The New England Patriots officially started training camp last Thursday! With that, I will be moving into the final part of my breakdown of the Patriots’ roster. Today we look at the safeties as well as the special teams specialists.
On the Bubble (2): Eddie Pleasant, Jordan Richards
Long Shot (1): Damarius Travis
The Patriots’ top three safeties — Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon — were the backbone of the team’s defense last season. Harmon was able to be a solid cover one deep safety, which allowed McCourty and Chung to play up in the box or in the slot to make up for the lack of depth at linebacker and slot cornerback. And after Dont’a Hightower was placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, both McCourty and Chung had to step up and handle more of the communication for the defense.
At the beginning of the season, the safety unit was the lone bright spot on an otherwise mediocre defense. Unfortunately, former second-round draft pick Jordan Richards proved to be a liability both in the season opener and during the Super Bowl, seeing significant playing time in both games despite not performing very well. Special teams standout Nate Ebner suffered a torn ACL on a fake punt play against the Miami Dolphins, and the special teams unit would miss his play for the rest of the year.
Going into the 2018 season, the safety group projects to be at least as good as they were last year, if not better. Harmon will be the designated deep safety, but has reportedly been working on his run defense and tackling this offseason in an effort to become slightly more versatile. McCourty will once again be tasked with everything from playing single high safety, playing post safety in a two-high defense, covering tight ends or slot receivers in certain packages, and defending the run on occasion. Chung’s versatility will also be an integral part of the defense, as his ability to both cover tight ends and slot receivers as well as defend the run allows the Patriots to stop opposing teams’ rushing attacks out of nickel personnel. Nate Ebner will likely continue to anchor the special teams unit, while Eddie Pleasant and Jordan Richards will fight for one last roster spot. Pleasant has value both as a versatile backup safety as well as a special teamer, and would likely allow the Patriots to better run four safety packages as needed this year.
Stephen Gostkowski had a solid campaign last year, rebounding from an up-and-down 2016 season. He is entering the last year of his contract, but the fact that the Patriots did not bring a kicker in for training camp likely means that the team continues to have faith in him and will likely re-sign him before he hits free agency. Joe Cardona signed a four-year contract extension back in June, ensuring that he will remain as the Patriots’ starting long snapper for years to come. One interesting position battle to watch for during training camp and the preseason is the punter competition.
The Patriots brought in undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez back in the spring to compete with veteran Ryan Allen, who is entering a contract year. Bojorquez is scheduled to make $1.71 million over the next three years, while Allen will have a cap hit of $2 million this year and will likely command more than that in his next contract. As a result, the team will likely look to move on from Allen and save some money if Bojorquez can prove to be just as reliable. However, Allen
Roster (8): Corey Bojorquez, Joe Cardona, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Stephen Gostkowski, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Eddie Pleasant
Cut (3): Ryan Allen, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis
So that is officially the conclusion to this series! If you haven’t already, you can check out the entire series here.