With the expansion of NFL rosters last month to 90 players, teams were able to use undrafted free agents to create competition at certain positions. With the offense pretty much complete, the New England Patriots spent most of their spots on defense. However, it wasn’t on the positions most would expect.
In 2011 the biggest problem for the Patriots was their defensive secondary. For a team that had the 31st ranked defense in the league, they gave up the majority of their yards in the air. Even with that stat hanging over them, the Patriots have focused almost exclusively on improving a defensive line that wasn’t that bad last season.
The Patriots now have 27 defensive linemen on their 90-man roster which equates to 33 percent of all players. That’s more than any team in the league. Besides that, with the re-signing on defensive tackle Gerard Warren, the Patriots defensive line from 2011 that recorded a respectable 40 sacks is largely intact.
The Patriots have also added a large group of linebackers to their rookie minicamp which started Friday. While the linebacker position for the team is less stable than the defensive line, it’s more stable than the defensive backs which is primarily based around players draft in 2009 or later.
To their credit, the Patriots look like they could be much better at defensive back in 2012. With the addition of several wide receivers through free agency, the team could use this offseason to make wide receiver Julian Edelman a full-time defensive back. Edelman played well in 2011 as a defensive back for much of the season and with an overcrowded wide receiving group, there may not be room for the young player anyway.
Another addition that could significantly help the Patriots is seventh round draft pick Alonzo Dennard from Nebraska. The former Blackshirt was expected to be a first or early second pick this year but a fight which resulted in Dennard’s arrest shortly before the draft dropped his stock to the end of the draft. If Dennard can stay out of trouble and play to his capabilities, he’s a potential perennial pro bowler.
If everything works out the best for the Patriots, they may have a much more solid defensive back group than expected. However, with the amount of additions to the defensive line and linebackers and the lack of additions committed to cornerbacks and safeties, it seems that the team is ignoring their biggest problem. It’ll be seen in September when the season starts whether or not this decision will cost them.