The Patriots' defense has long lagged behind the offense in terms of NFL stature. That could finally change in 2013.
The defensive line has shown to be strong up front through three preseason games, but it’s the Patriots’ linebacking corps that may be the bones of this year’s success on the defensive side of things.
The crew is led by Jerod Mayo on the weak side. Mayo, a captain on the team, has become one of the better linebackers in the NFL and is a proven leader for the Pats. He’s been a mainstay on the field since he was drafted 10th overall by the Patriots in the 2008 draft out of Tennessee.
What Mayo brings, aside from his great tackling ability, is his nose for where to be on the field. That’s due to his work ethic on and off of it. He’s amassed 100 tackles in four of his five seasons – and came up just short in 2011 with 95 tackles.
He's joined by middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. Spikes is a wild card. When the Patriots drafted him 62nd overall in the 2010 draft, there were high expectations on what he could add to the team. The results have been mixed. Spikes has certainly come up big on a number of run-stuffing plays, and has shown the ability to crush players on occasion. But it’s the consistency that’s been lacking.
Spikes is due to hit the free agent market after this season, so look for him to have his best season yet.
Last year, the Pats drafted Dont’a Hightower with the 25th overall pick. The then-rookie made a nice impact as the strong side linebacker, finishing the year with 60 tackles and four sacks. There’s no reason to believe those numbers won’t continue to grow in his second season.
Dane Fletcher, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, will definitely see his numbers grow. Fletcher had put together a surprisingly good rookie year before his second season was stopped before it began, and it appears he’s picked up right where he left off. He will sub in for Spikes, who isn’t a three-down linebacker just yet, and also help out on special teams.
Jamie Collins was the Pats’ first pick this year at No. 52 overall. He’s shown a bit of viciousness that the Pats would certainly like to see, but still has plenty to learn in coverage situations.