NEPD Staff Writer: Adam Bogdan
There are few remaining questions in the Patriots defensive backfield. Devin McCourty mans one of the safety positions, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner man the outsides, and Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, and Logan Ryan fill in the holes.
But there is one spot that doesn’t appear to have a clear cut starter, and that is the second safety position.
I emphasize the second safety position, because Belichick may be leaning towards removing the tags “free” safety and “strong” safety in favor of having two safeties that can provide a little bit of everything. We can see examples of that in the players currently slated to play alongside McCourty. On Wednesday, Belichick had some input on how the safety position is used when implemented within a 3-4 front, which the Patriots have been exploring so far in camp.
The advantages of it are if you play it well I think you have more ability to play some safety coverages. That’s the main thing. It just comes down to a numbers game. Play a one-gap defense then you need another player for the extra gap, if you will. If you play some form of two-gap defense, whether it’s 3-4, whatever it happens to be, if you play some form of two-gap defense then you can theoretically match your six against their six, your seven against their seven, whatever it is and you don’t always need an extra player for an extra gap.
The teams that don’t two-gap a lot of times have linebackers responsible for two gaps. So it’s the same numbers, different principle though. But you’ve got a big, strong, physical team then that’s what you need to play those techniques. I’d say those are the type of players they have.
The Patriots are currently projected to have a rotation that may or may not contain the likes of Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, and Tavon Wilson. None of these players are roster locks, and none of them are tremendous impact players for the role they would have to fill, with each having their own noticeable flaws. So without knowing who will make the final roster cut yet, I looked to the college football ranks to find players that may fit this role.
Kurtis Drummond is one of those players. The 6’1” 200 lbs free safety can provide an immediate playmaker to the secondary, and one who is unafraid to make tackles. The redshirt senior has played in 21 consecutive games, and 39 overall. Over the course of his career he has notched 161 tackles, 10 pass break ups, 8 interceptions, and 9 tackles for loss.
As a member of the Michigan State “No Fly Zone”, Drummond has helped lead an impressive secondary that held opposing QBs to 47.5% completions, only 5.2 yards per attempt, and impressive 12:17 TD to Interception ratio, and only 165.6 yards per game according to cfbstats.com.
There are many things to like about Drummond, most of all is his ability to find the ball and make a play. Against Western Michigan last year, he was a part of three plays that highlight this skill.
Early in the game, he almost had a pick that bounced off the ground after breaking off coverage to find the ball.
He followed that effort by catching a lateral from a teammate after an INT, that he returned for a TD.
Later in the game, Drummond made a beautiful leaping one handed grab, where he broke off his initial coverage to attack the ball as it went in his direction.
One missing aspect of the Patriots secondary is a hard hitting player to bring fear to receivers going across the middle. To fill that strong safety type skill set, Drummond fearlessly attacks ball carriers with reckless abandon.
He doesn’t hesitate to come down to tackle the ball carrier from his safety position.
Before the play, Drummond becomes a natural leader, calling out adjustments and play calls to his teammates. Unfortunately, due to his high intensity, he can tip what his role is before the snap. This anxiety shows when he takes a step or two back as the quarterback goes through his cadence, or when he starts to come down and tip his blitz before the ball is snapped.
In pass coverage, he patiently reads the quarterback’s eyes, which allows him to see where the ball is going and make plays. Occasionally he is caught flat footed, which allows receivers to get passed him initially, but he has phenomenal recovery speed. Once running with the receivers, he uses his hands to ride his man downfield while being able to turn and locate the ball. When in man coverage, Drummond sticks to receivers’ hips and follows them downfield excellently, putting him in great position to make a play on the ball.
Drummond’s biggest flaw is his tackling technique. I rarely saw a proper wrap up tackle from him in the two games I watched of him. He often times launches his body at players’ legs in an attempt to take out their footing. He’s not the greatest in open field tackling either, due to not breaking down properly before contact. While he has no fear to tackle anyone with the ball, he needs to improve on his fundamental tackling.
All of this analysis is based off his play last year, so he has an entire season to improve and hone his craft. I’m excited to see what his game will be like given another year of experience and leadership.
Come next May, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots will be interested in such a promising player.