New England Patriots: Training Camp Battles to Watch

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Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11) tries to catch the ball as New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) and strong safety Logan Ryan (26) defend in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots made a big upgrade at cornerback this offseason as injury-prone cornerback Aqib Talib left for Denver as a free agent and the Patriots brought in All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to replace him. As good as Talib was for the stretch between week two and before being injured in week six, Revis brings that level of performance on a regular basis.

In addition to Revis, the Patriots signed Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom” cornerback Brandon Browner as a free agent. At six-foot-three and 221 pounds Browner brings size to an undersized New England secondary. Although he is required to serve a four-game suspension to open the season, Browner is expected to take over as a physical presence opposite of Revis.

Behind the two free agent acquisitions, the Patriots return veteran slot cornerback Kyle Arrington, third-year player Alfonzo Dennard (hopefully finally past all his off-field transgressions), and 2013 third-round draft pick Logan Ryan. Arrington has been a consistent performer when playing inside but struggled mightily when forced to move outside when injuries strike. Last year Arrington had five games that stood out as poor performances (week 3 vs Tampa Bay, week 4 vs Atlanta, week 7 vs the Jets, week 13 vs Houston, and the Divisional Playoff game vs Indianapolis) and the common factor in each game was that he was moved outside for the majority of the game.

If the Patriots can keep Arrington inside it leaves two young cornerbacks who played well (Dennard and Ryan) fighting for limited snaps behind Revis and Browner. Ryan was brought on slowly before having a breakout performance against Denver in week twelve. His playing time increased before Peyton Manning had his revenge on Ryan and targeted him with seven completions on nine attempts for 99 yards in the AFC Championship game.

Dennard was a surprise performer in 2012 as a rookie seventh-round draft pick as he had a strong rookie year with his physical play. Dennard was slowed by injury for the entire second-half of the 2013 season after playing well early in the season as the number two cornerback opposite Talib. When he came back at the end of the season, he was clearly limited and struggled mightily. Like Ryan, his season ended on a down note as Manning lit him up in the AFC Championship game for a 135.4 quarterback rating on the ten passes thrown his way.

Ryan and Dennard are fighting for a starting spot for the first four weeks of the season in training camp and the player who loses the battle could be buried on the depth chart when Browner returns in week five. Whoever wins the training camp battle to start will have the chance to dig in and hold off Browner with a strong start to the season.