himself as a legitimate NFL prospect.
The Patriots signed the 22-year-old to a free-agent contract this offseason. He will be given a chance to compete for playing time, and because of his uphill battle his story is sure to receive a lot of positive attention.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Nothing has come easily during Fletcher's career. He joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent after playing his college ball at Montana State. He made the team as a rookie and contributed off the bench before graduating to part-time starter status in 2011.
He tore his ACL prior to last season and missed the entire year. Now that he is healthy once again he could be counted on as a valuable backup to a linebacking unit that could use his versatility to play the pass as well as the run. He has met every challenge he has faced so far in his career, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue that trend in 2013.
Conclusion: Despite the tough offseason there is still plenty to cheer about with the Patriots. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and the team is flush with those as a new season approaches.
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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