Tavon Wilson and Others Enough to Improve the New England Patriots Secondary?
While it's undeniable that the Patriots have added youth and athleticism to their front seven with the likes of first-rounders Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, as well as third-rounder Jake Bequette, many still wonder if enough improvement has been made to the secondary.
Let's take a look at the offseason additions to the secondary.
Steve Gregory, Free Safety
Gregory played both strong and free safety in San Diego, but he was clearly a better fit at free safety. I believe that is where the Patriots will primarily play him.
Playing behind perhaps the best free safety in the game, Eric Weddle, it was hard for Gregory to get a lot of playing time, but that doesn't mean he didn't play well when he had the opportunity.
Gregory has good coverage skills and is an instant upgrade over James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown, Nate Jones and Sterling Moore, who all participated in the revolving door that was the free safety position last season.
Ras-I Dowling, Cornerback
The 2012 season will be Dowling's second season as a Patriot, but he is essentially an offseason addition, having only played in two games last year before being placed on injured reserve.
Getting burned by big receivers became a weekly tradition for the Pats secondary a season ago.
Dowling's rare combination of size (6'1'', 200 lbs) and speed (runs a 4.40) should help alleviate this issue.
Tavon Wilson, Safety
A much-criticized second-round draft selection, Wilson is expected to be a bit of a project. However, he certainly looks the part.
With a solid frame and standing at 6'0'', Wilson has ideal size for the position.
The NFL is often described as a "copy-cat" league, and with the recent success of the two-headed tight end tandem that the Patriots have enjoyed, expect teams to try to replicate the effectiveness of the Gronkowski and Hernandez combination.
Teams will need an answer for pass-catching tight ends. With his build and experience playing both at cornerback and safety, perhaps Wilson was drafted to fill that role.
Nate Ebner, Safety
After watching Nate Ebner's rugby highlight reel on YouTube, I am thoroughly convinced this guy is going to be a fantastic football player.
Call me naive for assuming a good rugby player can translate into a good football player, but Ebner is an athletic freak with superb tackling vision.
Already being coined as the second coming of Larry Izzo, Ebner will immediately contribute on special teams. However, I expect the Patriots to slowly mold Ebner into an in-the-box safety or perhaps even a linebacker.
Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback
The former Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year slipped all the way to the last round in the 2012 draft because of off-the-field issues.
Displaying good man coverage skills against top competition, Dennard has the potential to be one of the great steals of the 2012 draft.
He should compete for time defending the slot early in his career.
Will Allen, Cornerback
Signing Will Allen early in free agency was a sound move for the Patriots.
An all-around solid veteran who was once considered one of the better cover corners in the league, Allen should bring experience and leadership to the secondary while also providing quality depth.
ESPNBoston reports that Allen has taken snaps at safety in recent OTAs, therefore furthering his value to the team.