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New England Patriots Links 2/23/12 - Patriots in Prime Position to Build

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Ian Rapoport believes Bill Belichick is in prime position to build, and breaks down five needs for the Patriots. Here's his first one:

1. Safety

What the situation is now: Budding star Patrick Chung returns after an injury-plagued season, and injury-riddled Josh Barrett is back, too. So is fill-in James Ihedigbo, who may be better served as a reserve, and special teamers Sergio Brown and Malcolm Williams.

Why the need is so pressing: Thanks to injuries, the Patriots were forced to use receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater at safety last year. Both performed admirably, as did Nate Jones and Sterling Moore, who started upon being signed. Yikes. It wasn’t a pretty situation, and Devin McCourty may not help at safety next year.

Prospects to consider: It is not a draft chock full of safeties, but there are some interesting options. Alabama’s Mark Barron is the most obvious, as he thrived in Nick Saban’s Belichickian system. He’s physical and decisive, excelling in man-to-man coverage. Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith may be available late in the second round, but questions follow the others.

Best guess as to how it is addressed: Don’t be surprised if one of the Patriots first two picks addresses this glaring need.

Christopher Price gives Patriots fans five things we should be looking for at the Combine. Here's one:

The Patriots and the 3-cone drill: While New England covets speed, it’s also looking for players to be quick. To that end, the Patriots have traditionally put a lot of stock — maybe more than most teams — in events like the 3-cone drill in their pre-draft workouts that measure shiftiness and an ability to turn on a dime.

At the combine, the drill goes like this: Three cones are placed in an L shape. Players go 5 yards to the first cone and back, then to the second cone and back. Then, they run a loop around the third cone, switch direction and come back around the second cone. If you can finish the process in less than seven seconds, you’re looking at someone with good foot speed.

Through the years, several Patriots’ picks excelled at the 3-cone drill, whether it was at the combine or at their respective Pro Day. Julian Edelman had a 6.62 second time in the 3-cone drill as a collegian, while Devin McCourty’s 6.7 at the 2010 combine put him second among all corners. Deion Branch clocked a 6.71 (at the 2002 combine), Chad Jackson (at the 2006 combine) was 6.74 and Wes Welker was 7.06 as a collegian. If you’re looking for a prospect to distinguish him in the eyes of the New England brass, this drill is a good one to look for.