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New England Patriots Links 2/15/10 - Offseason Evaluations

<em>CB Leigh Bodden is waiting to hear from the Patriots and would love to return with the team.</em>
CB Leigh Bodden is waiting to hear from the Patriots and would love to return with the team.

SportsXchange (Fox Sports) AFC East offseason preview.

1. Defensive end/outside linebacker: Whether it's in the four-man fronts that the team ran a bit more often in 2009 or in New England's traditional 3-4 sets, the Patriots must find a legitimate pass rusher. An inability to get to the quarterback, save for Tully Banta-Cain's overachieving and misleading 10 sacks, has been the major flaw in the New England defense for the last two seasons.

2. Wide receiver: Randy Moss isn't getting any younger or more productive. Wes Welker is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and is likely to open 2010 on the unable-to-perform list. And New England never found a No. 3 option behind those productive vets last fall. The Patriots must find at least two legitimate receiving options to work with Moss and developing youngster Julian Edelman.

3. Inside linebacker: Jerod Mayo battled a knee injury for a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. Former undrafted second-year player Gary Guyton was miscast on the inside in 3-4 fronts. And beyond those two young players, New England has little talent or depth at inside linebacker. That's a problem, even playing behind one of the best nose tackles in the game in Wilfork.

Mark Gaughan (Buffalo News) It's getting tough to find players for 3-4.

The stud nose tackle who dominates the middle of the line — the first prerequisite of the 3-4 — is hard to find. Patriots coach Bill Belichick voiced this concern on a conference call with Buffalo media [back in December].

"Absolutely — I think that's one thing that's really come to note for us," Belichick said. "When I came here in 2000, it was basically us and the Steelers (playing the 3-4). And the competition for players — the nose tackles, the outside linebackers, some of the two-gap defensive linemen — it wasn't very much. Players like Mike Vrabel, who didn't get a chance to play very much in Pittsburgh because of the players that were ahead of him, signed here in a big part because of the opportunity that he had to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense."