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Patriots Training Camp Primer – Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
Jul 20, 2015 at 8:17am ET

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:


Running Backs


Wide Receivers


Tight Ends


Offensive Line


Quarterbacks


Defensive Ends


Defensive Tackles


Linebackers


Safeties


Next up for is the final section of the Patriots defense, the cornerbacks. No position on the Patriots roster will be under more scrutiny than the corners in 2015. After getting stellar play from corners Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington last season, all three have moved on and now the big question is who will step up in their place.



Another thing on fan’s minds this spring and early summer is how does Bill Belichick replace Revis? The simplest answer is you don’t… A talent like his doesn’t grow on trees and you just can’t plug another player into his slot and expect him to do the same.



So if all hope lost for a Super Bowl repeat in Santa Clara next season? No, Belichick knows that he can’t replicate Revis’ talent at corner but with an improved pass rush from the front seven coupled with solid play from the corners that are here now, the defense should be in good shape.



So who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler



Ryan is entering his third season with the Patriots and is now the elder statesman among the cornerbacks. With the turnover of players now he’ll be expected to be more of a leader for the newer players and the younger guys just coming into the fold.



Ryan had a pretty impressive rookie season and seemed poised for a big Year 2 jump. But with Revis and Browner on board, his playing time went down. Still, he played in more than 45 percent of the snaps, logging six starts prior to Browner returning from his four-game suspension and subsequent two more games of getting into football shape.



Ryan made a lot of mental mistakes in his sophomore season, something he’ll have to cut down on in Year 3. He credits Aqib Talib and Revis with teaching him a lot about the position and how to prepare properly and get the most out of film study. The pressure will be on him this season.
No one expected Malcolm Butler to make the team out of training camp in 2014. He was a total dark horse. After an early training camp practice that we attended, Butler was one of the players made available to the media and he had virtually no takers. But he stuck through hard work and the ability every day to make plays.



Butler played sparingly during the season behind the likes of Revis, Browner, Arrington and Ryan. But with the Super Bowl on the line, the Patriots sent Butler in and they were ready for what came next. Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s slant pass at the goalline and the Patriots Super Bowl victory was preserved.



Now will he be able to reproduce what he accomplished last season on a week-to-week basis? Don’t bet against him…after Revis, he was the most impressive DB for the Patriots last summer and he’s not resting on his laurels.



Next up are the near locks.

Near Locks: Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain



Fletcher was signed as a free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles this spring. He’s coming off of a nightmarish season where opponents completed 61 of 115 targets for 1072 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception for a QB rating of 107.6 against him.



Facing the opponent’s top WR Fletcher struggled mightily in 2014 and his struggles against Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson are well documented. He will not be left on an island; he will have and need over the top safety help.



Can Fletcher turn things around in New England? That will be a big question for him this season. The coaches will have to work on his confidence, which can’t be very high right now. He’s on a one-year, $1.5 million prove-it type deal and while he projects to be on the roster, if one of the younger guys outshines him, he could find himself jettisoned. Although right now, I’d say he sticks.



McClain is slot corner who came over from the Falcons this spring. He’s very good in the slot and outside on short passes in the flat. Opponents last season completed 47 of 70 passes for 552 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against him for a QB rating of 88.5.
McClain isn’t a big guy at 5’9, 194 but he’s competitive, versatile (he can play outside, inside in the slot and special teams), and has the leadership and experience to be a steadying presence for the younger players.



Belichick was praising McClain during the spring and he should vie for the slot corner position in sub-packages, something the Patriots were in nearly 70 percent of the time in 2014.



Next …the guys on the bubble

On the Bubble: Derek Cox, Darryl Roberts, Daxton Swanson, Justin Green, Jimmy Jean



Darryl Roberts is a dark horse candidate to watch in camp this season. A bit thin at 6’0, 182, he plays with an edge and has elite athletic skills. He ran a 4.38 time in the 40 during his Pro Day and logged in an excellent 6.66 time in the Three-Cone Drill as well as a 39 inch Vertical leap and 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.



Swanson was having a terrific spring last season and then after a death in the family forced him to miss the beginning of training camp; he fell behind and could never get the reps to land on the 53 man roster. But he had another solid spring in 2015 and is going to get a long look this summer.



Cox was signed in early June and has will be joining his fifth team since coming out of William and Mary in the 2009 draft. After playing well for the Jaguars, Cox signed a big free agent deal with the Chargers and was let go after one season in which he was replaced after 11 games. He had stops in Minnesota and then Baltimore during training camp in 2014. He didn’t play at all last season and is a long shot to make the roster.
Green was in training camp last season for the Patriots but was traded to the Cowboys for DE Ben Bass in August. After his release by Dallas, he was signed back by the Patriots and put on the practice squad.



Jimmy Jean is another dark horse corner who played for the now defunct program at UAB. Jean has terrific size 6’3, 201 but is an older prospect at 26; he was a basketball player until switching to football at the JUCO level before landing with UAB. Given his size and lack of top end (4.57 in the 40), speed, Jean could be a candidate to move to free safety. This one will bear watching.



The Patriots cornerback position is obviously not as strong as the 2014 Super Bowl team. Losing players such as Revis, Browner, Arrington and Dennard will take a toll. But if the team can get solid campaigns from Ryan, Butler and McClain at least initially, then with an improved front seven, the defense should be okay.



Training camp eyes will be focused on the corners this summer. Every move, pass completion and breakup will be scrutinized in minute detail. The pressure will be on these players to produce.



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.



Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]



Listen to our as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.


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