The New England Patriots are stacked at cornerback and shallow at safety, so a position switch might be in order.
The Patriots are “strongly considering” moving second-year cornerback Logan Ryan to free safety, which would push Devin McCourty down to strong safety, a source told the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian. Second-year pro Duron Harmon is currently projected to start at strong safety.
Moving Ryan to safety would make more sense if the Patriots hadn’t just acquired two cornerbacks known for their man-coverage skills. Having Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback lessens the need to start two safeties with range and deep-coverage skills. Playing McCourty and Ryan back deep would make more sense if the Patriots were going with a cover-2 zone scheme.
Browner’s former head coach with the Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carroll, praised the cornerback’s physical bump-and-run style at the NFL Annual Meeting on Wednesday.
“That’s when he’s at his best, on the line of scrimmage,” Carroll told ESPN.com. “He’s built for that. He’s so long, so big and so aggressive.”
Browner is great at covering along the sideline, but the Seahawks didn’t let him trail his receiver over the middle of the field often. If the Patriots use the same approach, they would need a strong safety or linebacker with great coverage skills.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick previously has spoken about having the best 11 players on the field, regardless of whether or not they’re playing their natural position. Belichick has moved around defensive linemen Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Vince Wilfork in the past. Ryan proved to be a playmaker last season, and the Patriots found snaps for the Rutgers product as a rookie, even in games he wasn’t starting.
It would be more logical to play Ryan in the strong safety role and to keep McCourty back deep at free safety, where he shined in 2013, earning second-team All-Pro honors. Neither player is as physical as a prototypical in-the-box strong safety, but if the goal is to put the best 11 players on the field, then Ryan is likely one of them.
After the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with Kam Chancellor delivering blistering hits over the middle, NFL teams are expected to sign big, intimidating strong safeties. Chancellor is special because of his coverage skills, however. Maybe Belichick believes Browner and a linebacker can serve the role as a physical presence while inserting a player like Ryan or McCourty in the coverage role.