The New England Patriots open training camp on July 24. To get you ready, we will go through the roster position by position, highlighting the story lines, battles, and key players. We continue with the cornerback position.
The Patriots added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to solidify the secondary, but the spots behind those two are very much up for grabs — in fact, Browner's spot will be vacant to start the season due to his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and others will compete for those spots.
Kyle Arrington: There are few more polarizing players on the Patriots roster than Kyle Arrington. Arrington first made his impact on special teams and in a rotational role. He has become a fixture in the Patriots secondary ever since. He has been the Patriots' primary slot cornerback for the past two years and has done well in that role, but he has struggled mightily when asked to man the perimeter. He has trouble with vertical routes at times, but he is right at home when asked to match quickness with his assignment.
Brandon Browner: At 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, Browner is far and away the biggest cornerback on the roster. His long frame allows him to get jams on opposing receivers, knocking them off their route and messing with the timing of plays. He's not the fastest or the quickest, but he is strong, tough, and big. As mentioned earlier, Browner will miss the first four games of the season due to a league-imposed suspension, so the Patriots will have to find a way to do without him until Week 5.
Alfonzo Dennard: After playing in 23 games and starting 16 over the past two seasons, Alfonzo Dennard finds himself in an interesting spot. The former seventh-round pick has watched his team add two prominent defensive backs who look like starters. Dennard is built like a running back at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, and gets physical with receivers by jamming them at the line. He is particularly strong in man coverage, but also understands zone and has the quickness to close on passes in that role.
Darrelle Revis: What is there to say about Darrelle Revis that hasn't already been said? He is one of the game's best cornerbacks. Even last year, coming off an ACL surgery and playing in a zone scheme that wasn't really a fit for his talents, Revis still had a great season. The Patriots have run a coverage scheme focused primarily on man coverage in recent years, and that figures to continue with Revis in the fold.
Logan Ryan: With Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard missing time in 2013, Logan Ryan started seven games as a rookie. He had quite an impact, notching 10 passes defensed, five interceptions, and one returned for a touchdown. His season ended on a low note (as did the entire Patriots' secondary) in the 2013 AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos, as he was beaten repeatedly by Eric Decker. Ryan's combination of quickness (6.69-second 3-cone drill at the scouting combine), route recognition, and ball skills made him one of the best rookie cornerbacks last season, and Ryan could get better with time.
Daxton Swanson: This year's young, unknown star of offseason practice was Daxton Swanson. Swanson's ball skills were on display in each of the practices that were open to media; he had two interceptions in the Patriots' second session of minicamp. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder bounced around the rosters and practice squads of the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, before getting his chance with the Patriots.
Jemea Thomas: The Patriots' sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, Jemea Thomas is extremely versatile. He has played cornerback and safety, and he has special teams experience as well. He's a bit undersized at 5-foot-9, but he does not play small and is not shy about making contact and getting in the mix in run defense. He also may lack the overall fluidity to consistently cover receivers man-to-man.
Others: Malcolm Butler, Justin Green, Travis Hawkins
1. Darrelle Revis
2. Brandon Browner
3. Logan Ryan
4. Alfonzo Dennard
5. Kyle Arrington
6. Jemea Thomas
7. Daxton Swanson*
8. Malcolm Butler *
9. Justin Green *
10. Travis Hawkins *
* = projected cut
Six cornerbacks should make the roster, since Browner won't count against the roster until he returns from his suspension. For the moment, Thomas leads the way for his cornerback-safety-special teams versatility. Swanson could play his way onto the roster, especially if he keeps up his efforts from OTAs and minicamp, but he would need to show some value on special teams, as well.