INDIANAPOLIS - The Patriots spent the entire 2011 season searching for a suitable partner for Patrick Chung at safety, all the way through to the team's appearance in Super Bowl XLVI right here at Lucas Oil Stadium. Despite the fact that the absence of a reliable figure at the back of the defense didn't prevent the Patriots from winning it all, it's clear an upgrade at the position is necessary.
There were a few interesting possibilities that we've heard from on Sunday and they have varying strengths and weaknesses. South Carolina's Antonio Allen and Notre Dame's Harrison Smith were ranked second and third, respectively, on NFL Draft Scout's list of strong safeties while Michigan State's Trenton Robinson was seventh among free safeties.
Allen (6-2, 210) is a versatile athletic safety who likes to get around the line of scrimmage. He's blitzed effectively off the edge and has shown the ability to provide excellent run support. So much so that at least one team (Chicago) broached the idea of making him a linebacker.
Assuming Allen remains at safety he feels he has plenty to bring to the table.
"I want to show teams that I can run, that I'm a dedicated guy and a hard worker," said Allen, who has been working out at the Athletes Performance Institute in Pensacola, Fla. "I feel like I can bring unbelievable heart to a team and a want to show that I can get back and open up my hips and make plays on the ball when it's in the air."
Smith (6-2, 212) is similar in body type but is more of a leader and communicator in the secondary. He feels his strength is covering tight ends, which has been a periodic problem for the Patriots in recent seasons.
"That's something I think I'm good at and feel I can bring to a team," Smith said. "I practiced against Kyle Rudolph, who was a high pick last year, and all those tight ends can run, they're tall and they have great hands. It's really all about body position and I feel I do that well."
Smith began his career with the Irish playing for Charlie Weis, who he said conducted his program with more of an NFL flavor in terms of practices, team meetings and film study than current coach Brian Kelley. He said he never met Bill Belichick when Weis was in South Bend but he has meeting set up with the Patriots Monday night. He feels the pro-style experience will help him adapt more quickly to the pro game.
"I think I'm a versatile player who is going to get guys lined up in the proper position," said Smith, who indicated former Broncos safety Steve Atwater was his favorite player and someone he tries to emulate from a physical perspective.
Robinson (5-10, 193) is much smaller than the other two but makes up for that with exceptional speed. So much so that he actually views his potential 4.4 40 time as a possible weakness.
"I'm like to be real aggressive. Speed is my biggest asset but sometimes it can be my biggest weakness too because there are times when I play too fast and get out of control," Robinson said. "It's something I'm working on and I know I have to be more under control at the next level to succeed in this league."
Robinson began his Spartans career as a cornerback before moving back to safety early on. He listed Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu as safeties he loves to watch because "they always play so fast." He also indicated he's comfortable covering receivers in the slot, something he did whenever Michigan State lined up in cover-1, which he said was often.
"I'm going to come in and work hard and I'm someone who is going to learn," Robinson added. "I'll be working on my hips and backpedal, coming out of my breaks and everything like that."
The safety crop is not considered strong with Alabama's Mark Barron widely believed to be the best and the only one listed with a first-round grade. But there are some interesting athletes with versatile skills that the Patriots – and others – will certainly consider.