[Editor's note: I've decided to split the inside and outside linebacker stories as the Patriots are carrying 13 linebackers at this writing]
Dang. I was so stoked to see Tyrone McKenzie possibly make it into the rotation. I was stoked for a number of reasons: a) Tedy Bruschi is in the last year of his contract and, at 36 on June 9th, he has nothing left to prove; he's given his heart (literally) and soul to this team, b) the thought of another strong ILB next to DROY, Jerod Mayo, had me fairly confident the Patriots had taken care of the "Linebacker Situation", at least on the inside, and c) Tyrone is such a good story - a standup, unselfish guy putting his mother and sisters ahead of his own career when they needed him most.
- Tedy Bruschi - Tedy has 13 years in the NFL, all of them with the Patriots. A super rare accomplishment, he's been there every step of the way. When sidelined by a stroke, the haters immediately lept to the conclusion Bruschi's heart condition was related to steroid use. When Tedy's doctors found a hole in his heart, they were later proven to be wrong, looking entirely stupid in the process. One of our favorite Patriots, he could've easily rode off into the sunset and retired with full honors. Typical of the man, he couldn't turn the motor off and became an example to everyone. Whether or not he plays past 2009 is anyone's guess, but I, for one, am thankful for all he's given us. Breeewwwwwskiiiiii!!!!
- Jerod Mayo - What is there to say? Our 2008 10th overall pick is exactly what we hoped for - talented, hard working, and a HUGE football IQ. Did I mention humble? When asked how he thinks he did last year, his response is, "I don't think I'll ever be satisfied." Belichick must've smiled from ear to ear when he heard that...never be satisfied. Jerod has, quite simply, never left Gillette Stadium this off season. If he's not in the weight room, he's watching film, looking for those things he needs work on and then fixing them. He's going to be scary.
- Gary Guyton - Mayo was a rock and took on a very complex defense at an early stage in his career; Jerod played the most snaps of any defensive Patriot. However, as Tedy approaches the twilight of his career, we needed a rotation strategy and Guyton was it. Taking on various roles as a reserve and special teams guy, Gary could be counted on to fill a gap when called on. An UFA, he's a find, in my opinion, and will only get better.
- Eric Alexander - Mostly a special teams guy and reserve ILB, Eric has been with the Patriots for four seasons. He's done what's been asked of him and has been a productive tackler. Knowing the system, he's an important reserve option for our defense.
- Antonio Appleby - A rookie free agent from Virginia, Antonio may have a leg up on the other rookies; Virginia ran a 3-4 defense under former Patriots assistant, Al Groh. Getting...younger...at...linebacker. I like it!
- Vinny Ciurciu - With four years at Carolina and one at Minnesota, Vinny was considered a special teams ace; he consistently ranked at the top of the heap for tackles. When called upon, he jumped in at MLB, ILB, and OLB. A real utility guy, it's always good to have someone on the team with his versatility.
- Tank Williams - Dude, you know Tank is a Safety, right? Yep. That's what he's LISTED as. However, Tank is a rare safety/linebacker mix. He'll be widely used in special packages were they need that nickel or dime guy and I believe he'll lineup a few steps in between and behind the ILBs, prowling the middle and assisting on the edges when called for. I can't wait to see this; I've waited a year due to his season ending injury in 2008 and I'm incredibly psyched to see what Tank can accomplish.
Typical Belichick, he adds youth and then adds experience to mentor the young guys. Jerod Mayo is a clear lock as an ILB starter. If he was unsatisfied with his breakout performance last year and is putting in the time he seems to be, he's going to be a monster on the inside. Tedy will rotate in and out, but I see his role diminishing; the younger guys need the reps and Tedy has given us enough. His presence will be huge on the sidelines and in the locker room. I believe Guyton and Appleby will vie for rotational duties at ILB. That is, unless we decide to sign Pisa Tinoisamoa. Jettisoned by the Rams, Pisa has six seasons under his belt and could add depth and experience at that position, similar to adding Bodden and Springs at CB.