By: Steve Balestrieri
With a plethora of cornerbacks now due to the signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Patriots now have the problem of trying to fit all of their best players on the field.
Revis and Browner join Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington giving the Patriots the enviable “problem” of having five starting quality corners. So how does the team plan on utilizing all of them?
According to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald the team may opt to move Logan Ryan from corner to free safety and slide FS Devin McCourty to the SS position. Many thought (this writer included) that it may be Browner who would move to that position. Being a big, (6’4, 220) physical player who could physically handle the bigger WRs and TEs seemed a logical fit, but Browner in his introductory presser stated that the team hadn’t approached him about playing safety.
Ryan had an impressive rookie campaign with five interceptions and would probably find a way to slide into that role with little trouble as he plays very well in space and has very good ball-skills. He could also be groomed to be an extra safety for sub-packages which would allow the team to field a much deeper and athletic group on the back end.
Bill Belichick always looks for a way to put his best 11 players on the field and this move on the surface may be indeed that. While not doubting the validity of the report however, it doesn’t seem to fit for a couple of reasons.
First McCourty is a Pro-Bowl quality FS and possesses more top-end speed than Ryan, why would you want to move a player of McCourty’s caliber and replace him with a younger player who’s never played the position?
Plus, McCourty who has battled injuries in the past may not be able to hold up physically to the pounding of playing a more in-the-box safety role. Granted the Patriots don’t always play their safeties in a true FS/SS role but McCourty’s responsibilities would most certainly change and this may not be the best move for him.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected Rutgers Safety Duron Harmon in the 3rd round. While Harmon isn’t athletic as Ryan, he demonstrated that he can handle his responsibilities well and is better suited physically at 6’1, 205 to handle the in-the-box role of a SS.
While the debate was raging on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Patriots SS Adrian Wilson who signed as a free agent in 2013 took great exception at being basically excluded from the conversation.
Wilson was brought in to fulfill the SS role as well as the “Money” role of replacing a LB in sub-packages with a safety. Wilson was hobbled by an injury during training camp which resulted in his being placed on IR prior to the season starting. He is still on the roster and while being written off by many is working hard at rehab with many of the other secondary members in Arizona.
This may be Belichick’s way of just preparing a player to move in case of injury or emergency where Ryan would replace McCourty in case he were to go down which would still allow the team to field their best players.
But for now, it still seems the best case scenario would be to start Harmon in the SS role and allow him with plenty of help on the perimeter to grow into his role. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for Ryan to get some experience at playing FS as he may be called upon to fill in there.
It has been quite some time since New England had too many quality defensive backs to put on the field, an issue that is nice to have. One thing is for certain, training camp will be fun to watch as Bill Belichick will have plenty of options to tinker with the defense once the players hit the field.