By: Steve Balestrieri
|Adrian Wilson during a July 30 training camp practice, fills in for LB in sub-package “Money” role. (SBalestrieri photo)|
The Patriots revamped their defense in the second half of 2012 and were much improved down the stretch, especially in the secondary.
But one area among those that still needed to be addressed was the coverage of tight ends by both linebackers and the safeties.
The Patriots were a woeful 29th in covering the tight ends in 2012, according to Football Outsiders. For the defense to take the next step that has to change.
With Dane Fletcher returning from injury and the very impressive start for top draft pick Jamie Collins, added during the 2013 NFL Draft, the team has seemingly checked the block on that area. But one thing the Patriots and Bill Belichick have been trying to accomplish the past few years is add a safety to play the “Money” position in sub-packages.
For those unfamiliar with the term, the extra defensive back in the nickel is called the “Star.” The sixth defensive back in the dime plays the “Money” position.
With the Patriots in 2012 playing over 57 percent of their defensive snaps in sub-packages, having a safety that is stout enough physically to support in run defense, but also athletic enough to play in the intermediate part of the field in pass coverage is of paramount importance.
Adrian Wilson is a perfect fit for this position.
Wilson, the 12 year veteran and five time Pro-Bowler brings a veteran presence, leadership and the size and physicality needed to fulfill this role.
When facing multiple receiver packages, the team frequently adds extra defensive backs to replace linebackers to add some extra speed on the field. With the Patriots scheme on defense, the money position player, moves up close to the line of scrimmage providing support in the running game and can blitz against the quarterback on occasion as well as cover the tight ends.
The player has to have good size, by very physical and be able to cover receivers down the field. Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston wrote a few years ago for the Boston Globe that, “the formula goes something like this: Some safety + some linebacker = big value.”
Wilson at 6’3, 230 more resembles a linebacker than he does a defensive back, and has already gotten the nickname “The Incredible Hulk” among the other secondary members in a testament to his size.
And more importantly, in coverage, with a tip of the hat to Erik Frenz of B/R and the Boston Globe, “Wilson allowed just 12 completions into his coverage all year, and at a rate of just 44.4 percent.”
Wilson is already getting the lion’s share of reps in training camp as the Patriots starting strong-safety next to Devin McCourty and when the team has gone to the sub-package looks, he has replaced a linebacker close to the line and Steve Gregory has come in as the extra deep safety. It’s a perfect fit for all the players involved.
Wilson is versatile and can be used in a variety of positions as well as the “Money” defensive back to cover the big receivers. There was much talk that Wilson had lost a step because of a decrease in his snaps in 2012, down to 83 percent after missing virtually none the year before but those numbers supplied by Frenz above should allay those fears.
The terms for the “Star” and “Money” positions are actually credited to Belichick during his time as Cleveland’s head coach with Nick Saban as the defensive coordinator from 1991-94. Saban was recorded recently in an interview talking about the position and how it came to be named thus.
“Well, when I went to Cleveland, everything that Bill Belichick does has some purpose, from what you call blitz to what you call fire-zone front,” Saban said.
“In the old days, I called the fifth defensive back nickel back, and we never really played six defensive backs,” he said.
The middle linebacker (Mike) and the weak inside linebacker (Will) stayed in the game in nickel, and a defensive back replaced the strong outside linebacker (Sam).
“The Star really is the Sam, so he wanted an s-word for that position. When you put six guys in the game, whether it’s a sub linebacker or a sixth defensive back, we had nickel, dime, dollar. Different money terms.”
When they added a sixth defensive back, he would take the place of the weak inside linebacker. “Because when it comes to the assignments of the defense, the position is the same,” Saban said. “It’s just they’ve got four wide-outs in there now, so the linebacker can’t cover, so we put another DB in there. That make sense?”
“So we just started calling that the Money position. It could be nickel, dime or dollar. That was Bill’s sort of system, but it made lots of sense to me. Just like everything else we did, we categorized things for the players. I think it made it better for the players.”
The Patriots have tried in the past to play a big safety in the “Money” position, notably Tank Williams in 2008-09, and more recently in 2011 with Brandon McGowan. Neither has worked out, Williams was an intriguing case but suffered a serious knee injury during 2008 and was cut loose in August of 2009.
Former safety Patrick Chung, now with the Eagles, was injured too frequently to been effective enough to try at this position. He had a very inconsistent year and was let go during free agency.
One name to watch is 2nd year player Tavon Wilson who it seemed was being groomed for the position, but he has slid down the depth chart as of late, but there is still plenty of time for him to rebound.
Wilson isn’t worried about rumblings about his ability and says he wants to play three more years, and as to decreases in playing time he said in a conference call, “the situation last year was strictly a coaches’ decision. I don’t think that had anything to do with me losing a step…physically I feel great. I take great care of my body, so that’s not an issue…That was a coaches’ call.”
Indeed he looks in fantastic shape, after a practice at training camp both Derek Havens from PatsFans.com and I were able to meet him and spoke briefly. Wilson reiterated that he felt great, was happy to be in Foxboro but wouldn’t speak about how the team plans to use him.
With an improved pass rush, continuity at the cornerback position and added pieces in coverage underneath, the Patriots defense will be facing its first test of the pre-season on Friday night in Philadelphia. And look for Adrian Wilson to play a part in that and especially moving forward. As for his play…..
It’s going to be just “Money”.