FOXBOROUGH -- For all of the givens in the Patriots secondary headed into the 2014 season, from Darrelle Revis's greatness to Devin McCourty's steady, consistent, fortifying presence, to the experience in the system of corners Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington, there are a handful of questions not so easily answered that still exist.
Brandon Browner, who is having a great first camp as a Patriot, will miss the first four games of the regular season due to a league mandated suspension. Inexperience dots the depth chart. McCourty's running mate at safety is yet to be determined. The pass defense, a weak link over the past few years, may still take a while to catch up to the rest of the despite the obvious improvements.
Luckily for the Pats, they have a guy like Logan Ryan at their disposal. The second year man led the team in interceptions last year with five and has proven versatile enough in his skill set to excel both at corner, his natural position and where he's bound to play the majority of his reps during Browner's suspension, and at safety, where he's gotten a little bit of run during camp and could see some time come the regular season given the jumble of names currently on the depth chart competing to play next to McCourty.
"I feel comfortable anywhere in the secondary," said Ryan after Thursday morning's practice, the Pats' seventh of training camp. "I've played it all. They've asked me to do a lot and I really take that as a compliment. I feel like I can be at my best at any of those spots."
Ryan's a very smart guy and one would have to believe that's a big factor in the Pats coaching staff feeling confident and comfortable enough to move him around the secondary. He returned to Rutgers shortly after the Pats loss to Denver in the AFC Championship game to complete his degree in labor relations with a minor in psycology. With so many variables in the defensive backfield, it can't hurt to have that kind of quick study in the mix.
Ryan and the rest of the group got their seasons started early, taking it out to Phoenix to train with Revis and get a head start on learning each other's tendencies, building chemistry and learning how to communicate properly, one of the biggest keys to forming a successful unit.
"You have to go out there and communicate," said Ryan's fellow second rounder and Rutgers classmate Duron Harmon, who would appear to have the early inside track to starting the year next to McCourty at strong safety. "Sometimes I may not be out there with Dev or (Jerod) Mayo so communication falls heavily on me. It helps me know when to open my mouth, be more of a leader know the situation better, what sort of position I should have guys in. It makes us all overall better football players."
Hearing some variation on the theme of working hard and trying to get better every day is as much a fabric of being around the Pats as empty club seats in Gillette Stadium or sitting in traffic on Route 1 before or after a game. But in the case of this year's secondary, it's true and it's vital. Having Revis manning one side of the field will clear up many issues, and once Browner is back and playing his physical, intense brand of coverage, should strengthen the unit even further.
But it's guys like Ryan who are so crucial to the secondary's overall improvement and success. This group doesn't just need depth, it needs versatility. Ryan provides plenty of both.
"We're doing a good job," said Ryan. "I mean, it's still week one, week two of training camp. We're not in regular season form but we're jelling well and we're where we want to be. Guys are willing to do whatever they're asked. It's all about winning and being a team player."