In a 3-4 defense, the front three are usually large and take on the role of stuffing the line while the outside linebackers assist on the edges and create pressure in the backfield. For years, OLB on the Patriots D had been synonymous with Mike Vrabel. In 2007, he was giving quarterbacks fits as he generated never ending pressure on the QB's blind side. In 2008, it seemed Mike lost a step and there just wasn't a formidable pass rush to speak of. That and Adalius Thomas was injured quite a bit while rookie Shawn Crable was finally IR'd. No pass rush, no pressure on the quarterback and you put an extra load on the DB's.
There has been wide speculation that either Carolina's franchised Julius Peppers or ex-Fin turned Redskin Jason Taylor would switch from 4-3 DE's to 3-4 OLB's in the Patriots' D, but none of that has materialized. A Peppers signing seems less likely as Julius hasn't signed Carolina's tender making them unable to deal him. Taylor could be a more likely addition, but both sides remain tight lipped.
Even more interesting, most everyone thought NE would try to draft an OLB high on the board. Just about every mock draft had an OLB at 23 or 34. But, as the name implies, they're mock drafts and not based in reality. Apparently Bill's got a bigger football brain and knows what he needs better than us fans. Hoodah thunk...
- Adalius Thomas - I'll be very surprised if they don't put Thomas on the quarterback's blind side. I've always liked his pass rushing capabilities and his ability to shed blockers. Add to his quickness a 6-2 270 lb frame, and you have a freight train coming at you. Suffering a 2008 season ending arm injury against Buffalo on Nov 9, we didn't benefit from Thomas and I believe suffered because of it.
- Pierre Woods - A standout special teams guy, Pierre has grown into a very productive outside linebacker. At 6-5 250 lbs, he's less bulky than many OLB's, but he used that to his advantage in 2008. when he started at OLB, it seemed Pierre was all over the field, making tackles. If Belichick decides to start Woods at OLB, which I believe he's earned, I think we'll be in good shape.
- Tully Banta-Cain - Back with the Patriots after a two year stint with the 49ers, OLB Banta-Cain is back with the team he spent the first four years of his career with. A special teams standout and strong reserve, I see Tully adding depth when we need it. This is also a good move as Banta-Cain knows the system.
- Vince Redd - A productive special teamer, Vince saw action in 2008 as a reserve. With a year in the system under his belt, he'll be a nice reserve option when called upon and a necessary guy on special teams.
- Shawn Crable - Oh, this one hurt. Last year I was sooooo big on this kid and really wanted to see him do well. I don't know if he has Mayo-level talent, but I was hoping. Bang, he injures his shin in preseason and is inactive for the first eight games, finally being placed on IR. In preseason he looked like he had the goods, using those long arms to bat down passes. I'm hoping for more of the same this year and look for him to be a primary backup to Thomas or Woods.
- Angelo Craig - A defensive end in college, he's the lone question mark in this mix; information on him is hard to come by. I'm not really sure where he fits in, but depth is never a bad thing.
Who do you think our starters will be? Has Thomas proven his worth and will Woods be his sidekick? Are you curious to see what Crable will do? Should we pull in an experienced vet like Jason Taylor. Let's hear it.