Despite some turnover this offseason in the secondary, namely the departure of cornerback J.C. Jackson, the position group remains arguably the deepest and most experienced group on the defense and should be a strength that the team can lean on this season.
It starts at the top, where veterans Devin McCourty, who re-signed this offseason, and Jonathan Jones lead the way. Jones was a key injury loss in 2021 and now looks to be fully on track to get things going in training camp. But beyond McCourty and Jones, there's good depth that spans all avenues even if much of it is unproven in New England or in the NFL in general. From rising young players like Kyle Dugger to proven veterans like Adrian Phillips and new signee Jabrill Peppers, along with the two rookie cornerback draft picks and second-year corner Shaun Wade, it's a quality room that is just starting to put the pieces all together.
"We have a lot of great guys, a lot of great additions," said Jones following an early OTA session. "The young guys, they come in and are flying around. We have Malcolm [Butler] back, a familiar face, bringing [Terrance Mitchell] in, guys who have played a lot of ball, so we're excited."
"It's a good group, a lot of competition. A lot of leaders, you got some great safeties there also," said Butler. "We're competing against each other and we're competing against ourselves, I think it's a great group."
How the secondary all comes together will be one of the main focuses of training camp. A unit that prides itself on playing multiple positions with the lines between cornerback and safety blurred, Phillips gave some insight on how roles can be carved out.
"I think like starting off you have to learn the position, you have to see yourself in a certain role and get a grasp of a certain position to get the basis of the defense and of the scheme," said Phillips, "And then once you get more comfortable in that they'll put more on your plate... The more we can do as defense, as a whole, it just makes our whole scheme a whole lot better because you don't know what I'll be doing on a certain play, but you don't know what [McCourty] or J Jones or any of the guys will be doing on certain plays. So just being able to do that and interchange stuff that's what we need to keep working towards."
"Bill always says the more you can do," said Jones. "You know if you have a guy that can play inside-outside, safety... versatility is always key. We have so much versatility, I think we have guys they play safety, come down to play star, play corner, I mean we just have a lot of versatility."
There's still plenty of time for the returning veterans to get fully into game shape, for the new veterans to pick up the schematics of the defense and for the young, unproven members of the secondary to get a grasp on what being a professional football player entails. But make no mistake, these June sessions are important as the seeds of success are being planted.
"I think this is a time where you find out what type of team that you have... you have guys that are going to push through to the finish line or do you have guys that are that are going to coast?" said Phillips. "This is the time where you get the team bonding and you know that you're all going to grind together and you're all working hard together to be able to get the goal at the end. So you're working hard early like this, then you come back in November, December, you think about those times that you were working hard with your team. You know the guy that's standing next to you has been through it with you. So I think that's what the finishing mentality is, that's we're talking about, being tough mentally."