And Talib, shockingly, got injured when it counted, leaving this secondary to be carved up in the AFC title game by Joe Flacco and the champion Ravens.
Questions again abound.
Vince Wilfork turns 32 in November, but he and the defensive line should be stout. Newcomer Armond Armstead is the spiffy new toy, cleared with a clean bill of health after a rookie season in Canada.
Spikes will get the most attention of the linebacking corps this summer. Folks expect production, and four years is long enough to wait for it.
Hightower’s emergence as a star – he was a first-round pick, right? – would ease the pressure on these guys.
Jerod Mayo, the old man of the unit, is steady if not unspectacular.
As for the secondary, Belichick spun the wheel by re-signing Talib. If driven and healthy, he’s a shutdown corner.
Alfonso Dennard’s recent post-Hernandez brush with the law in Nebraska will have a nasty taste in Belichick’s mouth for a while.
Corner, safety and slot corner jobs remain up for grabs and will all through the preseason.
CLOSE THE BOOK ON AARON HERNANDEZ A heartfelt Bill Belichick addressed the Aaron Hernandez murder mess yesterday, on the eve of training camp's official opening, clearly to provide some football closure and hopefully allow the players who remain to immerse themselves into the game of football and the playbook. "It was a sad day on so many levels," Belichick said on the murder of Odin Lloyd, for which Hernandez has been charged and is being held. "A young man lost his life. A family suffered a tragic loss, and there is no way to understate that." About Hernandez straying from the track, Belichick expressed some shock and chagrin. "I and the organization were shocked and disappointed," said Belichick, who was in Europe at the time of the murder and the arrest. "After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively (in releasing Hernandez). "This does not in any represent how the New England Patriots want to do things." In an era when athletes and arrests have grown almost commonplace -- over 30 NFL players have been arrested since the end of the 2012 season -- Belichick defended his team and its track record. "Overall, I'm proud of the 100s of players who have come through this program," said Belichick. "I'm personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this." Hernandez, a fourth-round draft pick out of Florida in 2010, played 38 games in three seasons, catching 175 balls for 1,956 yards and 18 TDs. In six playoff games he added 35 more grabs for 360 yards and a pair of scores.