Now that the third preseason game for the New England Patriots is in the books, we have seen just about all that we are going to see from what we believe is going to be the starting defense that has had so many question marks this offseason. With a complete turnaround in the secondary, fans did not know what to expect in training camp from so many young unproven players and cast off veterans.
Due to his second half of the Super Bowl heroics, Patriots followers were holding high hopes for Malcolm Butler to take control of the starting job. At the start of training camp it seemed like a far fetched fantasy, but Malcolm Butler has not only taken control of the number one spot, he has cemented himself there. Throughout the end of July and the month of August Butler has been making plays on the practice field, and when the bright lights of the preseason games come on.
When going up against the top tier quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton, Butler shut down receivers and didn’t allow many completed passes when the ball was thrown his way. Also, in New Orleans last weekend he showed some big time physicality coming up on sweep plays and laying the boom. However, it is only the preseason and I am still cautious about putting all my eggs in the Malcolm Butler basket.
Patriots cornerbacks have had a history of shining in their rookie season and falling off during their sophomore campaign. Examples include Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, and Alfonzo Dennard. Wait until he can prove himself against an elite receiver such as Antonio Brown, then you can say he is the real deal.
Another player that had expectations of starting at the beginning of the summer was third year cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan was very inconsistent his first two seasons, but the coaching staff seemed to like him judging on the amount of time he spent on the field. So far this preseason he has once again been underwhelming, getting beat often, and playing deep into each game which is not a good sign for a player with his experience.
He is very much in danger of losing his job. Although, he is a good contributor on special teams and he was drafted in the third round. That could be Bill Belichick’s excuse to keep him around unfortunately. The Patriots do need players at the cornerback spot, but Ryan has proven to be a liability when he is on the field.
Tarell Brown was a late addition to the Patriots roster right before training camp began. He has spent all of his career in the Bay Area with the 49ers and Raiders. He was a starter on the San Francisco defense that was in the tops of the league between the years 2011-2013. So far in a Patriots uniform Brown has impressed.
Last night against Carolina he received his first real game action, and even though he did not face and tough competition at receiver he made multiple plays breaking up passes. Most media members expect a rotation at cornerback for the Patriots to start the season. However, expect to see Tarell Brown at right corner more than others giving his experience. It might also be a benefit to have a young corner in Butler, match up with a savvy veteran like Brown.
With Bill Belichick surprisingly cutting Kyle Arrington late in the offseason, the nickel back position on the Patriots defense has basically been given to Robert McClain. The 5-9, 194 pound cornerback is in his first season with the Patriots after spending his first five season in Carolina, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. In the first preseason game against Green Bay he showed spurts of talent. His physicality and swagger is something the secondary could use this season because of a lack of talent.
He did however have a difficult night against the Panthers when back up quarterback Derek Anderson marched right down the field exploiting him. He was ranked out of the top forty best nickel backs in the league by Pro Football Focus. Arrington was in the top ten. The loss of Kyle Arrington has gone underrated up to now, but when the season begins fans will begin to realize just how influential he was.
With rookie Darryl Roberts now on injured reserve, a spot could be opened for a second year players such as Daxston Swanson. He has been solid in the preseason, even though he has only seen time late in games. On the practice field he has received good reps. He was a practice squad player in 2014, and that’s where I would expect him to be in 2015 unless he has a stellar last preseason game.
At the safety spot the Patriots are all set as long as Devin McCourty stays at safety. Next to him there are a few questions. Last week at the Super Dome when McCourty was down playing corner, Duron Harmon was left alone as the top safety. he was picked apart by Drew Brees most notably on a forty-yard touchdown from Brees to Brandin Cooks who ran right past Harmon.
Not encouraging for fans due to the fact that Harmon will be asked to play a lot this season because of the amount of pass heavy teams they will face, and if McCourty were to get hit with injury it would be all up too Harmon. Patrick Chung and Jordan Richards will play heavily in run support.
In conclusion, Patriots fans should feel just as uneasy now about the secondary as they did at the start of the summer. Malcolm Butler has been a ray of hope and fans need to pray that he can continue some of his Super Bowl heroics in the regular season, and most importantly stay healthy. If not it will be back to 2011 and 2012 where the defense is constantly on the field giving up ridiculous yardage. Lastly, fans can’t rely on the old adage of, “Belichick will coach them up” because he has never proven that he can do that with a sub par secondary.