The Patriots are going to be relying on their young secondary to step up and not allow the big play that has plagued the defense the past couple of seasons. The Pats’ secondary does not have a single player 30 years old or older and the average age is only 24. Leigh Bodden, who signed a new contract with the team this offseason, is the oldest in the defensive backfield at 28 years old. What the secondary may lack in age and experience it makes up for in speed and athleticism. Second-year corner Darius Butler is among the fastest and most athletic on the team and Brandon Meriweather has used his athletic talents to make big plays, enough to get him an appearance in the Pro Bowl last season. Butler showed flashes of his talent and grabbed 3 interceptions in his rookie campaign while starting 5 games. Much more is going to be asked of him and the rest of the secondary this season. The Patriots still have a questionable pass rush, meaning the secondary has to stay on the receivers just a little longer than they may want to. If the secondary shows their youth and continues to have growing pains, it may be a long season for the Patriots.
Butler in particular is being counted on to make the Year 1 to Year 2 jump. So far in OTA’s he has been lining up with the starters opposite Leigh Bodden. Today in practice, he stepped in front of a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman and made the interception. Even rookie Devin McCourty is getting practice time with the starters. Bodden did not practice today so McCourty lined up at left corner while Butler moved over to right corner. McCourty could very well start the season as the nickel corner and may even challenge Butler for playing time.
Another second-year man who may be relied on heavily by the team to step up is safety Pat Chung. Chung was the Pats’ first pick in last years draft in the second round but didn’t get much playing time behind Meriweather, Brandon McGowan and James Sanders. However, he got a ton of reps with starter Brandon Meriweather in practice today, which could be an indication that he’s in the mix to start at safety. His increased reps could also have been a result of McGowan not practicing. Throughout practice, Chung showed the versatility that made him a high draft choice. From the safety position, he crept up to the line as a blitzer, covered receivers in the slot, and played deep safety. Chung has put in extra time in the film room with Bill Belichick during the offseason as well, which can only help his cause.
During big games last season, particularly against teams like the Saints and the Colts, the secondary and pass rush were exposed as areas of concern for a team that wants to get back to a championship. Coach Belichick has often said that a player’s jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is his biggest. The Patriots are hoping their young secondary can make that jump and perhaps cover that extra second longer to allow the pass rush to get to the quarterback. If not, games like the Saints game from last season could become more commonplace.