By: Ian Logue
Logan Ryan was one of the bright spots for the Patriots in 2013. (USA TODAY Images)
One positive that fans could take away from the 2013 New England Patriots season was the fact we saw some terrific performances from several players on both sides of the ball, including some pleasant surprises from guys who each came up big in certain moments.
Hopefully, if all goes well, each of these guys are poised for a strong follow-up performance heading into 2014. However, as we’ve seen in previous years, there have been a few players who had a great year for this team one year, but couldn’t go out and do it again and regressed the following season. As a result they caused an unexpected problem for the team that year and left them forced to figure out how to adjust with different personnel. That’s unfortunately been a trend for a while now, but hopefully they’ll avoid a similar occurrence the next time we see this team take the field.
Whether it was a rookie or a veteran, here’s a quick look at four guys who each had one great year but couldn’t quite put together a solid follow-up performance the following season, as well as some guys that played well in 2013 who will hopefully try and avoid suffering a similar fate this fall when the Patriots return for 2014. For the latter category, we’ll focus on the guys who we believe will be out there next season as there are certainly others who qualify, but their status contract-wise are a bit uncertain heading into this offseason.
FOUR PREVIOUS FOLLOW-UP FAILURES:
Devin McCourty – One of the biggest names in this bunch was defensive back Devin McCourty, who led the team in interceptions as a cornerback during his rookie season, and appeared as though he was going to solidify one side of New England’s secondary. His first year was absolutely terrific, and he showed his toughness by playing through what was later revealed after the season as a fractured rib. The former Rutgers star made everyone feel great about the fact New England grabbed him in the first round during the 2010 draft, and gave us hope that they were headed in the right direction. Instead, he came out in his second year and struggled, with fans watching him look completely different as he had difficulty staying with receivers and just never could quite get things together. McCourty finished with the same number of interceptions as Vince Wilfork that season (2) and ultimately spent much of the year starting his transition to safety. He’s been much better since then and has now become one of the better cover safeties in the league, but his inability to play at that previous level certainly made things tough on the defense that season.
Kyle Arrington – Arrington suffered the same fate after putting together a terrific season in 2011, piling up 7 interceptions in New England’s secondary after being forced to step in while Leigh Bodden was sidelined, only to come back the following year and struggle in 2012. He finished with zero interceptions that season, and clearly wasn’t the same player. Like McCourty, the team adjusted Arrington’s role and moved him inside, and he’s also been somewhat better since. Unfortunately his inability to repeat what he did in 2011 the following season gave the Patriots a problem they really could have done without that year, with injuries leaving them depleted for much of the season. As a result they were left in a tough spot all year as guys went down and they were forced to figure out who to plug in, and with Arrington struggling it ended up being a frustrating year. They couldn’t stop anyone from moving the football for the most part that year, having ended up allowing the 31st most passing yards in the NFL. However, they did a decent job from keeping them out of the end zone after finishing 15th in points-per-game, and that was a big reason they managed to reach the Super Bowl that season. The bad news is this unit wasn’t quite at the level they needed to be at, and unfortunately Arrington was certainly part of their problem.
Leigh Bodden – Speaking of Bodden, he may be long gone, but he’s certainly not forgotten when it comes to referencing this topic. He was part of the beginning of the reason the Patriots secondary was in the state that it’s been in, as he had a strong 2009 season and had everyone believing at least one side of the field was more or less set for the foreseeable future. Add in the addition of McCourty the following year, and everyone believed that the Patriots had two strong bookends on each side of the field. After Bodden’s terrific 2009 showing, the team signed him to an extension in March of 2010, only to later see him end up on injured reserve in August with a shoulder injury before being released the following year and retiring. That was a massive blow, and was also one of the biggest setbacks this team suffered as they tried rebuilding this unit.
Despite missing time with a fractured wrist, Shane Vereen became a dynamic weapon in New England’s offense in 2013.
(USA TODAY Images)
Stevan Ridley – Ridley went out and rushed for over 1200 yards in 2012, but was obviously a mess this season and it put a strain on New England’s ground game for the early part of the year until LeGarrette Blount ultimately emerged during the final weeks of 2013. The frustrating part is the Patriots needed a repeat from the former LSU standout, and instead ended up with a player who blew up in week one and clearly took a while before he got himself together thanks to unexpected issues holding onto the football last season. The Patriots were one regular season win away from having the opportunity to avoid a trip to Denver and instead battling the Broncos at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship, and Ridley’s implosion in Carolina can be pointed to as a one of the more disappointing moments. During that loss Ridley suffered a critical early turnover after fumbling at the Panthers’ 13-yard line, and it’s tough not to wonder how that one may have turned out considering it ended up being a 4-point loss. It’s really too bad, and certainly disappointing for fans who were really looking forward to a strong follow-up performance from the Patriots’ running back. The one positive is you can bet he’ll be extremely motivated when he comes back next season, and hopefully he’ll be able to put this behind him and be a different player in 2014.
FOUR OF THIS YEAR’S FOLLOW-UP HOPEFULS:
Logan Ryan – Ryan was a one of the biggest surprises of the year in 2013, as injuries in the secondary quickly thrust him out on the field and gave him more playing time. Ryan didn’t disappoint, finishing with a team-leading five interceptions and seemed to get better each week. The best part about Ryan was not only was he one of the better and more instinctive players in New England’s secondary, he was also one of their better tacklers in the open field and was fearless regardless of who he was up against. He’s a player who really gives them a solid foundation, and one can only hope he doesn’t suffer the jinx that some of the other players in this unit have experienced in recent years.
LeGarrette Blount – Blount’s electrifying runs at the end of 2013 have the expectations for him set high for 2014, and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can live up to them. He joins a trio that also includes Ridley and Shane Vereen, which definitely has to be considered one of the deepest and most dangerous in the league, provided of course each one plays well. He was shut down against Denver and certainly has a lot to prove, and his performance hopefully also gave Ridley some added motivation to come back stronger this year.
Shane Vereen – Vereen’s week one performance was marred by the fact he fractured his wrist and ended up missing a good portion of the season, but even with his absence he finished with 47-catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns catching the football, as well as rushing for 208 yards on 44 carries along with another score. He became quite a dynamic player down the stretch, and he’s a weapon that will hopefully be utilized more in New England’s offense in 2014.
Ryan Allen – It seems funny to put a punter in this category, but Allen was quietly one of New England’s strongest assets in terms of keeping their defense out of harms way when it came to preventing opponents from starting out with good field position. The rookie punter supplanted Zoltan Mesko in 2013, and went out and had one of the best performances anyone could have ever hoped for. He finished tied with three other players for 12th among punters who played in 16 games this season, having dropped 29 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, and according to ProFootballFocus finished ranked sixth in fewest yards returned, as well as tied for 5th in percentage of kicks returned (38.2%). He also lead the league with 12 touchbacks. That’s one of the more underrated positions in the NFL, and fans can only hope Allen can go out and do it again next season.