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Training Camp Preview: Defense/Special Teams

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With its star-studded lineup, New England's offense will no doubt receive plenty of attention this season. But not to be overlooked are the team's defensive and special teams units.

On the other side of the trenches, the defensive line is a mirror image of its offensive counterparts, with skilled, experienced veterans making up the core group. It will be even more interesting to watch how players like nose tackle Vince Wilfork and end Richard Seymour perform, as both players enter the final years of their current contracts with the Patriots.

Another position that will be highly scrutinized is linebacker. Both the outside and inside spots are intriguing, with departed Mike Vrabel's replacement still to be decided and Jerod Mayo looking to duplicate or even improve upon his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year performance. There are jobs to be won at linebacker, which will make this position one worth watching during training camp and the preseason.

The same can be said for the defensive backs. No job has been solidified, with perhaps the exception of James Sanders, who re-signed with the team early in the offseason. Newcomers Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden join a group of talented youngsters to make the cornerback battle an interesting one, and top draft pick Patrick Chung will be looking to challenge for a starting, or at least contributing, role early.

Special teams also has its share of uncertainty – aside from Stephen Gostkowski, of course. He did the near impossible, replacing Adam Vinatieri as a Pro Bowl kicker for the Patriots and arguably the best in the game. Punter Chris Hanson may face competition this summer, however, from first-year player Tom Malone. And the long snapper job is a dead-heat at the moment between veteran free agent Nathan Hodel and draft pick Jake Ingram.

Head coach Bill Belichick will be relying on several young assistants to help him and the other veteran coaches on the staff pick the right players to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2009.

THE ROSTER
(players listed alphabetically by position)

NO. PLAYER (POS., YEAR)

Defensive Line

62 Titus Adams (1st year)
92 Ron Brace (rookie)
97 Jarvis Green (8th year)
91 Myron Pryor (rookie)
69 Darryl Richard (rookie)
93 Richard Seymour (9th year)
90 Le Kevin Smith (4th year)
94 Ty Warren (7th year)
75 Vince Wilfork (6th year)
76 Steve Williams (2nd year)
99 Mike Wright (5th year)

Linebacker

52 Eric Alexander (ILB,5th year)
95 Tully Banta-Cain (OLB, 7th year)
54 Tedy Bruschi (ILB, 14th year)
50 Vinny Ciurciu (ILB, 7th year)
98 Shawn Crable (OLB, 2nd year)
59 Gary Guyton (ILB, 2nd year)
47 Paris Lenon (ILB, 8th year)
51 Jerod Mayo (ILB, 2nd year)
53 Tyrone McKenzie (ILB, rookie)
49 Vince Redd (OLB, 2nd year)
96 Adalius Thomas (OLB, 10th year)
58 Pierre Woods (OLB, 4th year)

Defensive Back

23 Leigh Bodden (CB, 7th year)
27 Darius Butler (DB, rookie)
25 Patrick Chung (S, rookie)
38 Jamar Love (DB, rookie)
43 Brandon McGowan (S, 5th year)
31 Brandon Meriweather (S, 3rd year)
35 Mike Richardson (CB, 3rd year)
36 James Sanders (S, 5th year)
28 Antwain Spann (S, 4th year)
29 Shawn Springs (CB, 13th year)
41 Ray Ventrone (S, 4th year)
22 Terrence Wheatley (CB, 2nd year)
24 Jonathan Wilhite (CB, 2nd year)
26 Tank Williams (S, 8th year)

Specialists

3 Stephen Gostkowski (K, 4th year)
6 Chris Hanson (P, 11th year)
1 Tom Malone (P, 1st year)

18 Matthew Slater (KR, 2nd year)
34 Sammy Morris (KR, 10th year)
83 Wes Welker (PR/KR, 6th year)
33 Kevin Faulk (PR/KR, 11th year)

Head coach Bill Belichick will be relying on several young assistants to help him and the other veteran coaches on the staff pick the right players to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2009.

2009 Coaching Staff
(listed alphabetically)

Head Coach Bill Belichick
Defensive BacksJosh Boyer
Running BacksIvan Fears
Defensive LinePepper Johnson
Assistant Strength and ConditioningHarold Nash
Quarterbacks Bill O'Brien
Special TeamsScott O'Brien
ReceiversChad O'Shea
LinebackersMatt Patricia
Defensive CoordinatorDean Pees
Assistant Head Coach/Offensive LineDante Scarnecchia
Tight EndsShane Waldron
Strength and ConditioningMike Woicik

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