SI Postcard From Patriots Camp
posted at 8/16/2011 11:19 PM EDT
From the artcile:
In heaven, according to Chad Ochocinco. That's how the former Bengal, acquired by the Patriots in a July trade, has taken to describing Foxboro, and the Boston area generally. Heaven, apparently, is a fairly featureless place (the Pats, as usual, are holding training camp on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium), and one in which its constituents are forbidden by a win-at-all-costs deity from publicly expressing anything beyond how hard they're working. It's also a place in which wide receivers drop more than their fair share of passes, as Ochocinco has at camp. "All of us are human," he explained the other day. True enough, but a day in Pats camp is enough to convince any observer that Bill Belichick's group, a few drops here or there aside, approaches the divine more than any other in the NFL.
1. Ochocinco might be extraneous. The Patriots offense will certainly benefit if Tom Brady can help turn Ochocinco back into the perennial 1,200-yard, seven-to-10-touchdown man of his Johnson days. But it's not essential, not nearly so.
Brady has so many other weapons at his disposal -- including up-and-comers like wideout Taylor Price, who had five catches for 105 yards in New England's preseason opener -- that the Patriots should fairly easily lead the NFL in scoring offense once again in 2011, with or without Ochocinco.
Not least among their contributors will be the best tight end tandem in the league, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom are entering their second year and both of whom are far too big for defensive backs to cover, yet far too fast for most linebackers. "Gronknandez" combined for 87 catches, 1,109 yards and 16 TDs last season, and those numbers could each increase by 50 percent this year.
2. The defensive line, last year a weakness, is now a strength. Belichick's camp features some 2.8 tons, as well as 119 feet and five inches, of defensive linemen, which ought to give you an idea of the area of his team that the coach felt was the biggest problem last season.
Yes, New England ranked 14th in sacks last year (36) -- but they were second in pass attempts against, because teams were so often playing them from behind. They were 11th in overall run defense, but 13th in yards allowed per attempt.
Last year's line's weakness became starkly clear against the Jets in the Pats' playoff loss, when Mark Sanchez wasn't sacked once and New York again and again ripped off chunks of yardage on the ground, usually right up the middle. That won't happen this year, not with Albert Haynesworth joining Vince Wilfork inside. And if Haynesworth's heart isn't in it, Belichick has his choice of 17 other very big men to try in his place.
3. Sebastian Vollmer has the best German/Texan/Bostonian accent you've ever heard -- and he might be the best right tackle in the league, too. Vollmer, a 6'8" native of Dusseldorf who attended Houston, was named a second-team All-Pro last season, but, strangely, did not make the Pro Bowl. That slight will likely be rectified this season. "He's big, he's tough, he's physical, strong, smart," says Wilfork of his third-year teammate. "Trust me, he might not have all the media giving him credit, but I'm pretty sure when people look at that film, they talk about him a lot."