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The New England defense was not one of the NFL’s elite last season. They were mediocre on both sides of the ball, but did show signs of life from time to time, especially with the defensive backs. There was no star in the backfield. No single guy that served as a leader. Just a bunch of guys who went in and did their jobs to the best of their abilities. Now that everyone has at least one year understanding the system, there should be improvements for the guys who are the last line of defense.
The defensive backs are eight deep, which is a lot stronger then in years past. Remember when we saw Troy Brown running around some years ago? This unit is looking to take a massive leap this year to improve on it’s 209 passing yards allowed per game last season. Should they play to their potential, we might see one of the best group of defensive backs in the game. There still may not be a Derrelle Revis or Troy Polamau hovering around, but this “TEAM” could challenge the best passing offenses in the league.
Last year, Butler was a rookie who earned his way into the starting lineup. The former Connecticut Husky got the nod against the Tennessee, and helped keep the then struggling Titans scoreless. He ended up starting five games in 2009, accumulating 35 tackles and three interceptions. The highlight was a 91-yard return against the Houston Texans. Butler has speed to burn and could be a nuisance for players who try to go head-to-head with him. In his second season, Butler will get the opportunity to start all 16 games and make an impact. New England hopes they have found a player who can have a long, productive career with the team.
Behind Butler will be Wilhite, who will do what he can to recapture a starting position. Last season, Wilhite started eight games for the Pats after replacing Deltha O’Neal for the final four games in the 2007 season. Entering his third season, Wilhite will look to add to his 73 career tackles and three interceptions. He only had two interceptions last season, but was in the top ten in tackles with 45. Should he be given an opportunity, Wilhite has the skill to make it difficult for receivers to make a catch and can wrap a player up. More then two thirds of his tackles last season were solo.
Bodden will quickly try to establish himself as the man in the New England secondary. Last season, Bodden started 14 of the 15 games he played in. He was also fifth on the team in tackles with 55, 47 of them being solo. However, he was better roaming around looking for the ball. Bodden had a team high five interceptions, including a three-interception game against Mark Sanchez in Week 11. One was a 51-yard return for a touchdown. A free agent in the offseason, Bodden resigned for four years. New England is looking for him to shine as an interception magnet and make quarterbacks think twice before they decide to go deep.
A wrist injury hurt Wheatley’s rookie campaign. He was only active for five games, including a start against the Colts, the same game where he injured his wrist. He is a former two-time First Team All-Big 12 while at the University of Colorado. He does have a history with injuries, going back to his sophomore season at Colorado. Should he be able to overcome his injury-prone history, Wheatly could see time in crucial moments when Bodden is out. All in all, a healthy season would be the best situation for Wheatley.
He was arguably the best player in the secondary last season. He was originally brought in as the replacement for Rodney Harrison, and in 2008, that’s what he did. When Harrison went down with a career-ending injury, Meriweather took over and never looked back, starting the last 27 games. In both 2008 and 2009, he recorded 83 tackles, leading the secondary this past season. In 2009, he tied for the lead with five interceptions, including 149 return yards and one touchdown. All his hard work earned the former No. 1 pick his first Pro Bowl appearance. In 2010, Meriweather will look to grow on a successful 2009 season. He is emerging as a leader and potential team captain. Last season, he also earned his first defensive player of the week award against the Buccaneers. This year, he has the chance to earn a few more.
if there is someone with the most potential for a breakout year, it’s Chung. Although he didn’t have many opportunities, he made the ones he did have count. His speed made him dangerous with the blitz; he had two sacks. He also has great leaping ability, even though he only had one interception against the Titans. Chung may not see much playing time this season, playing behind Meriweather, but if he can make his moments shine, I am sure Bill Belichick will not worry about putting the second-year player in at crucial moments. He is another non-starter who will show teams how deep the Patriots are in the secondary.
Just like Meriweather, McGowan was an undrafted player who seems to thrive in the Patriots system. After a strong career with the Bears, that included an Achilles injury, McGowan joined New England last season and had an immediate impact. Originally backing up Meriweather and James Sanders, McGowan replaced Sanders in Week 2 and then went off. He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 79 and led the team three forced fumbles. He is a hard hitter and someone who will make receivers pay for every ball they catch. Hopefully, he saved something for his second season in New England. The two Brandons will make for some entertaining defensive plays and hopefully, some wins.
Sanders might be McGowan’s backup for now, but things could change soon. James lost his starting spot in Week 2, but regained it by Week 14, and started the final four games, including the Patriots’ playoff loss to the Ravens. Despite starting only five regular season games, he finished seventh on the team with 48 tackles, including eleven in the season finale against the Texans. Bill Belichick seems to have a lot of faith in Sanders, and Patriots fans would love to see Sanders and McGowan raise their game, because of the position competition. By the start of the season, he might be back in a starting positon, but he will have to earn it and continue to play hard to keep it.
The eight-man rotation Patriots fans will see should show great improvements over last year’s team. Every player will be at least in their second season with the team, and should be familiar with the Patriots system. The secondary had one Pro Bowl player last year; this season, we could see more. If they play as a team and trust each other, this could be one of the best defensive back units in recent Patriot history. Now that is high praise.