It is clear that the Patriots need to find themselves a backup quarterback that is capable of handling the offense. After starting 58 consecutive games for New England, Drew Bledsoe was forced out of action due to a broken finger. In his place, Scott Zolak was obviously rusty and clearly has little ability. Zolak is an UFA, and will not be re-signed. This leaves the team with late-season addition Todd Philcox as the No. 2 at this point. Look for the organization to invest in a reliable backup.
Robert Edward's knee injury puts a lot of pressure on everybody. The organization is now going to be forced to go out and find a starting running back for next season. The team will likely have to look at a veteran free agent, but if they are forced to, may have to trade up in the draft. Sedrick Shaw is one of the New England backups, but has shown no sign of development. FB Tony Carter battled through an injury plagued season, but when healthy the Patriot's running game is significantly better. Chris Floyd, the rookie out of Michigan, showed some promise and improvement as the season progressed.
Terry Glenn needs to find a way to stay healthy. This team takes on a new face with him in the lineup. Glenn's ability to stretch defenses opens up so many different things for the offense, especially the running attack. Shawn Jefferson has made some mistakes and dropped a few balls, but he's a big time effort guy that is present week in and week out. Troy Brown is an underrated possession receiver with a knack for making the tough catch. Rookie Tony Simmons is a developmental player, but is not yet ready to be anything more that a No. 3 guy. The Patriots did hire Ivan Fears as the new WR coach. It is hoped that his aggressive and meticulous style of coaching will bring a little bit of passion to this squad that is so desperately in need of it.
Ben Coates will be back for another season, and should continue to find success. Coates, however, is aging and needs more and more time on the sideline each season. Lovett Purnell is his backup, but it's an obvious drop in talent. The Patriots will likely upgrade here in the off-season. Rod Rutledge, a rookie last season, has a chance to become a solid player.
Six-time pro bowler Bruce Armstrong showed his first signs of slowing down. He is still a technically sound blocker, but he's beginning to fight to get outside on speed rushing DE's. The Patriots never got the left guard spot settled, trying Max Lane, Heath Irwin and Damon Denson with none able to hold the job. With Todd Rucci gone in the expansion draft the team will likely move Max Lane back to the ROG, his natural position, and let Denson and Irwin battle for the LOG position. The team also lost OC Dave Wohlebaugh to Cleveland so it is imperative they fill the void in free agency. The ROT position is safe in the hands of Zeffross Moss. Moss was inconsistent in '98, but the team did have better success running to the right side than the left. Expect the team to shop around for another guard.
When healthy, this is a very productive and deep unit. However, injuries, most notably to DE Willie McGinest, caused all sorts of turmoil. Henry Thomas and Chad Eaton were reliable all season in the middle, combining for 13 sacks. Ferric Collons and Chris Sullivan actually finished the season as the starting DE's, but the pursuit was missing and the team will need to shop for a legitimate pass rusher. One prospect at DE is Brandon Mitchell. Mitchell showed promise filling in for McGinest on occasion on the outside. Nonetheless, with the money that frees up from losing Mark Wheeler and Devin Wyman, expect to see the Patriots shop around for an impact pass rusher.
This unit may experience a serious drop-off in '99. Chris Slade, an All-Pro a year ago, played with a sprained ankle for most of the year. Ted Johnson tore a biceps tendon and missed the final four games and Todd Collins had injuries that limited his season. The Patriots lost Todd Collins to FA, so it's imperative that Teddy Bruschi returns. Still, New England will have to find a starting LOLB in either free agency or the draft. New England doesn't want to experience another season like '98, where it was forced to coach with handcuffs due to a lack of depth.
The Patriots desperately need last year's top pick, Tebucky Jones, to make the conversion from safety to corner, or else they will be forced to draft a cover corner or acquire one in the free agency pool. Steve Isreal finished the season at the RCB position, but he is simply not capable of playing tight enough man coverage to fit in this defense. Ty Law played the LCB spot for the entire season and established himself as one of, if not the, best cover corners in the game. Laywer Milloy and Willie Clay played the SS and FS positions respectively. One major disappointment has been CB Chris Canty. The former first-round pick from Kansas State has not panned out at all and is in danger of being cut.
PK Adam Vinatieri remains one of the best field goal kickers in the league. While he tends to kickoff short, Vinatieri is extremely valuable. The Patriots showed its appreciation by signing him to a contract extension. The punting position will experience a drop-off with Lee Johnson taking over the spot after Tom Tupa was signed by the Jets.