Today we decided to check in with one of our fellow Patriots' bloggers for a Q&A session. Jamie Pacheco of Musket Fire, was kind enough to answer our questions about the Pats, below. After you're done reading, be sure to take a trip over his site to look at the solid Patriots coverage they've got going on.
1. What do you think is the Patriots' biggest need going forward in this offseason? Why?
Pass rush, pass rush, and some more pass rush. The position to target here would be an outside linebacker or a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. Opposing quarterbacks have had way too much time to survey the field and make throws. The guys in coverage can only cover for so long, and the lack of a pass rush is, in my opinion, stifling the development of the young secondary. As much as they improved over the course of the season, they would look even better had they had a reliable pass rush behind them.
2. What players do you think New England should have an eye on in the first few rounds of the NFL Draft?
Predicting what the Patriots will do on draft day is like trying to predict the lottery. They'll wheel and deal draft picks and then suddenly grab a guy that wasn't on most experts' radar. That being said, I would focus on three areas: outside linebacker or a hybrid edge rusher, offensive line, and a 3-4 defensive end. At OLB, I'd say Akeem Ayers from UCLA and Justin Houston from Georgia are players to watch, and Aldon Smith from Missouri as a hybrid DE/OLB. At pure DE for the 3-4, Cameron Jordan from Cal and J.J. Watt from Wisconsin have been mentioned by several sources as possible Patriots. For the offensive line, any position is possible. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Pats draft Mike Pouncey from Florida to play guard his first season and then possibly move him to center after Dan Koppen's contract is up. At tackle, local product Anthony Castonzo from BC or Tyron Smith from USC are possibilities. We'll know more about these players and others though after the Combine. One dark horse to watch is RB Mark Ingram from Alabama. If he
falls to the Pats pick at #17, I wouldn't be surprised to see the team pick him up.
3. How would you grade the 2010 New England Patriots' season?
I would give them a B. Despite the final game against the Jets, they really exceeded expectations. I can't go any higher though because they didn't even make it to the AFC Championship game.
4. Do you want a 16 or 18 game NFL Schedule? Why?
I most definitely want a 16-game season. There is nothing anyone could do to convince me that an 18-game regular season is a good idea. Players are barely making through a 16-game schedule, let alone two more meaningful regular season games. What would happen to those players nobody sees coming, those late round picks or undrafted rookies, who end up shining in the preseason and making a team? The two extra regular season games translates to two less preseason games. While those games can be painful to watch at times, they are critical in new player development and integration into a team's system. I don't think anybody's given consideration to the lost opportunities for these young players with something to prove.
5. What big name free agent will be a Patriot next season, if at any?
I don't see the Patriots going after any big name free agent, aside from trying to keep Logan Mankins. I see the team working on the contracts of in-house players and trying to build through the draft. After the success of the previous two drafts, especially last year's draft, I feel that the Patriots will follow the Green Bay model of drafting strong and re-signing their own key players. That doesn't mean that they won't try and sign some middle-to-low tier free agents for depth, but I don't think they'll make a big splash in free agency this year.
@JasonT I agree with Jamie, though. If we're signing a big free-agent, it has to be Mankins. Asomugha, while certainly a nice boost, might be a tough sell in the locker room. Both Vince and Mankins have had some long, difficult contract negotiations and it could send a bad message to put out big money for Asomugha.
If the Pats are going to make a splash with a big name, a trade for a receiver like Steve Smith or Larry Fitzgerald might make more sense.