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Countdown to Camp: Linebackers

07.28.09 at 10:34 pm ET
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Patriots Football

Bruschi returns for another season with the Patriots. (AP)

With training camp looming at the end of the week, WEEI.com will look at the 2009 Patriots in a daily position-by-position breakdown we’re calling “Countdown to Camp.” In today’s installment, we take a look at New England’s linebackers.

CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER: Projected starters — Pierre Woods, Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo, Adalius Thomas. Projected reserves — Shawn Crable, Gary Guyton, Paris Lenon, Vinny Ciurciu, Tyrone McKenzie, Eric Alexander, Tully Banta-Cain, Vince Redd, Tank Williams.

A LOOK BACK: While there was still plenty of fight left in the veterans like Bruschi, Vrabel and Junior Seau, it was clear that the New England linebacking corps underwent something of a transition last season. In his rookie season, Mayo established himself as one of the premier linebackers in the NFL, and other youngsters like Guyton and Woods saw dramatic increases in playing time.

Statistically, Mayo set the pace for the linebackers, leading the team with 128 tackles. Mike Vrabel had 62 tackles and four sacks, while Bruschi had 75 tackles, and Thomas, who battled through an arm injury for much of the season, finished with 34 tackles and five sacks. Overall, the linebackers accounted for 10 of the teams’ 31 sacks.

A LOOK AHEAD: When you combine the youngsters’ emergence with the offseason trade of popular veteran Mike Vrabel, it’s clear that a new day is dawning in what the Patriots’ locker room refers to as “Backerhood.” But let’s face it: with New England’s linebacking situation in a fluid state — the Patriots worked out free-agent defensive end/outside linebacker Stryker Sulak Tuesday, and reportedly still have an interest in acquiring disgruntled Oakland linebacker Derrick Burgess — the list of projected starters could change within the hour.

The trade of Vrabel — who had 55 career sacks — alters the New England pass rush. With no Vrabel for the first time since 2000, as of this moment, the Patriots are likely looking at a combination of Thomas and Woods on the outside and Mayo and Bruschi on the inside as starters, with Crable or Banta-Cain spelling Woods on passing downs and Guyton doing the same with Bruschi on the inside. (If Crable starts the year on the PUP list as has been reported, that could also mean more snaps for Redd. If not, Redd will likely seeing the bulk of his time as a backup and on special teams.)

A veteran acquisition, Lenon could challenge for playing time on the inside — he appeared to be taking a significant leadership role in spring practices. Alexander has experience in the system, but could face an uphill battle for playing time. Two players who are linebackers in name only are Williams and Ciurciu. Ciurciu, a veteran acquisition, is the odds-on favorite to take the bulk of snaps on special teams for Larry Izzo, who departed via free agency in the offseason. If he stays healthy, Williams will see time as a safety/linebacker hybrid.

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