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Roster analysis

Meet the 2013 Patriots

While the cast around him may change, Tom Brady will again be at the center of the Patriots roster in 2013.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

While the cast around him may change, Tom Brady will again be at the center of the Patriots roster in 2013.

The lesson was learned long ago: As long as Bill Belichick is head coach and Tom Brady is at quarterback, the Patriots will always have a fighting chance. But this could be the most question-filled roster New England has fielded to start a season in a while.

Can the new receivers pick up the offense quickly enough to appease Brady? Can they stay healthy? Will Rob Gronkowski come back as good as ever? Is the mostly young defense ready to help win games? Will they be able to generate a pass rush consistently?

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The beauty of a new season is that the questions are waiting to be answered.

Here’s the scouting report on the 2013 Patriots roster:

DEFENSIVE LINE

Jake Bequette (2015)

Michael Buchanan (2016)

A.J. Francis (2015)
Chandler Jones (2015)

Tommy Kelly (2014)

Rob Ninkovich (2013)

Joe Vellano (2015)

Vince Wilfork (2014)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Worse)

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This is arguably the thinnest defensive line the Patriots have had in several years. The top four — Ninkovich, Wilfork, Kelly, and Jones — are strong and give New England versatility. But a rookie, Vellano, is a backup tackle, and Bequette and Buchanan are unproven pass rushers, continuing a ongoing problem for the team. When Jones went down last season (ankle sprains), Ninkovich was the only effective rusher. One injury, and that could be the case again.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Tommy Kelly adds heft to the Patriots’ defensive line.

LINEBACKER

Steve Beauharnais (2016)

Jamie Collins (2016)

Dane Fletcher (2013)

Dont’a Hightower (2015)

Jerod Mayo (2017)

Brandon Spikes (2013)
Chris White (2013)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Better)

The athletic Collins is learning how to handle the roles he’s being asked to potentially fill, and Fletcher got a thumbs-up from Bill Belichick for his on-field improvement after missing last season to a torn ACL. The all-SEC starting trio of Hightower, Mayo, and Spikes is capable and diverse, but Spikes is first and foremost a run-stopper, which could limit him in a pass-happy league (though the Patriots could face several run-happy quarterbacks this season).

CORNERBACK

Kyle Arrington (2015)

Marquice Cole (2013)

Alfonzo Dennard (2015)

Logan Ryan (2016)

Aqib Talib (2013)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Better)

Having Talib from the beginning of the season makes this group a bit better than last season.

Michael Dwyer/AP

The Patriots will look to the cornerback duo of Aqib Talib, left, and Alfonzo Dennard this season.

He might not be a shut-down, but Talib is the best corner the Patriots have had since Asante Samuel, and coaches seem comfortable just putting him on one side of the field and letting him cover that side. Dennard and Arrington can man the opposite side, though Arrington was more comfortable at the nickel last season. Rookie Ryan can learn from the veteran group, and Cole is a decent fifth corner and strong special teamer.

SAFETY

Nate Ebner (2015)

Steve Gregory (2014)

Duron Harmon (2016)

Devin McCourty (2014)

Tavon Wilson (2015)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Worse)

There is one definite good player in this group: McCourty. On everyone else, the jury is still out. Gregory had his struggles in the postseason, and Wilson has not made the second-year leap coaches expect. Harmon will try to absorb as much as possible from his former Rutgers teammate/mentor McCourty, but he is a work in progress. Ebner’s contributions last season were on special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Stephen Gostkowski (2014)

P Ryan Allen (2015)

LS Danny Aiken (2013)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Same)

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Ryan Allen beat out Zoltan Mesko for the Patriots’ punting job.

The biggest question is Allen. The rookie has a big leg and beat out incumbent Zoltan Mesko for the job, but punting isn’t always about kicking the ball as far as possible; directional punting, hang time, getting inside the 20-yard line are all part of it. Also, it’s often overlooked, but Ryan hasn’t served as holder on field goals and PATs, so he’ll need to put in extra time with Gostkowski and Aiken.

WIDE RECEIVER

Danny Amendola (2017)

Josh Boyce (2016)

Aaron Dobson (2016)

Julian Edelman (2013)

Matthew Slater (2014)

Kenbrell Thompkins (2015)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Better)

Saying this group is better than the 2012 unit is based solely on potential, which is definitely there. Amendola was brought in to replace Wes Welker, and based on training camp, he could put up good numbers if he stays healthy. The rookie trio of Boyce, Dobson, and Thompkins shows promise, though interestingly it is the undrafted Thompkins who seems most ready to be a big contributor. Dobson’s size (6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds) is an advantage, but he hasn’t learned to get separation. The speedy Boyce missed spring camps because of injury and seems as if he’s trying to catch up. Edelman is a familiar face for Brady, and Slater is one of the Patriots’ leaders on and off the field.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Julian Edelman is one of the rare holdover names in the Patriots’ receiving corps.

RUNNING BACK

LeGarrette Blount (2013)

Brandon Bolden (2014)

Stevan Ridley (2014)

Shane Vereen (2014)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Same)

This might be the only position on the roster right now that has depth. Ridley is coming off a 1,200-plus-yard, 12-touchdown season. Vereen is coming into his own as a third-down back and could be a dynamic weapon. Bolden can capably spell Ridley and offer a change-of-pace ballcarrier. And while Blount doesn’t always run as big as his 250 pounds would suggest, he offers some power.

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady (2017)

Ryan Mallett (2014)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Same)

He has said he wants to play until he turns 40, and now Brady is saying he wants to play into his 40s. At this point, we’re not inclined to argue with him. Brady is just as hungry and passionate as he’s ever been, he is healthy, and he has had the challenge of integrating five new receivers — four of them rookies — into the offense he knows cold. Three years in, Mallett looked better in training camp, and expressed confidence with his knowledge of the system.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Chris Barker (2015)
Marcus Cannon (2014)
Braxston Cave (2015)

Dan Connolly (2014)

Logan Mankins (2016)

Nate Solder (2014)

Will Svitek (2013)

Sebastian Vollmer (2016)

Ryan Wendell (2013)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Same)

Michael Dwyer/AP

The protectors of Tom Brady will remain largely the same group as last season.

The top six players are the same as last year, and that group kept Brady upright (27 sacks) and paved the way for Patriots running backs to gain 2,184 yards, the highest team total in five years. The only question mark remains which player, Cannon or Connolly, will start at right guard. Connolly held the spot last season, but before an injury in training camp, it looked as though Cannon was angling for the job. Wendell is coming off a strong season at center, his first as a starter.

TIGHT END

Rob Gronkowski (2019)

Michael Hoomanawanui (2013)

Matthew Mulligan (2013)
Zach Sudfeld (2015)

(Comparison vs. 2012 roster: Worse)

Gronkowski isn’t on PUP, so the Patriots are confident he’ll be ready within the next few weeks — and they must be hopeful he’ll be the same red-zone-owning, monster-blocking, best-young-tight-end-in-the-game when he returns. Sudfeld was a revelation in training camp, quickly becoming a trusted target, particularly in the red zone, and can make some high-degree-of-difficulty catches. Hoomanawanui is versatile — he practices at tight end and fullback — which should help earn him playing time.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.
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