Five Questions for WEEI’s Christopher Price

I’d like to thank Christopher Price for answering our questions for him about this upcoming 2009 Patriots season. He has some great insight — make sure you catch his show from 9am-Noon on WEEI this Sunday.

1. With the apparent change in defensive scheme compounded by the large amount of turnover, is this too much change defensively for the Patriots? When do you see the Pats D finally hitting their stride?

There is a lot of change on the defensive side of the ball — four big contributors from last year (Seymour, Harrison, Vrabel and Hobbs) are all gone, and a fifth (Bruschi) — who didn’t play a whole lot but still commanded tremendous respect in all corners of the locker room — is gone as well. However, there are still some great players in that locker room — if they stay healthy, I believe Thomas and Mayo are primed to have Pro Bowl caliber seasons. Wilfork has few peers across the rest of the league. Warren can be a dominant force. And Sanders has quietly emerged as a stabilizing presence in the secondary. Those five guys will have a lot on their plate — almost all of them will have added responsibilities in some way or another this season. However, if they can step up and assume the leadership roles that the departed players had filled (and many of them, like Sanders and Mayo, have already done just that), I think the Patriots will be OK.

That being said, I think the days of the Patriots winning games with their defense are truly done. These are not going to be the 2003-2004 Patriots where they can win games 13-7. I think this year, we’ll see an awful lot of 31-28 scores, where the Patriots will simply outscore the other team with a once-in-a-generation offense. As for the defense hitting its stride, I’m not really sure about that one. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of overly dominating defensive performances from New England this year. But Belichick has always said that you have to be playing your best football from Thanksgiving on, and that’s going to have to be the case with this defense.

2. With Josh McDaniels in Denver, the Patriots are left with no true offensive coordinator. Will Bill O’Brien do enough this year to warrant a promotion in 2010?

That remains to be seen. However, O’Brien has done a lot to make this offense his own, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be on the same track as McDaniels in the next year or so. Throughout the spring practices and summer camps, I saw him as a very hands-on coach who commanded the full attention of any player he spoke with. On and off the record, the players genuinely respect him and his football knowledge. Tom Brady speaks very highly of him, and it certainly looked like he was the guy who was in command of the New England offense throughout the preseason.

3. Now that Scott Pioli has moved on to redder pastures, does Coach Belichick have an effective counterpoint in the front office? Good or bad, it seems like the Patriots have lost some of their patience with their personnel.

I honestly believe the counterpoint for Belichick in the New England front office is Floyd Reese. I see him as a consigliere for Belichick, a senior confidant who spends his time whispering in Belichick’s ear and isn’t afraid to tell the head coach exactly what he believes. Belichick greatly respects his football knowledge, and holds his opinion in high esteem. From what I can see, Reese has quickly become a very integral part of the New England front office. He was the guy who negotiated all the rookie contracts, and agents have spoken with him say he’s a tough but fair guy to deal with. Nick Caserio may eventually grow into the same sort of role, but right now, I’d say Reese is Belichick’s right hand man.

4. What weakness that we don’t see now will rear its head before the season is over?

Great question. I don’t know if it will end up being a weakness per se, but when it comes to overall unknowns at this point, I keep coming back to the secondary, specifically cornerback. They made wholesale changes and added some interesting parts, and they will be better than they were last year. I think Leigh Bodden is going to be a really good pickup — his time in Cleveland with Romeo Crennel gave him the experience in a Belichick-style system. He seemed not to have any problems picking things up this summer. But there are still a ton of questions, and if they suffer their usual season-ending injury to a corner that seems to happen every year, there could be some serious issues. No one knows if Shawn Springs has anything left in the tank — he didn’t play enough in the preseason to get a real read as to where he might be. Can Jonathan Wilhite make the leap this season? Can Terrence Wheatley shake off a miserable preseason and get back on the same track he was last year as a rookie when he was asked to cover Marvin Harrison? Can Darius Butler give you anything?

5. The CBA isn’t even close to being done at this point, and an uncapped year seems imminent. Since the Patriots are usually ahead of the curve – What are the Patriots doing now to prepare that no one else is?

Another great question. I think the best example can be seen in the fact that they’re not handing out a whole lot of lengthy deals. You never know when the landscape is going to change, and how the rules might change along with them.

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