The New England Patriots’ defense could see a return to dominance with some new players in the fray for 2014.
The unit, led by free-agent addition Darrelle Revis, could be the Patriots’ best defense since their last Super Bowl win in 2004 when Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour were patrolling the field. This year’s defense has similar talent, but they’ll need to stay healthy and learn to play together throughout the next month and a half before the Patriots’ Week 1 showdown against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 7.
How some Patriots spent their summer vacation could separate the starters from the reserves on defense with roster spots and starting roles up for grabs. The players reconvene for training camp on Wednesday, and some players could be in unfamiliar spots competing like rookies again.
Check out the top defensive position battles as the Patriots enter training camp:
Vince Wilfork will start at nose tackle as long as he exits training camp at full health, but Tommy Kelly (who was placed on the PUP list Monday) will have some competition for his starting role at three-technique defensive tackle. Rookie Dominique Easley could push for the starting job if he proves he can be as disruptive against the run as he was in college at Florida. Sealver Siliga, who was signed as a free agent midway through the 2013 season, also could push for a starting role if the Patriots decide they want to beef up their starting defensive line against the run.
Siliga had a fantastic end of the season for the Patriots, and if he can keep his momentum going into the 2014 season, the Patriots need to get him on the field either as a starter or in a rotation.
It will be difficult for Kelly to fully recover from a torn ACL, but he was playing very well before getting injured in 2013. He restructured his contract, which would allow the Patriots to release him without a big salary-cap hit.
Darrelle Revis obviously will start, and Brandon Browner is expected to hold down the No. 2 role after he serves his four-game suspension. In Browner’s absence, however, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard will push to start, even when he returns.
Browner is a more physical presence, but there were moments during the 2013 season when both Ryan and Dennard outplayed the former Seahawks cornerback.
The Patriots will need to carry a fifth cornerback while Browner is out, and Daxton Swanson, Justin Green and Jemea Thomas will compete for that role.
While second-year pro Duron Harmon should have the starting strong safety role all but locked up, he wasn’t receiving every first-team rep during OTAs and minicamp. Harmon still will need to fend off Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson to start next to Devin McCourty.
Harmon is the most appealing option, but it might not even matter who starts at strong safety since the rest of the secondary will be so strong. Revis, Browner and McCourty all are former Pro Bowl selections.