The New England Patriots roster competition has been made especially interesting this season with the team’s proposed switch to a 3-4 defense. With a defensive line and linebacker comprising two of the deepest positions on the team, there will be little room for error when vying for a spot at those positions.
During last year’s Super Bowl victory, we saw somewhat of a preview for what could be the Patriots defense this season. The Pats confused the Rams offense by involving linebackers in the pass rush and disguising blitzes.
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So far in training camp, the Patriots have seen strong performances on the defensive side of the ball from newcomers Mike Pennel and Michael Bennett along with linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Christian Sam.
On special teams, punter Ryan Allen endured a battle for his roster spot last season, but can he do it again in 2019?
Here’s how the Patriots’ defense might stack up come September.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8) – Michael Bennett, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich.
The Pats pass rush was voted among the worst in the NFL, but with a corps of veterans mixed with some young playmakers, this d-line could be among the league’s best.
Veteran Michael Bennett is the biggest addition, but Mike Pennel’s arrival should not be overlooked. The five-year veteran tackle has recorded 25 or more tackles when playing 16 games and could help sure up the defensive front.
On the edge, Deatrich Wise will see an expanded role while rookie Chase Winovich is set to make a big impact in his first season.
Out: Derek Rivers’ days in New England may be numbered if he doesn’t make an impact this preseason and rookie Byron Cowart has some work to do to unseat veteran defensive tackles in front of him. Other cuts include Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, David Parry, and Nick Thurman.
LINEBACKER (5) – Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Brandon King, Ja’Whaun Bentley
The linebacker position is deep this season, headlined by Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy who put together strong seasons in 2018. Jamie Collins returns after two seasons in Cleveland and could be used as an edge rusher as well as an outside linebacker.
The final two spots are up for grabs, but with Ja’Whaun Bentley returning from injury, he could very well occupy one of those. And the last one goes to Brandon King, for now, given his versatility and quickness.
Out: Elandon Roberts is probably the toughest cut for the Patriots, but with Collins back in the fold there may not be room. Shilique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, and Christian Sam also miss the cut.
SAFETY (5) – Terrence Brooks, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Malik Gant
New England returns a trio of its top defensive backs from a year ago as well in Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung.
There’s a ton of experience at safety for the Patriots, even with the addition of veteran Terrence Brooks. His special teams’ experience and strength in certain coverage schemes make him a strong candidate for the final roster.
With three players battling for the final spot, undrafted free agent Malik Gant could emerge as the victor for the job. His 95 tackles over 13 games for Marshall last season earned him a contract. And after beginning his college career as a walk-on, Gant is prepared to battle for playing time. Plus, he is proficient at defending against the run.
Out: Nate Ebner and Obi Melifonwu are out as of now, but one could likely squeeze in over a player like Brandon Bolden for a special teams spot. A.J. Howard also gets cut.
CORNER (6) – Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen
A position that emerged as one of the strongest for New England last season, Stephon Gilmore headlines a group of returners poised to make an even bigger impact in 2019. Jonathan Jones, who led the Patriots in tackles during Super Bowl LIII with 10, along with Jason McCourty, JC Jackson, and Keion Crossen also return.
Crossen’s position isn’t completely secure, but his work against Tyreek Hill last postseason gives him an edge. Rookie Joejuan Williams might quickly become the premier corner. At 6-foot-4, he could cover deep threats with his height and 4.64 40-yard time.
Out: Duke Dawson is contending for a starting job, but his injury history could cost him this season. Ken Webster and D’Angelo Ross are also battling but remain as longshots.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3) – Stephen Gostkowski, Joe Cardona, Jake Bailey
No surprise with Gostkowski and Cardona returning, but rookie Jake Bailey could very well win out the starting punter job. He had a dazzling career at Stanford and has experience in kicking situations. With a cheaper contract than incumbent Ryan Allen, Bailey is certainly more appealing and has had a strong start to training camp.
Out: Allen is engaged in a punting battle for the second-straight season but it looks like he might be on the way out. But the veteran will definitely land somewhere.