FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady has been the story in New England for a long time. That will likely continue to be true for as long as No. 12 is under center for the Patriots.
But the offseason addition of Darrelle Revis and hopeful progression of a number of young players on defense has some budding confidence and hope brewing in Foxborough this spring.
The possibilities of what Revis can do are obvious. He's arguably the best cover corner in the game. He takes pressure off the back end coverage and helps the pressure his teammates apply up front.
"He could give me a little more time to get to the quarterback; that's always a nice thing," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said with a laugh before expanding on what Revis brings to New England.
"I think having a guy like that definitely helps you as far as any scheme you are running on defense. If you have a No. 1 receiver, you can put him on that guy and he's going to do a great job on him. Having a guy like that is always great on defense. Just knowing that whatever best receiver you have on the field he's going to cover him."
While the way Revis might help transform the Patriots defense is pretty clear, the expectations and hopes for second-year linebacker Jamie Collins aren't quite as predictable.
Collins started eight of the 16 games he played as a rookie, notching 38 tackles, three quarterback hits and three passes defensed during the regular season. Solid but unspectacular production.
Then during the Patriots' dismantling of Andrew Luck and the Colts last January, Collins had six tackles, a sack, three quarterback hits and an interception.
It was a breakout performance that turned the heads of many fans and media.
Now, with the departure of Brandon Spikes, Collins is penciled in as a full-time starter at outside linebacker.
While expectations may not necessarily be for him to replicate the production against the Colts each week, they will certainly be higher than the 11 games he had as a rookie with two or fewer tackles.
"I think he's going to continue to improve," Ninkovich said of Collins in his second season. "It's all about working and going out there and earning it.
"So I think he definitely has all the tools to do anything he wants in this league. He just has to go out there and do it."
Fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower, himself a former first-round pick who knows a little something about dealing with expectations, clearly has faith that his young teammate is ready for a bigger role.
"With Jamie, I feel like he's blossomed a lot sooner than anybody," Hightower said. "I feel like he was a lot more mature in his first year than some people are in their third year. You couldn't tell that he wasn't a third- or a fourth-year player."
The return to health of guys like defensive co-captains like Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo will give the Patriots a clear boost over what the defense had to offer for much of last season.
But if the unit is to make major advancements and take a step toward equal billing with the Brady-led offense, it will be through the improvement that newcomers like Revis and developing youngsters like Collins bring to the field this fall.
--Offensive lineman R.J. Mattes was released on Wednesday. Undrafted out of North Carolina State last year, he spent time with New England last summer as well as a short stint on the team's practice squad late last season.
--WR Jeremey Johnson was signed by the Patriots on Thursday. The 6-foot, 179-pound rookie free agent out of SMU caught 112 passes for 1,112 yards with six touchdowns as a senior for the Mustangs. Over the course of his four-year career, he hauled in 196 passes for 1,936 yards with 10 touchdowns.
--LB James Anderson joined the Patriots earlier this month to add veteran experience and depth to a young, thin depth chart at the position in New England. The former Bear and Panther has been lining up with the second unit at outside linebacker and at 6-2, 235 is clearly one of the smaller linebackers in New England.
--RT Sebastian Vollmer missed the final eight games last season because of a broken leg. As is the case with so many players when they are forced to miss time from the game, Vollmer admits he's probably enjoying OTA workouts more than the average player might. "No doubt, whenever you get hurt or miss some games, you're excited to be back," Vollmer said. "You go through rehab and try to get your body right. So it's definitely exciting for me."