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Patriots Notebook

Play in secondary really picks up

Interceptions have defensive backs cheery

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 15, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH — Tuesday was a big day for the Patriots secondary, which had four interceptions during practice.

Given that they’re often working against Tom Brady, that kind of performance can only bolster a largely young group that is working to get on the same page.

“We were playing well today,” safety Steve Gregory said. “I’m sure we’ll get back and watch the film and there will be a lot of corrections we need to make, but it’s nice to get turnovers and things like that. Those help you win football games.”

Gregory and Patrick Chung each recorded interceptions off Brady, while Josh Barrett picked off Brian Hoyer and rookie Nate Ebner had one off Ryan Mallett.

After the practice, members of the secondary were all smiles.

“This is great. Great competition, all those guys,” Gregory said. “It definitely presents a challenge. It makes you better when you go out there and practice against guys like that. It gives you an opportunity to work on your skills, work on your technique, against some of the guys that do it the best at a high level.”

“It’s definitely a talented bunch we have offensively, so they definitely give us a good look,” cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “The more we compete and make each other better, the better we’ll be overall as a team.”

Chung is entering his fourth NFL season, and Gregory, while a seventh-year veteran, is in his first with the Patriots; they have been working with versatile rookie Tavon Wilson, James Ihedigbo, and Josh Barrett at safety. Top corners Arrington, Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, and Sterling Moore each have four years or less of NFL experience.

As always, communication has been a priority.

“Huge, huge, if not the biggest factor back there,” Arrington said. “We’re putting a lot of hours in, that’s what the time is for. The more we communicate, the more comfortable we are back there with one another.”

Despite their blossoming confidence, neither player was ready to say that success against the Patriots’ high-octane offense in practice means they would be successful against every NFL offense once the games begin.

“That’s not really the approach we’re trying to take. We’re all trying to get better individually, then we’ll be pretty OK collectively,” Arrington said.

“Right now we’re focused on doing our thing, getting better as a defense and getting better at the things we’re running,” Gregory said. “So we don’t compare it to other offenses. We’re just focused on getting better.”

Spikes improving

Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been on and off the field during training camp, has returned this week. With his top backup, Dane Fletcher, unavailable, it becomes even more important that Spikes stay healthy for the entire season (he has played in 20 of 32 games his first two years). And from what’s been shown to this point, when Spikes, Jerod Mayo, and Dont’a Hightower are the linebacking unit, they’re a formidable bunch.

“I feel like I’m getting better, learning the differences of the defense, where I’m supposed to be and where the next guy is,” Spikes said. “Being the middle linebacker, I’ve got to kind of direct guys, and it’s coming a lot easier this year, so hopefully I can just keep getting better.”

Known for his energy and aggressive style, Spikes invoked a Discovery Channel favorite when asked about his play on the field.

“Absolutely. That’s my nature: be aggressive, be a shark — it’s Shark Week you know, so of course,” he said, laughing.

Versatile Hightower

When Spikes and then Fletcher were out, it was Hightower who slid to the middle linebacker spot while Bobby Carpenter came on at strong side, where Hightower has seen a majority of his snaps. The Alabama product, whom the Patriots chose 25th overall, has taken snaps at all three linebacker spots and has a lot on his plate but he embraces the challenge. “It’s football and I’m a student of the game,” said Hightower. “It’s something I’m very passionate about, so each day I wake up, I’m blessed to be able to do something I love and be able to make a living off of it. Football is my life.’’

Fletcher put on IR

Fletcher cleared waivers and was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. Asked about the move to waive Fletcher, who tore his left ACL last Thursday night against New Orleans, director of player personnel Nick Caserio would only say, “We made that decision and we’re moving forward.” . . . Caserio said he had no update on guard Brian Waters, saying the situation is day-to-day . . . With the Fletcher move and Monday’s release of receiver Britt Davis, the roster is at 88 players, two below the current limit.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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