A season's worth of worries

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A season's worth of worries

By Michael Felger

Some of the biggest worries facing the Patriots this season to brighten your day (ranked in order):

Pass rush

Really had to dig deep for this one. Analysis like this is why they pay me the big bucks.

But it turns out that in this case, the glaringly obvious is also brutally true. If Bill Belichick can get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks with this group, it's time to dust off the genius label.

In my mind, if you have a good defense, Tully Banta-Cain is your first pass rusher off the sideline. He isn't your top outside linebacker on all three downs. But that's case for the 2010 Patriots. And it only gets worse from there. The next group of names is even scarier. Marques Murrell. Rob Ninkovich. Jermaine Cunningham. One of those guys is going to start opposite Banta-Cain. Yikes.

Defensive end is just as barren, where Mike Wright, like Banta-Cain, is more suited to sub duty and Gerard Warren (32 sacks in nine years) won't give you much burst. Ron Brace? Myron Pryor? Something tells me Michael Strahan isn't walking through that door.

Again, if Belichick can scheme it up and get quarterbacks off the spot through deception, then God bless. For now, it remains, by far, the biggest worry on this team.

Coverage

Another no-brainer. I've maintained for a while now that if this young secondary was playing behind a good pass rush, it might be good enough. That's "might." But with opposing quarterbacks figuring to have a good amount of time to throw, these guys could be toast. Darius Butler better have thick skin. Devin McCourty better have a short memory. And both better stay healthy, because Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite are next up. Double Yikes.

Yes, the safeties look promising. I just wish Brandon Meriweather was as good as he thought he was.

The Pats have allowed 52 touchdown passes the last two years. Only three teams have allowed more. That, suffice it to say, it not what you're looking for.

Setting the edge

You think the Pats' potential problems are only in the passing game? Au contraire.

Wright has been run on in the past. So has Banta-Cain. What Murrell, Cunningham or Ninkovich do on the other side is anyone's guess. The strength of the Pats' defense nose tackle Vince Wilfork playing in front of inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and, presumably, Brandon Spikes is confined and easy to identify. Why would any opponent run up the gut on the Pats? They're going to try and exploit the perimeter.

Pass protection

It looks like Tom Brady will have plenty of options in the passing game, with Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate and two promising rookie tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, joining Wes Welker and Randy Moss. It seems the only thing that can get in the way is Brady spending too much time on his back.

The line looked fine in the preseason with Dan Connolly taking over at Logan Mankins' left guard spot. That's the good news. The bad news is that the real games are about to begin, and opponents surely won't treat Connolly as just another player going forward. They're going to go after him.

But whether it's Connolly or Mankins, fans should have a fair amount of confidence in Brady's ability to get rid of the ball. It's typically one of his strengths. He was sacked just 16 times last year, by far the fewest of his career.

A Randy Moss pity party

Moss' contract-year act has already begun. He's claimed the Pats don't pay. He's disrespected his owner at his most important charity event of the year. Now he's saying he feels "not wanted." Was this not the most predictable development in the league this year?

Historically, Moss has not been one to fight through adversity. It just gets worse. Never better. That's his track record, anyway. Maybe it will be different here. If not, Brady and the rest of the team have to be sure they don't get taken down with him. Hopefully, they realize the fact of the matter: They don't need him.

A few programming notes: Starting next week we'll be filing three stories a week, with a game column posting Sunday night, the award-winning report card coming your way Tuesdays and the mailbag remaining on Thursdays.

Also, in case you missed it last weekend, Sports Sunday has moved to 7:30 p.m., with a replay at 11. Set the DVR if you can't make one of those times.

E-mail Felger HERE. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Report: Rather than release Stork, Patriots trade him for draft pick

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Report: Rather than release Stork, Patriots trade him for draft pick

When word leaked this morning that the Patriots would release center Bryan Stork, the first question that popped to many people's minds was: "Couldn't they have traded him?"

Well, hours after the news broke, they apparently did:

And a few minutes later, Ian Rapoport came through with more information:

 

Curran: Does soon-to-be-sidelined Brady feel threatened?

Curran: Does soon-to-be-sidelined Brady feel threatened?

FOXBORO -- This sounds absurd, I understand. But Tom Brady isn’t taking for granted that teammates will regard him as the team’s unquestioned leader in this tumultuous 2016.

If he did, he wouldn’t have stated on FOUR different occasions Monday how crushing it was to miss last Thursday’s game because it prevented him from fulfilling what he sees as his duty.

His irritation wasn’t simply about missing out on reps and getting in rhythm. It circled back to leadership, responsibility, the sand draining from his NFL hourglasss and his teammates counting on him.

To wit:

I feel like that’s what my job is and responsibility is to go out there and be with my team, so it was tough not to be out there.”

I’ve always felt like the team is counting on me to be out there, and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there playing. I wanted to go the other night, but I think Coach [Bill Belichick] made a great decision.”

“I’d like to be out there every time I get a chance to play, so you only get so many opportunities a year. I’m getting so many opportunities left in my life, so I’d like to take advantage of any opportunity, any and all of them if possible. When you see your teammates out there in their uniforms and ready to go, you want to be out there with them.”

“I was just, like I said, bummed that I couldn’t be out there with my teammates and taking the practice field, I love practicing, so to have the chance to go out there, you like, as a guy who’s been here for a long time, to show your leadership through example and be out there whenever you can be out there because that’s what the team is counting on.”

Is he crazy? Is he being insecure? How could he be perceived as anything but the alpha dog for the Patriots? They don’t need to see him out there to feel led by him. His resume doesn’t just speak for itself, just run the film from the AFC Championship Game and see possibly the most courageous performance of Brady’s career in Denver.

Why the urgency to pee on his territory?

Maybe it’s because Brady got the quarterback job in the first place because his predecessor treated the position like his birthright.

Brady knows the threatening, would-be replacement won’t come right out and say, “I’m the captain now.”

No, the would-be replacement shows up early with sharpened pencils and open ears and does everything he’s asked until -- one day -- the guy who owns the job isn’t there. And then, slowly, life with would-be replacement gets to feeling . . . almost normal. Livable even.

Jimmy G. may not know “Art of War” from arts and crafts, but Brady will presume he does and that the passage “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy” is tattooed inside Jimmy’s lower lip.

And Brady, knowing another Sun Tzu trope states: “A leader leads by example, not force,” has immediate concerns about how he can lead by example when he’s down until October, for God’s sake.

I asked Garoppolo on Wednesday if he has to step gently in taking control of a team temporarily that is/has been and will be Brady’s.

"It’s a tough situation at times,” admitted Garoppolo, who doesn’t seem to have a mutinous cell in his body. “It’s one of those thing where, if you start worrying about that then you can’t worry about whatever it is you’re supposed to be focused on. Your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have. I’m not trying to do something crazy that I’ve never done before. I’m just trying to be myself and do what I do.”

I asked Garoppolo if Brady has flat-out said to him that Garoppolo should just do his thing and take control.

In replay, Garoppolo said, “We have a ton of conversations on a day-in, day-out basis. We’re together 24-7. But he’s been helpful this whole way. Whether it’s encouragement, helping me with little things, he’s been nothing but help and I thank him for that.”

Brady is 10 days away from being sent out into the NFL desert to wander for a month. This is uncharted territory for him. He’s 39 and has -- for 16 years -- seen older teammates taken out behind the stables and not come back.

Ludicrous as it is on the face of it -- especially since Brady is signed through 2019 and Jimmy is up in seven months -- adjusting to the reality of someone else squatting down in his huddle may be the hardest part of it all.

Bennett: 'Put my pants on the same way' for preseason or regular-season games

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Bennett: 'Put my pants on the same way' for preseason or regular-season games

FOXBORO -- There seem to be some differing opinions inside Gillette Stadium as to the feel of the third preseason game. Is it a good dress rehearsal for the regular season, or is it just as vanilla as any other preseason matchup?

Example No. 1 comes from coach Bill Belichick's WEEI interview earlier this week: 

"In terms of playing time it might be a little different, but in terms of game-planning and strategy, what we see in the regular season compared to what we see the in third preseason game, I don’t even think you’re in the same universe," he said. "We’re still running our basic plays and we’d expect our opponents would run their basic plays.

"You get to the opener and start to get to game-planning and scheme, I mean you’re in a totally different ballpark, in my opinion. I don’t see any comparison at all. It’s too far away, I don’t see how you could compare them, from that standpoint. One-on-one matchups, letting the players play, yeah, I would say you have a better matchup of guys like that, but it’s nothing compared to what we’re going to see in the regular season from a total scheme situation standpoint."

Example No. 2 comes from Martellus Bennett, who opted not to meet with reporters last week when the Bears, his former club, came to town for joint practices. 

"All my snaps are full speed," Bennett said when asked about this week's game with the Panthers. "I don't slow down. I just go full speed the whole time so it's just a regular game for me . . . It's always the same whether it's the regular season or preseason. Put my pants on the same way. Put my shoes on the same way. Tie them the same way. Same gloves, same face mask."

Truth is, both can be right.

For players who are given plays and asked to execute assignments, a preseason game played at full speed may very well feel like a regular-season game. For coaches who are coming up with the plays and assignments for said players to execute, the difference between the regular season and preseason is vast. 

The third preseason game might then be the closest thing teams experience to a regular-season game this month, but it's still not close.