Coming into training camp, one of the most secure positions on the Patriots’ roster was at cornerback. But even the most advanced security systems aren’t impenetrable.
Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington re-signed with the Patriots this offseason. Ras-I Dowling came back healthy and looked terrific during the spring. Alfonzo Dennard faces some legal trouble, sure, but he still seemed primed to make the leap in year two. And Marquice Cole and rookie Logan Ryan could provide the type of back-end depth that most teams would covet in their nickel or dime packages. Yet the unit’s once certain security has begun to unravel.
Dowling was the first to drop — surprise, surprise — missing nearly the entire last week of training camp with an undisclosed injury. He didn’t even travel with the team to Philadelphia, meaning there is no chance he will play in Friday night’s preseason opener.
Dennard, who had been working as the team’s No. 2 corner opposite Talib, has also been dealing with an undisclosed ailment for the better past of the last week. He did travel to Philly and participated in the Patriots’ first two joint practices with the Eagles, getting burned badly by Riley Cooper multiple times, but he left the field during Thursday’s walkthrough and he seems unlikely to play on Friday, too.
Neither injury appears to be too serious or long-lasting — though we don’t know the specifics of either — which is a good sign in the interim. The more time that passes without either guy on the field, especially as the preseason schedule wears on, is concerning. But the added pressure and experience on guys like Cole and Ryan may well benefit the Patriots in the regular season.
While a veteran by right, Cole still lacks quality experience at the nickel position, seeing limited reps only in emergency situations in 2012. The Patriots don’t plan to lean on him much more this season, but some added experience certainly couldn’t hurt. As for Ryan, the rookie is still very green and could benefit from some added game reps this preseason. He still struggles in man-to-man on the outside and could use some extra time there and in the slot, where he’s excelled this summer. The only drawback would be moving Arrington to the outside, but that’s not really something the team needs to worry about right now.
There is no timetable for Dennard or Dowling to return just yet. It could be days, weeks or even months — although, I’d wager on the lesser end for both. But keeping them on the shelf for an extra week or so might be in the Patriots’ best interest anyway. The added time would allow both players to get back to full health, which will be especially important for the ever injury-prone Dowling, and give Cole and Ryan specifically more time to develop in the system.
The immediate outlook might make you cringe, but, in the long run, it could mean the difference of a bye week come playoff time.