(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Outlook: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick believes that you can never have enough cornerbacks no matter how good or how bad.
Last year, the Patriots signed three journeymen corners in the offseason: Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, and Lewis Sanders. Bryant was cut after he showed his inability to tackle and play press coverage. Webster was hurt and Sanders earned a roster sport because of his skills on special teams.
Just before training camp concluded, the Pats signed Deltha O'Neal to be a starter after he was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals. O'Neal was too slow out of his stance and too short to stop many of the league's tall receivers. Luckily, for Pats fans none of these corners were resigned. The Pats also traded Ellis Hobbs to Philadelphia for two fifth round selections.
The Patriots signed Shawn Springs from the Washington Redskins and Leigh Bodden from the Detroit Lions.
They also drafted Darius Butler from Connecticut who Belichick loved after working him out at Connecticut's pro day in March, as the other 31 NFL coaches were tanning at the NFL owners meeting in California. Belichick was the only coach not to attend.
Add Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, who the Patriots drafted last year, into the mix and it should be a heated competition for the two starting spots.
Starters: Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite
Many who watched Butler think he is ready to be an NFL starter. Butler, not known as a physical corner, has great speed (rarely gets burned) and is an intelligent player who didn't allow a touchdown in his last two years at UCONN.
Drafting Butler in the middle of the second round was considered a steal as many had the Pats taking Butler with their late first round pick that they eventually traded.
Butler, who had 10 interceptions in college, will be a welcome addition to the Patriots who have lacked a really good cover corner since Asante Samuel signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Interestingly enough, when the local media asked Butler which current NFL player he is most similar to, he named Samuel
Wilhite started the last four games of the season last year when the Patriots finished 4-0. It is always a good sign when a rookie plays his way into a starting role, as it indicates the coaching staff was happy with his improvements. Belichick who teaches young corners as well as any coach in the league helped Wilhite improve his man coverage skills last season.
Shawn Springs should compete for a starting spot, particularly if he can stay healthy. He adds veteran leadership to a young Patriots secondary. Wheatley, who is coming off a broken wrist, should compete with Leigh Bodden for the fourth corner spot.
Who makes the cut: All five corners should make the opening day roster. Butler, Wheatley, and Wilhite are locks. Spring has a high probability of making it and Bodden, who is the most likely to be cut, should add insurance to a secondary that has suffered its fair share of injuries in the past.