The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be plenty of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53 man roster and who is on the bubble.
Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring is a learning exercise and that the competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on board, 35 of these current members of the roster now, at a minimum will be cut.
We’ve already looked at the Patriots offense and have now moved over to the defense. You can check out the links below:
Next up for the Patriots defense are the safeties. The core group from last season returns for 2015 with starters Devin McCourty and Pat Chung who both inked extensions with the team. One change that could take place would depend upon a systematic change. Where the team played a lot of man coverage in 2014 with a single high safety (McCourty), it allowed Chung to play closer to the line, in the box which is a strength of his.
If the team switches to playing more zone coverage with two deep safeties in 2015, it may open the door for Harmon to start. But the position overall is stable with no turnover but a couple of additions with the drafting of Richards in the 2nd round and the UDFA King from Auburn.
So who is locked in and who is on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards
The Patriots made a wise choice in locking up McCourty this spring with five-year $47 million dollar contract. A captain for the past four years on defense, McCourty has been the quarterback in the secondary, calling out the coverages and ensuring that everyone is lined up in the right place.
Since moving to safety, he’s gotten better every season and was a highly sought free agent this spring. His leadership and solid play on the back end of the defense is a stabilizing factor especially for the younger players.
Entering his sixth season in Foxboro, McCourty is only 27 and should be on top of his game for the duration of his contract. With changes coming in the secondary this season, McCourty will be looked to even more in 2015 to show the way.
Richards was a surprise 2nd round draft pick from Stanford in the 2015 NFL Draft. It seems nearly every year, Bill Belichick has a surprise 2nd round pick and it left many NFL draft experts scratching their heads.
Considered too slow to be able to keep up in the NFL due to a 4.65 time in the 40 during the NFL Combine, Richards does have underrated athleticism due to his very good time in the Three-Cone Drill, something the Patriots value highly. The Three-Cone measures an athlete’s ability to change direction quickly and Richard’s time of 6.74 is outstanding.
Richards’ biggest asset is his brain; he was considered a coach on the field for Stanford and knew where every member of the defense was supposed to lineup. His diagnosing of plays was excellent and at a chiseled 5’11, 210, he’s a physical player in the box. With his 2nd round status, he is a lock for 2015.
Next up are the near locks.
Near Locks: Pat Chung, Duron Harmon
Chung came back to the Patriots where he spent his first four seasons on free agent prove it contract for 2014. He signed a deal with Philly for the 2013 season and had a disastrous year. But solid play in the box earned Chung a three-year, $8.2 million dollar extension with $3.4 million of guaranteed.
The Patriots played Chung close to the line in a true SS role last season and he played very solidly. He’s excellent in run support and his coverage of tight ends, and running backs close to the line was solid. With McCourty as the Patriots true centerfielder, it allowed Chung, who was forced into that role in his first stint with the Patriots to play to his strengths.
Chung is as close to a lock as one could get, it would take an epically, horrible summer for him not to be back in a Pats uniform in 2015.
Harmon is in a similar position; in fact he may push Chung for the starting reps in 2015. Many though the SS position would be his last season but he didn’t stand out in training camp while Chung seamlessly stepped in next to McCourty. Harmon is a bit taller than either McCourty or Chung at 6’1, 205 and is versatile enough to play in the box or centerfield.
Much of his work in 2014 was as the Patriots deep safety when they moved McCourty up in the slot during some sub-packages. Harmon came up with a huge interception to seal the playoff game against Baltimore in the waning seconds of the game. With the team perhaps playing more two-deep safeties this year, Harmon could be in-line for more reps.
Next …the guys on the bubble
On the Bubble: Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Brandon King
With the top four guys seemingly locked into position the final three players are essentially competing for a final slot of the Patriots go with five safeties again, as they did in 2014.
Wilson is entering his fourth season in the NFL after being selected by the Patriots in the second round (48th overall), in the 2012 NFL Draft. Wilson was considered a reach at the time and he hasn’t blossomed into that starting safety that some thought he should be considering his draft position.
But where he has made his mark is on special teams. Wilson has been one of the Patriots core STs players appearing on all four STs units. In that aspect he is indeed a starter and has been a valuable one.
Ebner is also more of a special team’s player than a safety appearing mainly in the kicking game. Although he did log some snaps as a hybrid linebacker/safety, he won’t push for many reps on defense. He did however see a lot of work during the spring workouts.
King the UDFA from Auburn is the tallest member of the group at 6’2, 215. He played a variety of roles for the Tigers, among them safety, “Star” linebacker, even a little bit at defensive end. King has good speed at 4.49 in the 40 and a 10’6 Broad Jump to go along with 38 inch Vertical but his value should be mainly special teams as well.
The Patriots safety position is one of the more stable ones on the roster, with both starters and the core group returning, they were bolstered by the selection of Richards with a 2nd round draft pick that should beef up the position. McCourty returning to the fold as well as Chung with long term deals, helps solidify the back end of the team’s secondary. They should be in good shape for the season and the camp competition should take place between Chung and Harmon to see who will start next to McCourty. The final roster slot is also up for grabs.
Stay tuned, we’ll be down at training camp filing daily updates about the goings-on with the Pats as they begin the march to the 53 man roster.