Bill Belichick's championship defenses have been flooded with some awesome linebackers, whether it was Lawrence TaylorCarl Banks, or Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest. Currently, the Patriots have a lot of potential at the position, but it's an inexperienced group that has to fill in around Jerod Mayo. Let's take a look at New England's group of linebackers.
Linebackers on Roster: Eric Alexander, Tully Banta-Cain, Shawn Crable, Jermaine Cunningham, Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo, Tyrone McKenzie, Marques Murrell, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Thomas Williams, Pierre Woods
Available Roster Spots: Probably eight
Key Statistic: Mayo averaged 8.69 total tackles per game in each of his first two seasons. He averaged 5.8 solo tackles per game in 2008 and 5.6 solo stops in 2009.
Position Battle to Watch: There's a snowball effect here, but it starts at inside linebacker in the 3-4 base. Mayo obviously has one spot, but who gets the next one? If it's Gary Guyton, the Patriots will then likely have to use a heavy rotation of players at outside linebacker. But if Belichick moves Guyton to the outside, where his speed is most valuable, it will create a good position battle for the starting job next to Mayo. Tyrone McKenzie and Brandon Spikes, who have zero NFL snaps between them, have a ton of promise, and each might be ready to start from the word go.
Hot Topic: The Patriots' defensive success will rely strictly on an ability to get to the quarterback. They've lacked an elite pass rush since 2007, when they were second in the NFL with 47 sacks. Since, the Pats were tied for 14th in 2008 with 31 sacks, and they were tied for 23rd in 2009 with 31 sacks. New England has a talented secondary, but it was hung out to dry far, far too often last season because the front seven couldn’t disrupt the quarterback's rhythm.
Cunningham (draft) and Murrell (free agency) were the only outside linebackers added during the offseason, and Cunningham has to make the conversion from defensive end. That’s a lot to put on this unit, and the pass rush was likely a top priority when the coaching staff talked strategy heading into offseason camps.
NESN.com will be breaking down the Patriots by position.
Sunday, July 25: Defensive Line
Tuesday, July 27: Cornerbacks