You've got to admit it. These names definitely sound even more like a law firm than BenJarvus Green-Ellis by himself (sorry, Benjy--but you can keep the nickname). As we all know, of course, these gentlemen comprise not a law practice but rather the names of the Patriots "red-shirts" who missed 2009 on Injured Reserve. And these same three hold some of the keys to how well New England rebounds from a disappointing 2009 campaign. If LB Tyrone McKenzie, OLB Shawn Crable, and WR Brandon Tate can a) stay healthy; and b) approach their potential (all were 3rd round draft picks in 2008 or 2009); each or all of them could contribute significantly to the Patriots at positions of greatest team need. I've created a best case/worst case scenario for all three.
Best case: becomes a presence, a pass-rusher, a starter, part-time starter, or at least a key part of the rotation at outside linebacker/defensive end (however he ends up being used), plays a lots of snaps, gives the Patriots lots of sacks, hurries, pressures, etc. and shows us all why New England took him in the 3rd round.
Best case: becomes a #3 receiver like Stallworth or Gaffney in 2007, stretching the field, giving Brady a mid-to-deep target, and taking some defensive attention away from Moss.
Worst case: makes little contribution as a wideout, helps only as a returner, and fails to rise above the Aiken/Stanback level at wide receiver.
Best case: becomes a starter (or alternates with Gary Guyton) at inside LB opposite Mayo, solidifies the interior defense, and does what he was drafted to do: make lots and lots of tackles.
Worst case: makes only minimal contributions so that each week will be a coin flip as to whether he's activated or inactive for the games.
If all three players come close to their best case scenarios, New England will benefit enormously since all play positions where improvement is required. And if they contribute as hoped and join the 2010 draft class and the other returning players, the Patriots get better and deeper at their positions of greatest need.
If they don't get it done this year, Tate and McKenzie probably will get another year to prove themselves. But if Crable gets injured again or fails to contribute meaningfully, he may be done. The Patriots may conclude that he simply lacks the necessary physique to play in the NFL.
Here's hoping that all (but at least one) of these "redshirts" breaks through in 2010. Significant improvement of the kind we all hope to see may depend on it.