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Patriots defense winning spring skirmishes in Foxboro

06.05.13 at 1:24 pm ET
By
Matt Patricia

Matt Patricia

In spring training, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. This spring in Foxboro, the defense is ahead of the offense. Granted, the media has only been granted a small peek this spring — one OTA session a week — and will get more next week when mandatory minicamps commence. But it’s clear at this point that the defense appears to be running the show.

There are a lot of reasons as to why this could be the case: One, the defense knows just about everything the offense is going to run, and has no problem jumping a route or breaking up a play (even if its just to make quarterback Tom Brady upset). Two, with so many familiar faces, the offense is still a work in progress. Throughout the OTA sessions, Brady has none of the same wide receivers he had last season — Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Aaron Dobson — and has been without some familiar faces in Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.

And three, the defense could simply be better than it has been the last few seasons. The numbers were certainly trending in the right direction toward the end of the season — at least until the Patriots were beaten at home in the AFC title game by the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens. And it’s entirely possibly that could carry over into 2013, particularly when you consider that New England not only didn’t lose anyone of consequence on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, they added a potential impact player in safety Adrian Wilson.

When asked if he was encouraged about the number of plays the New England defense was making throughout the spring OTA sessions, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia wouldn’t take the bait.

“We’re just trying to look at it from a standpoint of getting better,” he said Tuesday. “From what may be visible to one person, we’re going to look at it from a different angle and make sure everything was correct on the play and everything was perfect. We’re really just focused on trying to make sure everything is in the right place.”

One thing that should give people cause for optimism when it comes to the New England defense is that there’s plenty of carryover (and continuity) from the group that displayed improvement down the stretch in 2012.

“It’s always good to have guys back. That’s obviously what you’re trying to do,” Patricia said. “But every year is a new year for us, and when we come out in the spring, we’re just trying to build. Whatever starting point that is, we’re going to take it from there and run with it.

“We’re very lucky here to have a good core of vets and some good young guys who have an extremely hard work ethic, and guys who will come in every day and grind to get better, whether it’s the spring or the fall or whatever it is. It’s a very intense room, and that’s what we like. It’s a very competitive group of guys, and they do a great job trying to get better every day.”

Those young guys — specifically, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones — will be asked to take on more of a leadership role as they move from their rookie years into their second season in the league. It will be one of several challenges last year’s first-year players will face as they transition into veteran status.

“The challenge is every day,” Patricia said. “I think it’s just every day, to get better the next day, and that’s really the focus, more than it is the past, the future. It’s what are you doing today? And tomorrow, how can you get better the next day?

“Just the defense as a whole, we have extremely good leadership — Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo — and really on the back end with [Aqib] Talib, Devin McCourty. But it’s a group that works extremely hard,” he added. “And those young guys can look at the older guys and get a good example to follow and that’s really what we’re trying to get. All those younger players to follow along, get in their books, study hard, show improvement and get on board with everybody else and follow the guys who have been around here for a little while.”

One guy who has been helpful — at least from a leadership perspective — at this point has been Wilson. Already regarded as a leader and high character guy from his time with the Cardinals, he has come as advertised, both on and off the field, according to Patricia.

“Obviously [a] great guy, great player. Hard worker,” Patricia said. “Any time someone comes in like that — it really doesn’t matter who it is, but Adrian is a good example of a vet that’s been in the league a long time and comes in and approaches the game the way he approaches it, in the classroom and on the field. I think anybody is going to look at that with a lot of respect and say, ‘This guy, he’s been in the league for a reason for a long time and that’s the right way to do it.’ I think it’s pretty easy to see that.”

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