2012 New England Patriots: A Look At The Cornerbacks

Let’s hope McCourty’s 2011 season was just a sophomore slump.

The Patriots ranked 31st in pass defense in 2011 and 30th in 2010. Rather than rehash the reasons for the malfunctions in the back end of the defense, let’s take a look at how the Patriots plan on addressing the issue in 2012.

It’s far from a secret that the NFL game is changing before our eyes. Spread offensive attacks are the new norm and defenses are scrambling to adjust.

The talk of the cornerback group the past two seasons has been 2010 first round pick Devin McCourty. McCourty was praised as a rookie and rightfully so. He stepped right in and did an admirable job locking down opponents in the midst of Leigh Bodden’s season ending injury. Last season was a different story for D-Mac, as things got so bad that he was moved to safety at points late in the year because he was liable in one-on-one coverage. All indications this off-season point to D-Mac remaining at CB and hopefully the sophomore slump was just that. Ideally, he’ll rebound in a big way. If not, the team is believed to have depth behind him.

Others currently vying for repetitions in training camp will be Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Marquice Cole, Alfonzo Dennard, and Will Allen.

Arrington joined the Patriots in 2009 and immediately became a special teams ace. The Hoftstra alum worked his way up and has started 14 games in each of the past two seasons. Even more impressive was his seven interceptions last season, which tied for first in the NFL. Arrington also shadowed Giants WR Victor Cruz in the Super Bowl and held the phenom to just four catches.

The 6’1″ Dowling could start if healthy.

There are some that believe 2011 second round pick Ras-I Dowling could push Arrington into a nickle duty role (as the third cornerback). Dowling, standing at 6’1″, poses a good match-up on paper for bigger wideouts around the league. The problem with Ras-I is his durability. Injury concerns clouded Dowling in the draft and they were warranted after he missed much time at Virginia his final two seasons. He also missed a big chunk of training camp last summer and was shelved after just two regular season games (both starts) in 2011. There have been few that have questioned the talent, but until he can shake the injury bug, he is a huge wild card to stay on the field for a full season.

Sterling Moore busted onto the scene in 2011, then off of it, then on it… The highlight of his season was his pass deflected on Lee Evans in the AFC Championship game which sent the Patriots straight to the Super Bowl. If Moore doesn’t knock that ball out last second, the Pats lose the game. Moore also famously gave BST&N a fantastic interview in May where he highlighted the trials and tribulations of his season which saw him released four separate times. Moore is hoping to take momentum from the end of last season and the former SMU star has a forum to showcase his talents.

Will Allen, the former New York Giants and Miami Dolphins lock-down cornerback, will be 34 when the season comes around. He’s been limited to just 21 games the past three years, but the veteran will be given a shot to prove his health in training camp. If he can stay on the field, he will have to impress because as an aging veteran, his contributions on special teams will be minimal. At worst his impressive demeanor rub will off on the younger guys in the group.

Maquice Cole, a career Jet, will enter his fourth season. Coach Belichick has an eye for other players in the division and they tend to work out when he brings them in (see Wes Welker, Sammy Morris, etc). This is surely related to the extra attention these teams receive in film study, as the Patriots prepare for them twice a year. In a small sample size, Cole has shown a bit of play-making ability, and perhaps he can latch on with the team with his heralded special teams skills.

Not to be lost in the shuffle is 2012 seventh round pick Alfonzo Dennard. The Nebraska Cornhusker was once thought of as a second round talent, but a poor Senior Bowl and his punching a police officer in the face just before the draft, are believed to be reasons for his slide. You’d have to think the Patriots brass gave the talented Dennard a short leash.

The team will likely keep five or six cornerbacks on the roster, so this will be a very exciting battle to monitor come training camp in a few weeks. The team has also upgraded at safety adding Steven Gregory via free agency and Tavon Wilson via the draft. Couple those two with a healthy Patrick Chung, an improved pass rush, and the making of a solid up and down cornerback group, and the Patriots defensive backfield appears to be on the rise.

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