Change has been the one constant in the New England Patriots’ cornerback room this season. The latest example came earlier this week, when the team decided to waive second-year player Jack Jones amid questions about his reliability both on and off the field.
With Jones now in Las Vegas, and with questions also surrounding J.C. Jackson, the Patriots’ depth at the position is again in the spotlight. In turn, head coach Bill Belichick anticipates that the team’s backup options — Alex Austin, Breon Borders and Azizi Hearn — will get an opportunity to showcase themselves over the bye week.
“They’ve all done a good job,” Belichick told reporters during a media conference call earlier this week.
“Breon Borders and Hearn have been here a little bit longer and have had more practice time, but Alex has been working hard out there. He got more opportunities last week. All three of those guys, this will be a good week for them and for us to look at them a little bit more, and going into next week, the Giants game, for them to show in practice how they’re coming along.”
Borders and Hearn both arrived in New England in late September, signing practice squad contracts to join the team. For the former, the Patriots are the 12th stop over his seven-year career as a pro; for Hearn, who went undrafted earlier this year, they are his second after the Las Vegas Raiders originally picked him up.
Both spent the last eight weeks on the developmental roster, without seeing any game-day elevations. Whether or not that will change post-bye remains to be seen, but the release of Jack Jones seemingly gives them an opening.
The same is true for Alex Austin. A seventh-round rookie out of Oregon State, he started his career in Buffalo and Houston before being signed to the 53-man roster earlier this month. He was a game day inactive each of the last two games, but now projects as the fifth pure cornerback on the roster behind Jonathan Jones, Shaun Wade, the aforementioned J.C. Jackson, and Myles Bryant.
That does not automatically qualify him to see the field once the Patriots return from their bye against the New York Giants. As Belichick also pointed out, after all, is that he will continue playing the players who deserve to play.
“If you put somebody out there who isn’t prepared and isn’t able to do what they need to do, it puts other players at risk, and I don’t believe in that,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
Borders, Hearn and Austin will all get their chances this week. In order for them to turn those into actual playing time, however, they need to prove themselves worthy.