Eighth in a series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:
Hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end: Tully Banta-Cain, Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess, Rob Ninkovich
Stat check: Banta-Cain led the team with 10 sacks, while Burgess had five. Thomas was a two-down player, coming off the field in obvious passing situations.
First instinct: Banta-Cain’s production as a pass rusher was unexpected. He had two down years in San Francisco and his return to the Patriots on a one-year deal seemed to bring out the best in him.
Storyline not to be overlooked: The offseason trade of Mike Vrabel and its impact on this group. Vrabel had slowed considerably as a pass rusher, so he wouldn’t have helped much in that area, but his toughness setting the edge on early downs would have been an upgrade over what the Patriots had at that this spot. Thomas and Banta-Cain were often too easily hooked against tackles and tight ends.
Future: Thomas, who had a cheerful “Humble Pie” approach when he signed with the Patriots in 2007, is unlikely to return. He is due to earn $4.9 million and it would be hard to imagine both sides not feeling a parting of ways is best. Banta-Cain is a free agent and projects to be a high priority to re-sign. Burgess is also a free agent, while Ninkovich is signed through 2011.
Final thought: The trade of Burgess, who was acquired for 2010 third- and fifth-round draft choices, didn’t have a big impact.
POSITIONAL QUICK HITS