With the latest blow this off-season for the New England Patriots, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has placed his availability for the beginning of the season and possibly his future at risk by getting arrested for suspicion of DUI in Lincoln, Nebraska this week.
Dennard is already on probation for another matter (assault on a police officer) and has yet to serve a 30 day sentence which the judge in the case put off until the end of the 2013 NFL season. With his latest arrest and court date of Aug. 12, the judge could decide to make him serve that sentence immediately.
Scheduled right in the middle of training camp, this latest court date and what transpires both during and after it could spell Dennard’s missing either a sizable chunk of the season or result in his release. That matter will ultimately rest with the court system and the Patriots front office.
What the situation does do immediately is open training camp up to added competition at the cornerback position.
Since Dennard’s ascension to being a starter, the Patriots defense improved markedly. In a series of moves, the Patriots elevated him to being a starter, and acquired CB Aqib Talib from Tampa. This then allowed the team to move Devin McCourty full-time to safety solidifying the back end of the secondary and allowing Kyle Arrington to remain at slot corner where he is much more effective and comfortable at.
Dennard’s play at the right corner during the final nine games of the season was very solid, allowing only 36 receptions out of 72 attempts for 516 yards. Going into this training camp having the continuity of an established core in the secondary was a position of strength. Now the brakes have been applied to that and the team has to look at various options. They begin with:
Ras-I Dowling-Dowling, a 2nd round pick in the 2011NFL Draft has the size, and skill needed to step in and start immediately. Indeed, Dowling started his first two games as a rookie before going down with a serious injury.
That is the problem with him, going back to college is that he can’t stay healthy to ever stay on the field. It has never been about ability, the big (6’1, 210lb) corner plays better at man coverage than in zone and if teamed with Talib would give the team two large corners who can press and allow the defense to be more aggressive.
Logan Ryan-Ryan was a 3rd round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. The rookie corner decided to forego his final year at Rutgers to enter the draft. He has prototypical size for a corner at 5’11 and 190lbs and is effective at playing both press and zone.
He’s very effective in the running game, wraps up well and takes good angles. He very physical and has been effective at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. But as a rookie he’ll have to go through the inevitable learning curve. How quickly he does that may decide on whether or not he becomes a starter right off the bat.
Kyle Arrington-Arrington was re-signed by the team this off-season to the tune of 4 years and $16 million. The team could opt for sliding Arrington back outside and perhaps using Ryan or Marquice Cole in the slot.
I think that would be a mistake, Arrington is much stronger from the slot and is better suited there. He’s physical with receivers underneath and is very good at playing in open space. He was prone to turn and chase from the outside but with the play in front of him was much more solid. Still, he has experience there.
Devin McCourty-If, and only if none of these players work out, Bill Belichick could slide McCourty back outside at right corner, and book end him with Talib. With the added depth at the safety position this season, the Patriots could team up new addition Adrian Wilson with Steve Gregory who could play his natural FS position or opt for last year’s 2nd round pick Tavon Wilson.
McCourty had an outstanding rookie campaign at corner before injuries took their toll especially in 2011. Through the beginning of the 2012 season however, he was much improved prior to being moved to safety. His versatility would lend itself to this should the need arise but for now, this is not the best option.
Signing of a veteran free agent-This move could also happen, bringing some veteran stability into the mix until Ryan is ready or the team feels more secure with Dowling. Most of the best free agents at cornerback are gone at this point but a few remain.
Shawntae Spencer, Sheldon Brown, Jason Allen, Terrence McGee Rashean Mathis, are just some of the names floating out there.
With the uncertainty surrounding Dennard at this point, the continuity factor that the Patriots were counting on in the secondary has been thrown into turmoil. A key factor in all this besides the ridiculously bad timing of his arrest on the heels of the Aaron Hernandez murder charge is the fact the Patriots took an unprecedented step (for them) with him. Bill Belichick wrote a letter to the judge praising his character in an attempt to keep Dennard from going to prison.
This latest episode won’t bode well with either Belichick or Robert Kraft and we’ll probably learn his ultimate fate with the team once this latest case plays itself out. But the Patriots do have some options at corner, but their best bet would have been to Dennard there for all of training camp and to start the season. That is now in jeopardy.
Listen in to our Patriots Central podcast with co-host Jeremy Dawson and myself as we bring you some of the best Patriots news and interviews. Our latest was with Russell Baxter, Oliver Thomas and Pat James with guest co-host Russ Goldman. You can listen to it here: