By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots will open their 2013 Training Camp next week with the first practice slated for 9 a.m. on July 26. Here at PatsFans.com we’ll be bringing you a look at the roster by positions and who is competing for each slot and how they fit the system.
We’ve already looked at the running backs , linebackers and the defensive ends as many of the positions this summer will be hotly contested. Check in with us daily as we’ll bring you a close look at training camp from the many fine writers here.
Devin McCourty remains the stabilizing factor for the back end of the NE defense. (FILE:USPresswire)
Today we’ll look at the Patriots safeties, and this is a very intriguing group of players that are loaded with versatility and potential as the Patriots try to return their defense to one of prominence in the NFL. Starting mid-way through the 2012 season, the Patriots secondary changed for the better. The trade with Tampa Bay brought in Aqib Talib and that along with the emergence of 2012 draft pick Alfonzo Dennard gave the Patriots solid play at the corners.
This allowed the team to move Devin McCourty back to free safety and the back end of the defense was finally stabilized. The only issue was Steve Gregory was playing somewhat out of position at the strong safety position in the box. Still, the defense was much improved down the stretch and it didn’t rely on the rookies Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner as much. Both had good and bad performances, not uncommon for rookies.
Roster Breakdown- Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis
Devin McCourty- McCourty is perhaps the most versatile of the Patriots safeties; he can play at FS or at CB and is the unquestioned glue for the back end of the defense. He also played more snaps on defense than anyone else (1251).
The Patriots would, in a perfect world love to have McCourty and Adrian Wilson start at safety with Dennard, Talib and Arrington (slot corner) as starters at the corner. But given Dennard’s arrest and upcoming court appearance, he could be gone for an extended period of time. He could be facing jail and/or suspension time.
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to see McCourty moved back to corner opposite Talib and allow Arrington to remain in the slot where he’s more comfortable.
Adrian Wilson- Wilson’s signing during the free agency period was very much under the radar and it is surprising considering the Patriots are getting a five-time Pro Bowler who played for the defense who allowed the lowest QB rating in the league last year.
While fans and many media types were clamoring for Ed Reed, Reed didn’t fulfill a need as McCourty is already a solid if not standout at free safety. Something the Patriots have needed since Rodney Harrison left town is a physical, in-the-box safety who can bring the lumber in the running game and cover tight ends in the passing game.
Wilson brings that physicality and size (6’3, 230) to the position that the team has sorely lacked. Like Harrison, he brings a veteran’s savvy and a solid locker room presence to the team. Bill Belichick has already praised his professionalism and work ethic during the spring.
The only questions about him were how much he has left in the tank, but there were also rumors that he was ill-utilized in his final season in Arizona. Wilson will be a person to watch during the camp at Foxboro.
Tavon Wilson- Last season’s surprise selection in the draft provided some solid play and significant playing time especially early in the season.
Wilson, whose selection was panned by many of the experts last season, had a pretty solid rookie campaign providing 4 interceptions. He also was victimized at times as rookies are prone to do but overall his play was a positive.
Wilson was the one who lost the most playing time after the Talib trade, McCourty moved to free safety and the team went with the veteran Gregory at strong safety leaving Wilson the odd man out.
Wilson is coming into his second season, and as Belichick loves to say, players usually improve the most between the 1st and 2nd seasons. He should see an uptick in playing time, coming in for sub-packages and subbing for Adrian Wilson.
Steve Gregory- Signed as a free agent in 2012, Gregory performed well overall during the 2012 season and played out of position for much of the time. Not truly big enough to play a true SS role, he had an up and down year but remains a versatile member of the defense being able to play either position
Being more comfortable as a FS, he projects as a back-up for McCourty, but should the Dennard situation require a move for McCourty back to CB, Gregory can step in and start at FS immediately.
Given that, I believe his roster position is stronger going into camp, but performances will tell the story.
Nate Ebner– Ebner was a 6th round draft pick last year from Ohio State. The converted rugby player was a nice story last year and played a decent amount of snaps at safety but was primarily used as a special teams player.
Ebner could develop into a back-up safety but will be locked into a roster battle with Davis and Harmon, and his STs skill may ultimately decide if he stays or goes.
Duron Harmon- Like Wilson of last season, Harmon was considered a huge reach for the Patriots in the 3rd round with 91st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. But Harmon is smart, (3.8 GPA) and versatile, he can play either the FS or SS position but is probably a better fit at FS.
Harmon who has decent size at 6’1, 201 ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at his Rutgers pro day, and also ran a 7.02-second 3-cone drill. He was thought of one of the leaders of the Rutgers defense and rest assured, there will be plenty of eyes on him as training camp progesses.
Kanorris Davis- Davis a converted linebacker from Troy will be attempting to break in on the roster as a strong safety. He had interest from ten teams as an UDFA but chose to sign with the Patriots.
He ran a 4.61 at his pro day and at 5’10, 210 is a bit undersized for a strong safety but his special teams skills will be drawn into consideration. But for now, he’s a long shot to make the team.
Conclusion- With the addition of Adrian Wilson, the Patriots safety position is now a deep and versatile group. It will allow them to mix and match freely and as long as McCourty remains at safety, this position will be a strength on defense. Should it necessitate moving D-Mac to CB, it’s not the end of the world but will play with their depth.
Wilson remains the wild-card here, he provides something this defense has lacked for many years, a physical, dependable presence in the middle of the field who can provide run support and cover the TEs. Stay tuned for camp updates….