Devin McCourty returns as the undisputed leader of the Patriots secondary. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty returns as the undisputed leader of the Patriots secondary. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends, offensive line, quarterback and running backs. After a check on the cornerbacks, here’s a look at the safties.

Depth chart: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards (R), Dax Swanson

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Unlike the cornerbacks, the safeties seem to be as close to a sure thing that there is on defense. That starts with Devin McCourty, fresh from signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal, with $28.5 million guaranteed. Since moving from corner to free safety full-time in 2013, the 27-year-old Rutgers product has been a staple in the Patriots secondary. He has taken over calling all coverages and, perhaps just as importantly, providing leadership in the secondary. Darrelle Revis often pointed to McCourty’s direction and calmness as a reason for the secondary coming together the way it did in 2014.

2. Patrick Chung has emerged as a solid piece in his second go-around in New England. When Chung left after the 2012 season, there were those in New England who openly wondered exactly what the Eagles were thinking. That thought grew around the NFL when Chung struggled in Philadelphia in his lone season as a free safety, the Eagles cut him loose. Bill Belichick saw this as a chance to bring back a player with understanding of his system. He made one tweak. He gradually eased Chung back into the defense in training camp and preseason as a strong safety, a position he hadn’t played on a regular basis since his second season in 2010. It paid big dividends last year, as he made 62 tackles, starting 15 of his 16 games at strong safety. With Revis on board, Belichick was able to take a lot of deep zone pass defense responsibilities off his plate and play him in the box. There were several cases where Chung lined up as a linebacker to support in run situations. He was sixth on the team in defensive snaps in 2014.

3. Versatility is the name of the game. Belichick has always asked his young safeties learning the system to earn their roster spots by showing they can fill numerous roles, i.e. special teams. This is how Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson have hung around so long, especially Wilson. There have been times where Wilson’s days seemed numbered given his inability to earn regular defensive snaps. But that’s not where Wilson has shown his true value. “The more you can do, the better you’re going to be,” Wilson said after being drafted by Belichick in 2012. “I just come in, play special teams, be the best whatever position they play me as; just try to be the best I can. I love to play special teams. It’s a part of the game. I played it in college, I love to do it.”

THREE QUESTIONS

1. How much of a role will rookie Jordan Richards have? This has the potential to be most intriguing player to watch in the secondary this camp as the rookie out of Stanford was taken in second round. Again, there were the draft gurus who thought Belichick over-drafted the smart, well-respected player. But we’re about to find out what he can do in the Patriots’ system. He is considered not only a team leader (and Belichick loves his college captains) but a quick study. It seems like the perfect fit. But Richards isn’t just about brains and leadership. He was a first team All PAC-12 player last season.

2. How much will the safeties help the corners? This seems like a no-brainer, especially with McCourty playing center field. McCourty came up as a corner and he can provide valuable assistance in helping with pass coverage. When Darrelle Revis was taking care of his man on his island last year, it was McCourty who would often help over the top with Brandon Browner on the opposite side. If McCourty was going to help with a corner like Browner, it would certainly seem likely that he’s capable of doing the same for a DB like Bradley Fletcher or Tarell Brown. Remember, it was safety Duron Harmon who helped out Logan Ryan and picked off Joe Flacco in the waning moments of the AFC divisional game at Gillette last January.

3. How often will opposing teams test the Patriots over the top? This may seem like it’s a bit of back to the future, like 2011 before the arrival of Aqib Talib. But you certainly don’t have to go back that far to see an opponent testing the Patriots secondary and their safeties deep. Remember Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle last February? Russell Wilson had success throwing deep on the Patriots, recording passes of 45, 33, 31 and 25 yards. It may have been purely the scheme and the Patriots not being fully prepared for a quarterback attacking Revis and Browner so openly. But whatever it was, the Seahawks continued a trend that began late in the regular season.

By the numbers: 13 — The combined years of experience between McCourty and Chung. There’s little doubt Belichick values not just the quality of play from both of his veteran safeties but their knowledge of the system. Belichick knows that with that type of experience, he can throw more responsibilities and exotic looks in the secondary that might help to compensate for some cornerback inexperience in the system.

Key new player: Jordan Richards. See above. The rookie out of Stanford joins a group that is filled with veterans and players very familiar with the system, at least at the start of camp. In addition to McCourty and Chung, there’s Duron Harmon, Wilson and Ebner, all of whom could provide valuable insight to the defensive scheme and leverages Belichick uses when deploying safeties. Richards played primarily strong safety at Stanford, and while not a big guy (5-foot-11), he is strong, 211 pounds, and banged out 13 bench press reps. His 3-cone and 60-yard shuttle drills at the combine were outstanding, catching the eyes of the Patriots. He will certainly push Tavon Wilson and couldn’t even wind up taking Wilson’s spot on the roster if Richards can show he can be a consistent force on special teams. But that will take some doing.

The skinny: The Patriots bring seven safeties to camp and figure to keep just five. Barring injury, there’s little doubt that McCourty and Chung are at the top. But exactly where Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Richards and even Nate Ebner fit in really bear close attention. We probably won’t see too many exotic looks (if any at all) in the preseason from the safeties. But come the regular season, there is always the chance that the Patriots use a “Big Nickel” look, with three safeties or “Giant Dime” with three safeties and three corners. This came into play last year, when the Patriots inserted Chung or Wilson down in the box as a linebacker. While the cornerbacks provide a huge question mark entering camp, the safety position appears to be a position of strength heading into 2015. And Bill Belichick will take full advantage.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Umpire Carl Paganelli holds a football on the field after a play during the 2015 AFC title game. What the league needs is fewer rules around deflated footballs, not more of them.</span></p>
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Add Jim Irsay to the list of owners who have roundly rejected the idea they are in the ear of commissioner Roger Goodell regarding Deflategate.

Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hasn't pressured Roger Goodell to hold firm on Tom Brady's suspension. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hasn’t pressured Roger Goodell to hold firm on Tom Brady‘s suspension. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Add Jim Irsay to the list of owners who have roundly rejected the idea they are in the ear of commissioner Roger Goodell regarding Deflategate.

The Colts owner, who had reportedly been pressing Goodell to maintain Tom Brady‘€™s four-game suspension, told the Indianapolis Star on Monday that wasn’€™t the case.

“That’s not true at all,” Irsay said Monday. “I haven’t talked to Roger Goodell about Deflategate since late January. Not true. That’s not the way things work involving someone else’s business and someone else’s team.

“It’s not something I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around ownership (in the NFL) for half a century.”

Irsay and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti were identified by ESPN NFL reporter Sal Paolantonio as two rival owners who have pushing Goodell to keep Brady’€™s ban at four games. On Sunday, Bisciotti also denied the report.

“I have not and will not put any pressure on commissioner or anyone representing NFL office to take action in Deflategate,”€ Bisciotti told reporters. “The story circulating that I’€™ve put pressure on Roger [Goodell] is 100 percent wrong. The reports are unfair to Robert Kraft, who is honorable person and to his franchise. Let’€™s talk about football and the start of training camp. Fans and people like me want the issue resolved now.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The Patriots made a series of personnel moves on Monday afternoon prior to the start of training camp.

Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

The Patriots made a series of personnel moves on Monday afternoon prior to the start of training camp.

According to the official NFL transaction wire, veteran quarterback Matt Flynn was placed on the Non-Football Injury list. In addition, the team placed eight players on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list: Dominique Easley, Dane Fletcher, Chris Jones, Brandon LaFell, Matthew Slater, Vince Taylor, Ryan Wendell and Chris White.

The PUP list allows players who are unable to start training camp the ability to sit out until the medical staff provides clearance. Once they are medically cleared, they’re allowed to practice immediately. For the players who start training camp on the list, they will be eligible for the Reserve PUP list at the start of the regular season — as long as they have never been removed from the Active PUP list during training camp.

The non-football injury list is the fundamental equivalent to PUP — however, these players are classified as being unable to practice as a result of conditions unrelated to football.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

After last week it was reported the NFLPA’s settlement proposal for Tom Brady‘s four-game suspension appeal was shutdown, it appears the N

After last week it was reported the NFLPA’s settlement proposal for Tom Brady‘s four-game suspension appeal was shutdown, it appears the NFL is now willing to negotiate.

According to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, the NFLPA and the NFL have had “an open line of communication in recent days” regarding a potential settlement of Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate.

The report says Brady has become “frustrated” with the lack of a decision from commissioner Roger Goodell, as it has now been almost five weeks since he heard Brady’s appeal. The report goes on to say the quarterback has “maintained his innocence privately,” so it would appear unlikely he would be willing to take any settlement that has him missing any games.

The Patriots open training camp this Thursday.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

The NFL has finally decided something as a result of Deflategate. No, it’s not the decision on Tom Brady‘s appeal of his four-game suspension.

Tom Brady makes a throw during the AFC championship against the Colts. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady makes a throw during the AFC championship against the Colts. (Getty Images)

The NFL has finally decided something as a result of Deflategate. No, it’s not the decision on Tom Brady‘s appeal of his four-game suspension.

According to former NFL official Mike Pereira and current FOX Sports NFL contributor, the NFL told its officials this weekend that there will be new procedures for the 2015 season regarding how footballs will be prepared and monitored.

The league will now regulate the number of footballs prepared, random testing and changes in the oversight of the footballs once they’ve been checked by officials. According to Pereira, there’s no change in the game-ready properties of the football, meaning they will still be legal in a range from 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch (PSI).

All game ball information will be included in the referee’s report to the league office.

According to Pereira, here are some of the significant changes for the 2015 NFL season:

  • Any game ball within the allowable range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI will be approved and the PSI level will not be altered. Any game ball determined to be over 13.5 PSI or under 12.5 PSI will either be deflated or inflated to 13.0 PSI. Last year, there was no specific measurement of 13.0 required if an adjustment had to be made.
  • Each team will be required to supply 24 footballs to the officials locker room –€“ 12 primary and 12 backup — 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to the game. Last season, the home team had to submit 24 footballs prior to the game, but the visitors only had to submit 12 footballs with an option to supply an additional 12 for use in outdoor stadiums.
  • The referee will designate two members of his crew to conduct a pregame inspection to make sure all footballs meet the required specifications. Last season, the referee was the sole judge.
  • The officials will number the balls 1-12. Last season, the balls were not numbered.
  • The officials will measure the PSI and record that measurement corresponding to the numbered ball. Last season, no such record was kept.

    Pereira reports the same procedure will be followed with respect to the backup set of game balls for each team. Each NFL game last season had a kicking ball coordinator, hired by the league, who has been primarily responsible for the six kicking balls. They will now take custody of all the balls once they’ve been approved until 10 minutes prior to kickoff.

    At that point, the kicking ball coordinator, along with a member of the officiating crew and a security representative, will bring the footballs to the on-field replay station. Upon arrival, the game balls will be distributed to each team’s ball crew in the presence of the league security representative. The backup balls will remain secured in the officials’ locker room until needed.

    It was during the pre-game period of the AFC championship on Jan. 18 at Gillette Stadium that the NFL, via the Wells Report, believes the balls were altered. Last season, the league’s security representative was not a part of the total process and the kicking ball coordinator was not specifically assigned to be with the footballs the entire time.

    During halftime, the balls from both teams will be inspected and the PSI results will be measured and recorded by the two designated members of the crew who inspected them during the pregame. Once measured, those game balls will then be secured by the security representative and removed from play. The backup balls will then be used for the second half.

    At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half, will be collected by the kicking ball coordinator (KBC) at halftime and the league’s security representative will escort the KBC to the locker room. Also, at the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the officials’ locker room, where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

  • Blog Author: 
    Mike Petraglia