Continuing our series examining changes to the Patriots' positions, we take a gander at Safety. Writing these can be a bit precarious; as hytholdaeus pointed out in his comments, we're adding players at a breakneck pace. Let's also keep in mind that the roster is VERY fluid right now. Many guys will turn into training camp fodder and won't have a locker come cut day.
2008 Roster: Rodney Harrison (IR'd 10/22 with a thigh injury), Brandon Meriweather, Tank Williams (IR'd in preseason), James Sanders, Raymond Ventrone, Antwain Spann
2009 Roster: Brandon Meriweather, Tank Williams, James Sanders, Patrick Chung, Brandon McGowan, Raymond Ventrone, Antwain Spann
- Rodney Harrison - The $64,000 question is, "Will Rodney return?" He dabbled a bit in broadcasting with booth time at the Super Bowl and said he was "testing the waters", but has he successfully scratched the itch? Can he turn the motor off? Does Belichick think he can add value? Whether or not his body will do what his mind wants it to is the question and can only be answered by himself and Belichick, but I believe his greatest contribution would be a Bruschi-like role, an on-field mentor, if you will. Bring him back for a year just to tidy things up a bit. If he decides to stay away, I believe it'll be because of some of the rules changes that came about this year.
- Brandon Meriweather - Having worked under the mentorship of Rodney for two years, Brandon has come along nicely. He also had to jump in right quick when Harrison went down. If Brandon can develop that prowler instinct that his teacher has, I believe he'll be the future of that position for a very long time.
- Tank Williams - I was practically crying when Tank went down last season. I was sooooo stoked to see what he could do, this hybrid safety/linebacker dude. A player in this position with the instincts and football IQ to pull off coverage and pass rushing is VERY dangerous to the opposition. We suffered a great deal with the pass rush and if we don't end up with a pass rushing OLB, Tank could fill that gap as well as the "other" back on nickel and dime packages.
- James Sanders - Whew, thank goodness we resigned Sanders. A super productive free safety, he's always making solo tackles as an FS or on special teams. In his fifth year as a Patriot, New England wisely signed him to a three year deal worth approximately $9 million. James' knowledge of the playbook is second to none, therefore considered a valuable asset. I'd love to see him grow as a playmaker as well.
- Patrick Chung - The new kid on the block, Patrick was NE's #1 2009 draft choice at 34 (thank you Matt Cassel and KC Chiefs!!). How he plays at a pro level remains to be seen, but he reminds me of Tank in that he's more of an "in-the-box" kind of guy and could be used quite a bit on rushing/blitzing packages as well as dime/nickel formations. Not a deep coverage guy, he could do well roaming the middle ground between deep safety and linebacker.
- Brandon McGowan - Acquired today (dang, I have a headache), has five years of experience and could potentially be another nail in the coffin for a Rodney Harrison return. A solid backup guy, he'll add depth, but will have to battle it out for a fourth spot; Meriweather, Sanders, and Chung are the most likely top three.
- Raymond Ventrone - Classified as a safety, but primarily special teams, Ventrone won't vie for a top spot on the defense. He may be brought in every once in a while, but that's about it.
- Antwain Spann - Like Ventrone, Antwain is a special teams guy. I consider stability at this position just as important as other positions; Belichick is a special teams hound and hates when mistakes are made. I say give guys like Raymond and Antwain credit. That and Antwain was willing to give up his #28 to Fred Taylor. Class begets class and Fred decided to wear his college #21. Cool.
Is it the end of an era? Are we seeing the departure of fan favorite, Rodney Harrison? Given the current crop of safeties who have been brought on and the rules changes "softening" the game in many a defensive player's eyes, I think we're not far away from his departure. Sad. RODNEY...DAH...MAN!!
The top two guys will be Meriweather and Sanders with Chung rotating in as he gains experience. Tank (gotta love a guy named Tank) will be used in very specific packages requiring a hybrid guy and/or someone to prowl the line or edges. McGowan, if he makes the roster, will add depth when needed.
I'm stoked to see what will happen. Losing Tank last year was a major blow, IMO, and I can't wait to see what he'll contribute. We were very thin at safety (same as many other positions) and things were getting a little dicey.
Alright, let's hear it.