Youth and depth were perceived issues for New England's defensive backfield entering the 2010 season. That became even more of a pressing concern when high-priced cornerback Leigh Boddenwent on injured reserve at the end of the preseason.
As the regular season progressed, though, the group appeared to mature and actually became a reliable area for the Patriots. That growth was particularly evident in players like rookie Devin McCourtyand second-year men Patrick Chungand Kyle Arrington.
The safety and corner positions may have improved, but they're far from solidified entering 2011, despite the gains made in '10. There remain jobs to be won and lost in the Patriots secondary, and new players at both spots could arrive in the draft and/or free agency.
THE DEFENSIVE BACK ROSTER
(Players listed alphabetically, as of February 2011, with individual analysis below)
27 – Kyle Arrington – CB
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the '10 season. The one-time undrafted free agent proved a solid starter at right corner, and showed uncommon versatility as a part-time pass rusher with his hand on the ground. He's a free agent this offseason, but has done more than enough to warrant being brought back for the long term.
XX – Josh Barrett – S
When you're so obscure that you don't even get a jersey number, the odds are against you. But the Patriots felt good enough about Barrett to claim him, knowing he had an injury and would be out all year. He'll get a chance to show what he can do in '11, if healthy.
23 – Leigh Bodden – CB
After signing his multi-million-dollar free agent deal to remain a Patriot, the presumptive starting right corner's season ended before it began. He'll be back in '11 with something to prove.
38– Sergio Brown – SAfter making the practice squad as an undrafted rookie free agent, Brown quickly was elevated to the active roster and became a regular contributor on special teams, with occasional reps on defense. He appears to have "gotten" the Patriots system and should be around for a while, as he was given a mid-season extension through 2013.
28 – Darius Butler – CB
A disappointing sophomore season for the former second-round pick saw him lose his starting job early in the year to Arrington. Butler never quite seemed to recover when given chances in sub packages, too often getting beaten for big gains by opposing receivers. He provides depth, but is far from a lock to stick around for the long haul.
25 – Patrick Chung – S
Unfortunately, he'll be remembered this offseason for his gaffe in the Divisional Playoff on special teams (the fake punt that he muffed), but Chung had a very good year at safety and emerged as a leader of the secondary.
29 – Tony Carter – CBThe Florida State product earned a job on the practice squad before being bumped up to the game day roster in December. He'll be in a battle to retain that job in '11.
26 – Bret Lockett – DBAnother player who spent the year on IR. Lockett played in a whopping 10 games the year before, though, and will likely get another chance to win a job here.
32 – Devin McCourty – CBHis rookie year couldn't have gone any better, short of a Super Bowl appearance. He had seven picks and a trip to the Pro Bowl. Until further notice, he's New England's starting left corner.
30 – Brandon McGowan – S
Spent '10 on IR and is a free agent this offseason. He could be back, but it's far from a given.
31 – Brandon Meriweather – S
Was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time, but garnered more attention for his reckless hitting. Meriweather enters the final year of his contract in '11.
44 – Jarrad Page – S
Overcame a mid-season calf injury and came on strong as the year wore on, but was only in town on a one-year deal. Might've done enough to gain a second chance in Foxborough, though.
36 – James Sanders – SThe unquestioned leader of the secondary with his calm presence. Sanders is also capable of making big plays (at Pittsburgh, vs. Indy). This season will be the final year of his current contract with New England.
35 – Ross Ventrone – S
Like his older brother, Ray, before him, this Ventrone stuck around on the practice squad for most of the year. He'll have to fight to keep that job again in '11, more than likely.
24 – Jonathan Wilhite – CBWas contributing as a reserve in nickel and dime packages before going on season-ending IR in mid-December with a hip/hamstring injury. But he reportedly gets a big bump in base salary after achieving performance incentives. That could factor in if he's in a battle for a roster spot this summer.
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: tight end, coming Wednesday, Feb. 9. Tomorrow on patriots.com, a fresh edition of Ask PFW*.