by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff

They may be heading into the NFL’s next campaign as one of the top contenders for Super Bowl XLIV, but even their own fans are full of questions about the New England Patriots.

These, then, are the things we’ll be wondering about as we look ahead to the 2009 season:

  • Can Tom Brady pull off the ACL/MCL comeback to again be one of the league’s best players? I’ll be watching the footwork – both the fundamental execution stuff and that familiar, intuitive pocket shuffle that effectively extends pass plays, often to great benefit.
  • Will the skill of the free agents and draft picks (both current and recent) be enough to improve the Pats’ secondary, especially on third down, or will we see another season of backpedaling and tissue-soft zones?
  • Who will replace Mike Vrabel? Team iconography aside, who will line up in his spot? Will the Pats’ relatively modest succession plan (going with what they have, rather than targeting a free agent or top draft choice) work? Can Jerod Mayo top his decorated freshman season – because he may need to?
  • Can Ty Warren recover from multiple off-season surgeries and return to form? Will Richard Seymour make it two good, healthy seasons in a row? How often will they both be out there with Vince Wilfork, making the d-line a team strength again?
  • Will the front-liners on the Pats o-line stay healthy and keep Brady upright? Can they sustain ’08’s productive ground game?
  • Who will be the Pats’ third receiver? Does Joey Galloway have anything left, or will Greg Lewis pull a David Patten and produce timely catches? Will either Chris Baker or Alex Smith give the Patriots more than Ben Watson can?
  • Will pairing with Fred Taylor allow Lawrence Maroney to finally carve a niche in New England? Can the Pats’ rotation of backs put together another 2,300 yard season? Is Sammy Morris the Pats’ new fullback?
  • What about Bill O’Brien? Can the new play caller keep one of the league’s top offenses – even without Brady – on track? And what of Josh Boyer, the latest to tackle the secondary? Will veteran coaches Scott O’Brien and Chad O’Shea have a seamless assimilation?
  • Can Nick Caserio, Floyd Reese and the rest of the team’s remodeled front office keep New England contending in ’09 while preparing for up to 30 expiring contracts at the end of the season? Will they find a way to keep Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins, to name two?

 We’ve got plenty of time to debate all of the above. Training Camp doesn’t open for another 10 weeks.

Scott Benson can be reached at