By: Dylan Porcaro
I recently attended the New England Patriots' training camp this past Wednesday to write an article on the potential that this offense has. As expected, the offense looked great, specifically the new additions of Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen. About an hour into practice, I was blown away by the defense and felt I had to change my topic. An article about the additions of Burkhead and Gillislee and the rest of the offense will be on the way as soon as I attend another practice, but for now I’ll focus on the other side of the ball.
All 5 super bowl wins have been made possible because the Pats excelled in all 3 dimensions of the game. Although last year the defense allowed 34 less points than the team in 2nd place for points allowed (New York Giants), I think it’s fair to say there were some clear holes, especially in the secondary. Six months removed from the super bowl, it seems that the secondary might just be the strongest part of the 2017 defense.
Let’s start with a player whom everyone is already familiar with, Malcolm Butler. To me, this might’ve been the biggest piece of news that came from the offseason, despite all of the new acquisitions. There was a time shortly after the super bowl that it seemed highly unlikely that we would see Butler in a Patriots uniform ever again. New Orleans not being able to agree on a contract with him might be one of the main reasons New England wins it’s 6th super bowl ring. Especially with the NFC South on the schedule, the secondary will need to be strong against a plethora of good receivers. Some speculate that Butler might be disgruntled and angry at the Patriots because of the rumors of trading him and that they didn’t extend his contract. While it probably is true that he isn’t happy with the situation he’s in, there’s no doubt in my mind that he won’t let it affect his play on the field. First of all, I think he loves this team and simply loves the game of football; he’s someone who gives 100% effort every time he steps foot on a field. Second, even if he doesn’t want to be here, he is now playing for a new contract. Whether he ends up signing an extension here or not in 2018, he needs to perform well this year to get big bucks here or elsewhere. Look for #21 to have another great year for the pats in 2017.
Now we’ll take a look at the highest paid Patriot, who appeared to be Butler’s replacement at one point this offseason, Stephon Gilmore. This duo of Butler and Gilmore might remind us of the 2014 season of Revis and Browner. As good as Butler is, the biggest knock on him is his size, it’s hard for him to defend big/lengthy receivers. That’s no problem for the 6 foot Gilmore, look for him to slow down Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Michael Crabtree this season. Gilmore is coming off of his first pro bowl season and seems to be improving year in and year out. Personally, especially from the defensive side of the ball, I like how SEC players translate to the pros. At the University of South Carolina, Gilmore was great in all 3 of his seasons. Maybe the most important statistic to take note of, he has played in 108 of 120 possible games dating back to his freshman year in college through his professional career. This guy stays healthy, and with him on the field, the pats will be a tough team to beat deep down the field.
In all honesty, I was most impressed with Jonathan Jones who’s entering his second year in the league. Another SEC guy out of Auburn, Jones is someone I’ve been a fan of since his junior year. He’s a bit undersized, but watching him in coverage is something else. At practice, he got a lot of reps with the 1s and fit in with no problem. Although he had success in 11 on 11, his work in the drills was what really caught my attention. In a drill where the receiver makes a move starting at the 10-yard line heading towards the goal line while the defensive back is attempting to cover him tightly, Jones did better than anyone. Yes, even better than the two starters, Butler and Gilmore. His footwork was unbelievable, and he’s able to react to the receiver’s move extremely fast. We all know that Belichick and Patricia love sending out different defensive packages, so don’t be shocked if Jones is on the field with Butler and Gilmore at the same time a lot this season.
Two more additions to the team, David Harris and Kony Ealy both looked comfortable with their new team. Of course there’s been speculation that Ealy and Belicheck have had problems early on in training camp, but he looked fine to me. If he can figure it out and be on the same page as the coaching staff, he’ll be just fine. At practice he had a lot of success in getting off the edge which is something the Pats could really use this year. As for David Harris, he is a veteran who’s going to give the team a lot of versatility at the linebacker position. I must say that he might’ve lost a step when compared to some of his years in New York, but there’s no doubt that he’s a good addition. Not only is he going to make a difference on the field, but he’ll be a good presence in the locker room as well. He comes off as a perfect Patriot, someone who comes with no off the field distractions and is always focused, which is surprising for a former Jet.
In less than a week the Patriots will take on the Jaguars in their opening preseason game. If I had to pick two things to keep an eye on, I would say it’s the play of Jonathan Jones and Kony Ealy. Everyone knows what they’re getting from Butler, Gilmore, and Harris. I wouldn’t expect them to see the field too much if at all, but Jones and Ealy will most likely get a lot of snaps, barring any injuries. I’m excited for kickoff this Thursday, and I’m sure this defense will come ready to play.
Photo: (Nancy Lane)