, Salem, MA


February 2, 2012

A look at key New England Patriots


Best and most accomplished of Patriots' LBs, has had some health issues hold him back ... First-round pick in 2008, won Defensive Rookie of the Year that season ... Has had more than 100 tackles every year, including 103 in 2011 ... Already has team-high 21 tackles in postseason.

Brandon Spikes, OLB (55), 6-2, 250, 2nd season, Florida

Considered too slow to play the position by many coming out of draft, but has proven himself in New England ... Got healthy in time for final regular-season game after being idled for seven weeks, and had only Patriots takeaway in AFC title game, a fourth-quarter interception ... Second-round pick in 2010.

Devin McCourty, LCB (32), 5-10, 193, 2nd season, Rutgers

Slumped from great rookie season, when he made Pro Bowl ... Is aggressive in coverage, but can be beaten deep ... Went from seven interceptions as rookie to two in 2011 ... Has made 12 tackles in postseason, will probably change to make a few more covering Nicks, Cruz and Manningham.

Kyle Arrington, RCB (24), 5-9, 196, 3rd season, Hofstra

Tied for NFL lead with seven picks, one against Giants ... Very aggressive, will challenge receivers, go after the ball ... Sometimes gambles too much ... Could have trouble with taller wideouts, but uses body leverage and jumping ability to negate that ... School dropped football soon after he left.

Patrick Chung, LS (25), 5-11, 212, 3rd season, Oregon

Returned from injury just before playoffs, adding physical dimension to secondary ... Hardest hitter of the DBs ... Could see a lot of Ballard, but also might wind up on a WR at times ... Can blitz with nice burst to QB ... Had 67 tackles this season, but just one INT.

James Ihedigbo, RS (44), 6-1, 214, 5th season, Massachusetts

Another former Jet finding success in New England ... Hits hard, not great in coverage ... Also has played on kick coverages ... Made 72 tackles during season.



Stephen Gostkowski, PK (3), 6-1, 215, 6th season, Memphis

Has no championship rings, but has not allowed dropoff from Adam Vinatieri over the years ... Regular season field goal percentage (.844) is better than Vinatieri's (.819) ... Kickoffs usually soar through end zone ... Pats unafraid to ask him to make clutch kicks, scored 143 points, made 28 of 33 field goals during season.

Zoltan Mesko, P (14), 6-5, 231, 2nd season, Michigan

Lefty whose kicks sometimes confound returners ... Has strong leg and led AFC in net average with 46.5 per kick ... Native of Romania, where he played soccer ... Came to United State in 1997 at age 11.

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