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Tim O

Tim O’Sullivan column: Pieces in place for Pats to win another championship

  • New England Patriots corner back Darrelle Revis (24) talks with members of the media at the conclusion of an  organized team activity at the NFL football team's facility Friday, May 30, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    New England Patriots corner back Darrelle Revis (24) talks with members of the media at the conclusion of an organized team activity at the NFL football team's facility Friday, May 30, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

  • New England Patriots corner back Darrelle Revis (24) talks with members of the media at the conclusion of an  organized team activity at the NFL football team's facility Friday, May 30, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    New England Patriots corner back Darrelle Revis (24) talks with members of the media at the conclusion of an organized team activity at the NFL football team's facility Friday, May 30, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

  • New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfolk  talks with reporters during a media availability after NFL football minicamp at the team's indoor training facility Tuesday, June 19, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo Stephan Savoia)

    New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfolk talks with reporters during a media availability after NFL football minicamp at the team's indoor training facility Tuesday, June 19, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo Stephan Savoia)

  • In this Sunday, Oct.13, 2013 photo, New England Patriots outside linebacker Jerod Mayo warms up on the field before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, in Foxborough, Mass. Mayo suffered a season-ending injury during the game, and the Patriots placed him on the injured reserve list on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

    In this Sunday, Oct.13, 2013 photo, New England Patriots outside linebacker Jerod Mayo warms up on the field before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, in Foxborough, Mass. Mayo suffered a season-ending injury during the game, and the Patriots placed him on the injured reserve list on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks with reporters following NFL football mini-camp in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks with reporters following NFL football mini-camp in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski smiles as he talks about  his return to the field during a media availability in front of his locker after practice at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday Sept. 4, 2013. The Patriots open their regular season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski smiles as he talks about his return to the field during a media availability in front of his locker after practice at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday Sept. 4, 2013. The Patriots open their regular season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

  • New England Patriots corner back Darrelle Revis (24) talks with members of the media at the conclusion of an  organized team activity at the NFL football team's facility Friday, May 30, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
  • New England Patriots corner back Darrelle Revis (24) talks with members of the media at the conclusion of an  organized team activity at the NFL football team's facility Friday, May 30, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
  • New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfolk  talks with reporters during a media availability after NFL football minicamp at the team's indoor training facility Tuesday, June 19, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo Stephan Savoia)
  • In this Sunday, Oct.13, 2013 photo, New England Patriots outside linebacker Jerod Mayo warms up on the field before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, in Foxborough, Mass. Mayo suffered a season-ending injury during the game, and the Patriots placed him on the injured reserve list on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks with reporters following NFL football mini-camp in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
  • New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski smiles as he talks about  his return to the field during a media availability in front of his locker after practice at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday Sept. 4, 2013. The Patriots open their regular season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Ever since Darrelle Revis signed with the Patriots in March, anticipation for the 2014 season took on a new feel. Being eager for the NFL season to start is nothing new in New England, but this is different.

The addition of Revis seems like a return to the good old days when the Patriots were a defense-first team that actually won Super Bowls instead of just reaching them. It’s been 10 years since the Lombardi Trophy last resided in Foxborough. It’s about time the Pats brought that hardware back to New England.

The window shutting on Tom Brady – and Bill Belichick – also adds a sense of urgency and expectation to this season. Plus, there’s a need to cleanse the bitter taste of losing to Peyton Manning in last year’s AFC championship game.

All the waiting is about to end. Patriots rookies report today, veterans arrive on Wednesday and camp opens on Thursday. To celebrate the anticipation ending and camp beginning, here are 10 questions for the 2014 Patriots – four for the defense, four for the offense and two for the team – and some even have answers.

How good can the secondary be? We have to start with Revis. He may have struggled (by his standards) last year in Tampa, but he was playing in a zone scheme not suited to his style and was coming off ACL surgery. Now that he’s two years removed from surgery, and in a defense that will mix coverages and should maximize his talents, expect a return of Revis Island.

This question won’t be fully answered until the other new cornerback, Brandon Browner, comes back from his four-game suspension, but the secondary will be one of the best in the league. Devin McCourty will be able to ballhawk even more from his safety position, Alfonzo Dennard becomes a third corner with the talent of a starter, and Kyle Arrington can stay in the slot, where he’s best. New England fans won’t have to watch their defensive backs get torched on a weekly basis. Instead, they can look forward to a secondary that reminds them of the good times with Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison.

What kind of leap can Jamie Collins make? Collins was forced into the lineup last year as a rookie after Jerod Mayo went down with an injury in Week 6. There were times when Collins looked like he was in over his head, but he put it all together in New England’s playoff win against the Colts. He had enough diverse skills and athleticism to drop into coverage, rush the quarterback, stop the run and he finished with six tackles, one sack and an interception. Expect more game-changing performances like that this season.

Can the defensive line stay healthy? The defense foundation was gutted last year when Vince Wilfork went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. Wilfork is back, but he’s not the only d-linemen returning from a major injury. Tommy Kelly, rookie Dominique Easley and new addition Will Smith are all coming off ACL surgeries. The Pats developed some good depth last year as Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga filled in for Wilfork and Kelly, but New England needs to avoid another rash of calamities on the line.

Will Mayo be at 100 percent? Yes, it’s another question about health. It was just that kind of season last year. While Wilfork is the foundation of the defense, Mayo is the brains. He gets all the calls and makes the adjustments for the front seven. New England added some linebacker depth with James Anderson, Collins should be improved, as should Dont’a Hightower, but none of them can truly replace Mayo. He will need to be fully healed from the torn pectoral that ended his 2013 season for the Patriots defense to reach its full potential.

Will Brady show his age? The future Hall of Famer will turn 37 on Aug. 3, his completion percentage in 2013 (60.5) was his lowest since 2003, and the team spent a second-round draft pick on its quarterback of the future, Jimmy Garoppolo. Even Brady can’t escape time, but he’s far from washed up. His passing percentage was down, in large part, because he was working with an inexperienced and underwhelming crew of pass catchers, and he was sacked 40 times, the most since he was dropped 41 times in 2001.

If the young receivers can improve, Rob Gronkowski can stay healthy and the offensive line can tighten up, Brady’s numbers will also improve. And he’s still plenty good enough to win a Super Bowl.

Can Gronk play a full season? The all-everything tight end has been dealing with injuries everywhere for the last two years – broken forearms, infections in the same forearm, back problems, high ankle sprains, and, most recently, a torn ACL and MCL that ended his 2013 campaign after seven games. There’s no doubt injuries have become part of the package with Gronkowski. There’s also no doubt he makes the Patriots offense significantly better. The Pats scored 32 points per game last year with Gronk in the lineup and 25.4 without him.

Will the second-year wide receivers improve? Many NFL players make meaningful progress from their rookie year to their second year. If that trend takes place among New England’s receivers, Brady will be a happy man. Kenbrell Thompkins showed great flashes early in the season, Aaron Dobson figured things out later, and Josh Boyce had a few positive moments here and there. If just one of them makes the second-year leap to join Julian Edelman as a legitimate threat, the Patriots passing game will have a new feel. If two of them make the leap, things will get scary for opponents.

How much will the offensive line miss Dante Scarnecchia? After coaching in the NFL for 32 years, 30 with the Patriots, Scarnecchia retired in January. That’s cause for concern because Scarnecchia was a great coach, and because of all the sacks that o-line gave up last year. Former Jets coach Dave DeGuglielmo will take over for Scarnecchia and inherit the job of keeping Brady upright and healthy. The return of Sebastian Vollmer from a season-ending knee injury will help, but there’s work to be done here, which is why the Pats drafted three o-linemen in April.

Will anyone challenge the Pats in the AFC East? No. It’s tempting to simply leave this as a one-word answer, but here’s one more word – quarterback. The Jets will go with Geno Smith, the Bills have E.J. Manuel and the Dolphins will roll with Ryan Tannehill. Those young guns may develop into successful quarterbacks eventually, but it’s not going to be this year. The Patriots will win a sixth straight AFC East title.

Will the Pats finally win a fourth Super Bowl? Yes. This is the type of team – playmakers on defense, steady hands on offense – that Belichick has won titles with in the past. As long as Brady and Revis can stay on the field, and the rest of the roster remains relatively healthy, the Patriots will go back to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 1 and erase the memories of David Tyree’s helmet catch by winning Super Bowl XLIV.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

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