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Bodden likes to press the issue

The Patriots brought in a boatload of new candidates for the seconday and Leigh Bodden has stood out with his physical style.

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The situation was one Patriots fans had grown quite tired of in recent seasons, especially in 2008. The defense would work hard to force the opponent into a third-and-long, only to watch the chains move with what appeared to be a rather simple pitch-and-catch on a 15-yard out.

It wasn't so much that the conversions were made – at the NFL level even the worst quarterbacks complete 55 percent of their throws. But it was the effortless manner in which the plays suceeded that drew the ire of onlookers. Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal, the two corners who started most of last season, generally backed off the receivers and the cushions they were given usually resulted in first downs. As a result, the Patriots secondary finished 26th in the league in third-down conversions allowed a year ago.

Those numbers may of may not improve dramatically in 2009, but judging from training camp one thing is sure to change. If teams are to continue completing passes against New England, they'll have to do so differently, at least when they throw to Leigh Bodden's side.

There's no way of knowing how well Bodden will fare in his first season in New England, but we do know he won't irritate the Patriots faithful by playing off receivers and allowing them to get into their routes with ease. It's just not his style.

"That's the way I've been my whole career," Bodden said after Monday morning's practice. "I like to get my hands on receivers, slow them down. Receivers don't like being pressed. They like to get free releases so I try to get my hands on them so they don't get free release and they have to work to get open."

It's a style that Bill Belichickhas noticed, and one he feels Bodden employs successfully. At 6-1, 193 pounds, Bodden is a little bigger than his predecessors and he has the strength to get away with his aggressiveness. Through the early days of camp he's been all over the receivers and has looked sharp doing so. Not since the days of Ty Law, and to a lesser extent, Asante Samuel, have the Patriots corners gotten this dirty.

"I think he does have a good, physical style," Belichick said. "He's a big kid, he's tough, he has long arms and he's good when he can get his hands on receivers because of his playing strength. I'd say he's a physical corner who jams receivers well."

He's also a pretty versatile one. Although he's spent all of his time thus far playing on the right side, Bodden has the ability to perform on the left and in the slot. The latter was on full display two years ago when he came to Gillette Stadium as a member of the Cleveland Browns. Romeo Crennel, the former Browns coach and Patriots defensive coordinator, moved Bodden from the outside to the slot to take on Wes Welker.

Welker had been running roughshod over opponents during his first month as a Patriot with 23 catches in four games at that point. The upstart Browns lost to the powerhouse Patriots, 34-17, but Welker finished with just four catches for a paltry 19 yards, his lowest yardage total of the season – and his New England career.

Wherever Bodden lines is irrelevant to him. "For some people it does [matter], but I've played right and left," he said. "Last year I got pretty comfortable on the left. Over the years I've been playing both sides so once I'm on either side I'm good to go.

"Coming out of your breaks on different sides you have to use different mechanics as far as planting with your right foot or planting with your left foot, off hand jamming, footwork things, technique things … but it doesn't take long to transition back."

Belichick explained that he often moves players around during camp in an effort to build depth and versatility, and the team is approaching the point where some switching can be expected. Bodden will likely be one of the guys on the move, which given his track record would seem to make sense.

On Monday, he showcased both his coverage skills and physical style under the blistering sun of Foxborough. During a team period he broke perfectly on an out pattern and knocked a pass away from Sam Aikennear the sideline – just the kind of play that routinely was completed for a first down last year.

Later in a red area drill, he drew Welker out of the slot on the right side and had him blanketed off the line, forcing Tom Bradyto pull the ball down, scramble a bit to the other side before finding an open Joey Gallowayfor the touchdown.

In order to operate the way Bodden does, a player has to believe in his ability – and has forget about the times when things don't go exactly as planned.

"You have to have the confidence," Bodden said. "Sometimes you miss, but you have to recover and put it behind you and continue to play the way you play. Nobody's perfect. Somebody's going to beat you off the line when you press but as a corner you have to have a short memory and go on to the next play, and that's what I've been able to do my whole career."

"Oh yeah, I've missed my bump a few times," he continued with a smile. "There have been times but fortunately it hasn't been that bad. Mostly in practice because it's more trial and error on the practice field. In games it hasn't been too bad where I've been like 'Ooooh, boy.'"

Bodden is playing on a one-year deal but looks like someone who could have a future. If he's able to take the physical style he's shown on the practice fields into games, that future could very well be in New England.

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