With Vollmer and Solder back in the fold and a legit swing tackle in Svitek, it's probably time for at least one of Cannon or Zusevics to make the switch to G. Not sure either of them is ideal size in the Pats' system (they're both a bit tall / big), but there's upside that's obviously not there with Connolly, and I don't think the Pats will carry 5 OTs.
I do think McDonald is plug-and-play - hell, he did it last year - but they usually carry two backup interior guys.[/quote]
If they are moving one of Cannon or Zuscevics to "G" and McDonald is "plug & play" ready, then they have 4 guards (Mankins, McDonald, Connelly as top reserve and the conversion project), plus Kyle Hix (and he's been around a suspciously long time). This would elimnate it as a draft need and move it to (it's usual place) an UDFA/practice squad need.
Whether's it's a traditional "X" receiver or a hybrid guy like Sanders, it's gotta be somebody. Right now the WR depth chart is Amendola / Donald Jones / Kamar Aiken / Andre Holmes / Jeremy Ebert / Matt Slater / Shun White. That's not an NFL wide receiving corps.[/quote]
I am guilty of thinking the Sanders thing is going to drag out until the last possible second before he's acquired in trade. I didn't recall the initial rumors in 2007 that Welker was going to be signed to a $38M offer sheet and that the trade negotiation (adding a 7th round pick) allowed the Pats to sign him to the team-friendly 5/$18M deal. I believe (based on no evidence) that there's on-going negotiations between the Pats and the Steelers regarding Sanders' rights.
Amendola/Sanders/Jones/Ebert/Draftee has little name recognition value, but they are largely interchangeable and fits for the system.
I know you've been beating the "3 TE" drum, but they ran "13" personnel on about 4% of their offensive plays last year. I could see that jumping to 15-20%, but I'm very skeptical it's something they'll be running 30-40% or more. You have to be able to stretch the field horizontally and / or vertically and the Amendola / Gronk / Leaf / Ballard group doesn't do that. In fact, the Pats often used Matt Slater as the WR in 13 sets to open things up, as he's their fastest "WR."[/quote]
I do think that offensive group could stretch the field horizontally - in physical mismatches. Gronk and Hernandez can both get depth on routes that break outside, while Amendola and Vereen can exploit the space those guys create. With the nickel becoming almost the "base" for many teams, especially against the Pats, this would guarantee you get more traditional fronts/schemes because the 3 DB would be wasted/run over/boxed out by the size of the package (yup, I did that).
There's no way a team runs a 3 TE offense unless they had the very best all-around TE in the game who can dominate as a receiver and a blocker (check) and a hybrid TE/WR with great size, shiftiness, open field ability and speed (check). Add to that a very good (before the injury) in-line, traditional TE (Ballard). To me that's the key - Ballard is likely to be top 15 in NFL tight ends were he playing somewhere else (possibly higher). So you can assign him all the blocking assignments and the traditional TE assignments and get an average or above performance.
Ballard's inclusion allows Gronkowski to do even more Gronky things. He can be put in motion to destroy the weak side contain. He can run go routes down the seam on every play. He can be split out so the defense has to show coverage. Making Ballard the traditional TE means Gronk is a freelance beast more often.
And then there's Hernandez, who really is the #1 WR on the roster. He's big, he's fast, he's shifty and he'll go over the middle. He can run reverses, he can line up in the backfield or at TE or at the "outside" (X) receiver position. You can move him around and force the defense to account for two premier pass receivers AND the likelihood that everyone could just block and run your small nickel package to death in the hurry up.
3 TE sets gives this offense a huge new dimension. I doubt they just line up 3 TE and have them block on every play. I bet they do more of that formation screen play from the 2011 Buffalo game where Gronk, Hernandez & Welker all lined up wide left and at the snap, Gronk and Hernandez plowed the CB, LB & S out of the way while Welker waltzed into the endzone.
They are going to creatively use their size/skill advantage at the pass-receiver position unlike any team, ever. And it'll include WAY more than 20% of the snaps if everyone's healthy.