I had the chance to chat with Ricky Keeler of Foxboroblog.com about the upcoming preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots. Ricky shared his thoughts on the Patriots dynasty, the upcoming season and what to expect in Thursday night’s match-up. You can check out my answers to his questions here.
Recap the Patriots offseason for us. How would you grade their draft? their free agency?
I would give the Patriots a B+ in both their draft and free agency. Their draft gave looks into needs for the 2011 season (CB Ras-I Dowling and the duo of running backs in Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen). Plus, they drafted LT Nate Solder and QB Ryan Mallett for the long-term future of this organization. I would have given their draft an A had they picked up an impact player on defense who can rush the passer. Their free agency was filled with solid bargain deals. They improved their new 4-3 look defensive line with Andre Carter, Albert Haynesworth, and former Jet Shaun Ellis. Plus, I loved the Chad Ochocinco move. I have been calling it since January because with no distractions, I think he can be the 1,000 yard receiver he was just 2 years ago. He gives Tom Brady another weapon in the vertical passing game.
Tom Brady is 34 years old, when do you think he will begin his decline and is Ryan Mallett the QB of the future or just a developmental project?
The comment that stood out to me was what Brady said after the Patriots took Mallett in the 3rd round. He said that he could play another ten years in this league. I think he has 5-7 great years left him and the Patriots will win at least one more championship during that stretch. I loved the Ryan Mallett pick because he is a player who the Pats know that if he fixes his off-the-field problems, he can be a very good pocket passer in this league. Mallett will either be the next Aaron Rodgers who can learn under Brady or be the next Kevin Kolb that nets the Pats another top pick in a future draft.
The Patriots had a great run in the early 90’s but haven’t won it all in the last six seasons. With Brady aging is there any restlessness in New England that the window might be closing?
I don’t see any restlessness from Patriots fans because this team still has, as I said before, 5-7 years of great football left. Tom Brady is aging, but he is coming off of a year where he unanimously won the MVP award. The key to another potential title run is going to be the defense. Last year, they could not get off the field and struggled to get a pass rush going. With all the young players on this team, they will get better and better as the years go on. They will be a top four team in the AFC for the next few years and the rest of the NFL will still have to worry about New England.
Where do you think Bill Belichick ranks among the all-time great coaches?
The hoodie has become one of the top coaches in the history of the league! Even though he makes some surprising cuts or doesn’t draft who we think he will, he always finds a way to get the most of his players. He plugs different players in and they still flourish regardless of their skill set. The thing for me that defines Belichick is his ability to manage malcontents from other teams. He has been able to take Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, and now potentially Haynesworth and Ochocinco and make them productive players on this team. Belichick is a great defensive schemer and he confuses even the best NFL quarterbacks like he did with Peyton Manning in the early 2000’s.
What can we expect from New England in this game? Give me a couple of exciting young players to watch
I like the preseason this year because I get the chance to watch the Patriots young players in action. RB Steven Ridley had three touchdowns against the Jaguars on Thursday and with Shane Vereen still injured, Ridley will continue to get the bulk of the playing time. With no Tom Brady for at least three quarters, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett will try to continue their solid play in the preseason. WR Taylor Price can become another deep threat for Brady as he competes against Brandon Tate for the 4th WR spot. The defense is also something to watch because DE Marc Anderson could become a 3rd down pass rusher and Dane Fletcher is a solid MLB behind the all-pro Jerod Mayo.
Give me your prediction for the Pats in 2011
Despite all the talk from the Jets , I think the Patriots will win the AFC East once again. Their offense still puts up 28 points per game and can shootout with every offense in this league. The key will be the pass rush and the 3rd down defense. Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth are going to play key roles on the pass rush. Plus, I love the secondary with the drafting of Dowling and getting Leigh Bodden back from injury. Bodden was a good corner for the Pats in 2009 and will bring another veteran to a young defense. This team won’t go 14-2, but they will make the playoffs and capture another division title.
Bonus: Often times in football the best teams end up cutting good players that they simply don’t have room for. Last season the Patriots cut their 7th round pick, Ted Larsen and Larsen ended up starting half the season at left guard and playing at a high level. Give me a very talented player on your roster this season who still may not make the cut because of the numbers game.
The main position I have to look for this question is the defensive line. The Patriots brought in what seems like 20 defensive linemen into their training camp to see who fits in the new hybrid 3-4 scheme that is mostly a 4-3 scheme. There are three young kids who I think will be a casualty that played well in the 2010 season. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick could be the first two to go. As far as the third, we have all heard the rumors of Belichick possibly cutting ties with Haynesworth and Ochocinco. If the Patriots do make that decision, it will be like Randy Moss from last year where he lets go of a veteran to prove a point.