Patriots must cope with the rookie wall

Rookies have started 49 games for the New England Patriots this year. They've started four rookies on defense four times. A rookie cornerback leads them in interceptions. Two of their top five tacklers are rookies. One rookie tight end ranks second in receiving yards. Another rookie tight end ranks second in touchdown catches.

I'm sure you get the point: Rookies are important to the Patriots' success and, given their 10-2 record, play a larger role than rookies on most other teams.

That's why Ross Tucker's latest ESPN.com column is highly pertinent to the Patriots. After 13 weeks and a dozen games, Tucker explains the "rookie wall" is no myth.

The Patriots expect their season to last another two months, and some of their important contributors already have played more games than they did in a college season.

Tucker writes:

Right around this time of year, once the college football season is clearly in the rearview mirror, the production of some NFL rookies begins to decline. For a select few, their play can drop off precipitously. Young players who are unaccustomed to the length of a grueling NFL season can start to wear down mentally and physically. I know, because it happened to me.

Tucker, an offensive lineman who played for the Patriots and Buffalo Bills, recalls how his rookie summer with the Washington Redskins felt like an entire season before real games began.

Tack on four preseason games plus a lengthy playoff run and you're talking about 23 or so weeks of contact and stress.

It will be an issue for the Patriots to scale.