Despite making two key plays in the AFC title game to give the Patriots a berth into Super Bowl XLVI, defensive back Sterling Moore enters the 2012 season in a fight for a role in the New England defense. The secondary may have been the weakness of the team a year ago, but there is much competition to be had there during this summer's training camp.
Competition that Moore, the former SMU Mustang, figures to be right in the middle of.
2011 defensive captain Devin McCourty and the oft-injured Ras-I Dowling are the likely starters at cornerback heading into camp, with the NFL’s co-leader in interceptions from a year ago, Kyle Arrington, lining up as their nickelback in three-receiver sets.
The Patriots also drafted a mid-round talent and about as quality a player as you could hope for in the seventh-round at corner with Alfonzo Dennard, whose stock fell late due to his legal troubles following assault charges, detailed here by Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe. Legal proceedings aside, Moore’s fellow corners leave the 2011 undrafted free-agent's place in the New England defensive backfield up in the air.
Moore did record starts at safety during his first year, but cornerback is clearly where he flashed more potential.
Even if the team was looking to play him as a safety, they should be well-set with Patrick Chung, free-agent signee Steve Gregory, second-round pick Tavon Wilson and veteran DB Will Allen who has been seen working as a safety thus far according to Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly.
There is still even a possibility McCourty could be splitting time as a deep safety as he did towards the end of last year's campaign. Ideally the team likely wants to play McCourty as their left corner the majority of the time, but if his level of play matches that of last year's, they may have no choice but to move him once again. This looks to make a full-time role at safety difficult for Moore to reach out and grab as well, barring him putting on a stellar display back there during camp from day one.
All of these scenarios point to one thing, if all are healthy—someone needs to hit the road.
In my original projection for the Patriots 53-man roster back in May I projected Arrington to be dealt. I still believe at this point the team could look to deal Arrington or maybe Moore for a mid-round pick. Moore flashed ball-skills and a knack for making clutch plays down the stretch that surely other teams noticed.
With the sheer number of NFL-caliber talents they currently possess in the secondary, it makes too much sense not to at least consider trading one, especially if they all pan out in camp. Head coach Bill Belichick just may look to get some of his favorite thing, value, for one of these defensive backs.
Having too many solid options at defensive back is a new problem for the New England Patriots, but one they will happily welcome every training camp if possible.