No, I don't mean Bill's going to get a facelift or he's on a long lost search for the fountain of youth. As we saw in 2008, the defensive backfield for our New England Patriots had its share of challenges. Hybrid safety/linebacker Tank Williams went down in the preseason, Rodney Harrison has suffered a potential career ending injury, and cornerback Deltha O'Neal will be looking for a job in 2009.
I may be reading too much into this, but Coach appears VERY interested in some young players, almost as if the Patriots 23rd first round spot is turning into something else. Like maybe Brady's ready for 2009 and BB's going to use him to trade up in the draft? In an interview on this site, Shalise Manza Young of the Providence Journal said as much:
I was at Brady's appearance on Wednesday, and based on what he said, I think he'll be ready to go by training camp at the latest. He's been golfing, and as any golfer can attest, there's a lot of pressure on the knees when you're swinging the driver -- that piece of info to me is the best sign yet for Pats fans that he's really progressing.
Hmm... Franchising Matt Cassel might have been one of Belichick's best moves in recent history. Not only did it prepare us for the possibility that Brady would be sitting on the bench, but Matt could turn out to be quite the bargaining chip. Here's what Belichick had to say about the safety position:
I think the demand for that position has changed and I think that’s changed the evaluation a little bit. So maybe some of those hybrid guys who played corner and played safety – like [Malcolm] Jenkins, for example, is a guy who played both, what his best fit would be for a team, where he’s most valuable, is certainly an interesting discussion for all teams.
We made considerable progress in 2008 with the additions of DROY Jerod Mayo, corners Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley, and OLB Shawn Crable. The acquisition of a Top 10 safety would be huge, really huge. Brandon Meriweather has learned a great deal from his mentor Rodney Harrison and I think the addition of someone like Jenkins would put the Patriots in great position to have a solid defensive backfield, the kind of backfield we haven't had in a long time. Belichick also went on to say:
I think there are some very talented players there, guys from different backgrounds – guys who have been in coverage, guys who haven’t been in coverage, with pass rush ability. The [Brian] Orapkos and [Larry] Englishes, guys like that. That will be part of the process as we go forward, to try to figure out how they would fit in, in our case, to our system.
Could he be looking for the next Mike Vrabel, a guy who has been huge sealing the edges in our 3-4? I love Vrabel for what he's done for this ball club, but to be practical, he lost a step this past season and wasn't quite the pass rusher of old. Remember 2007? He was in the face of just about every QB we played against. I didn't see that in 2008. Sorry.
Time to get young. Time to inject some smart rookies into the system. And it may be due to Matt Cassel being ready for all those years, for preparing and having the chops to jump in when called on. Cassel's last duty for the Patriots may not be on the field, but at the draft table.