On one hand, James Sanders’ 2009 was up and down, and provided the fifth-year safety with challenges different than what he’d faced before.
On another, he sees his Week 2 demotion from the starting lineup, and eventual return to first team in December as a sign of the Patriots’ depth at the safety position. Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather was the only constant in the group last year, with Sanders and McGowan splitting starting duties at the other spot, and rookie Pat Chung, the 34th pick in the 2009 draft, being brought along slowly.
So when Sanders was asked if he feels the club has deep a safety group as any in the league, he answered with resolve, because, in a way, his playing time was a casualty of that last year.
“You could argue that,” he responded. “We have four capable starters. And it’s going to be interesting. Bill (Belichick) is really good at creating different packages, and what kind of packages he’s going to create with our depth and our versatility, it’s going to be interesting to see. Probably the deepest group we’ve had since I’ve been here, even when Rodney [Harrison] was here. We have some capable players.”
Sanders provided a steadying force to the team’s secondary late in the year, after being re-installed as a starter against Carolina in Week 14, and he takes lessons from last year’s personal tumult.
“What helped me is it made me mentally strong,” Sanders said. “There was a point where I really wasn’t playing at all, but I had to have a good attitude coming in and working each and every day, because you never know when your opportunity’s going to come.
“During that long stretch, if I went in tank and didn’t work hard or didn’t study, when opportunity came again, I might not have been ready and might not have taken advantage like I did last year, coming in the last four games and being successful and having an opportunity to make plays and be a presence on the field.”
Sanders was inactive for two games in 2009 — against the Broncos and Titans — while being listed on the injury report those weeks with a shoulder ailment. But after that, he went through a six-week stretch where he barely played, totaling three tackles over that period.
For now, he’s not sure what to expect in 2010. But ’09 taught him to be ready for anything.
“I’m here and being here, I’m gonna give all I’ve got each and every day, and prepare myself as much as possible for the upcoming year, and just try to go out and compete to the best of my abilities and win a spot on the team,” Sanders said. “Obviously I’m not the type of guy that wants to sit on the sideline and watch the team, but at the same time, I’m not gonna do anything to hurt team.
“One thing about the four of us is that we’re all real good friends. But at the same time, it’s competition. We’re all competing for spots on this team. … No one’s gonna be bitter, whoever’s gonna be on the field, ultimately, it gonna be the coach’s decision and we’re gonna support whoever it is.”
Here’s some more from Sanders …
On Adalius Thomas’s release: “He’s a good friend of mine, he was a good leader on the team. It’s unfortunate. It’s a business. Through his time here, you could see some of the ups and downs with his relationship with him having his type of personality with some of the different coaching styles and coaches we have here. I guess it got to the point where it didn’t mesh too well, but it’s a business and decisions have to be made, and they made a decision. I talked to AD yesterday. We’re still real good friends and I told him, ‘We’re not gonna be playing together, but we’ll be friends for life.’ ”
On Devin McCourty: “I don’t know much about him, but from what I hear, he’s a good young corner. Obviously, he’s good, we drafted him in the first round. We need definitely needed depth. You see teams, especially in (the AFC East) adding more real good receivers to their receiving corps. You gotta have people to cover those guys, so obviously we felt we needed to get a playmaker and he was the guy. I’m eager to meet him when he comes, see what kind of kid he is and bring him along.”
On new defensive backs coach Corwin Brown: “From the short period of time we’ve been with him, it’s been great. You can tell he’s real knowledgeable, he’s real passionate about what he does. It’s going to be exciting playing for him. I’m eager to see what he’s going to do with our group of guys, because we have a real deep secondary from safety to corner, we have guys with great ability, just great football players. I’m confident in him as a coach, just meeting with him a couple times through the offseason program. I’m eager to get going.”