New England Pats 

New England Pats

It's about time for LB Tully Banta-Cain to make an impact for the Patriots. The 6-2, 254-pound outside linebacker is going into his fourth season, and with Willie McGinest gone, there's finally a glimpse of opportunity for a rush end such as Banta-Cain. A former defensive end at Cal taken in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, Banta-Cain is looking to follow the same path blazed by Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin and McGinest -- going from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker. The difference is that those players all were better in college than Banta-Cain. He's smart, fast and strong but hasn't put it together yet. . . .

The Patriots have a lot of safeties but not a lot of proven depth, which is a concern as the draft looms. Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison are the starters, and it can be assumed that second-year man James Sanders will be the third-man in. Sanders is followed by Guss Scott, a third-year player who had his first two seasons end at the beginning with knee blowouts. After that, they have second-year man Ray Ventrone, an explosive hitter trying to gain an NFL toehold, and Artrell Hawkins, a veteran corner who played safety well out of necessity last season. So does the team attack the season with this group or add another player through the draft who will have even less NFL experience than this group?

The Patriots are working to get a new deal done with DE Richard Seymour, and the Pro Bowl player is holding all the cards at this point. With Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri and David Givens leading a mass exodus from Foxboro this offseason, the Pats are taking hits for not being proactive enough in negotiations. And the ownership is hearing every criticism. Football-wise, the Patriots don't want Seymour going anywhere; P.R. wise, his departure would be a disaster. Meanwhile, the ongoing NFL spending spree has driven up the price tag for a player many feel is the best defensive lineman in football. Seymour, who's entering the last year of his rookie deal, will make the Pats ante up to keep him around.

SCOUTING REPORT: NT Vince Wilfork had a strange 2005. He started out terribly, getting manhandled and moved at the point of attack, bottoming out in a home loss against the Chargers when LaDainian Tomlinson gained a ton of yards up the middle. Then Wilfork's season turned around. By the end of the year, he was holding the point and letting the linebackers do their work. He was one of the most consistently solid defenders during the second half of the year. Entering his third year, look for him to put it all together for a full season. He admitted he didn't stick to the scheme and tried to do too much early last year. Now the Pats will have buy-in from a tremendous worker and athlete entering his prime years.

DRAFT BUZZ: The Patriots are all about production. Given a choice between a prospect who appears capable of great things in the NFL but hasn't produced in college and a prospect who's merely solid but has shown he can produce, the Pats generally take the guy who's proven he can do it. So when considering who New England may target at running back, for instance, look at a guy like UCLA's Maurice Drew, who put up 4,688 all-purpose yards in three seasons with the Bruins. Iowa ILB Abdul Hodge is another guy; he made 158 tackles for the Hawkeyes last year in 12 starts. The Patriots love those numbers.

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