Bill Belichick's era in New England as head coach of the Patriots will always be remembered for the quality of linebacker he brought to Boston. While Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and the late Junior Seau are all gone, Belichick is attempting to bring in a new group capable of continuing the legacy.
Mayo is the veteran of this group now despite being only 26 years of age. He showed his versatility last year moving to strong side linebacker in a 4-3 opposed to playing inside in a 3-4. Mayo will likely be asked to play both positions again this season as Donta Hightower and Bobby Carpenter are better suited to play strongside in a 4-3.
Spikes instincts and ability to knock out defenders have quickly seen him stand out in his career so far. The greatest issue with Spikes is his durability. He hasn't played a full 16 game season so far in his very short career. While it is too early to call him injury prone, he needs to be on the field this year if the Patriots defense is going to improve.
It was no surprise that the Patriots signed Carpenter as a free agent this off-season. While Carpenter has never lived up to his hype coming out of college, he is a player who has played adequately in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Bill Belichick is obviously hoping that Carpenter will provide the team with some veteran stability without forcing Donta Hightower into action straight away.
Everyone will expect Hightower to start from day one, but he will need to earn his spot for the Patriots. The most likely outcome is Hightower will start at strong-side linebacker, because of the question marks over his coverage skills, with Spikes playing inside and Mayo lining up across from him. Hightower is very intelligent and physically gifted, but nothing is handed to anyone in New England.
Fletcher is entering camp a lot leaner this season compared to last. Last year he was a bit part player in the regular season but had an impressive training camp and pre-season. Fletcher needs to focus on continuing his development while being ready to fill in if required for Spikes.
At this point in his career, Tracy White will just be hoping to land a roster spot. White has never been a starter in his nine year career and that doesn't figure to change this year.
Much like White, Koutouvides is another player on the Patriots roster who will settle for a job for the year. Koutouvides has started three games in his eight year career.