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Patriots by position: Defensive backs

01.27.10 at 1:00 am ET
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As the Patriots offseason gets underway, we’€™ll present a snapshot of the team by position. Over the last week or so, we’€™ve looked at the offense. Today, we’€™ll start on the defensive side of the ball by putting the defensive backs in the spotlight.

On the roster: Kyle Arrington, Leigh Bodden, Darius Butler, Pat Chung, Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Shawn Springs, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite. (Bret Lockett is on the reserve/injured list.)

Stat standouts: Interceptions (tie): Meriweather and Bodden, five each. Tackles: Meriweather, 83. Passes defensed: Bodden, 17. Single best game (tie): Bodden, three INTs, one TD, three tackles vs. New York Jets, Nov. 22, 2009; Meriweather, two INTs, one TD, four tackles vs. Tampa Bay, Oct. 25, 2009.

2009, in three sentences: As a group, better than 2008. The DBs didn’€™t get much help from a subpar pass rush, but they had plenty of good moments in 2009 (such as Bodden’€™s effort against the Jets and Meriweather against the Texans), which gave them a leg up on their counterparts from 2008). But there also were bad breakdowns in the secondary at the worst possible times, including Meriweather’€™s gaffes against Carolina and New Orleans.

By the numbers: 91. Butler’€™s 91-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Texans in a Week 17 loss in Houston was the longest of the season, and the fourth-longest interception return in franchise history.

Money quote: ‘€œI came here on a one-year deal just because I felt like that was the best situation ‘€” me and the organization felt like that. I wanted to prove that I’€™m still a good player, a good, top corner in the league, but it just wasn’€™t shown with Detroit because the success that we didn’€™t have. ‘€¦ I’€™m not worried about any contracts or anything like that. I’€™m just trying to help this team any way I can.’€ ‘€” Bodden, who signed a one-year deal before the start of the season, speaking in November about his contract situation.

The skinny: The New England defensive backs had their issues throughout the 2009 season. However, no one preaches team defense like the Patriots, and so it was no surprise that an inconsistent pass rush has a dramatic affect on the secondary. But with Bodden’€™s consistency, the occasional flashes of playmaking skill shown by Meriweather and the late-season renaissance of Sanders, it’€™s clear that 2009 marked a significant upgrade from 2008. It would have been interesting to see what this group could have done with an improved pass rush.

Long-term, Bodden is the only free agent in the group. The most consistent defensive back throughout the course of the season, he is one of the best unrestricted free agent defensive backs on the market, and should be an offseason priority for the Patriots. If he does return, he should be a lock as the No. 1 right corner. As for the rest of the corners, both second-year players Wheatley and Wilhite took dramatic steps backward after promising rookie campaigns, while Butler experienced growing pains and the veteran Springs was a mixed bag, appearing to grow more comfortable in the system as the season continued.

At safety, Sanders, Meriweather, Chung and possibly McGowan (who started strong but saw a dramatic dip in playing time late in the season) should all figure prominently into the mix at safety in 2010.

Read More: Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, Bret Lockett, Darius Butler
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