Underachievers is perhaps the most applicable term we can use to describe the Patriots' 2009 linebacker corps.
Save Tully Banta-Cain's 10-sack performance, there was little to be encouraged about when it came to this group. The collection of outside 'backers never quite developed into the consistent pass-rush threat that had been hoped for from the start, while on the inside, Jerod Mayo didn't live up even to his own lofty expectations. The knee injury he suffered in the season opener may have had a lot to do with that.
Add to that disappointing equation the recurring controversies surrounding Adalius Thomas and you can understand why this position remains as much a concern for New England as it was this time a year ago. This is undoubtedly an area the Patriots should target in free agency.
THE LINEBACKER ROSTER
(Players listed alphabetically, as of January 2010, with individual analysis below)
52 – Eric Alexander
For someone who never takes the field on defense, Alexander has managed to stick around much longer than most observers ever expected. In all likelihood, he'll be back again in '10, toiling away on special teams as usual.
95 – Tully Banta-Cain
He had the best season of his NFL career in his return to New England and was reportedly signed to an extension during the season, but that appears to have fallen through. What seemed like a sure thing just weeks ago is no longer. Banta-Cain could play somewhere else in '10, or just as easily be back with the Patriots.
53 – Derrick Burgess
A quiet contributor all season, Burgess failed to provide the explosive pass rush that was expected of the former Pro Bowler and NFL sack leader. Like Banta-Cain, he's 50-50 to be in a Patriots uniform next season.
98 – Shawn Crable
Another season on IR made him an afterthought for the second year in a row. He's still under contract and should get at least one more chance to prove himself.
49 – Bruce Davis
The practice squader was re-signed this month, but remains a virtual unknown.
59 – Gary Guyton
On the one hand, he started all 16 games, sometimes inside, sometimes out; on the other, he didn't really make any stand-out plays. He's a serviceable player, and as an exclusive rights free agent, he'll almost certainly be back in New England.
51 – Jerod Mayo
It's difficult to say just how much that injury limited Mayo's production. We'll be anxious to see how much the young captain improves when he returns to full health.
53 – Tyrone McKenzie
A freak injury in non-contact rookie mini-camp ended this third-rounder's season before it had a chance to begin. He was expected to contribute immediately at inside linebacker and will have a lot to prove when he finally suits up this year.
50 – Rob Ninkovich
One of the few pleasant surprises at this spot, the outside 'backer made a few plays in sub packages and on special teams. He did enough, apparently, to earn a reported contract extension last month.
55 – Junior Seau
Turned 41 last week and made an unofficial retirement announcement the week before. The future Canton enshrinee had a good run.
96 – Adalius Thomas
Made no secret of his displeasure with Bill Belichick's treatment of him, which seems to signal an end to his unspectacular three-year tenure in New England.
48 – Thomas Williams
Earned a late-season call-up to the active roster, but was otherwise just a practice squad body.
58 – Pierre Woods
Sadly, his most significant contributions came on special teams. He'll be a restricted free agent and might not have many other options. Probably winds up back in a Patriots uniform.
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: wide receiver, coming Thursday, Jan. 28.