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The long seven months between the Super Bowl and the pre-season is over. The new look New England Patriots are on the field warming up at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay awaiting the kickoff of their first pre-season game of the year against the Buccaneers.
A lot has changed on a team which came within one first down of beating the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game and heading the Super Bowl.
What seemingly was a depleted wide receiver corps last year has been completely revamped. It began with the free agent singings of former Miami Dolphins receiver Wes Welker and former Saints first round pick Dante Stallworth. Then the big ball dropped on NFL draft day as the Patriots traded for perennial Pro Bowl icon Randy Moss.
The defense added only the best free agent on the market, versatile linebacker/lineman/safety Adalius Thomas from the Ravens. It seems like a match made in heaven as the multi-talented Thomas is the perfect player for head coach Bill Belichick’s dynamic defense.
Some pre-season stories include the ongoing contract dispute with cornerback Asante Samuel, who was a league leader in interceptions during the 2006 season. The Patriots have franchise tagged the four year pro for an estimated $7.79 million, one year deal. Samuel yearns for a multi-year, big money contract which the Patriots have balked on.
To replace Samuel for the time being are two new faces and two old ones returning. First round pick Brandon Merriweather out of Miami and veteran Torry James from the Cincinnati Bengals will hope to fill in, along with the returns of injured secondary stall worts Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson.
Will Laurence Maroney be able to carry the whole load with the absence of the released Corey Dillon? Will Brady’s new arsenal of receivers pay off? Can the secondary withstand a Samuel-less season, especially with the season ending knee injury to Chad Scott? All these questions begin tonight in Tampa!