Patriots Free Agent Primer: Inside linebackers

Patriots Free Agent Primer: Inside linebackers
May 24, 2011, 2:43 pm
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By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.comThis is the seventh in a series of looks at the Patriots' position-by-position needs after the draft, and who's available to fill them via free agency . . . whenever free agency might come. Today's position:Inside linebacker.

Who's here?
Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Dane Fletcher.Who's out there?
Stewart Bradley (Eagles), Akin Ayodele (Bills), Stephen Tulloch (Titans), A.J. Hawk (Packers), Stephen Cooper (Chargers), Eric Barton (Browns), Kevin Bentley (Texans), Mark Herzlich (Boston College)What's the need?
From 1-10? Let's call it a 5. That's a real good group of four players in the "Who's here?" department. You have an All-Pro run-stuffer who sets the tone for the defense in Mayo. A kid who should improve into a pretty good NFL starter in Spikes. A guy who can give much-needed speed in covering between the numbers on intermediary third-down routes in Guyton. And a speedy, try-hard guy in Fletcher. But what the Patriots could use is an old lion in the mix they can plug-and-play when Spikes is lagging. I'll be honest, I'm not sure Spikes has the same level of professionalism as the rest of the ILBs he's working with.
Who do they chase?
There's no reason to spend time on the high-end guys like Tulloch or Hawk. But Bradley and Ayodele are veteran guys with 3-4 knowledge. Cooper is also a 3-4 ILB but he has a tendency to get driven around like a shopping cart. Herzlich is a very likely candidate for the Patriots to pursue. Because of his post-illness speed limitations, he may need to make the move inside.
Who do we look at next?
Secondary.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran