Aside from the quarterback spot, cornerback was perhaps the most intriguing position for the Patriots in 2008. From the beginning of training camp to the end of the regular season, it seemed like you never knew who was going to be starting on the edge or in the nickel.
In August, it looked like veteran free agent Fernando Bryantwas a lock to start opposite Ellis Hobbs. But Bryant was cut at the end of camp, and by December, rookie Jonathan Wilhitewas in that starting role.
]()In between, the Pats brought in another veteran free agent, Deltha O'Neal, who started much of the season while struggling with consistency. He made some big plays at critical junctures, but toward the end surrendered his starting job to Wilhite.
Yet another veteran free agent acquisition, Lewis Sanders, split time between corner and safety, while starting four of his 10 games at one position or the other. Rookie second-round draft pick Terrence Wheatleyshowed great promise during training camp, and by mid-season had won a starting job. But in his lone start, against Indianapolis, he injured his wrist and was subsequently place on IR, ending his first year with the Pats in early November.
Through it all, the gritty veteran Hobbs was the leader of this patchwork group. Despite coming back from offseason surgeries and playing through some pain from various bumps and bruises during the year, Hobbs started all 16 games. He finished the year with 46 total tackles (tops among the corners), a sack and a half, and three INTs, tied for second on the team.
Hobbs was arguably the most consistent performer at a roller coaster position. In some games (i.e., San Diego), the coverage overall was woeful. In fact, New England was in the lower half of the league in terms of net passing yards allowed per play. But as the season went on, the various players who stepped in helped the Pats become the 11th-ranked defense in the NFL against the pass.
]()Whatever position coach Dom Capers(now Green Bay's defensive coordinator) and defensive coordinator Dean Peesdid with them, it seemed to work. And they did the best with what they had to work with each week. Every cornerback on the roster, including second-year man Mike Richardson, saw playing time and made significant contributions at various points in the season.
The corners put up a respectable showing, despite suffering their share of misfortune. Not only did Wheatley go on IR, but veteran free agent Jason Webster(who returned to the team mid-season after taking part in training camp) did as well shortly after re-signing. Reportedly, Webster and the team subsequently reached an injury settlement, thus freeing him to pursue options from other teams. But as of season's end, Webster was still listed on the team's official roster.
This offseason, the Patriots must decide whether or not to bring back O'Neal and Sanders, both of whom are scheduled to become free agents. New England will almost certainly look to add to this position in the coming months, either through free agency, the NFL Draft, or both.
THE CORNER ROSTER
(players listed alphabetically, as of January 2009)
27 – Ellis Hobbs
21 – Deltha O'Neal #
35 – Mike Richardson
29 – Lewis Sanders #
23 - Jason Webster *
22 – Terrence Wheatley *
24 – Jonathan Wilhite
- = Ended 2008 on Injured Reserve
= Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent
Up next in the Position Snapshot series:safety, coming Wednesday, January 28.Tomorrow, look for an all-newAsk PFW*.