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Patriots 2012 Cornerbacks Preview: Can Devin McCourty Improve?

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung (Image from metrowestdailynews.com)

No matter if you are a fan of the team or not, every football fan can agree that New England’s pass defense last year left much to be desired. Despite a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl run, the 2011 campaign was consistently marked by inconsistent play from the back four.

Read: Other 2012 Patriots Previews

Comprised of mostly home-grown talent via the draft or undrafted free agency, Head Coach Bill Belichick’s youthful secondary must grow together as a unit for this team to get over the Super Bowl hump and land the team its fourth Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Below is the list of corners who will attempt to accomplish that feat.

Devin McCourty

McCourty has been an enigma during his first two years in the league.  As a rookie, he was second in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the year voting after finishing his inaugural campaign with seven interceptions and two forced fumbles.  But to say the Rutgers alum regressed as a sophomore would be an understatement. McCourty struggled during his second season, consistently giving up large chunks of yards in the passing game throughout the regular season. His consistent underperformance forced Coach Bill Belichick to switch the former first-rounder from corner to safety, and back to corner for the postseason.

McCourty registered his first pick late in the season against Miami, and had his second in a Week 17 triumph over Buffalo.  For the New England defense to be a viable unit in the NFL, McCourty must at least return to his 2010 levels, and show he turned it around during those final two weeks. Hopefully for Patriots fans, the former Scarlet Knight great can prove last year was just a sophomore slump, rather than be another disappointing draft pick from the secondary.

Kyle Arrington

Arrington began his ascension up the New England depth chart during the 2009 campaign, slowly but surely earning the trust of Coach Belichick.  After a series of injuries in 2010 and 2011, Arrington eventually was given the starting nod opposite McCourty. A fourth year player from Hofstra, Arrington has rewarded that faith from Patriots’ coaching, improving every year he has been in league. Arrington jumped from one interception in 2010, to tying for the league lead in interceptions last year.

Patriots fans seldom see Arrington on the wrong side of a big pass play, as he has great instincts to go along with a successful skillset.  There is no doubt Arrington will be a viable, sturdy cog in Belichick’s defensive engine, and will provide key depth as the season progresses.

Ras-I Dowling

A highly touted rookie with a injury-riddled collegiate career, Dowling will look to usurp Arrington as the #2 corner this year. Entering his second year from Virginia, Dowling was limited to just two contests in 2011, but played solid in the two season opening wins against Miami and San Diego.

The 33rd overall (first pick of second round) pick in the 2011 draft, Dowling is an interesting weapon in the New England secondary.  Given his talent, and assuming (a rather large assumption) that he stays on the field, Dowling’s presence will provide the NE secondary with considerable depth not seen in years.

If he continues to have injury problems, not only will New England fans begin to lose patience, but the coaching staff may too.

Sterling Moore

An unknown heading into last year, Moore, like Arrington, took coaching well and earned his way up the Patriots’ depth chart.  Despite playing in only six regular season contests, starting three, Moore’s play was vital as the regular season concluded.

An undrafted rookie from SMU, the rookie registered a pick-six against Buffalo, and preserved New England’s trip to the Super Bowl with his last-minute pass defense of Lee Evans.

Despite the heroics, Moore will need to show the coaches that is a better asset than Arrington and Dowling. If he remains healthy, he will provide valuable depth, and his postseason experience could come in handy as the team approaches January.

Will Allen

Allen joins the Patriots after five years in South Beach. The 10-year veteran has 15 career picks and seven forced fumbles, but struggled last year after missing all of 2010. During the 2011 campaign, Allen tallied just 39 tackles and three passes defensed, while garnering goose eggs in sacks, interceptions, and forced and recovered fumblesWhile the veteran has regressed in past years (including a year off), he, like the gentlemen above, are necessary to the depth of this secondary. It stands to reason that he may not make many game changing plays, but he will no doubt contribute and provide timely coverage, and is a pair of injuries away from January reps.

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