The Patriots are toying with the idea of moving sophomore cornerback Logan Ryan to free safety, and moving superstar free safety Devin McCourty to strong safety.
It sounds crazy. Kind of lack video games back at the turn of the millennium where there was no distinction between CB and S (I'm looking at you, NFL2k1). But here's why it might work.
1) Logan Ryan is Instant Offense and a ball hawk. He is one of 13 college players in the past decade to register 39+ passes defended, 7+ interceptions, 11+ tackles for loss. He's active around the ball, he's stout against the run, and he's great in recognizing plays as they develop.
His big knock is his lack of sideline speed, which is what is needed for defenses to play the coveted Cover 1 look in the secondary.
2) Darrelle Revis doesn't need your stinkin' help. With Revis on the field, the Patriots don't need a sideline safety. Ryan can cheat over to the opposing side of the field and take advantage of whatever throw comes his way.
3) Devin McCourty is a wizard and can succeed at whatever the heck he wants. End of story. Play him at nose tackle and he'll put in a Pro Bowl season. Book it. But putting him at "SS" doesn't really matter because...
4) The FS/SS distinction is dated. Since 2011, the Patriots have been trying to blur the line between free safety and strong safety- coincidentally by pushing Pat Chung out of position. They want safeties that are multiple in skill set; they need to be able to cover as well as defend the run. They need to provide value in both man and zone.
By "moving" McCourty to strong safety, don't expect him to be pigeon-holed inside the box. By definition, it could just mean that he's going to be playing tighter coverage on tight ends, just like he did against Jimmy Graham once Aqib Talib was removed from the game. It goes with the theme of press coverage and certainly puts McCourty in a better position to defend.
5) It allows the Patriots to keep their best players on the field. Good coaches don't fill circular holes with square pegs. They amend the hole so the peg fits perfectly. One player I guarantee Bill Belichick was watching is Arizona's Tyrannn Mathieu, the Cardinals "free safety". Mathieu was moved from cornerback in college to free safety and was one of the most successful rookies this past season.
Except he was only FS in title. According to Pro Football Focus, Mathieu spent nearly two-thirds of his time in the slot, and a mere 14% of his time at what could be considered free safety.
Now picture Ryan in the same role, where the Patriots actually played him in the slot last season to limited success (Pro Football Focus actually shows that Ryan was one of the lowest graded slot corners last season, but that's for the coaches to decide. I'd be in greater support of moving Kyle Arrington to this hypothetical role).
With both Revis and Brandon Browner on the roster, as well as a healthy Alfonzo Dennard, Ryan is no better than CB4, maybe even CB5 depending on how the team feels about the newly extended Arrington. But Ryan deserves to be on the field and the Patriots are trying to carve him a role. The Patriots are weak at the safety spot complementing McCourty and this is a way they can get Instant Offense back on defense.
Now the team has the flexibility to play Revis, Browner, McCourty, and Ryan all in a base defense, allowing for a greater commitment to the pass rush. McCourty covers the tight end. Ryan covers the slot receiver.
This is a concept that needs to be refined, but it can definitely work. Remove your preconceived notions on the role of a safety and combine them into one position. It's what Belichick has wanted to do for the past few seasons. Now they finally have the personnel to make it happen.