|Patriots Kickoff NFL 2006|
by Dean Nicosia
Is the Dynasty back for another run, or is this just another step away from the greatness that we witnessed for the past 5 years?
That question and many more will start to be answered as the Patriots host the Bills today at Gillette to kick off the 2006 season.
The Patriots have undergone quite a few changes since last year when they took the field for the first time, and today we will be getting a closer look at just what those changes mean for the future success of our favorite team.
As far as off season losses go, there was non bigger than the departure of legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri of all-weather, clutch kicking fame. Not only did we lose our great kicker and leading scorer, but we lost him to AFC rival and powerhouse Indianapolis Colts who were one awful kick away from the Super Bowl last season. A trip to the Super Bowl this season for the New England Patriots would almost certainly mean a big game with Indy and most likely come down to a clutch field goal kick.
So who do we have kicking for us this season? Well, a rookie kicker out of Memphis named Stephen Gostkowski who while going perfect on all kicking chances in the pre-season, is still a rookie trying to fill the shoes of a legend. But before you throw in the towel on our kicking game, just think back to the first year for Vinatieri, another unproven rookie with a funny name looked to prove himself a spot where rookies had hurt us in the past. (remember "Missin Scisson"?) So while we watch this kid kick his first kick for us, we could be watching the next legend in the making, only time will tell.
Another departed Patriot now plays for the Browns and leaves a bit of a hole at the linebacker spot. Willie McGinest is now gone after 11 years with the Patriots and also leaves some big shoes to fill. While old and oft injured of late, the Patriots brought in a legend at linebacker in Junior Seau to help replace the presence of Willie. While Jr plays inside LB and Willie left a hole at Outside LB, Seau is an overall upgrade at the linebacker position and will allow guys like Vrabel and Colvin to stay outside while he covers inside with Bruschi. Imagine, if they stay healthy, the experience and leadership, and of course ability, of both Bruschi and Seau at inside linebacker. Let's hope they can stay healthy and give the younger LBs time to grow.
Last season also saw numerous injuries shorten the season for many of our Super Bowl veterans. Bruschi missed most of the season, but is now miraculously back from a stroke and besides a broken wrist is ready to go. Rodney Harrison, who left after week 4 with a broken leg and was never quite replaced, is now back and ready to go. Matt Light was also lost early on, and when we lost C Koppen on top of losing Light, our offensive line was noticeably weakened. This year the O-Line looks not only very good, but also has depth. Even the great Tom Brady needs some protection, or you saw what happened in Denver in the playoffs.
Don't forget that the Patriots also saw the Running Back position riddled with injuries all season. Dillon and Faulk look like they are healthy once again and with the addition of rookie Laurence Maroney, who looked great in preseason, the Patriots look like they are ready to run over opponents again, which will also help to take some pressure off Tom Brady.
Well, those are just a few of the things to look for as the Patriots take on the field for the first time this season. I'm very optimistic about our team this year, but the games still have to be played in order to see how this team really looks.
I'll see you down at What's on Second for the first game of 2006!!