2010 NFL Question Marks: New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 12: Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches his players during the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on August 12, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Patriots’ pass-rushing concerns.

Bill Belichick is notorious for being able to mask a defense’s weaknesses due in large part because he to his schemes. Even if a player is lacking in physical tools, as long as they do their jobs within his schemes, the Patriots are usually fine.

But a defense’s ability to generate a pass rush is something not even Belichick can scheme for. And pass rush is by far New England’s biggest weakness on defense, if not the team’s biggest weakness on a whole.

The Pats busted out their checkbooks in 2007 to sign former Ravens’ outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who turned out to be a dud for most of his time in New England. Now he isn’t even on the roster and once again outside linebacker is an area of concern for Belichick’s Patriots.

After recording 9.5 sacks last season, Tully Banta-Cain is virtually ensured the starting right outside linebacker spot. But can he duplicate the success he had in 2009? If he can’t, then his limitations against the run will be expounded and Belichick might be left scrambling for a replacement mid-season.

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Ty Warren setting a great example for young athletes

Patriots defensive end Ty Warren will pass on a $250,000 offseason workout bonus in order to go back to school and get his college degree this spring.

From ESPN.com:

“I try to put the kids in the best educational system possible and I think there is something to be said for their father, who has been blessed to play in the NFL and do something he’s loved to do, going back and finishing what he started,” Warren said from the campus of Texas A&M. “In the big picture, I think it’s important for me to do what I’m doing. I can sacrifice that bonus for that.”

As it stands, Warren is on pace to walk in graduation next spring. He’s majoring in agriculture leadership and development and already has his post-playing career in mind; he hopes to help those at A&M get more involved in the local community.

“If we end up having a lockout in 2011, that’s where you can find me, working with students,” Warren said.

And even if there isn’t a lockout, Warren is thinking beyond next year.

“If I’m fortunate enough to play 12, 13 years, but then find myself getting cut in training camp, I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I don’t have my degree,” he said. “I’m not going to give myself up like that. I need to have options, so I feel like right now is a time where I need to dictate what I’m doing in the offseason.

I never fault athletes who decide to leave school early before earning their degree because hey, we all have a dream – who am I to criticize an athletes’ decision?

That said, it’s great to see a player like Warren set an example for young athletes by going back to school. As he noted in the article, football careers only last so long and after that, a college degree will take a player further in life than the NFL will. One would hope that players are investing their money wisely, but whether they are or they aren’t, education is always important and Warren is setting an example of that.

This is a great story, especially considering that several athletes every year decide to skip offseason workouts because they have an axe to grind. It’s finally nice to see a positive spin on a situation like this.

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