Today, we continue our camp competition series with the safety position, a position that hasn't undergone any personnel change, but figures to have a much different look in 2010.
Much like Jerod Mayo at the inside linebacker position, we know who one of the starting safeties will be come September: Brandon Meriweather. However, we don't know who will be starting next to Meriweather as the strong safety. Last season, James Sanders began the season as starting safety before being supplanted by Brandon McGowan after the first game. Sanders eventually re-claimed the job later in the year, while rookie Patrick Chung occasionally worked into the rotation, and played a lot of garbage time. First year player Bret Lockett played a significant role on special teams.
Projected Depth Chart:
1. Brandon Meriweather, #31
2. Pat Chung, #25
3. Brandon McGowan, #30
4. James Sanders, #36
Projected Cuts: Bret Lockett, #26; Sergio Brown, #38
Brandon Meriweather, #31
In 2009, Brandon Meriweather made his first Pro Bowl for the New England Patriots, totaling over 80 tackles and five interceptions. Entering 2010, there is no question that Meriweather will be a starter for the Patriots. However, there are some questions surrounding Meriweather. For one, can he step up as a leader? He has now been established as one of the stars on the Patriots defense, and it will be interesting if he can translate that status into a status as an on the field leader for the team. Second, can he become more consistent? At times, Meriweather looked like one of the top three or four safeties in the league, a true ballhawking and even run defending presence. Then, at other times, we would see Meriweather look inconsistent in coverage, or take a bad angle on a ball carrier. There is no question, however, that Brandon Meriweather has the potential to become an All-Pro caliber safety, possibly as soon as this year. Chance to Start: 99% | Chance to Make Roster: 100%
Patrick Chung, #25
When the Patriots selected Patrick Chung with their first selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, a lot of people expected him to immediately become a Rodney Harrison-type presence for the team. While this didn't exactly come to truth his rookie season, Pat Chung has a chance to secure that type of role moving forward. In mini-camp, Chung was lining up at strong safety next to Brandon Meriweather. As the "strong safety," Chung line up at a variety of spot, from in the box, to slot cornerback, to the traditional safety spot. If he could fill that type of role when it actually counts, I think the Patriots will be very happy. Still, Chung needs to prove that he's ready. If he's not, there's always the steady and reliable James Sanders waiting in the wings. Chance to Start: 55% | Chance to Make Roster: 100%
Rest of the players after the jump!
Brandon McGowan, #30
If there's a wildcard in this group, it's Brandon McGowan. There was perhaps no player as polarizing as McGowan in 2009. He came out of nowhere in training camp, and had a starting job by week two. He shut down opposing tight ends, made hard hits, and always found a way to the football. However, he wasn't really the steady presence you want out of your last line of defense, and there was a question of whether or not he was the potential cause of some miscommunication on the Patriots defense. Nevertheless, McGowan is a talented player who will be given his fair share of chances in training camp. Chance to Start: 24.5% | Chance to Make Roster: 90%
James Sanders, #36
If all else fails, at least the Patriots have James Sanders. That's how I look at Patriots safety James Sanders. He's sort of a strong safety-free safety tweener, and is only a marginally above average starting NFL safety. But there's no question about his work ethic. He's the first one in, and the last one to leave the team's facilities each and every day. He watches a lot of film, smart, reliable, and great locker room presence. James Sanders defines the Patriots way, and that is why he was re-promoted to starter late last season. While Sanders may not be the most talented safety on the Patriots roster, he is reliable, and at some point, I think he'll provide a role for the Patriots in 2010, whether or not he's a starter. Unless of course, he gets traded or something. Chance to Start: 20% | Chance to Make Roster: 85%
Bret Lockett, #26
After playing his college ball at UCLA, Lockett signed on with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He was a final cut of the Browns, but was claimed off waivers by the Patriots the next day. After becoming an impact special teams player (recorded seven tackles and a forced fumble in 10 games), Lockett injured his groin and was placed on injured reserve in early December. While Lockett won't be winning a starting spot, he does have a shot to make the roster if he can prove himself on special teams. Look for him to compete with the likes of Kyle Arrington for a roster spot. Chance to Start: 1% | Chance to Make Roster: 35%
Sergio Brown, #38
The Patriots signed Sergio Brown as an undrafted free agent late in April. At Notre Dame, Brown was a phenomenal special teams player who became a starter midway through his junior season. He became an impact player as an in-the-box safety, but is a longshot to make the Patriots roster, his best chance will be the practice squad. Chance to Start: .5% | Chance to Make Roster: 5%
FINAL VERDICT: The big four at safety (Meriweather, Sanders, Chung, and McGowan) all make the roster with the starters being Meriweather and Pat Chung. McGowan will come on in some nickel and dime situations, and will see some time backing up Chung and on special teams. Sanders will be a veteran leader and role model for younger players. While his snaps will be limited, he could see some time backing up either safety spot, if one of Chung or McGowan struggles, or if injuries hit.