With so many new faces at wide receiver and the tight end situation unsettled at least until Rob Gronkowski returns it’s not a stretch to say Tom Brady and the offense will need some time to get into some semblance of a rhythm.

Given that scenario along with the fallout and distractions lingering from Aaron Hernandez’ recent arrest on murder charges something has to happen for the Patriots to be able to maintain their standing as an elite team in the AFC.

That something is called defense.

In 2006 when Brady was left to toss the ball around to receivers Reche Caldwell Doug Gabriel Jabar Gaffney the Patriots nearly made it to the Super Bowl thanks in part to the NFL’s sixth-ranked overall defense.

This season it certainly wouldn’t hurt if Matt Patricia’s unit rose to the occasion and dominated football games. Under the circumstances it’s practically a must. The defense has to carry the load. It has to step up and be as effective as the defense that backboned three championships.

But can it? Is the defense truly capable especially with starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard still awaiting his fate after possibly violating his probation with his recent arrest? And a few question marks remaining in other areas?

“I don’t think we come into any season and say hopefully the offense wins every game for us and we just get by” safety Devin McCourty said yesterday as several captains met the media. “It’s the same attitude. We always come in and try to get better. Most importantly we try to stop teams from scoring points.”

In recent years Bill Belichick certainly has put considerable effort into reloading and restocking a unit that’s been particularly dreadful defending the pass. Knowing it was unwise to expect the offense to score 30 points every game to compensate for the sagging unit Belichick began tinkering. Last year he spent six picks on the defensive side of the ball. Belichick also did something he rarely does moving up to get both defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round.

He later made a deal for Aqib Talib prior to the trading deadline and then re-signed the free agent cornerback who had some off-the-field problems in Tampa Bay.