|NFL DRAFT: After stocking up in free agency, Patriots could focus on defense|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 25 April 2007 02:44|
They can strike quickly again on Saturday, this time with a likely focus on defense, when they will be the only team with two picks in the first round of the NFL draft.
After winning three of four Super Bowls, the Patriots wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than more championships. But they fell short the past two seasons, blowing an 18-point lead to Indianapolis in last season's AFC championship game, and losing at Denver in a divisional playoff the previous year.
Their defense has suffered from age and injuries.
Linebacker Tedy Bruschi's performance fell off in his 11th season with the Patriots and he'll be 34 on June 9. He said after the 38-34 loss to the Colts he needed time to reflect on his future.
One safety, Eugene Wilson, was sidelined for all but four games. The other safety, Rodney Harrison, missed six games with a broken right shoulder blade, then was sidelined for all three playoff games with a strained right knee. That followed a 2005 season in which a knee injury limited him to three games.
Among the Patriots' first-round targets could be linebackers Jon Beason of Miami, Paul Posluszny of Penn State, David Harris of Michigan and Lawrence Timmons of Florida State, and safeties Brandon Meriweather of Miami and Michael Griffin of Texas.
Meriweather is a hard hitter with outstanding speed and set a Miami record for most career tackles by a defensive back. He made a less positive impact on the field last season when he stomped on Florida International players during a brawl involving several players from both teams. He was suspended for one game.
The Patriots also might need help at cornerback. Asante Samuel, who tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions, has been dissatisfied since the Patriots made him their franchise player. They sought to protect themselves in case Samuel doesn't play by signing free agent Tory James from Cincinnati.
They don't need much help on the defensive line after several outstanding drafts at that position. The starters are Richard Seymour, taken in the first round in 2001, Ty Warren (first round, 2003) and Vince Wilfork (first round, 2004), with Jarvis Green (fourth round, 2002) a talented reserve.
New England did add an outstanding linebacker and perhaps the top free agent available, Adalius Thomas, who had 11 sacks for Baltimore last year. Thomas, 29, has been to the Pro Bowl and can play several positions.
Last year, the Patriots drafted offensive players with their first four picks, led by Laurence Maroney in the first round. He should get more playing time now that Corey Dillon, the NFL's top active rusher with whom he alternated, has been released.
The Patriots signed Sammy Morris to back up Maroney, but their biggest moves came at wide receiver.
They obtained Wes Welker from Miami for picks in the second and seventh rounds this year and signed free agents Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington. That continued a massive overhaul at that position after the Patriots played all last season without their top two receivers from 2005. Deion Branch was traded to Seattle for the 24th pick in the draft, and David Givens left for Tennessee as a free agent.
``When Donte' and Kelley were drafted, we were very interested in them as receivers who could help our offense and that feeling still exists,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when they were signed.
New England also has its own first-round choice, 28th overall.
The Patriots didn't do very well with their second-round pick last year, wide receiver Chad Jackson of Florida. He was injured much of the season and finished with 13 catches.
They could seek depth at tight end after losing free agent Daniel Graham, a talented blocker, to Denver as a free agent. But they signed Kyle Brady to fill that role and still have Benjamin Watson and David Thomas, a third-round choice last year.
Belichick's first draft with the Patriots, in 2000, produced Tom Brady but not much else. He's done better the last four years, with 20 of the players picked still with the team.