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New-look secondary shows signs of improvement

Posted Aug 9, 2012

It wasn't perfect, but New England's defensive backs got off to a good start in 2012 by keeping the Saints out of the endzone in Thursday's preseason opener.

With two of the NFL’s best offenses in action, one would have expected Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Saints to be a high-scoring affair.

Then again, this is the preseason, and preseason games rarely go according to script.

While the 7-6 final score was mostly indicative of offensive struggles, it was also a positive sign for New England’s secondary, which recorded two interceptions and kept the Saints out of the end zone for sixty minutes.

“Any time you can keep a team from scoring a touchdown, that’s probably a good night,” noted safety Steve Gregory after Thursday’s game. “If teams don’t score touchdowns then you’re going to win a lot of football games.”

Gregory made his presence felt early in the second quarter with an interception in the red zone off Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Linebacker Jerod Mayo made a nice play to deflect Daniel’s pass over the middle, and Gregory bobbled the ball for several seconds but reeled it in for his first pick in a Patriots uniform.

“Yeah, he got a tip on it, so I had to adjust and make sure I came down with it, and I’m glad I did,” added Gregory.

Not to be outdone, Gregory’s counterpart Patrick Chung also notched a red zone interception in the second quarter when he snagged an errant pass over the middle from Saints quarterback Sean Canfield at the Patriots 11 yard-line.

Although their time on the field was brief, the safety tandem of Gregory and Chung looked solid and appears poised to add stability to a position that had anything but stability last season.

“We kind of help each other,” says Chung of his new teammate. “He’s a veteran, he knows a lot of things that I don’t know and he helps me out. I’ve been here for a while so I kind of help him out. It’s kind of a like a relationship. Relationships can only get stronger.”

On the edges, Devin McCourty got the start at left cornerback while Kyle Arrington started the game at right corner. The duo wasn’t perfect, but for the most part they held Drew Brees in check. Brees finished his brief stint having completed just one of four passes.

Sterling Moore saw action midway through the quarter at right corner and struggled a bit, getting beat for a gain of 22 up the sideline on a third-and-15 for the Saints. Moore made some nice plays in the run game but was also flagged for a 46-yard pass interference penalty in the second half on a deep pass attempt from Saints quarterback Luke McCown to receiver Josh Morgan.

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling was a bit of a surprise personnel-wise, as he didn’t enter the game until well into the second quarter after Arrington, Moore, and rookie Tavon Wilson had all seen time at right corner. Dowling made the most of his brief stint, though, with a nice pass break-up and a solid tackle in the run game.

Wilson showed flashes of the versatility that fans are hoping to see, as he saw significant reps at both outside corner and safety. Wilson also took on slot corner duties in New England’s dime package, where he matched up with Saints running backs out of the backfield.

“Every time you go out there and get an opportunity to show what you’ve been practicing, that’s definitely exciting,” said Wilson after the game.

Judging by his playing time on Thursday night, Wilson will likely get many more of these opportunities. Safeties James Ihedigbo, Josh Barrett, and Sergio Brown and cornerback Marquice Cole made appearances late in the game but saw significantly less time than Wilson.

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