Editor's note: Each day this week, Jeff Howe will review the Patriots' 2010 season and preview 2011 by breaking down each position. On Wednesday, he looked at the offensive line and defensive line. On Thursday, he's looking at cornerbacks and linebackers.
No one could have predicted the way New England's cornerbacks were going to evolve over the course of the 2010 season. Whether it was Leigh Bodden's season-ending shoulder injury, Devin McCourty's meteoric rise, Darius Butler's benching or Kyle Arrington's emergence, there always seemed to be something to discuss with that group.
There are also plenty of possibilities going forward. Arrington, an exclusive-rights free agent, will be back as long as the Patriots choose to retain him, but Jonathan Wilhite's future could be unclear, as his salary will increase from $470,000 in 2010 to $1.2 million in 2011.
Either way, the Patriots have good depth at cornerback, and the competition in training camp could create a surprise casualty if a player or two falls below Bill Belichick's standards.
Cornerbacks on Final Roster: Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, Tony Carter, Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden (injured reserve), Jonathan Wilhite (injured reserve), Thad Turner (practice squad)
Key Statistic: McCourty ranked second in the NFL with seven interceptions, and he also had two forced fumbles. His nine forced turnovers were tied for the most in the league.
Hot Topic: McCourty had a stellar rookie season from the very beginning. He was steady in coverage for his first five games, but once he intercepted his first pass against the Chargers in Week 7, it was apparent that he was able to play with more confidence and he was adjusting to the game speed. Aside from taking up residence in the hip pockets of wide receivers, McCourty forced a turnover in eight of his last 11 regular-season games, and his combination of speed, smarts, instincts and physicality will make the Pro Bowler a special player for a long time.
Offseason Question: Will Leigh Bodden give the Patriots one of the league's top tandems at cornerback?
Bodden was really steady in his first season with the Patriots, as he was always their most reliable corner. However, he injured his knee in training camp and his shoulder in a preseason game, and his second season with the Pats was a wash.
The eight-year veteran, who had five interceptions and 18 pass defenses in 2009, will assume his starting job at right cornerback next season, and if he plays up to par, Bodden and McCourty could be a tough pair for quarterbacks to attack.