The Hill did a great job of getting this rolling. He's taking some time off and I'd like to see this done by the new year. Just to give us something else to talk about, I'm going to throw in a backup for each position. A backup is defined as a guy who rarely started (except when the starter was down), but you still felt pretty darn good about him when he saw playing time.
The Patriots of the Decade: Starting Defense
#1 Vince Wilfork - We didn't vote on this one for a simple reason. Washington had one year of eligibility in this decade. Seymour was supplanted when Wilfork entered the scene and Wilfork has owned the position in 6 out of ten years this decade. After all that service, he's heading to the Pro Bowl again and all we can say is "Pay Vince!" This is as much a no-brainer as it gets.
Backup: Mike Wright - very few guys can step into Vince's rather large shoes. Mike is the guy that gets the playing time when Vince needs a breather.
#1 Richard Seymour - 85% of the popular vote, Richard filled in at Nose Tackle for three years until the Wilfork took the job, and then proceeded to wreak havoc at defensive end. With Vince and Richard both needing double teams, offenses quickly run out of blockers. Seymour came in as a #1 draft pick and left us with a #1 draft pick. How's that for value?
#2 Ty Warren - 15% of the popular vote, Ty is not as dominating as the other two linemen, but he is a solid threat that can turn it on when needed. With Seymour gone, Ty is seeing more double teams and is still performing.
Backup: Jarvis Green - backup until this year, he was Hoodie's choice to fill in for the vacating Richard Seymour. Jarvis has had a solid first season as a starter, and shows some potential upside.
#1 Mike Vrabel - 55% of the popular vote, whether rushing the passer, setting the edge, dropping into coverage, or filling in as goal line Tight-End (perfect catch record), Mike did it all. He had a phenominal year in 2007, and struggled a bit in 2008 both with the porous secondary and the lack of a book-end pass rusher. Mike was a solid veteran presence in the locker room and looked out for the player's interests with the union.
#2 Willie McGinest - 37% of the popular vote, was a solid pass rusher who made the biggest plays at all the right times. He had a knack for shifting into that extra gear when the defense needed a big stop or a turnover.
Backups: Rosevelt Colvin and Tully Banta-Cain - had 2% of the popular vote each, and I had a tough time deciding. The reason I qualify them for backups is Rosie jumped in late last year when every other LB we had was injured. Tully came back to the fold this year and has supplied what little pass rush we've had. They both deserve a nod.
#1 Tedy Bruschi - 83% of the popular vote, Tedy worked his way up from special teams to be a fixture at inside linebacker. For most of the decade, the question wasn't whether Tedy would play at ILB, it was who would line up next to him. The comeback from the stroke was phenominal, and while he wasn't quite the player he was before, he made up for speed with knowledge and still managed to get the job done.
#2 Jerod Mayo - 7% of the popular vote, (I'm glad someone finally picked a #2 guy) Jerod came in his rookie year and lit up the field with tackles. Enough to become the Defensive Rookie of the Year. With the injury to Bruschi last year, the rookie wore the green dot and became the defensive playcaller. This year, his responsibilities increased and he is responsible for much more of the defense. Jerod's upset at himself because he feels he could make more plays. Hoodie's not upset at all; with all the responsibilities firmly placed upon Mayo's shoulders, he's still making plays sideline to sideline. He doesn't get as many tackles because people run away from him.
Backup - Junior Seau - While Junior has started, he is here mostly to fill a role. That role has changed from year to year. While he's had more career tackles than most of the defense combined, he is content to fill in where needed. What more could you ask for from a backup?
SS: Rodney Harrison - 77% of the popular vote, defined the Strong Safety position with a hard hitting style that punished offenses for entering his turf. Adept in run stopping, blitzing, man coverage, or just prowling the field, Rodney played with an all or nothing approach to the game. If he was on your team, you loved him; if he wasn't, you hated him. Hot Rod was good with that.
FS: Lawyer Milloy - 13% of the popular vote, all around solid cover safety and run stopper. I slid him to free safety, because Hot Rod earned the SS nod. He came up with several interceptions and passes defended in route to the Patriots first Super Bowl victory.
Backup : James Sanders - With Harrison starting at SS, and Meriweather starting at FS, Sanders was the odd man out. He's had starts, but he's also had very long periods (like this year), where he's been pushed down the depth chart. A solid veteran presence and good playmaker.
#1: Ty Law - 66% of the popular vote, was a solid cover corner while also a ball hawk. Ty walked the fine line between cheating on coverage to get a chance at a pick. Solid enough to play man on an island, good enough to make a play on the ball when needed. The best of both worlds.
#2: Asante Samuel - 29% of the popular vote, the balance Ty had was missing somewhat in Asante (Asante is Swahili for thank you for those that haven't heard it a million times on TV. For those that just learned something new, Karibu, you're welcome). Asante was a ball hawk, but he cheated routes to make plays. When he was successful, you loved him. When he got burned, you loathed him. Live by the pick, die by the pick.
Backup : Randall Gay - Primarily a nickel corner and backup safety, Gay was one of the few cornerbacks that didn't screw up on Black Sunday. He didn't get burned for touchdowns, drop interceptions, or leave his man to make helmet catches. At least it's something.