After signing 14 free agents and adding seven draft picks, the Patriots were busy during the offseason. Figuring out possibilities of working the newcomers into the lineup in a variety of ways has been one of the more enjoyable aspects of the spring.
But few have wondered about the handful of personnel the Patriots lost during the offseason. How will the loss of Matt Light affect the offensive line? How about BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the team's running game? Or the veteran pass rushers Mark Anderson and Andre Carter from a year ago?
There's no question the Patriots have added some young talent to the fold, but it's unknown how effectively they'll be able to replace those that came before them.
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case tries to make sense of it all, asking the following question: Which offseason departure will impact the Patriots most?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Light has been a mainstay at one of the most difficult positions in the game for more than a decade. Last fall he had a great season against some of the most elite pass rush competition in the NFL. That's not easily replaced, even by a former first-round pick with the potential of Nate Solder.
If the replacements for Carter/Anderson fail, the Patriots may give up more plays and points this season.
If the replacement for Green-Ellis fails, the Patriots may have to throw a little more often on the goal line.
If Solder fails, Tom Brady's health and the team's overall success is very much in jeopardy.
That's the pressure that Solder faces. Light was an almost forgotten force on the left side. Brady trusted him. Bill Belichick trusted him. Dante Scarnecchia trusted him. And it wasn't just his ability to, more often than not, win battles with opposing pass rushers. Light was a versatile, athletic linemen who played a key role in the team's diverse offense and spread sets. He was very good on wide receiver screens, making some blocks out near the sideline that almost seemed unfathomable. He could run block, pull and worked well on traditional screens.
Solder has the potential to do all those things and maybe then some. But he doesn't have time to hone his potential. He's going to be thrown to the fire against the likes of Mario Williams, Aldon Smith and the endless rushers from Houston.
Solder has huge shoes to fill. Brady and the Patriots will need him to those shoes from day one in 2012. That's a lot to ask.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Mark Anderson/Andre Carter
The Patriots pass rush was by no means dominant in 2011 but what little pressure the team did create was generated primarily by Andre Carter and, to a lesser extent, Mark Anderson. Both were consistently around the quarterback and basically represented half of the team's production in that department.
Anderson is now gone to Buffalo and Carter remains a free agent coming off surgery to repair a torn quad. He could return to the fold once he's healthy but until then I'm concerned about the prospects of replacing this production. Carter in particular will be difficult to replace given his large workload playing both the run and the pass. He was immense on the edge of the defense and I'm not sure of the replacements has the ability and/or experience to do what he did a year ago.
While I don't believe either was a dynamic pass rusher by any means, I'm not convinced any of the kids will be ready to factor strongly into the pass rush mix. This is the main reason I feel they will be the most difficult to replace. Most of the other departures appear to have better answers waiting to take their place - like Nate Solder for Matt Light and Stevan Ridley for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Chandler Jones looks like a quality prospect. Jake Bequette may be able to add some pop to the pressure game as well. Dont'a Hightower also could be a factor in subpackages, as could Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott. But I'm not sure the team has the proven talent to replace the production Carter and Anderson provided a year ago, and it's one of my main concerns heading into the summer.
*Now it is the fans turns to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.