April 28, 2012
More Defensive Help Delivered On Night Two
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Three rounds, four picks, all defenders, and no tight ends.
Bill Belichick continued the retooling of his porous defense on Friday during the second and third rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft. He made a surprise pick at 48 with Illinois safety Tavon Wilson, then traded the 62 pick to Green Bay for their 90 pick and a fifth rounder for Saturday. Belichick took Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette with the 90th selection.
The Patriots seemed to have a greater need at cornerback in the secondary, but Belichick instead went for safety help. Many people think that 2012 will be the last season in a Patriot uniform for Patrick Chung, so safety depth might be in order. The Patriots have Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and former Charger Steve Gregory installed as cornerbacks for now.
On Thursday, Belichick took a Syracuse defender named Jones in honor of Tebucky. On Friday, he took an Illinois safety named Wilson in honor of Eugene, who also is an Illini alum. Whether or not Tavon plays like Eugene is another story.
Wilson was not highly rated by most draft experts. Some boards had him as low as a sixth or seventh round selection. NFL Network's Mike Mayock used the word "surprise" when the Patriots made the pick, and Wilson was not in Mayock's top 100.
To rationalize this pick, one must postulate that Belichick sees something in Wilson that no one else sees. It may be a specific role, a specific package, or something that makes the team in general or some certain personnel in particular better. Maybe this is strictly for depth, though it is tough to draft for depth in the second round. Or, Belichick might covet Wilson as a special teams asset, an area where he could provide immediate help.
Whatever the case, if the Patriots are preparing for the eventual departure of Chung, it may be somewhat akin to letting Asante Samuel go. Chung may price himself out of Foxborough, as he has shown value in calling out the secondary assignments in the mold of Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison. Chung was injured for a good portion of 2011, and the secondary was clearly lacking without Chung and much better with him.
But even with Chung, it was a flawed secondary. Belichick has to have some definite plan as to how to remedy the situation. Perhaps the beefing up of the pass rush will be one key ingredient.
The pass rush got a little more help later on Friday night. With the pick acquired from the Packers, the Patriots took Bequette, who is hailed as a great clubhouse guy and tremendously fast, though, like Chandler Jones, small for his position.
Bequette is strong on the edge, very fast, and a very good run defender. The Patriots may try and bulk him up a bit to help him deal with double teams. He is not noted as a stout pass defender, but more as a run stopper.
Exactly what direction the Patriots go with this will likely depend upon Andre Carter. He has to heal up and then sign up. If he does, and most indications are that he will, the Patriots might be looking at a return to a 4-3 alignment, with Jones and Carter on the ends and Vince Wilfork up the middle. You could then be looking at a linebacker corps of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Bequette and Dont'a Hightower, with Rob Ninkovich as a situational linebacker, something he might be very much in favor of.
If the Patriots want to go 4-3, they have options in this area. Jonathan Fanene was acquired from Cincinnati as a free agent, and the Patriots also have Brandon Deaderick, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace in the mix. Carter is really the linchpin here, especially with the loss of Mark Anderson to free agency. What direction the Patriots go might depend upon if Carter is healthy, and where he winds up.
If Devin McCourty has indeed seen his last days as a cornerback, then he and Chung will start 2012 as the favorites to nail down starting jobs at the safety positions. Wilson could become a top backup and could also be groomed to take over for Chung if he leaves. Athleticism and talent aside, the biggest problem with the Patriot secondary is usually not being in the right place at the right time. That generally falls on Chung, and as stated before, it is a glaring issue when he is injured or not in the lineup.
If Belichick drafts someone like Wilson, who was not rated very high on the draft boards, there has to be some unseen reason. Wilson may have graded very high in intelligence, or have gotten a great recommendation from his head coach in Champaign, the recently fired Ron Zook. In the Big Ten, Belichick is more friendly with Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, but someone out there must have tipped off Belichick for him to take someone rated that low at 48.
Eugene Wilson turned out to be a very good free safety for the Patriots, and he himself was also taken out of Illinois in the second round (in 2003). Wilson earned two rings for the Patriots and gained a reputation as a hard-hitting centerfielder. How this translates into what the younger Wilson will bring to the Patriots is a reach, as Zook did not coach Eugene at Champaign-Urbana.
Patriot Nation can at least look back on this draft and smile for a change. What usually turns out to be head scratching and second guessing followed months later by eventual redemption has become somewhat of an immediate gratification moment in 2012. It could even be called cathartic, after seeing the defense get bailed out in most every game in 2011 up until the Super Bowl. It might be said that Belichick did what he had to do so that, assuming the offense doesn't regress or come up with a ton of injuries, the defense will support the offense accordingly in 2012 and the Patriots might finally have the right mix to close the deal in February.
Jones. Hightower. Wilson. Bequette. And Mayo. Spikes. Wilfork. Fanene. Maybe Carter. Let's get McGinest, Seymour, Bruschi, Vrabel, Warren and Phifer back together and sing a rousing chorus of "Happy Days Are Here Again". After they sing, Bruschi can break them all down and all Patriot Nation can let out a rousing "Ohhhhhhh, YEAH!"
The D is back. Ohhhhhhh, yeah.
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