By: Jake Mackey
When you think all-time great players in Patriots history, most of the names that jump out are on the defensive side of the ball. Names such as Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Ty law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, and Vince Wilfork were key players in the Patriots dominance in the early part of the 2000’s. You can even go back to the 70’s and 80’s with players like Raymond Clayborn, Steve Nelson, and Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Haynes and Andre Tippett.
This year’s Patriots defense is one filled with young home-grown talent. Bill Belichick re-invented the defense after their horrendous 2011 campaign. He started with the drafting of Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the first-round of the 2012 draft. One-year later Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon were taken by the Patriots on night two of the draft. During the 2013 season it was evident that these young players were jelling and had the potential to be a top tier defense.
In 2014 they proved that by going 5-1 in a mid-season stretch where they had to face the best quarterbacks in the game in Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Phillip Rivers. As we all now they went on to win the Super Bowl thanks to a terrific goal line stop with an interception by an un-drafted rookie named Malcolm Butler.
In 2015, the Patriots finished the season sixth in total defense and have only lost the likes of Chandler Jones and Dominique Easley this off season. They have added players such as Terrance Knighton, Shea McClellin, and Chris Long. While Long and McClellin are still unknowns and not locks to make the roster, Knighton appears to be a steal as he has impressed in training camp, mainly because of his massive size and strength. The defensive line will have the ability to play in a true 3-4 with Knighton, Alan Branch, and Malcom Brown, who will be an every down player.
In addition, Matt Patricia will also have the ability to have a solid 4-3 scheme due to the amount of bodies at defensive end. Jabaal Sheard is coming off a career year, and will now essentially take over the role of Chandler Jones. On the opposite side of him is the always reliable Rob Ninkovich who is in a contract year. In recent years Ninkovich has played nearly 95-percent of the defensive snaps. This season should be different with the addition of McClellin, and second-year players Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom coming off what was basically a red-shirted 2015 season.
The only real question is in the secondary. Who will be the nickel back? That was a serious problem last season as the defense shuffled Justin Coleman, Leonard Johnson, and Rashaan Melvin in and out of that spot. The job right now is second-round rookie Cyrus Jones for the taking. Nevertheless, he has not impressed thus far in training camp. The rest of the secondary is cemented with Pro-Bowlers Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty leading the way at safety and corner. They are followed by reliable second players in Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. Not to mention Patrick Chung and Jordan Richards who can play up in the box.
Oh, and did I mention the defense is anchored by two of the best linebackers in the game in Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, who are both looking to get paid after this season?
(GIF Credit: SBNation.com)
This defense is certainly championship caliber, and barring injury they can be right up there with some of the great units in team history.