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In my previous edition we dove into the question about Tom Brady and his knee. We’ll now shift to the defensive side of the ball and explore a position that has seen a face-lift from a year ago.
Part I: Tom Brady | Part II: The Secondary | Part III | Part IV | Part V
The Patriots are a year removed from having one of the league’s worst secondary’s. So what did they do? Bill Belichick and company completely reshaped the positions by trading last season’s number one cornerback, Ellis Hobbs, to the Philadelphia Eagles on draft day in exchange for two fifth round picks. Second year players Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite are the lone holdovers from the cornerback position from a year ago that seem to have a chance to make their mark this season.
In free agency the Patriots made it a point of emphasis to upgrade the position. They signed former Washington Redskin Shawn Springs to a three-year deal worth around $10 million in an incentive-laden contract. Springs, who is 34 years old, could potentially see time at both free safety and cornerback. The versatility that he brings to the secondary will allow him to have an immediate impact for this defense. Along with Springs the Patriots added former Cleveland Browns starter Leigh Bodden. Back in 2007, Bodden picked off opposing quarterbacks seven times, which was second best in the NFL. However Bodden, along with most Detroit Lions players, struggled in 2008. After testing the free agent market for two months, Bodden settled for a one year deal with the Patriots on the eve of the NFL Draft. At 6-1, 190 pounds, Bodden provides much needed size to a secondary that has a history of smaller cornerbacks. As of right now it appears that Bodden will be vying to be a starter with the Patriots in 2009.
Lastly we have the thought of Patriots second round pick Darius Butler. The former University of Connecticut prospect, could find himself with a prominent role in 2009 for the Patriots. At his pro-day, in a rare turn of events, Belichick was present. After his pro-day, Belichick spoke highly of Butler calling him one of the better prospects he has ever watched. Talk about high praise huh? After passing on Butler with their first selection, a spot many thought he would be picked, the Patriots got their man with the 41st pick. At a very stout 5-11 180, Butler’s play-making ability should be put on display early in training camp.
Personally, out of the three young cornerbacks currently on the roster, I see Butler having the most potential to be a star in this league.
If the Patriots are going to make it deep into the playoffs this year, one of these newly acquired defensive backs will have to step up. It is also key for the Patriots to generate a viable pass rush to take pressure of the secondary. As badly as the secondary played last season, lacking a pass rush like the Patriots did certainly does not help. If you give any quarterback at any level time to step back and throw the rock around without a hand in his face, most of the time he will make you pay.