|Resetting the depth chart in Patriots secondary||03.17.13 at 1:24 pm ET|
There have been some notable moves so far this offseason for the New England secondary. With free agency continuing and the draft now just over a month away, the Patriots can still add to the defensive back spot. But right now — with the addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson, the re-signing of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and the departure of Patrick Chung — here’s a quick look at how the depth chart for the Patriots’ secondary shakes out at this point:
Talib: The 27-year-old, who will return for his first full season with the Patriots, projects as the No. 1 corner for New England in 2013.
Alfonzo Dennard: The Nebraska product, who played very well as a rookie last season in New England, faces something of a murky future, but if he’s available, he should go into the 2013 season as a starting corner.
Ras-I Dowling: The injury-plagued Dowling enters his third season in New England with a lot to prove. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an important part of the secondary — the problem is he hasn’t been healthy all that often. He’s played just nine games in two years.
Slot cornerbacks/special teamers
Arrington: After the acquisition of Talib, Arrington moved back inside to the slot — his more natural position — and flourished. Should start 2013 as the leader in the clubhouse for this spot once again.
Malcolm Williams: Primarily a special teamer, Williams provides depth at the defensive back position.
Devin McCourty: The lead dog in the secondary. He admitted late last season the transition from young guy to leader took some time, but he goes into 2013 as the No. 1 free safety on the team.
Steve Gregory: Gregory started slow and had issues staying on the field early in the season, but he and McCourty played well together at the end of the season.
Adrian Wilson: A bigger safety who can contribute down in the box, one of the early position battles worth watching could be between Wilson and Gregory. While Gregory and McCourty played well together, Wilson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) is more of a big, strong safety when it comes to overall body type than Gregory (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and could swipe some snaps from Gregory as a result, depending on the defensive game plans.
Tavon Wilson: Wilson started strong as a rookie — four interceptions in his first 10 games — but the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. He projects as a backup right now.
Nate Ebner: Ebner did see some significant snaps on defense at the start of the season, but made his niche as a special teamer. Currently figures as someone who can provide depth at the strong safety spot, not unlike Matthew Slater.
|Pats DB Steve Gregory on M&M: Defense ‘starting to jell now’||11.26.12 at 12:42 pm ET|
Patriots defensive back Steve Gregory joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about his role in Thursday’s Pats-Jets game, the defense’s progress, and other Patriots news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Gregory intercepted Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez during the Patriots’ 49-19 win Thursday. He said the defensive setup allowed him to read Sanchez and pick off the ball.
“As in every play, you always want to disguise your coverages, disguise what you’re going to be doing so you can’t just kind of let the quarterback read and know exactly what we’re in,” Gregory said. “So we did a good job at disguising the look and Kyle [Arrington] was covering in the slot. … I got a good read on Sanchez where he was looking and was able to jump the route.”
Gregory recovered the fumble after Sanchez ran into linebacker Brandon Moore’s butt. Gregory said he was in the right spot to recover the ball.
“It was just a broken play,” Gregory said. “Obviously he went to hand it off and he read it wrong. And then I guess just trying to salvage what little loss he had left, he tried to run up into the line and get some positive yardage. I just happened to be standing there at the time and the ball popped out and I picked it up and ran. It was just kind of an interesting play, I don’t know that I’ve seen it before happen like that. But, hey, I’ll take it.”
Added Gregory: “Sometimes some funny stuff happens out there. This just happens to be one of them. Like I said, I’m glad I was on the positive side of the play and not the laughable side.”
Gregory said the defense is beginning to do better working together in games and that the Pats have been focusing on that over the course of the season.
“We’re starting to put it together now,” Gregory said. “We’ve been getting to know each other over the year. Obviously a lot of new faces, new guys playing with each other. Sometimes, when that happens, it takes a little time to build that chemistry. We’ve been working on that really hard in practice. Understanding certain guys’ tendencies, techniques, the characters of some of the players we are playing with. And I think it’s all starting to jell now.”
Gregory said Bill Belichick’s hands-on, detail-oriented coaching makes the team better.
“He has high expectations for us,” Gregory said. “The attention to detail, understanding the team you’re playing, the game plan that you’re going in with each and every week is really important. I think that’s a credit to the success that they’ve had here. The paying attention to the little things, the being in your playbook studying film. … I think the type of guys that they bring into this locker room is high-character guys. Guys that take pride in their profession. Guys that want to be in the film room studying, that really care about winning, and winning for the guy next to you. And I think that’s what this locker room is about.”
|Bill Belichick thankful for his players’ ‘preparation’ and ‘execution’||11.23.12 at 5:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew this week would be a challenge. A late afternoon game on Sunday against the upstart Colts and Andrew Luck followed by a night game four days later against their AFC East rival that pushed them to OT in October.
Well, 108 points later, the Patriots went from 6-3 to 8-3 and in complete control of the AFC East, all but assuring their 10th division title in 12 seasons. In the afterglow of Thursday’s 49-19 feast on the Jets at MetLife Stadium, Belichick gave credit to his players for their work on a tight schedule.
“As we talked about [Thursday] night, I think after going through the film that it was really apparent that the preparation that our players put into this game certainly helped us with our overall execution,” Belichick said in a Friday afternoon conference call. ” I thought we had a real good three days, four days of preparation for the game – a lot of concentration, focus, attentiveness, attention to detail and all those things came out in different aspects of the game. So, I’ll give credit to the players, the way they prepared and performed. I thought we had good energy last night.
“Obviously the big plays in the game really tilted the game strongly in our favor so that was important. We’ll try to take the next day or so to kind of get caught up and get re-organized. We never even had a chance to spend much time at all on the Indianapolis game so we’ll need to catch up a little bit on that and of course the Jet game from last night, as quickly as possible and put that behind us and turn the page onto Miami. It’s good to get a couple wins over the Jets and certainly it was good to get the bonus points from the turnovers on defense and the kicking game, not only turnovers but to end up with significant points on the board. Those plays are always especially good to see because it’s hard to count on them. When you get them, it really shifts the game quickly.”
Belichick’s sign of gratitude was to give the players three days off, in essence giving them a second bye weekend in four weeks. The players don’t have to report to Foxboro until midday Monday to get ready for the Dolphins in South Florida on Dec. 2.
“It was good to see us respond very positively to the challenge of going down and playing the Jets on Thanksgiving night. But there’s a new challenge every week,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to respond to future challenges in the same positive way, by using the same methods: working hard, being attentive, putting extra things into it; doing extra things at this time of year can really pay off and make a difference.
“I hope that we can all see the benefit of doing that, in terms of what the results were and hopefully going forward we can build on this and get that same type of preparation and attention to the little things that will make a difference for us. I hope this will be a good…we always talk about it, it isn’t like we don’t ever do it, I just thought this was doing everything [with] the timeframe and all that we were working with, that it was a very good effort by the players to respond. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again.”
Here is the remainder of Belichick’s Q and A with reporters on Friday afternoon: Read the rest of this entry »
EAST RUTHERFORD — Mark it down, Steve Gregory AFC defensive player of the week.
If Darius Butler earned his for two picks and a fumble recovery, then Gregory is almost certainly going to get the nod for what he turned in Thursday night during a 49-19 win over the Jets.
When the game was actually still in doubt, he intercepted Mark Sanchez over the middle as he was spying the Jets’ quarterback. That pick ended New York’s second drive of the game deep in Patriots territory and set the tone for five turnovers forced by the Patriots defense.
“It’s growing every week,” Gregory said of the secondary’s confidence level. “We go to work every day in practice to get better and we study up on film. We’re really trying to dial in and focus on getting better as a unit and we saw some of those results tonight.”
Then, he recovered a fumble on a Shonn Greene failed attempt to pick up a yard on fourth-and-1. The next play resulted in Tom Brady finding Shane Vereen for 83 yards and a touchdown, giving New England a 14-0 lead.
Moments later, Sanchez ran into the backside of his offensive lineman and fumbled. Guess who was there to pick it up and scamper 32 yards for the score?
“It was a good one for me today,” Gregory said in a tone that could describe a morsel off the Thanksgiving dinner table. “Some of that stuff is just the ball popping out and being in the right place at the right time, so you know it was a team effort. The guys did a great job up front getting pressure on the quarterback and we were just really crisp tonight.”
The 21-point barrage ended when Devin McCourty popped Joe McKnight, with Julian Edelman catching the ball out of midair and going 22 yards for the score. Three touchdowns in 52 seconds. Game over.
“That was a lot of points in a short period of time. I thought that really set the momentum for the game,” Gregory said. “It really turned things into a lopsided feel there. They’re a good football team, but I think we’re a little better this year. We’re excited about what we did today.”
|Kyle Arrington: Aqib Talib is ‘definitely buying into the Patriot Way’||11.16.12 at 6:44 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As important as it is for Aqib Talib to pick up the Patriots system quickly, his teammates are confident they can work with him and make the transition seamless.
Just ask Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, all of whom figure to spend some time in the Patriots secondary on Sunday with their new cornerback.
“He has a few things you just can’t see,” Arrington said. “He’s 6-1, fluid, and he’s just a good player. [I] can’t speak highly enough about him.”
But as Talib himself pointed out Thursday, the work he’s putting in on and off the practice field seems to be paying dividends.
“It’s like he’s been here all year. Can’t talk highly enough about his work ethic, as well. He’s one of the first ones here and the last to leave,” Arrington added. “He’s definitely buying into the ‘Patriot Way.’”
Belichick hinted Friday that he likes the way the existing members of the secondary have reacted to Talib’s addition.
“Well, it’s all tied together,” Belichick said. “Everybody has to know what everybody is doing out there. We have to be able to make our adjustments. It’s all part of it.”
Arrington has a special appreciation for Talib, having played with him in 2008 with the Buccaneers, when Talib was a rookie.
“Funny how things work out,” Arrington said.
“Aqib’s a great player,” Gregory said. “He’s in the process of really trying to pick up the system, and get out there and get a feel for what we’re doing, and it’s fun to have him around. He’s a great athlete, he covers well, and it’s great to have him around. He’s doing a really great job so far. He’s a smart football player and he seems to be picking it up really fast, so that’s a good thing.
“He’s a veteran guy, too. He understands terminologies, schemes and things like that. He’s definitely ahead of the curve.”
“He has great ability and his size, he can do a lot,” McCourty added. “So, it’ll be key for us, when he gets out there, help him out a little bit. Keep repeating things to him so he can start hearing them over and over again and getting accustomed to the system. But a lot of it will be us helping him out so he can go out and play good football.”
McCourty could be spending a lot of time talking to Talib during games since he’s been playing the strong side (or defensive left side) where Talib figures to be lining up at cornerback. What’s impressed McCourty the most? His ability to pick up the Patriots communication signals on the fly after just a few practices.
“He’s a new guy, everything’s new for him,” McCourty said. “I think he’s done a good job of staying in here, talking to guys, staying and getting a little extra [coaching and teaching] to make sure he knows what’s going on. You can tell he’s very football savvy and he knows what’s going on out there. You tell him things once or twice on the field, he has it correct for the next day. You don’t have to say anything to him. So, I’m excited for us to get out there as a group and start to work. I think we’ve practiced hard this week so just go out and try to execute in the game.”
|Steve Gregory is ‘real anxious’ to return this week against the Bills||11.07.12 at 2:46 pm ET|
FOXBORO — There would be some real symmetry if safety Steve Gregory returned to game action this week against the Bills at Gillette Stadium.
It was against those same Bills he injured his hip on Sept. 30 at Ralph Wilson Stadium and hasn’t played since. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung (also injured) and rookies Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner have been among those to pick up the slack in his absence, with widely varying degrees of success.
Gregory returned to practice last Thursday before the bye when the team was in full pads and is again on the practice field this week, including Wednesday’s practice inside the field house.
Will he finally make it back this weekend?
“Yeah, I mean I’m out there practicing right now, trying to definitely get back in the swing of things,” Gregory said Wednesday before hedging his bets. “We’ll see how it goes.”
For Gregory, it’s been hard to watch as his secondary teammates have been attacked in the media and in the air by opposing quarterbacks. He knows he could provide some stability on the back end with a healthy return.
“[I'm] real anxious,” Gregory said. “It’s not fun to sit on the couch and watch the guys out there playing, so I’m real anxious to get out there and play.”
But the extended rest has been necessary. He’s said before that the biggest mistake he could make is to rush back before he’s 100-percent and experience some sort of setback.
“Anytime you have an injury, time heals,” Gregory added. “The more time you have to heal and the bye week coming in there, gives you an extra week or really two weeks, the healing process is helped out.”
In Gregory’s mind, New England’s week off couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Anytime you have any injury, time heals,” he said. “The more time you have to heal . . . bye week coming in there and giving an extra week, really two weeks. The healing process helped out.”
So with the bye out of the way, Gregory feels confident in tackling the second half of the season.
“It’s important,” Gregory said. “The season can be a grind. You go through camp, then you go through the preseason, and you’re kind of eight weeks into it now. It’s good for the guys to get away, get their minds off things a little bit, see it from an outside perspective.
“But now, definitely, put that behind you. You had your time off. Get back to work and get this thing going. Vacation’s over.”
|Have the Patriots turned a corner on defense?||10.29.12 at 1:53 pm ET|
Twitter nearly crashed when Sam Bradford connected with Chris Givens for 50 yards on the fifth play of the game on Sunday for a touchdown that put the Rams up, 7-0.
The play – a play-action to the left side with a right side rollout by Bradford – drew in safeties Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson just enough that the Rams QB could lob a bomb to his receiver on deep route. Givens caught the ball and tumbled into the end zone for a touchdown that mirrored the very same play that beat the Patriots in Seattle two weeks earlier.
Patriots fans in attendance at Wembley and watching on the tele back home couldn’t believe it happened again. Or maybe they could. But for McCourty – who was playing with rookies Alfonzo Dennard and Wilson – the Patriots had to find their composure quickly.
“Big play, definitely,” McCourty said after New England’s 45-7 win. “I think early in the season, that kills us, giving up a big play. Then we put our heads down, give up another one. I thought we did a good job today of putting that play past us, then playing great defense, after that. I think that’s what we have to focus on. Sometimes we are going to make some plays. We just got to keep playing, make our own plays.”
And make plays the two rookies did as Wilson and Dennard each came up with interceptions in the second half to help keep the Rams off the board.
“Our two rookies did a good job today, Tavon and Alfonzo, making two big plays on their own,” McCourty said. “That’s when you need those plays.”
The fact is the play to Givens accounted for just one score and it would be the only points the Patriots would allow as Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia switched to a pressure-based defense that featured three blitzes on the next Rams series. Dont’a Hightower, Wilson and Brandon Spikes all came up to force more pressure at the line of scrimmage. Throw in the fact that veteran corner Kyle Arrington went down with a head injury and the Patriots were already without Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, and you see why McCourty was proud of the resiliency the secondary showed.
“There were some moving parts back there,” McCourty added. “I think Marquice Cole did a good job. I think he’s been ready all season, just waiting for his opportunity to get out there. Unfortunately when Kyle went down, he stepped in and played well. I think one thing we understand in this league, each game anything can happen. A lot of guys are just staying ready, being ready to go. Guys stepped up and played well.”
McCourty played his second game as starting safety with Gregory and Chung both out. And he’s starting to look and sound like a leader.
“Yeah, definitely. I felt I did a better job communicating, getting all those guys on the right track,” McCourty said. “Actually once you have some moving parts back there, guys go down, it’s important everybody lines up and plays the same defense. They put me back there, put me in charge of making sure everyone knows what they’re doing. I felt I did a better job this week than last week. Things started to slow down for me back there.
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