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View from Above: Doubling down on "D"

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You know the quote - "Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."  

It's attributed to several in the sports world, but perhaps most notably, to College Football Hall of Fame coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. He won six national titles at Alabama back in his day.

Maybe the phrase doesn't seem to be completely believable in the present day and age of spread offenses and pass-crazy formations, but one thing is certain - a flashy offense that can score points is entertaining, fun to watch and often worth the (steep) price of admission.  

Defense? Boring by comparison, perhaps, to the uninitiated or to the non-fan. But one only needs to turn back the pages of time to last February to understand the importance of keeping an opponent off the scoreboard.

The Patriots needed a defense to slow down the Philadelphia Eagles in SB LII. The Patriots, and their fans, know what happened. Or rather, didn't happen.

Suffice to say, the defense didn't win them a championship that day.

Health and personnel moves always factor into the equation, but it didn't take much more to figure out the Patriots needed to improve their defense if they were going to make another championship run in 2018.  

Enter some new big guys up front, a couple in the back and the hope for some better health and opportunity in the middle. That seems to be the game plan for getting back to an accustomed place within NFL hierarchy.

But will it work?

One of the New Pats on the Block, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, knows he figures to play a prominent role in the plans for the upcoming season. He's not a stat-sheet stuffer, however. So, improvement may be hard to measure at times. "The fans may not see it, but those guys (coaches, scouts) see your professionalism and see the way you work, so just continue to do your job," he told TheAthletic.com recently.

Sounds like he'll fit in just fine, doesn't it?

It doesn't hurt that guys like Shelton and Malcom Brown are also playing this season for new contracts next season and beyond. Having incentive is always a great motivator, and it stands to reason the defense can directly benefit from a little extra personal effort.

Or that a guy like Adrian Clayborn, in his first year in New England, wants to leave a good impression on his new employers. "I'm just trying to find a role," he told the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle. "I'm trying to see where I fit in the defense, and that (role) will be determined at a later point."

Or that maybe young, energetic newcomers like Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise can add athleticism (and depth) to a defensive line needing to put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Especially so a growing, emerging defensive backfield can keep up with the many good receivers they'll face.

"(Flowers) has got a great motor. A great motor," Clayborn said. "He knows how to work his moves and he does one, two, three, four moves during one rush, and it looks amazing."

Flowers led the team in sacks and quarterback hits last season, so if healthy, he figures to play a prominent role on the defensive line this season. It also doesn't hurt he's playing in a contract year - which seems to be a common theme within the trenches. "You know, I'm just focusing on getting better, improving my overall game," Flowers told MassLive.com. "I'll let that (the contract stuff) take care of itself when that time comes."

Rivers, who spent last year on injured reserve, knows exactly where his opportunity to play lies. "You have to play the run to play here,'' he told Boston.com after a practice last week. "You have to be able to defend the run, and be able to work on my craft and all aspects of my game to become a more all-around player.''

And yet, the biggest improvement of all on the defensive side of the ball might just come from the return of linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the middle. Or on the outside. Or at end. Shoot, just having him out there, period, is a step in the right direction toward team improvement.

"All I can do is focus on trying to stay healthy," Hightower told NBC Sports Boston as camp opened. "Honest and truly. There's nothing I can do aside from that. I'm not going to change the way I've been playing for 18-20 years. I can't do that. But realistically, from what I've been doing, I feel great.  

"I've still got a ways to go but as far as coming back in the offseason, this is the best I've felt," he added. "I had a great OTA. I was flying around, so I'm just gonna stay on the same plan I've been on."

If Hightower can do that and be successful with it, the defense might find itself improving just enough to be a contender once again - with another chance at winning a championship.  

Selling tickets and offensive excitement aside, wouldn't that be worth the price of admission?

It was straight fun, homie

As Randy Moss officially entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the weekend, I was reminded of one of the best crowd reactions - ever - to a play or to a player at Gillette Stadium.

It happened late in the 2009 season, after Moss caught his third touchdown of the game in a win over Jacksonville. Ever the showman, Moss got into a "pose-down" with a fan in the stands who had worn a rubberized Randy Moss mask to the game - and who got our attention earlier with his own antics.

The two strutted, pranced and preened on the sidelines and in the stands like two proud peacocks. Needless to say, it was funny. It just about brought the house down. It showed his personality in a bright light, and showed Moss could always make a connection when he wanted to - whether with a fan or with a QB.

There have been some signature moments at Gillette - like Jon Bon Jovi leading 68,000 fans in "Living on a Prayer" last season - but Moss's connection that day was a special one.  

Congratulations, Randy. We're glad to have had you here.

John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is entering his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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