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MORSE: The Young Guns Patriots New Defensive Coaches

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
February 16, 2024 at 9:26 am ET

MORSE: The Young Guns Patriots New Defensive Coaches(PHOTO: David Butler II - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

The Young Guns

Defensive Coordinator – DeMarcus Covington – (34) The up and coming (a term I will often here describing the young coaches of the Patriots) and well-respected Defensive Assistant was credited with bringing the Patriots Defensive Line in order and having the second-best line in terms of yards gained per carry against (3.2 per carry).  This despite the brutal schedule the Patriots had.  Well-deserved promotion but there is a concern that Covington is a rookie at Defensive play calling.  I am going to assume that he will get a lot of help from Jerod Mayo.

DL Coach – Jerry Montgomery – (44) Montgomery spent his entire NFL coaching career in Green Bay. He started as a defensive front assistant from 2015-2017, during which time he worked with Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Montgomery was promoted to defensive line coach in 2018 and added running game coordinator to his title in 2022, but it was announced after the 2023 season that he wouldn’t return.

Before breaking into the NFL, Montgomery worked in several college programs, mostly bouncing around Iowa. After getting his first coaching job as a student assistant for Iowa in 2003, he became an assistant coach for Iowa City West High School from 2003-2004, moved up to defensive coordinator at North Iowa Community College in 2005, then spent three seasons at Northern Iowa as a graduate assistant and defensive tackles coach before being promoted to defensive line coach in 2007. Montgomery took the same role at Wyoming from 2009-2010 and moved to defensive tackle coach for Indiana in 2011, but quickly moved back to the defensive line after accepting an offer to join Michigan’s staff the same year. After two seasons in Ann Arbor, he served as Oklahoma’s defensive line coach from 2013-2014.

At 44 years old, Montgomery would bring an older presence to a defensive staff that is currently trending young. He also continues the Packers-Patriots pipeline being established by Wolf, whose presence in recent hirings and interviews has been strongly felt.

Asst DL Coach – Keith Jones (38) is a holdover from the Belichick staff and no status has been given on whether he will be back, or he has been released.  Jones came to the Patriots after working with several New England coaches at the 2023 Shrine Bowl in February as an assistant defensive line coach. He also spent time with the Patriots during training camp in 2022 as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship, per Mike Reiss.

Jones, who served as a defensive graduate assistant at the University of Arkansas in 2022, was a standout defensive tackle at UT-Martin, earning Second-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as a senior. From there, he joined the Iowa Barnstormers of the Indoor Football League and was named First-Team All-IFL.

ILB Coach – Donta Hightower (33) SportsTrust Advisors reported on Friday afternoon that their client, former Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, will return to coach his old position as Jerod Mayo’s replacement.

Last spring, Jerod Mayo said he thought Hightower “would be a phenomenal coach” and that he’d recruit his former teammate once he got a chance to run his own ship. “I got a chance to play beside him. I got a chance to coach him,” Mayo said. “There aren’t many people like Hightower in terms of his smarts.”

This will be Hightower’s first season coaching at any level, but his legendary career, all of which was spent in New England, makes him an exciting hire. The 2012 draft’s 25th pick was a perennial team captain and is a member of the Patriots’ All-2010s Team and All-Dynasty Team. He was a difference-maker in three Super Bowl wins, and the only big game loss of New England’s second dynasty came with Hightower sidelined due to a season-ending injury. Hightower also enjoyed a decorated college career, winning two national championships with Alabama and being named a consensus All-American in 2011.

Hightower becomes the second new addition to the Patriots’ defensive staff, along with former Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. Steve Belichick becoming Washington’s defensive coordinator left a void at outside linebackers coach, so the team may look for another candidate to fill the void.

Outside LB Coach – Drew Wilkins NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport notes that Wilkins will reunite with Matt Judon, who made two Pro Bowls while working with Wilkins from 2019-2020.

Wilkins spent most of his NFL coaching career in Baltimore, where he started out as a football video operations intern from 2010-2011. He was promoted to football video coordinator during the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning 2012 season, assisting with self-scouting and opponent tendencies and making video cutups. Wilkins became a coaching assistant before beginning work with the defensive line and outside linebackers from 2014-2016. This role tasked him with the weekly production of the defensive playbook, scouting reports, film breakdown, and helping develop the defensive line in practice. He worked closely with former Ravens pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who posted 35.5 sacks with the Ravens from 2013-2016 and set a franchise record with 17 sacks in 2014. Wilkins became the team’s official outside linebackers coach in 2020.

Wilkins followed mentor Don “Wink” Martindale to New York when the latter became the Giants’ defensive coordinator in 2022. Wilkins was reportedly responsible for third-down and blitz designs, and the Giants were known as one of the league’s most aggressive defenses. Both were fired this offseason, and Martindale took a job as Michigan’s defensive coordinator.

Wilkins, along with Jerry Montgomery, brings valuable experience and a proven track record to a young defensive staff. If the group is aligned similarly to seasons past, he could be the final major defensive position coach hiring. He is seen as a young up-and-coming coach and was considered for “high-level” positions at the college level. Instead, he lands in New England to take over a unit with several question marks, as Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche are impending free agents, and star Matt Judon turning 32 this summer.

CB Coach – Mike Pellegrino – (30) is coming back after having a very successful 2023 season despite losing probable Defensive Rookie of the Year Christian Gonzalez in week 4.

S Coach – Brian Belichick – (26) he is also returning.  Both Belichick brothers were offered positions with the team, but Steve departed for D coordinator in Washington.  Brian and the Safeties had a good year but it could have been better with a true Free Safety.

Director of Skill Development – Joe Kim – Kim is another holdover has spent the past six seasons in Foxborough. Initially joining the organization as a defensive assistant with a focus on pass rush in 2018 on the way to earning a Super Bowl LIII ring, he was promoted to director of skill development in 2020.

The Ohio native first entered the NFL ranks with the Cleveland Browns under head coach Bill Belichick in 1992. He would serve as the team’s assistant strength coach and pass-rush specialist through 1995.

Kim, who has a background in Taekwondo, was promoted to director of skill development in 2020. He’s known for applying martial arts techniques to football coaching.

Special Teams Coordinator – Jeremy Springer – Springer was on LA’s staff for the past two seasons. While the Rams’ special teams units were by far the worst in the league following the hiring of Chase Blackburn as special team’s coordinator, they were much better in 2022. Kicker Matt Gay hit a career-high 93.3% of his field goal attempts, and Brandon Powell finished 8th in total kick return yards, and 7th in kickoffs returned past the 20-yard line among players with at least 20 kickoff returns in 2022. The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrique also noted last February that the Rams were “stoked to keep Springer around as an up-and-coming young coach they want to keep developing” when he decided to stay with the team.

Springer’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at his alma mater UTEP in 2013, where he played linebacker and special teams at UTEP from 2007-2011 and was a four-time Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll member. He then worked under special teams coordinator Jeff Banks and assisted with tight ends at Texas A&M. The Aggies were one of the college football’s best special team’s units during that span, leading the nation in blocked kicks and punts in 2017.

In 2018, Springer moved on to Marshall’s staff, helping lead their kick return unit to a 38.1-yard average, good for ranked 4th in the conference.

Springer went on to become the special teams coordinator at the University of Arizona from 2018-2020, where former Patriots running back J.J. Taylor averaged 24.5 yards per return on 22 returns in 2018, including one touchdown, and 23.6 yards per kick return with 19 total returns in 2019. Arizona kicker Lucas Havrisik also converted 90% of his field goal attempts in a shortened 2020 season.

The Patriots clearly needed to go in a different direction on special teams after two unacceptable seasons. While this likely signals the end for Joe Judge in New England, it will be interesting to see if his co-special team’s coordinator Cam Achord returns in some capacity.

Asst Special Teams – TBD

READ NEXT:
Patriots News 2-18, The Draft, Free Agency, and “The Dynasty”

About Mark Morse

Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.


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