Exploring Options In The Secondary

Darren Sharper

When the Patriots hosted Darren Sharper for a tryout along with other defensive backs, it was an eye opener for many who thought the team was settled in the defensive backfield. What it should be is a wake-up call for the safeties on the roster.

Continuing their pursuit of experienced defensive depth, the New England Patriots, who have already added at least a half-dozen well-tenured veterans in the offseason, were expected to work out a pair of veteran free agent veterans on Monday, The Sports Xchange has learned.
Multiple league sources confirmed for The Sports Xchange that unrestricted safeties Darren Sharper and Renaldo Hill would audition for coaches and club officials.
A five-time Pro Bowl performer, Sharper, 35, is among the most high profile of the veteran free agents still available at any position. The 14-year veteran, as noted by The Sports Xchange in a Tip Sheet note on Friday, has attracted interest from a few teams, but prefers to sign with a Super Bowl contender, if possible.
Sharper was a starter in New Orleans as recently as 2009. But he underwent knee surgery last summer, began the 2010 season on the physically unable to perform list, and lost his starting job to Malcolm Jenkins. The former Green Bay second-round pick (1997) appeared in only eight games, with one start, and registered 16 tackles and one pass defensed.
The eight games were a career low, and Sharper started fewer games just once, in his '97 rookie campaign.
The former William and Mary star is tied for sixth place on the NFL's all-time interception list, with 63. Among pure safeties, only career leader and Hall of Fame member Paul Krause has more pickoffs. It is likely that Sharper will garner some Hall of Fame consideration when he retires.
In stints with the Packers (1997-2004), Vikings (2005-2008), and Saints (2009-2010), Sharper also has 651 tackles, 65 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. He has returned 11 interceptions for touchdowns.
Released by Denver last month, Hill is a 10-year veteran, and is more a strong safety, the position at which he started all 16 games for the Broncos in 2010.
Hill, 32, entered the league as a seventh-round pick of Arizona in 2001. He has played for the Cardinals (2001-2004), Raiders (2005), Dolphins (2006-2008), and Broncos (2009-2010). The onetime Michigan State standout has 596 tackles, 19 interceptions, 54 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and four recoveries in 141 games and 114 starts.
New England currently has seven safeties on its camp roster, including six veterans.

News that Sharper could have been interested in New England reached our ears the week before it was reported.  Until he actually got  in front of the coaches, it was tough to tell whether the possiblity that he could end up in Foxboro was a probability or just a wildcard.  Like Sharper, Hill could also prove to be worthy of a closer look for New England, as in granting him a roster spot until cutdowns come.  New England isn't afraid to take chances on veteran defenders.  Tank Williams was with the team for a little over a season, but had his career cut short when he severely injured his wrist in camp.  Former Patriots DB Terrell Buckley was invited back to camp for a second tour, but was nicked up in camp and eventually let go.  Those invitations were just a couple of examples that Bill Belichick is willing to take a chance on an experienced veteran if he feels it could help the team.

By all accounts the Patriots are done waiting for former first round pick Brandon Meriweather to "get with the program."  Multiple NFL sources have told PatriotsInsider.com that New England is preparing to move on if necessary at the position.  Sergio Brown, an undrafted rookie in 2010, took playing time away from Meriweather last season. If that wasn't enough of an indication, Meriweather himself admitted that he wasn't doing some of the things the coaches expected.  

Does this mean the Patriots are ready to dump Meriweather?   Possibly.  More likely, they want a close look at a veteran safety who can compete with Meriweather, Brown and James Samders for one  of the roster spots.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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