Each week leading up to the draft, the Foxboro Blog crew will spend a week breaking down a position on the Patriots' roster. We'll start with a quick overview and then move onto a discussion involving potential draftees at that spot as well as free-agents that the Patriots may pursue. Up this week is the Linebacking Corps...
2010 Recap: The Patriots entered the 2010 off-season with a need for a pass-rushing outside linebacker. The Adalius Thomas experiment had come to a contentious end the year before and the Pats anemic pass rush had severely hurt them in '09. As the analysts and prognosticators made their predictions, they assumed Bill Belichick would make a big move to address this gaping hole in the defense either via the draft or free-agency. They were wrong. The only free-agent that seemed to by seriously courted by the team, ex-Bill Aaron Schobel ended up passing on the Patriots in favor of sitting out the season. The team did spend a 2nd round pick on Jermaine Cunningham who would play OLB, but he was in the process of converting from the DE position in college and was pegged for a "transition" year in 2010. Things got even more dicey in training camp when veteran Derrick Burgess held out to contemplate retirement, only to re-join the team and subsequently get cut. That left the bulk of the outside linebacking duty to Rob Ninkovich and the 2009 team sack-leader Tully Banta-Cain.
While Ninkovich exceeded most people's expectations, Banta-Cain had a severe drop-off from his previous season. Jermaine Cunningham showed flashes of brilliance, but injuries slowed him down at the end of the year. Overall, it was a pretty dismal season on the outside and the Patriots' lack of a pass rush was perhaps the top reason why the team seemed to fail to get stops time and time again on third down.
On the inside, things were much, much brigther. It always helps when you have a Pro Bowl-caliber tackling maching like Jerod Mayo. Rookie Brandon Spikes was excellent at stopping the run and will likely develop into a special player if he responds well to coaching. Gary Guyton continued his solid play as well and even found himself on the highlight reel a few times by reeling in some opportune interceptions.