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, defensive ends , safeties, tight ends, and defensive tackles 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 entire staff here.
The Patriots are looking for a big season from Aqib Talib this season. (FILE:USPresswire)
Today we’ll be looking at the cornerbacks, the players on the roster and how they’ll likely be used by the Patriots and their chances of sticking on the final 53.
NE Not A Big CB Developer- The Patriots haven’t always been the best at developing cornerbacks during the Bill Belichick era. That is puzzling considering Belichick made his reputation as a defensive guru. But for some reason, the team hasn’t been able to produce and keep good quality corners.
Now the Patriots have some good quality depth with all three starters returning and having added another quality player in the 2013 NFL Draft and having a former high draft pick healthy and back on the field. And for the first time in a long time, they have some continuity at the corner position with all three starters returning.
Last year’s trade for Aqib Talib and the emergence of 7th round draft pick Alfonzo Dennard turned things around for the secondary in 2012. It allowed Kyle Arrington to move back to the slot where he is much more effective and the defense was finally on the rise.
But it isn’t a true rosy picture because of starter Dennard’s arrest in Lincoln, Nebraska for OUI in June. Already on probation for punching a police officer during an incident prior to the draft in 2012, Dennard could face added jail time and/or suspension from the league.
The team has already said, it won’t cut ties with Dennard, but that could change depending upon how this latest court case ultimately turns out. For now, the team’s depth will be put to the test at least in the early going of camp.
Roster Breakdown- Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole, Brandon Jones, Stephon Morris, Justin Green
Aqib Talib- Talib was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay last season and immediately paid dividends, returning an interception for a touchdown in his first game in a Patriots uniform against the Colts in Foxboro.
He has the size and length (6’1, 205) that the Patriots covet in their corners and is a very good in press man coverage, usually covering the opponents top or “X” wide receiver.
Talib was re-signed to a one year deal this off-season when the long-term contract he was seeking wasn’t out there and is playing for a big money contract. He’s had injury concerns in the past but needs to stay healthy this year. He’s the best of the team’s corners and will be looked to produce big time this season.
Alfonzo Dennard- Dennard who picked by the Patriots in the 7th round of the 2012 draft fell to them because of his arrest in Nebraska prior to starting his pro career. He worked hard, made the roster and worked his way up the depth chart eventually taking over the starting position opposite Talib.
Dennard, 5’10, 205 is another corner who is very good in press coverage had 35 tackles and three interceptions last season. But right now, his future is murky with his arrest in Lincoln. He could face the 30 day jail time he was supposed to serve next March, or even have it added to by the judge.
And if he’s convicted of the DUI, he faces suspension from the league. For now, he’ll have to leave camp, never a good thing on July 31 to face the music in Nebraska.
Kyle Arrington- No one is more maligned on the Patriots back end and unjustifiably so than Arrington. While Arrington struggled at times on the outside when forced to play on the perimeter due to injuries, he has played very well inside as the slot corner.
Arrington has decent size at 5’10, 190 and when playing in the middle and able to keep the play in front of him, has thrived making 74 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 2012. He was re-signed in March with a four year deal.
With Talib and Dennard outside, Arrington will stay where he’s most comfortable, in the slot and he’ll continue to be very effective. The top three starters should remain locked into their positions unless injuries or off-field issues rear their ugly heads.
Ras-I Dowling- Dowling has the size and length 6’1, 215 the team loves and they originally drafted him with the 33rd pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. And he was an immediate starter playing in his first two NFL games before injuries ended his season.
That’s been a familiar problem for Dowling, going back to college, he’s never been able to stay healthy and on the field. It has never been about talent level, in his first two seasons, he’s only played in nine games total.
Dowling however seems healthy now and had an outstanding spring, being cited as possibly being the best corner during OTAs and Mini-camps. If that is indeed the case, then Dowling could be in-line to step in for Dennard if he is gone for any length of time.
Logan Ryan- Ryan was taken in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft from Rutgers, being another Scarlet Knight who is now a member of the team.
Ryan, 5’11, 205 is a physical corner who is good in run support, excels in zone coverage and is underrated in man coverage. The best case scenario would be for Ryan to find his feet in the pro game and learning from the starters and contribute on special teams.
However, Ryan will be watching closely in camp, with Dennard’s legal woes and Dowling’s injury history, he could be a surprise riser this summer.
Marquice Cole- Cole was signed as a free agent from the NY Jets and provided quality depth in the Patriots sub-packages in 2012 with one interception, three passes defensed and 17 tackles as well as on special teams in 14 games.
Re-signed to a one year deal in March, Cole 5’10, 190 will look to hold off Ryan and the other rookies but for now, he’s on the bubble.
Brandon Jones- Jones was signed as an UDFA from…surprise, surprise Rutgers this spring as the pipeline from the Jersey Turnpike up 95 runs straight to Foxboro.
Jones has good size at 6’0, 190, and had decent production in his final college season with six interceptions, 13 passes defensed, one forced fumble and 31 tackles for the Scarlet Knights.
He’s on the outside looking in however and will have to make his presence felt on special teams if he is to make the roster.
Stephon Morris- Morris comes from Penn State, and was signed as an UDFA from the Nittany Lions this spring. Short in stature at 5’8, 190, Morris possesses blistering speed however and played in 49 games with 24 starts at State College.
He was productive there with 148 tackles, one interception and 13 passes defensed. But he too is a dark horse to make the team and will have to have a very impressive summer to make the team.
Justin Green- Green was just recently added to the roster signing a contract over the weekend. Green 5’11, 195, a converted running back for his final three seasons at Illinois making 29 starts and had 13 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. He’s a long shot to make the roster.
Conclusions- The Patriots have a good solid group of corners with decent depth this season, perhaps their best group of corners in years. And with the continuity of all three starters returning (for now at least), they should be in good shape.
The depth will be tested however if Dennard is lost to them for any length of time. And another option still exists for them if he’s gone for a while.
Devin McCourty who played CB for two and half seasons before moving to safety last year could be moved back to corner opposite Talib if the team feels it’s necessary. And given Dowling’s injury history and the fact that Ryan is a rookie they may do just that.
The Patriots need their corners to be solid this season, the defense hasn’t been a strength of this team in quite a few years as they haven’t been able to replace the exodus of all the money players who stepped up when it counted. Now they have a nice blend of youth and experience across the board and on defense the corners are the first line in pass defense.
We’ll be down there at training camp, bringing you all the updates as they occur and if you have any questions about camp feel free to email or tweet them and we’ll do our best to answer every one of them.