As you may have heard by now, the Patriots traded away veteran leader Richard Seymour on Sunday. With Seymour gone, the Pats' defense has now lost four battle-tested veterans in one offseason — again, that fact may have been brought up once or twice in the past 36 hours.
So now that the dust has settled (somewhat) on the Seymour trade, it's time to assess the Patriots' defense. Specifically, who is the playmaker?
Jerod Mayo's name instantly comes to mind. The reigning defensive Rookie of the Year made 100 solo tackles last season, instantly becoming a force in the middle of the defense. His impact, however, won't be flashy. He's invaluable, of course, but he likely won't be the one diving for interceptions. Not yet, at least.
Similarly, the defensive line will be assigned to shut down the run and attack the quarterback. Vince Wilfork's value comes in clogging up the middle by drawing two blockers — not exactly the type of play that ends up on SportsCenter at the end of the day. The defensive backfield has yet to provide any reason to believe it's an improved group. On paper, it looks that way, but through four preseason games, the same issues — namely the 10-15 yard receptions — still appear to be prevalent.
That leaves Adalius Thomas to be the game changer. Derrick Burgess could make some plays rushing off the edge, but to expect the 31-year-old to repeat his 16- and 11-sack seasons of 2005 and 2006 may be just wishful thinking. Thomas, on the other hand, is by far the most experienced and most talented member of the linebacking corps, and the only thing that will stop him from being the man on defense is an issue with health.
Thomas racked up 34 tackles and five sacks last year before breaking his arm in Week 9 against the Bills. Though the video of the injury didn't circulate much, Thomas' reaction to the injury shows the type of fire that he brings to the game.
When he got hurt, Thomas rushed off the edge and engaged with a blocker, who swiped at Thomas' arm and broke it instantly. Despite the gruesome injury, Thomas pursued the ball carrier and even shoved the Bills player who hit him before walking off the field for the last time that season. Thomas wasn't placed on season-ending IR until nearly a month later, and many believe he was attempting to return to the field to help the Pats in their playoff run.
If that determination is any indication of how much focus Thomas is bringing to this season, then the Patriots' defense is in good hands.
Thomas will be looking to re-establish himself as one of the premier linebackers in the game. While he's over 30, his extended absence last season may have given him a bit more fuel for the tank. In his first season with the Patriots, Thomas played in all 16 games, registering 78 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks and one interception. That pick very memorably came at home in Week 2 in what was billed as a potential AFC Championship preview, when Thomas jumped in front of a Philip Rivers pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. It was his seventh career pick and third touchdown.
As it turned out, that was indeed the matchup for the AFC Championship, and the Patriots again defeated the Chargers in Foxborough. Two weeks later, Thomas turned in a memorable performance that may have gone in the record books had it not been for the Giants' fourth-quarter drive to win Super Bowl XLII. In that game, on the biggest stage, Thomas made five solo tackles — six in all — and two sacks.
Again, that's reason for excitement around New England. So while it may hurt to see No. 93 depart for Oakland, watching No. 96 streaking down the sideline to turn around another game in Foxborough should make it easier to swallow.