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Replay: Best of the Week on Patriots.com Radio Thu Jun 13 - 02:00 PM | Tue Jun 18 - 11:55 AM

Pre-Draft Roster Rundown: Linebacker

While the Patriots have plenty of solid, experienced, productive bodies at linebacker, a strong injection of youth would be a welcome addition.

In many cases a professional athlete's transition from experienced to old is a short one. Suddenly veteran players that were previously praised for their football knowledge and experiences are accused of having lost a step or being past their prime. Sooner or later that very scenario is going to happen in New England to what currently ranks as a very productive and experienced group of linebackers that includes 13-year veteran Roman Phifer, eight-year veteran Tedy Bruschi, nine-year veteran Ted Johnson and 10-year veteran Willie McGinest.

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            But that transition certainly didn't take place in 2003. Last season Bruschi and Phifer each had more than 130 tackles, while McGinest went to his first Pro Bowl since 1996 for a linebacking corps that displayed solid depth and versatility throughout the season.  

At the inside spots in the Patriots base 3-4 front Bruschi started all 16 regular season games and finished second on the team with 137 tackles while adding two sacks, three interceptions, 16 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Phifer started 15 of 16 games played at inside linebacker, making the switch to the middle after spending his entire career on the outside, and finished the year with 133 tackles, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Even Johnson, who missed eight games with a broken foot, was productive when he got on the field tallying 26 tackles in mostly running situations.

The three other inside linebackers currently on the Patriots roster include special teamers Larry Izzo and Don Davis and NFL Europe allocation Lawrence Flugence. In Izzo and Davis New England has a pair of veteran backups who can play in a pinch but will have their biggest impact in the kicking game. Flugence entered the league as a rookie free agent a year ago but has an impressive college resume as the leading tackler in Big 12 history in his time as a teammate of Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech.

            [
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            While the Patriots are somewhat younger on the outside, not including group patriarch McGinest, much of the depth comes with questions. 2003 free agent singing **Rosevelt Colvin** never really got to show New England fans his impact while playing in just over a game of action last season (although he did post five tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery) and a return from his broken hip to full health for the pass-rushing outside backer would be a strong step in making this group a much more formidable unit. McGinest started 11 of 14 games in what was one of the best all around seasons of his career, finishing the year with 79 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. But it was under appreciated veteran **Mike Vrabel** who might have had the best season of all the linebackers. Vrabel's strength is his versatility and despite missing three games with a broken arm he finished the year with 69 tackles, a team-best 9.5 sacks, two interceptions, four passes defensed, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.  

The other outside linebackers include jack-of-all-trades Matt Chatham, second-year player Tully Banta-Cain and former practice squad player Justin Kurpeikis. Chatham has always been a strong special teams contributor in his four seasons in New England, and while that continued in 2003 his defensive load grew a bit when he filled in quite capably for Vrabel. Chatham played in all 16 games (four starts) finishing the year fourth on the team with 19 special teams tackles as well as 34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in regular defensive action. Banta-Cain got a late start to his pro career spending the first six weeks on PUP, but the seventh-round pick finished the season playing in 9 games and totaling nine special teams tackles, four defensive stops and one sack. Considered to be a potential steal in last year's draft, an expanded role on the outside would not be out of the question this fall. Kurpeikis is a player who saw limited action in two seasons with the Steelers and spent a short time on the New England practice squad a year ago.

So if the Patriots do decide to guard against both injury and continued aging in its experienced linebacking corps, using one of its nine picks on draft weekend would be a logical step. While New England has not selected a linebacker on the first day of draft weekend (or anywhere higher than the seventh round) since taking Andy Katzenmoyer in the first round in 1999, there is a reasonable chance that streak could be broken on April 24. Sitting atop the list of linebackers this spring are a pair of Miami Hurricanes in outside prospect D.J. Williams (6-1, 250) and inside backer Jonathan Vilma (6-0, 233). Both players could go in the first round and would add instant youth and athleticism to Romeo Crennel's defensive unit. Other prospects expected to go on the first day include OLBs like Auburn's Karlos Dansby (6-3, 251), Florida State's Michael Boulware (6-2, 225), Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman (6-1, 240) and Georgia Tech's Keyaron Fox (6-2, 227) and ILBs like Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas (6-2, 242), Oregon State's Richard Seigler (6-2, 244) and Georgia Tech's Daryl Smith (6-2, 234).

Should the Patriots once again wait until day two in an attempt to add youth to the linebacker spot guys that may still be available include names like Oklahoma's Pasha Jackson (6-3, 240), Pittsburgh's Lewis Moore (6-1, 234), Florida State's Kendyll Pope (6-1, 226) and Notre Dame's Courtney Watson (6-1, 232)

In many cases a professional athlete's transition from experienced to old is a short one. Suddenly veteran players that were previously praised for their football knowledge and experiences are accused of having lost a step or being past their prime. Sooner or later that very scenario is going to happen in New England to what currently ranks as a very productive and experienced group of linebackers that includes 13-year veteran Roman Phifer, eight-year veteran Tedy Bruschi, nine-year veteran Ted Johnson and 10-year veteran Willie McGinest.

            [
27009.jpg

]()

            But that transition certainly didn't take place in 2003. Last season Bruschi and Phifer each had more than 130 tackles, while McGinest went to his first Pro Bowl since 1996 for a linebacking corps that displayed solid depth and versatility throughout the season.  

At the inside spots in the Patriots base 3-4 front Bruschi started all 16 regular season games and finished second on the team with 137 tackles while adding two sacks, three interceptions, 16 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Phifer started 15 of 16 games played at inside linebacker, making the switch to the middle after spending his entire career on the outside, and finished the year with 133 tackles, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Even Johnson, who missed eight games with a broken foot, was productive when he got on the field tallying 26 tackles in mostly running situations.

The three other inside linebackers currently on the Patriots roster include special teamers Larry Izzo and Don Davis and NFL Europe allocation Lawrence Flugence. In Izzo and Davis New England has a pair of veteran backups who can play in a pinch but will have their biggest impact in the kicking game. Flugence entered the league as a rookie free agent a year ago but has an impressive college resume as the leading tackler in Big 12 history in his time as a teammate of Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech.

            [
22547.jpg

]()

            While the Patriots are somewhat younger on the outside, not including group patriarch McGinest, much of the depth comes with questions. 2003 free agent singing **Rosevelt Colvin** never really got to show New England fans his impact while playing in just over a game of action last season (although he did post five tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery) and a return from his broken hip to full health for the pass-rushing outside backer would be a strong step in making this group a much more formidable unit. McGinest started 11 of 14 games in what was one of the best all around seasons of his career, finishing the year with 79 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. But it was under appreciated veteran **Mike Vrabel** who might have had the best season of all the linebackers. Vrabel's strength is his versatility and despite missing three games with a broken arm he finished the year with 69 tackles, a team-best 9.5 sacks, two interceptions, four passes defensed, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.  

The other outside linebackers include jack-of-all-trades Matt Chatham, second-year player Tully Banta-Cain and former practice squad player Justin Kurpeikis. Chatham has always been a strong special teams contributor in his four seasons in New England, and while that continued in 2003 his defensive load grew a bit when he filled in quite capably for Vrabel. Chatham played in all 16 games (four starts) finishing the year fourth on the team with 19 special teams tackles as well as 34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in regular defensive action. Banta-Cain got a late start to his pro career spending the first six weeks on PUP, but the seventh-round pick finished the season playing in 9 games and totaling nine special teams tackles, four defensive stops and one sack. Considered to be a potential steal in last year's draft, an expanded role on the outside would not be out of the question this fall. Kurpeikis is a player who saw limited action in two seasons with the Steelers and spent a short time on the New England practice squad a year ago.

So if the Patriots do decide to guard against both injury and continued aging in its experienced linebacking corps, using one of its nine picks on draft weekend would be a logical step. While New England has not selected a linebacker on the first day of draft weekend (or anywhere higher than the seventh round) since taking Andy Katzenmoyer in the first round in 1999, there is a reasonable chance that streak could be broken on April 24. Sitting atop the list of linebackers this spring are a pair of Miami Hurricanes in outside prospect D.J. Williams (6-1, 250) and inside backer Jonathan Vilma (6-0, 233). Both players could go in the first round and would add instant youth and athleticism to Romeo Crennel's defensive unit. Other prospects expected to go on the first day include OLBs like Auburn's Karlos Dansby (6-3, 251), Florida State's Michael Boulware (6-2, 225), Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman (6-1, 240) and Georgia Tech's Keyaron Fox (6-2, 227) and ILBs like Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas (6-2, 242), Oregon State's Richard Seigler (6-2, 244) and Georgia Tech's Daryl Smith (6-2, 234).

Should the Patriots once again wait until day two in an attempt to add youth to the linebacker spot guys that may still be available include names like Oklahoma's Pasha Jackson (6-3, 240), Pittsburgh's Lewis Moore (6-1, 234), Florida State's Kendyll Pope (6-1, 226) and Notre Dame's Courtney Watson (6-1, 232)

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