Patriot Concern: Replacing Rodney Harrison

Knox McCoyCorrespondent IJuly 27, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12:  Rodney Harrison #37 of the New England Patriots stands on the field during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2004 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 35-28.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

As a player, Rodney Harrison could never be confused as a Mister Congeniality candidate. Often times, his physical and sometimes dirty play incurred the wrath of opponents and hyper-sensitive broadcasters.

Feel free to disagree with his roaming hands, after-the-play love taps, or helmet-to-helmet shots, but you can't disagree with his impact.

Harrison gave New England a bully in the secondary and was the surly spark the defense needed. That isn't to say that the New England defense wasn't already good. It was. Harrison was just the piece needed to go to the next level.

Put it to you like this: Was Danny Tanner doing a good job raising DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle by himself prior to Full House? Heck yeah he was. But add Uncle Jesse and Uncle Joey into the mix with Danny and the Tanner household became a veritable parenting clinic regardless of what Kimmy Gibler thought.

The point is, that Harrison lifted the Patriot defense from sturdy to stout. Don't believe me? Check the numbers.

Over the six years spent in New England, Harrison completed an entire season twice. Not coincidentally, those were the years in which New England ranked the highest in terms of Team Defense (concerning yardage allowed and points allowed) and in turnover ratio.

In fact, throughout his time with New England, the more games he participated in, the higher the team finished in that season.

Consider their best years when he played in all 16 games: In '03 they ranked first and seventh in points and yards an managed 41 turnovers for a turnover ratio of +17. In '04 they ranked second and ninth in yards and points and grabbed 36 turnovers for a turnover ratio of +9.

Now consider their worst years in '05 and '08 when he played in only three and six games respectively. In '05, they ranked 17th and 26th in points and yards and grabbed 36 turnovers for a -6 turnover ratio. In '08 they ranked eighth and 10th in yards and points while grabbing 22 turnovers for a turnover ratio of +1.

Harrison managed to perpetuate such an impact because of an equal distribution of skills as a cover man as well as a kamikaze blitzer. Obviously, with his retirement, a gaping hole is left in the New England secondary.

Call it the Rodney Harrison-effect. The Colts saw the same development with Bob Sanders. Both players' presences directly and undeniably correlated to a more successful defense.

It's bigger than the production they bring to the table as individuals.  The effect is felt in terms of intangibility where an obvious increase in energy and tempo is evident.

Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders are solid players and suitable options at Safety, but the Patriots are in need of a player to thrive on and neither player seems capable of providing a Harrisonian-style spark.

Coming off a year where New England's defense fell towards the middle of the pack and repeatedly failed to create turnovers, replacing Harrison may be the single most important unresolved issue on defense. The tone he set has yet to be recaptured.

That's where Patrick Chung comes in. Many were underwhelmed by New England's backpedaling through April's draft selections. Chung's name didn't exactly percolate the masses as the team's first pick, but his skill set on the field is eerily reminiscent of No. 37.

Honing his craft as a Rover for Oregon, he isn't shy about flexing his run support muscles or in blitzing the pocket. Much like Harrison, Chung's versatility will allow the Patriots' defense to freelance in and out of particular schemes without losing personnel advantages.

While his pedigree seems to be a match for the vacancy left by Harrison, it remains to be seen if he will have the desired effect on his defensive teammates. Regardless, Chung will find himself in the safety rotation, which should give Patriot fans a chance to gauge his impact.

With the Patriots' recent foray into the offseason cornerback market, some pressure should be off New England's young Safety group. If New England is to return to the Super Bowl though, one of the three players will need to emerge as Rodney 2.0.

The Safety subplot should be one of the most entertaining story lines of training camp. What combination will Belicheck settle on and what factors will he base this selection of off?

Most rookies try to avoid being associated with penalty flags, but this may be a situation where some penalty yardage and personal fouls could be a promising sign for Patrick Chung and the New England defense.