Curran's questions going into camp
Cam Amendola pick it up like Welker did?
In his first season with the Patriots, Wes Welker caught 112 passes for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns. His previous career high was 67 catches with the Dolphins in 2006. From 2008 through 2012, Welker caught 111, 123, 86, 122 and 118 passes, respectively. Did the Patriots stumble upon the brilliant, untapped potential of a pass-catching prodigy? Or did Welker’s skill set fit the Patriots system and Tom Brady’s style so perfectly that he couldn’t help but put up gaudy numbers? Probably a little bit of both. And that’s why Danny Amendola is now running where Welker did. Amendola’s potential is similarly untapped (though more evident than Welker’s was in 2007) and he’s been the most obvious comp to Welker since 2010. It will take real-time reps for Amendola to get where Welker did in six seasons with Brady. Further, Amendola will see more clutter at the linebacker and secondary level than Welker encountered with Randy Moss dragging safeties downfield. But Amendola can approximate what Welker did -- the same way Welker approximated Troy Brown -- and the Patriots should remain just about the same in terms of slot production.
Will Brady's patience hold up?
At 35 and entering his 14th season Tom Brady will start training camp without the seven top pass-catchers from 2012 (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch). Brady has to break in a new tight end, a new slot receiver, a new wide receiver corps including two highly-drafted rookies and plan on operating without his most experienced and savvy third-down back. Let’s face it, the Patriots offense is rebuilding this year. The difference between their rebuilding and every other team’s is that they don’t bottom out to about 4-12 when they rebuild because they have Brady, they are exceedingly well-coached, and they have decent depth. But expect some very ugly performances in both camp practices and preseason games as the offense sorts itself out. And also expect an exasperated Brady who probably doesn’t relish a season of wet-nursing new targets at this point in his career.
Can the defense carry the load for a while?
Recently, Matt Patricia was named on a list of the top assistant coaches under 40 compiled by CBS. I’ll give Patricia the “under-40” part but I have yet to see why he’d belong on anyone’s list of top assistants. The Patriots’ defensive coordinator has a chance this year to prove it. With the offense getting reconfigured, the Patriots need their defense to carry it. The talent is there. Six picks were spent on defense in the 2012 draft including first-rounders Chandler Jones and Donta Hightower. The acquisition of Aqib Talib last year was a brilliant move as long as he doesn’t have any brushes with the law and promising young players like Justin Francis and Marcus Fortson have been joined in the offseason by CFL refugee Armond Armstead and former Raider Tommy Kelly. There’s leadership at every level of the defense with Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and newly acquired Adrian Wilson. It’s time for the defense to do its part and for Patricia to have the same pressure applied to him for the performance of the defense as Josh McDaniels gets for the offense. The Patriots haven’t won a game when scoring fewer than 20 points since December 20, 2009 against the Bills. They are 1-10 since 2009 when scoring fewer than 20 points. The Ravens, by contrast, are 9-14. Every team struggles when scoring fewer than 20. But when the Patriots don’t score 20, they’ve been dead. That has to change.
How good can the front seven be?
The Patriots projected front-four -- if they run a 4-3 -- would be Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at the ends with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at the tackles. They could flip Armond Armstead in for Kelly, they could summon Justin Francis for pass-rushing spark, they have Jermaine Cunningham and Marcus Fortson to mix in as well. At the linebacker level, they have Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo with Dane Fletcher to come in as a coverage linebacker. They also have rookie second-rounder Jamie Collins who, as a converted safety in college, should have coverage skills. With Hightower, Jones, Francis, Fortson and (to a lesser degree) Armstead in position to make strides and the stability of Wilfork and Mayo, a lot should be expected from this group.
Is this a rebuilding year?
On offense, yes, it clearly is. Not just personnel-wise but in terms of scheme since the Patriots are entering their third season with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the backfield and should be more run-oriented as the passing game sorts itself out. Defensively, though, this team should be hitting its prime. So “rebuilding” in the overall sense isn’t accurate. Reconfiguring one side of the ball while the other carries the load shouldn’t mean a full-on face plant for a perennially elite franchise.