Patriots veterans trust in team's youth movement

Patriots veterans trust in team's youth movement
September 6, 2012, 9:16 pm
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FOXBORO -- First it was Donte' Stallworth. Then Jabar Gaffney. Then came Dan Koppen, Deion Branch and Brian Hoyer. One by one, veterans fell, casualties of training camp cuts. And with them went the Patriots' average age.

Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe pointed out over the weekend that of all the teams fielded by Bill Belichick during his tenure with the Patriots, this is the youngest roster he will take into a Week 1 game.

It's a youth movement that's opened eyes in the locker room.

"Yeah this locker room is starting to make me feel old now," Wes Welker said. "But it's been good. A lot of energy, a lot of energetic type guys and young guys. And, you know, I think the main thing is focusing day in and day out and understand it's a long season and you gotta keep on maturing and keep on playing well throughout the season."

Logan Mankins -- all of 30 years old -- joked about it, too.

"I am getting old," he said. "See all this gray hair? I guess it happens to us all."

Between New England's young tackles and tight ends, Mankins may find himself surrounded by relative whippersnappers, but he trusts them as he trusts veterans. He doesn't really have much of a choice.

"We are a lot younger team," he said. "Some older guys are gone so you just gotta count on each other that they're going to do their job, put in the film study, put in their work on the field so hopefully it shows up on Sundays."

The defense is where the Patriots have seen the most significant infusion of youth. Its starters, including rookies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, average 25 years old. Second-rounder Tavon Wilson also worked his way into a prominent role for the defense during training camp. And second-year corner Ras-I Dowling should also contribute a great deal to the secondary when healthy.

"To be honest with you, I think we have a mature group," said Jerod Mayo, now in his fifth season one of the elder statesmen of the defense. "Guys come to work every day. They come in early and leave late. We're fortunate to have them."

But even Mayo knows there's no substitute for experience, and he's hoping that the enormity of playing in their first regular season NFL game doesn't get the best of his rookie teammates, from whom much is expected.

"It's definitely an unknown," he said. "We talk about the different speeds of the game, we talk about the preseason, the regular season and the playoffs. But I'm sure those guys . . . We've been prepared. We've been preparing, and the coaches have been doing an unbelievable job of getting us ready."