CAN PATS LIVE ON TIGHT ENDS ALONE?
For a guy with 38 catches in what amounts to four professional seasons, Jake Ballard is a name you’ll hear an awful lot in camp this August and potentially right through the year.
The ex-Giant, who sat out all of last season with a knee issue, is the guy Pats fans will latch on to as the man to replace the wayward Hernandez. Ballard is bigger and stronger. A more traditional tight end, he is also slower and less elusive.
Right now, with Gronk out and Michael Hoomanawanui as much a side show as he is a potential receiving threat, Ballard is the guy we’ve been waiting for.
Of course, many newcomers in the passing game, similar to Ballard in their knowledge of the offense, have been rousted and sent packing before the opener in this Belichick/Brady Era.
So camp could determine the lot of all of them (aside from Gronk) as this roster is pieced together.
DEFENSE BETTER ... WILL IT EVER GET GOOD?
New England’s defense during the title years overwhelmed weaker opponents and stymied the best.
You simply can’t say that about a group that in the past three years has finished ranked 25, 31 and 25. At times last year, it appeared that the 15 prime draft picks (rounds 1-3) exhausted on defense by this team since 2008 had begun to pay a return.
Rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones had sharp first halfs. Hit machine Brandon Spikes spent less time preoccupied by Twitter and focused on the field.
And newcomer Aqib Talib added some stability in the secondary.
The rookies slowed to a crawl around Week 9, with Jones nursing a nasty ankle injury. Spikes reconnected with his Iphone and spent much of the final months in a state of wonderment on the field.