The Patriots need more from their defensive backs in 2012. After finishing 31st overall in 2011,…
Training Camp Preview: Defensive Backs
Starters -- LCB Devin McCourty, RCB Ras-I Dowling, SS Patrick Chung, FS Steve Gregory.
Backups -- CB Kyle Arrington, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DB Tavon Wilson, DB Sterling Moore, S James Ihedigbo, DB Will Allen, S Josh Barrett, S Sergio Brown, CB Marquice Cole, S Nate Ebner, DB Ross Ventrone, DB Malcolm Williams.
McCourty is the key to the New England secondary. After earning a trip to the Pro Bowl as a first-round rookie, the second-year Patriots defensive captain was abysmal last fall. He allowed receivers to get behind him with regularity as opposing passers seemed to pick on him from the preseason right through the Super Bowl. He even moved to safety for portions of the end of last season. If McCourty can regain his rookie prowess it would go a long way toward stabilizing the NFL's second-worst pass defense. If not, the secondary will lack a coverage leader.
Dowling started last September as a rookie second-round pick before landing on IR with a hip injury. He's battled injuries all the way back to high school, but the big corner will be once again penciled in as a starter if he's healthy.
Chung missed eight games to injury last fall, and heading into a contract year wants to prove he can be a durable, consistent contributor in the back end. He does bring a certain spark and energy to the secondary that it lacks in his absence.
Gregory was brought in from San Diego to fill a gaping hole at free safety after becoming a starter over the last two years with the Chargers. He's a bit undersized but has decent ball skills and should help at a spot that was essentially a revolving door of starters in 2011.
Arrington should see plenty of time in the slot in nickel situations after having tied for the league lead with seven interceptions last fall. He's been a starter over the last two seasons and it wouldn't be surprising to see him somehow land in the starting role yet again.
Dennard has a lot of talent but dropped to the seventh round of April's draft due to legal issues. Based just on talent, he'll compete for a role. Wilson was a surprise second-round pick who played both corner and safety at Illinois. His versatility will be put to use in New England's many sub looks and multiple defensive back packages.
Moore joined the Patriots during the middle of last season and by the end of the year may have been the team's best cover man. Though the depth around him has improved since that time, he has a chance to carve out a versatile role for himself.
Allen signed as a veteran free agent in his 11th season. He's not the player he once was, but was getting a lot of reps at safety during the spring and could also battle for a spot based on his versatility and experience.
Barrett and Ihedigbo are both returning veterans who started at safety a year ago and bring a bit more size to the position as they try to win jobs and roles for a unit that has a lot to prove this summer and fall.
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