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Camp Battle #6: Show Me the Money

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This battle will highlight the Money LB spot used typically in dime (6 Defensive Backs) packages.

Ka-Chung.
Ka-Chung.
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The term "Money Linebacker" is something that Bill Belichick's former defensive coordinator (Nick Saban) has made famous in football circles. The "Money" Linebacker is typically a hybrid safety/linebacker that comes in for Dime defenses (6 Defensive Backs). The role of the position varies as either a blitzer, cover the Tight Ends in Man, or middle of the field responsibilities in Zone. While the Patriots might not play more than 15% of their snaps in a 6-DB package, you're only as good as your weak link. The need for the position has increased due to the emergence of pass-catching Tight Ends lined up as Receivers (Split End or Slot).

The Dime package typically counters a 4-Receiver alignment (2 Split Ends, 2 Slot Receivers). Now suppose you're playing the Colts, Broncos, or Packers and the opponent is in their hurry-up offense and then they move the TE (we say TE because that's where they're listed on the depth chart) back to his natural spot at the end of the line. You still need a player that can stop the run against a 2 or 3-Receiver alignment. It's hard to find the right guy because a defensive back is typically a liability against the run and a linebacker is typically a liability against the pass. So you need a guy who can play both. Fortunately, the Patriots are one of the best teams at spreading the field and the hurry-up offense. So if a Patriots player is good enough to function against his offense, it should translate well against other teams.

Contestants: Matthew Wells (LB), Jordan Richards (S), Tavon Wilson (S), Patrick Chung (S), Nate Ebner (ST)

The Patriots drafted Matthew Wells in particular because of his ability to cover for Mississippi State. He's undersized for a linebacker, but his athletic numbers compare well to most defensive backs anyway. The position uses linebacker/safety hybrids, so a linebacker being in the competition would not be unusual. Wells was already listed on the back-up linebacker camp battle, but being able to fulfill this role helps in figuring out the roster crunch there.

On the topic of defensive backs, the Patriots have used Tavon Wilson and Patrick Chung in that role in 2014. Neither guy has ran away with the job, which leaves their 2015 roster status in question in terms of role. Chung and Richards are roster locks for 2015, which puts Wilson's roster spot in limbo right now. With how the Patriots CB situation has unfolded in the off-season, I believe Duron Harmon will be elevated to the second starting safety role. Harmon can play in Cover 1 and Cover 2 looks as a deep safety and is better suited against the pass than the run compared to Wilson and Chung.

Jordan Richards is a wildcard in this entire competition and his playing time will be determined on how quickly he can learn the playbook. Even though most people disapproved Belichick drafting him in the 2nd round (sometimes players get overlooked for stuff below the shoulders than what's above them), I'll actually be surprised if he busts at all. As a player who was regarded as a coach on the field while at Stanford, it's clear he has the intellect needed to play in the Patriots defense. He's a must-watch for preseason and training camp in my opinion.

Projected Winner: Patrick Chung

Chung is really playing against how long before Richards learns the playbook and applies it on the practice field well enough for Belichick to put him in game situations. Due to no practice notes or preseason video, it's near impossible to anoint Richards or Wells as the winner. Due to the roster crunch, I have Tavon Wilson not being on the 2015 roster although he showed more than Chung in this role last year. Since the Patriots essentially guaranteed Chung's place on the 53-man roster, the Patriots are going to try to find a role for him first. It would take a phenomenal preseason by Wells/Richards/Wilson to unseat Chung for the Money Role assuming that Harmon will play as the second safety.