New England Patriots Position-by-Position Offseason Preview: Defensive Backs
The Patriots 2011 secondary was like the Island of Misfit Toys from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special. The train with square wheels? That can be Antwan Molden. The Charlie-in-the-Box? That’s Matthew Slater playing safety. A cowboy that rides an ostrich? That’s Julian Edelman at cornerback.
Week after week, new combinations were tried out, hoping to assemble a productive unit. Whether it was injury or poor play, the secondary went through more mixing and matching than a game of mahjong.
The only reliable player was safety Patrick Chung. Unfortunately, Chung was healthy for only eight games.
The lack of stability factored into the pass defense, finishing 31st in the league, allowing 293.9 yards per game.
The other half of the problem was execution. Many players played well short of expectations.
CB Devin McCourty was a Pro Bowler in his rookie season with seven interceptions. He then suffered through sophomore slump as he was incapable of covering receivers man to man. CB Kyle Arrington was leading the NFL in interceptions with seven by Week 11 but couldn’t pick off another pass for the rest of the season. Josh Barrett, James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown, Sterling Moore, etc. all played safety with varying levels of success.
As troubling as the secondary was, the solution shouldn’t be blowing it up. Shifting a player or two plus a new addition can remedy the problem.
McCourty played safety a couple of times late in the season, but Arrington might be a better option. Arrington as a corner is average, at best. But he has an innate nose for the ball and is a solid tackler.
How does Ras-I Dowling fit into the puzzle? Is he more valuable isolated on big receivers outside or as a physical presence over the middle?
The draft doesn’t seem well stocked at the safety position. The top-rated safety Mark Barron likely will be gone by the time it is New England’s turn in the first round.
What the Patriots should do is take advantage of the San Francisco 49ers and go after Dashon Goldson.
New England liked Goldson enough last year to bring him in for a workout during training camp. The Patriots offered Goldson a contract, but he decided to re-sign with the 49ers.
San Francisco will have a tough time re-signing the free agents they want. They have to decide on QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr., G Chilo Rachal and other valuable players. The 49ers won’t be able to keep everyone.
This would be the perfect opportunity for the Patriots to snatch Goldson out from under the 49ers’ nose. New England has to close the deal with Goldson if they get a second chance.
It’s not out of the question for the Patriots to draft a cornerback early, even after selecting three early in the last three years (Dowling second round 2011, McCourty first round 2010, Darius Butler second round 2009).
Janoris Jenkins fits Belichick’s mold for the ideal corner and has some of the University of Florida pedigree that Belichick likes. Jenkins is red flagged for his character, but if he shows that he has grown up in interviews and former Gators head coach Urban Meyers gives his approval, Belichick won’t have a problem drafting Jenkins.
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