2012 New England Patriots: Versatility Helps Build Depth

Rob Ninkovich’s ability to play at a starting level at two positions will help the Patriots depth immensely. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed

If there’s one thing Bill Belichick has proven over the years, it’s that if you aren’t going to be a star on the New England Patriots, you better damn be versatile.

Last year, Belichick may have gone over the edge with his love for versatility lining Julian Edelman up at cornerback, Matthew Slater at safety, Logan Mankins at left tackle, Nate Solder at tight end and more.

This year, the Patriots have acquired even more versatile players, and I’ll try to break down all of the positions they can play here. I avoided using players whose versatility is limited to non-return special teams, and also players who just play multiple versions of the same position.

RUNNING BACK

Shane Vereen – He’ll mostly line up at RB for the Patriots, but he has the versatility to split out at WR in a no huddle situation and can also be used in the return game.

Danny Woodhead – Like Vereen, this running back can line up out wide where he specializes in the wildcat, and he can poorly return kicks.

Brandon Bolden – Bolden is a new player on this Patriots squad, but we’ve seen him line up at fullback in training camp, and he was back returning punts last night against the Eagles, though his muffed attempt might keep him from that duty.

Jeff Demps – It will be interesting to see where Demps is used, but the newest player on the Patriots should be able to be a change of pace back, a kick returner and potentially a slot receiver as well.

Spencer Larsen – Larsen has mostly played fullback during his NFL career, but the college linebacker also started games on defense while at Denver and in a pinch, could do it again.

Stevan Ridley – He’ll likely be the Patriots starting RB, but he’s also returned kicks for the team.

WIDE RECEIVER

Deion Branch – Branch can line up split out wide or in the slot, and he can also return punts.

Julian Edelman – Perhaps the most versatile player on the team, he can play slot receiver, line up split out wide, carry out of the backfield, return punts, play slot corner and even play linebacker. Oh, he also played quarterback in college, so he’s likely the emergency fourth QB.

Matthew Slater – The star special teamer showed his versatility last year playing safety in a surprise role. Slater, supposedly the fastest player on the team, can also play wide receiver and has been used as a returner.

Wes Welker – We mostly see Welker lined up in the slot, but he’s also the most sure handed punt returner and is thrown out there when the team needs a fair catch.

Donte Stallworth – He hasn’t returned kicks or punts for a few years in the NFL, but he’s been back there in training camp on top of his WR duties.

TIGHT END

Aaron Hernandez – Has lined up at tight end, wide receiver and halfback during his career on the Pats. His versatility is a key to the Patriots offensive attack.

Alex Silvestro – A defensive end last year, Silvestro was called up late in the season from the practice squad to play on defense. This year, he was needed at tight end at rookie camp, and has stayed there through training camp even starting at the position last night against the Eagles. Silvestro still can’t block, but he’s come a long way in just two months on offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Marcus Cannon – Currently a tackle, Cannon’s future will likely be at guard.

Dan Connolly – Has started at both center and guard for the Patriots. While Waters has been MIA, Connolly has been the starting right guard. Connolly has also lined up as a big fullback at the goal line and had an infamous 80 yard kick return.

Nick McDonald – McDonald played tackle in college, started two games for the Pats at center last year and has been lining up everywhere on the offensive line this offseason.

Nate Solder – He’ll be the starting left tackle this season, but we saw Solder take a ton of snaps at his high school position, tight end, last year.

Donald Thomas – Mostly a guard, we saw Thomas’ first snaps at center last night for the Patriots.

Jeremiah Warren – Like Thomas, Warren can play center or guard.

Ryan Wendell – Currently Wendell appears to be the starting center for the Pats, Wendell has also played guard.

Logan Mankins – We saw the All Pro at tackle last season, we likely won’t see it again though.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Jake Bequette – The rookie third round pick showed an interesting wrinkle last night against the Eagles going in at tight end when the Patriots went for two after Silvestro’s TD. It will be interesting to monitor moving forward.

Jonathan Fanene – Fanene can play 3-tech, 5-tech and some big 7-tech in this Patriots hybrid defense.

Justin Francis – We’ve seen the big undrafted rookie line up at 7-tech mostly along the Patriots line, but he’s also taken snaps at DT and I saw him at least once in practice line up at MLB.

Rob Ninkovich – Last year, he was the Patriots starting strong side linebacker. This year, he’s starting along the line at 7-tech/OLB/elephant. If a Patriots starting linebacker goes down, Ninkovich could enter the fold.

LINEBACKER

Bobby Carpenter – Carpenter has played all three linebacker positions during his career, and has also played some 3-4 outside linebacker.

Dont’a Hightower – One of Hightower’s biggest perks coming out of Alabama was his versatility and he’s already flashed that this year playing all three linebacker positions. He could also line up at elephant, rushing the passer.

DEFENSIVE BACK

Will Allen – The veteran was a cornerback his entire career, but has transitioned to safety for the Patriots. He could certainly slide back into that corner role if he’s needed.

Patrick Chung – Chung can play both safety positions and has also covered the slot during his Patriots career.

Steve Gregory – Like Chung, Gregory can play both safety spots and can cover the slot.

Derrick Martin – Martin can play both safety positions, the slot and he’s been lining up split out wide late in the Patriots two preseason games.

Devin McCourty – We saw McCourty struggle a bit at corner last year, which forced him to slide to free safety and he did a nice job. McCourty can also return kicks.

Sterling Moore – Moore was forced to play safety last year due to injuries and did a halfway decent job. He’s mostly a cornerback and can play both spots.

Ross Ventrone – This special teamer started his career on the Pats at safety and has seemingly moved over to cornerback now.

Tavon Wilson – The college corner was drafted to play safety, but if emergency strikes, he could see some time at corner again in the NFL.

What do you guys think, did I forget anyone out there?

Tags: 2012 New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez, Don'ta Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, Versatility

5 Responses to “2012 New England Patriots: Versatility Helps Build Depth”

  1. Mike Farrell says:

    Based on last year’s performance, Vince Wilfolk at CB.

  2. paul says:

    I believe Brady has a decent leg and could be considered the 3rd/emergency punter.

  3. Ken W says:

    Brady-QB and Punter

  4. Hunter says:

    Ebner? In case they play a pickup rugby game while in London?

  5. Norm says:

    Markus Zusevics was an all-state center in HS






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