Vrabel was never good at man coverage. He is 260 lbs, Therearen't amny players of that weight that can cover. His coverage isn't the issue. It is his edge rushing.
Here are his last four seasons. 2005 he was inside because Johnson retired. 2006 he was outside until Seau was hurt and he went inside. 2005 to 2007 are his three best seasons. This season he palyed outside all year and had just four sacks. And only had one pick, but that is alright for outside.
Four sacks doesn't cut it. Pierre Woods or Crable would probably get more than that themselves, but Woods doesn't recognize when to rush and when to call it off. We will see more with Crable later on, although he looked worlds better than Woods ever did in the short time before his shin was hurt with two Passes broken and one INT along with 2.5 sacks.
There is a great deal of intellectual independence there. I doubt any rookie could come in and knock Vrabel off right away. Watch Bruschi's video breaking down assingments,it is on youtube, he talks about when the LB has to call off his own blitz because he reads hot route or cross over his spot.
Any rook who could do that would be top-ten talent (Ware, Merriman) and would be there mostly because they were too dominant to leave out.
Second, the linebackers from the outside don't need to be good in man coverage, they just need to cover a zone usually. That involves a backpedal from the line, and quickness to react. There are very few who can man cover. Adalius is a better man cover guy than Vrabel. But even his isn't elite for anOLB. The elite is Julian Peterson, but talent like that is rare. If 240 lb linebackers could cover TEs man on, people would be making them into 240 lb safeties. 260 lb linebackers cannot cover receiving TEs or people would be making them receiving TEs who have the build of blocking TE's.
Jason Taylor isn't the best. Suggs is,but he won't be here. I am thouroughly convinced that Dansby could play any spot on the LB corps, but he won't be here either. But if JT were healthy he would provide a pass rusher that NE hasn't had since Tippet left. Someone that is truly dominant.
Last, our "d" was bad enough last season, I don't see how it gets dramatically worse. They were 11th overall, and adjusted for strength of offensive schedule they were ranked 20th by Football Outsiders (27th against the pass and 10th against the run). Their team rankings are really spot on because they account for the level of competition the team played.
No rookie we are getting our hands on will replace Vrabel next season. Nor will he fix those problems. The defense last season was middle of the pack in INTs, completion
percent, sacks,and bottom of the pack in passing TDs, big plays and
third down. One rookie won't fix that at OLB.
And there is always the possibility that it was a down season for Vrabel and he bounces back, but just like with Bruschi and Rodney father time comes calling for all the greats eventually.
The defense needs all sorts of help. It will take two bonafide playmakers to return this to where it was. They need to replace Samuel/Law and replace the sack output from Colvin and an aging Vrabel, and replace the SS play of Harrison. They also need to replace the ability of Ted Johnson/Vrabel inside. Not from what they were last season, but from what they were a few seasons ago when it was a championship caliber squad.
Look at the Steelers' defense. That is what NE needs. Two great safeties. I think Meriweather can be a lot like Troy, but they need a heavy hitter like Clark or what Rodney was for NE. Sanders is a FA and backup material. They need a linebacker like Harrison. Maybe they can stick it out for another season, but I expect a rotation to include Crable next season and possibly anyone else they bring on board this offseason via draft or FA. ILB is a problem. Bruschi will be back, but isn't a four down LB at this stage. Guyton might be the guy, but time will tell. With one 245 pound ILB, I would prefer that the other be something closer to 260. I like how the steelers setit up outside: Harrison 240, Woodley 260 -- one speed and one power rusher.
But I would prefer not to carry two 240 lb inside backers like Foote and Farrior.
They need another corner. If Wheatley can be healthy he could be that guy, but it is a big if.
So three young "IFs"
Wheatley -- wrist/learning curve
Crable -- learning curve
Guyton -- learning curve/player makeup as MIKE
And one old "IFs"
Vrable -- bounce back or decline?
That singles out safety aside Meriweather. Bring back Sanders? I don't know. They let Wilson go who was better than Sanders in spades. If anyone offers Sanders anything substantial they let him go. It might be for the better because he isn't getting any better.
The defense just needs to keep getting younger and more talented. Last year was a start. This year will be a continuance. The weakness is 07 was the Seau/Bruschi rotation. The weakness last season was the loss of Samuel, the decline of Vrabel, and the spot next to Mayo as Bruschi and Seau are even older now. And Sanders was exposed without a pass rush or good corner in front of him.
In the draft there are a number of players that could substantially improve this defense over the long haul. We traditionally leave out trade talk in the draft thread because it becomes very complcated, at least early on, and adds a problematic dimension to the debate. So minus any trade outs, ups, or whatever Cassel may or may not bring, NE has four first day picks, and three in the first two rounds.
I expected 1 CB, 2 LB, and 1 OL last seaon in the first four picks. They traded my OL pick for this year's second. This year I expect 1CB/S, 1LB and 1 OL and one skill position on day one before trades. I also expect NE to add one free agent CB veteran in case none of the rookies or second year kids are good enough next season. BB always has a safety plan in place. Last year it was O'neal and it didn't work, so I wouldn't be suprised to see them work up the food chain this time around.
You asked about defense, here are the guys people here are kicking around and my thoughts on them.
People they won't be able to get:Maualuga ILB 6'2" 260 (top fifteen)
-- Real heavy hitter, will be off the board. Really is ideal for this defense from a standpoint of ILB needs. People compare him to a young Seau. I agree. You would ike him. Everett Brown 6'4" 254 (top twenty) DE/OLB --
Would stand up here, but doesn't have a tremendous amount of experience doing so. Is the kind of athlete who could. Was a flithy pass rusher. Is really the cream of the crop right now, but we will see after the combine. Mike Jenkins 6'0" 200 CB (top ten) --
Is a rare talent. Top-ten selection. Might have been a Patriot if he came out last season. Has the potential to be a true lock down ace corner and game changer. Jenkins or Maualuga would be day one starters like Mayo was this season. Like him they would be the most talented player at their position instantly. Neither will be here unless NE trades way up. Guys that are more reaistic:Michael Johnson 6'7" 258 2nd
-- Speed DE/OLB like a young Colvin or Crable so I don't see the point unless they love him, and won't be in the starting lineup as a rookie but would likely be a thrid down/rotational kid while he learns the ropes.People fall in love with his height/speed ratio. Taller players are coming "in" at DE and OLB because their sheer wingspan makes them more disruptive and their legs give them more top end speed, and if coached well can leverage their weight better than a shorter player. I still think he is on the bubble because he is so raw. And I am not usually swayed by attributes like height if the player is inferior. Cushing OLB 1st 6'3" 245
-- Is a jack of all. Is safe-ish because as a fallback could play WILL. Roid and injury freak. If he displays better measurables he could catch on. I think he would need to getsomething like Crable's 4.6 40 yd dash and 29 reps to be a serious consideration. Clint Sintim OLB 2nd 6'3" 245
-- Is not close to as fast as what we have now from last year's draft in Guyton and Crable. But played 3-4 OLB in college and is smart. Also would need to show great measurables. Could be there in the second. Vontae Davis CB 1st 6'0" 204
-- won't be available, and not sure I care. Big Ten talent is overrated. But one thing to like is that he is fast and physical. D.J. Moore CB 1st 5'10" 185
-- decent size, but thin. Great coverage. Great playmaker. I am always impressed when someone can stand out on an SEC team on defense.Alphonso Smith CB 1st 5'9" 195
-- Knocked because he is only 5'9" but it is the best playmaker in the DB draft. Had something sick like 22 career INTs, and essentially runs receiver's routes for them.Louis Delmas FS 2nd 5'11" 197
-- Good intangibles, but played at a very small school. Was really impressive in the Senior Bowl. Plays from the high point, and like Meriweather is 197, so is really too small to be a full time SS. I would really say that he is too much of a Meriweather clone to bring on. Pat Chung SS 2nd 5'11" 210
-- Really impressive in the Senior Bowl. Hyper aggresive, nose for the ball. Is also knocked for being a little small from the low point, at 5'11" 210. But I would take talent and agression over ten pounds. Larry English OLB/DE 1st/2nd -- 6'3" 254
. Looks that part. Has good bulk for his height, but is a hair short for the ideal size. He is from a real small program, but has been dominant there. Great instincts and great first move. Is jumping up boards after breezing past tackles in the Senior Bowl practices. Needs to stick the combine at 4.6 or better and needs at least 28 reps to maintain his rising status. Aaron Maybin 6'4" 236-243 1st/2nd DE/OLB --
He is a sophomore with one great season. Really raw. Is very light to play DE, so I generally assume no one but 3-4 teams will take him seriously. IS supposedly lightning fast. I don't care about weight issues as much as maturity issues. BB won't take another sophomore, not after Chad Jackson. Oh, and he is big ten.
James Laurinaitis ILB 6'3" 240 1st-ish
-- I have watched a lot of this kid. Is really smart, aggresive, etc. Isn't the elite athlete IMO, that some think he is. Avoids trash as opposed to getting in it, and this is a big no-no for 3-4 ILBs who sometimes can't avoid it. Is a cold comfort for the team that wanted Maualuga. On a side note, his dad was "Animal" from the WWF tag team "Legion of Doom." Big Ten.