Patriots Camp Chronicles: Secondary

Jonathan Daniel

With the move of Devin McCourty to free safety, the mid-season addition of Aqib Talib, and the emergence of Alfonzo Dennard, the Patriots secondary looked better than it has since 2007 last year. Where will they be going forward?

Editor's Foreword: We're doing our training camp positional group analysis differently this year. Several of the writers are going to be taking on positional groups as the "positional coach" of that group. In a few weeks, we'll get together and pare down the 90 man roster to the final 53 man roster plus the 8 man practice squad. We'll be looking at roster balance, the ever important special teams, practice squad eligibility, as well as keeping our respective groups viable and deep. When we're done we'll present our final positional rosters detailing where we made our cuts and why.

Status of the position:

Since Asante Samuel left in 2008, the Patriots have had only one shutdown corner and that was Devin McCourty in his rookie year. In his sophomore season, the lack of viable safety help removed even that glimmer of hope. Since then, McCourty has moved to safety where he has the potential to be a perennial All-Pro at the position. With his vision, intelligence and sideline to sideline speed, he improves all of the guys in front of him. Captain McCourty is the smarts on the back end, but we've lacked a punisher up front since Rodney Harrison left in 2009. There were glimmers of hope with Patrick Chung, but with his penchant for bad angles and preference for big hits over actual tackling, he was more question than answer.

The emergence of Alfonzo Dennard last year and the half-year rental on Aqib Talib gave the Patriots the strongest secondary they've had in years. With Kyle Arrington in the slot, and serviceable strong safety Steve Gregory, the Patriots were within one injury of having a capable pass defense.

The Patriots re-signed Talib for a year to try to keep the secondary intact. The status of Dennard's court date for suspected DUI will determine if they were successful.

The Patriots addressed the need for a punishing strong safety by signing Adrian Wilson, a 6' 3" 230 lb veteran, who has the speed to cover most backs and tight ends, while also having the size to be a solid in the box run stopper. He covers the tweener LB role in sub packages, and can also blitz effectively with 25.5 career sacks.

The Patriots addressed additional secondary depth by drafting Rutgers CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers S Duron Harmon, and signing Rutgers CB Brandon Jones as an UDFA. That's four Rutgers alumns (including Devin McCourty) in the secondary. One thought was that McCourty could perhaps translate the Patriots plays into Rutgers speak to get the guys up to speed faster. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Overall, the Patriots have 8 corner backs, not counting Devin McCourty or Julian Edelman. They have 7 safeties, not counting Matthew Slater, and most of those are better fits in the strong safety mold. I believe the starters are pretty much set unless Dennard is jailed or suspended, which is entirely possible. The emphasis on the strong safety is really looking at who might replace Adrian Wilson long term.

The Secondary:

No Player Pos Ht Wt 40 time Vertical 3 cone Age Exp College
23 Cole, Marquice LCB 5-10 195 4.31 34 6.82 29 5 Northwestern
21 Dowling, Ras-I LCB 6-1 210 4.4 ? ? 25 3 Virginia
36 Jones, Brandon LCB 6-1 185 4.56 36.5 6.76 23 R Rutgers
31 Talib, Aqib LCB 6-1 205 4.42 38 6.82 27 6 Kansas
25 Arrington, Kyle RCB 5-10 195 4.44 ? ? 26 5 Hofstra
37 Dennard, Alfonzo RCB 5-10 200 4.48 37 ? 23 2 Nebraska
35 Morris, Stephon RCB 5-8 186 4.35 35.5 ? 22 R Penn State
26 Ryan, Logan RCB 5-11 191 4.53 32.5 6.69 22 R Rutgers
44 Davis, Kanorris SS 5-10 203 4.57 37.5 7.07 23 R Troy
43 Ebner, Nate SS 6-0 210 4.53 39 6.59 24 2 Ohio State
24 Wilson, Adrian SS 6-3 230 4.53 39.5 ? 33 13 North Carolina State
30 Harmon, Duron SS 6-1 200 4.51 36 7.02 22 R Rutgers
27 Wilson, Tavon SS 6-0 210 4.52 32 7.04 23 2 Illinois
28 Gregory, Steve FS 5-11 200 4.48 37 6.61 30 8 Syracuse
32 McCourty, Devin KR/FS 5-10 195 4.38 36 6.7 25 4 Rutgers

Projections:

The Patriots are going to be looking for certain roles, and I'll group these here:

Outside Corners:

Talib, Dennard, Arrington (I know, I know...), Dowling, Cole, Morris, Ryan, McCourty

Slot corners:

Arrington, Ryan, Jones, Cole, Gregory, Ebner

Strong Safeties:

A. Wilson, T. Wilson, Ebner, Gregory, Harmon, Davis

Free Safeties:

McCourty, Gregory, Harmon

Tweener linebacker:

A. Wilson, (T. Wilson, or Ebner if they added some weight)

Being on more than one list obviously, is a plus, and some guys project to multiple roles as subs if needed should we test our depth as we do every season.

We're looking for somewhere around 3 to 5 safeties, and 4 to 6 corner backs. Tavon Wilson, Marquice Cole, and Nate Ebner are on three special teams,. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington are on two special teams, and Patrick Chung also used to be on two teams. The secondary is critical to special teams. Again, I can look to fill the minimum number now and we'll look at depth later when we pare our rosters down to the 53 plus PS later on.

Starting with safety, it's pretty clear that Devin McCourty and Adrian Wilson are locks. Devin is spectacular in center field, and Wilson brings so much experience and flexibility to the position. In addition, Gregory is the top backup that can fill both roles (a little slow as a free safety, and a little small as a strong safety).

At Corner, Talib and Dennard are locks assuming Dennard isn't locked up. Arrington is currently the top slot guy and top outside backup. Dowling has earned some praise through camp, but past that the most of the corners have been quiet. Neither good nor bad.

Roster Locks (barring injuries):

Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington

His job to lose:

Steve Gregory, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan (3rd rounder), Duron Harmon (3rd rounder), Tavon Wilson (ST), Marquice Cole (ST), Nate Ebner (ST)

Strong showing coming into camp:

/ crickets

Too talented to lose:

/ more crickets

Outside looking in:

Stephon Morris - undersized, Kanorris Davis, Brandon Jones

With the uncertainty around Dennard and the injury history of Dowling, the Patriots could use one or two more guys to step up and separate themselves from the crowd. Who do you think will be on the final roster?

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