Twenty-eight, thirty-two, twenty-four, thirty-one, thirty-six.
If only the Patriots who wear these jerseys were as old as their numbers.
If New England's defensive backfield wanted to rent cars, only about half would be allowed to do so, because the rest don't even meet the minimum age requirement of 25.
Safety James Sandersis the elder statesmen of the group, at the ripe old age of 26-going-on-27 (in November). Safety Brandon Meriweatherand cornerback Jonathan Wilhiteare next at 26, while safety Jarrad Page turns 26 next month. The rest – cornerbacks Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, Kyle Arrington, and rookie Devin McCourty, along with safety Patrick Chung– are 25 or younger.
In career NFL starts, the group is also extremely green. Sanders again leads the way with 41, followed by Page at 39 (with Kansas City) and Meriweather at 28. The rest all have fewer than 13 each.
But that wealth of inexperience doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Like a rookie quarterback being thrown to the wolves, the Patriots' green secondary will be forced to mature very quickly by being thrust into action.
Furthermore, they now have a father-figure of sorts to help lead them. Corwin Brown, the former Patriots safety-turned-coach, is relatively young himself, at age 40. His eight-year NFL career with New England, the New York Jets, and Detroit give him the enviable advantage of being young enough to relate to his pupils, yet experienced enough to have earned their respect.
"He's a good coach, and he's been a player. He knows the situations we go through on the field," said Chung, "so, it's easy to relate to him when we go back and forth with things."
"He's definitely a great guy. You can just relate to him," Arrington echoed. "Being a former player, he definitely brings up his old days and tell us what he used to do or what he used to incorporate into his game. We'll try to do the same thing, but put our own little twist on it."
Brown, according to his players, actively solicits feedback from them because he knows, from a player's perspective, that what they see on the field is often very different from what the coaches see upstairs on the booth. That has endeared Brown to his protégés even more.
"It's a different game now, you know," Arrington said with a knowing smile. "Oh, yeah. It's not just, in the meeting rooms, whatever he says goes. He wants us to give him feedback, tell him what we're comfortable with.
"Yeah, he definitely relates to both the players and the coaches and knows that what each one sees is much different. So, he wants us to be comfortable, loose, and have fun as much as possible. The main thing he doesn't want us to do is think. Just be comfortable with the game plan and know what we're doing."
What they're doing, at least early on, is making their presence felt. Chung led all Patriots defenders in tackles in the opener with 16 (12 solo). Butler, Meriweather, Wilhite, McCourty, and Sanders were five of the others in the top eight in that category against the Bengals.
For Chung, who appears to have assumed a leadership role both on and off the field, this could have signified his coming-out party.
"I think it's more just a maturity thing," Brown observed. "As a staff, we've asked him to do some things, just like we've asked a bunch of the guys to do some things. He, like everyone else, is working like everyone else to go out and improve and to try to do the things we're coaching them to do. I think it's more a product of that, and not so much what I'm trying to do with him. I play a small role. Everybody has their role. I think he's trying to do his role. We couple all that together, and it's been OK."
Brown, however, is quick to share the credit among the group.
"What gets hidden in the stats," he explained, "is when someone has a good day, it's usually because there are other guys doing a good job in their areas. He had some good plays, but there were a bunch of guys that did a lot of really good things on those plays that sometimes don't show up in the stats."
The credit for coaching the secondary is also not Brown's alone. He and Josh Boyer, another youngster for his job as a 30-something, share the secondary coaching duties. Boyer, according to the players, spends more time with the corners, while Brown, naturally, focuses more on tutoring the safeties. But there is certainly cross-over, which the players say has created a better dynamic in the classroom – the whole two-heads-are-better-than-one theory.
There are other potential benefits to having a collectively young group. For instance, their on-field communication, which was cited repeatedly as an issue last season, has begun to improve.
"Regardless of the age, you have to be together. Period," Chung insisted. "We have to be a family, we have to talk to one another."
"I think it starts off the field," Arrington continued. "We're close. After practice, we hang out, go to each other's houses and watch film together. It's not only the corners, it's the safeties as well. We'll meet up and talk and say, 'How do you want to play this out on the field?' I think it's helpful.
"We're young, like you said, so there's not a lot of tape on us," added Arrington, "especially Devin being a rookie. That gives us a bit of an advantage. We're young and sticking together, but that doesn't mean we're not talented. We're definitely a talented group. We're young, but we're coachable. That's the biggest thing. We're ready to face the challenges that come our way."
"We have a long season … we'll see," Chung remarked. "I feel like we have some good players back there, but as the season goes along, only time can tell." PFW
Wed 9/15 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Wednesday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.