NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
We wrap up our position previews with what will likely be the most important position on the entire Patriots roster; the defensive backs. If the Patriots are going to have the success and reach their ultimate goal it’s imperative that the secondary plays much better than they did in 2011. What changes have they made in the secondary and will it be enough to fix the holes that existed?
Continue reading to find out how the Patriots defensive backfield will look week one.
Current Roster (16): Will Allen (CB), Kyle Arrington (CB), Alfonzo Dennard (CB), Devin McCourty (CB), Sterling Moore (CB), Josh Barrett (DB), Marquice Cole (DB), Ras-I Dowling (DB), Nate Ebner (DB), James Ihedigbo (DB), Ross Ventrone (DB), Marcus Williams (DB), Patrick Chung (FS), Tavon Wilson (FS), Sergio Brown (SS), Steve Gregory (SS)
What To Watch For: How does Devin McCourty bounce back from a poor sophomore season? Can Ras-I Dowling stay healthy? Who will be the starting safeties? Who is Tavon Wilson and what did Bill Belichick see in him to make him a 2nd round pick? Who plays the slot CB position? How good is Alfonzo Dennard? Can Marquice Cole play himself into consideration for a roster spot? Is Sterling Moore for real? What kind of schematic differences are the Patriots deploying in the secondary this season?
Bubble Watch: Josh Barrett, Marquice Cole, Alfonzo Dennard, Nate Ebner, James Ihedigbo
Who Makes the Final 53: Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Alfonzo Dennard, Will Allen, Steve Gregory, Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, James Ihedigbo
Explanation and Breakdown:
What makes the Patriots secondary so unique is the number of players players who can alternate between cornerback and safety. Devin McCourty, Sterling Moore, Will Allen and Tavon Wilson are all players who have experience at both spots. A player like Will Allen has added value to the Patriots because they value that veratility so much. In the past, the Patriots have kept five cornerbacks and four safties, but I could see them keeping ten defensive backs this year. The league is becoming so passing oriented that you need to have extra defensive backs.
The Patriots play out of their sub defense more than any other team, so they will need to be able to rotate defensive backs. Let’s not forget that the team has been bitten hard by the injury bug in the secondary over the course of the last decade and it’s cost them.
McCourty, Dowling, Arrington are locks at corner. Gregory, Wilson and Chung are locks at safety. I consider the way Sterling Moore played late in the season close to a sure thing to be on the roster. Dennard, unless he is awful likely has a spot as well.
If they decide they can only keep nine defensive backs the last spot will come down to Will Allen, Alfonzo Dennard and maybe Marquice Cole. While a 7th round pick can usually be snuck onto the practice squad, that’s not the case with Dennard. If the Patriots cut Dennard he’s likely gone, because of his talent level. This makes it more likely that Dennard is on the roster. With the way Sterling Moore finished last season, he is going to be on the roster.
Keep an eye on Marquice Cole, who could win a roster spot outright. Cole has experience playing slot CB, which is a need on the team and is a very good special teams player. He wasn’t given much of a chance the past two years to play defense on the Jets, but I get the sense he is someone the team likes. The more I think about it, the more likely I think it will be he will be on the team.
In terms of safety, James Ihedigbo has the edge right now based on his play last season. He is a core-four special teams player and gained valuable starting experience last year. Ihedigbo earned a lot of respect last year playing through injury. Josh Barrett could find a way to sneak onto the roster, but would have to beat out Ihedigbo to do so.
Ihedigbo is a better special teams player and played as good if not better than Barrett when asked to fill in at safety last year, which makes it tough for Barrett to make it. Roster spots are going to be so tough to come by this year, that I don’t think the Patriots will have room for a “Special Teams only player”. This means Nate Ebner, Ross Ventrone and Marcus Williams will have to prove they can also be a reliable defensive player and I don’t see that happening.