Secondary: Is there any real talent left?

Without Asante Samuel in the secondary, is the Pats roster full of has-beens, clueless rookies and some average blokes, or do they have what it takes to be part of a dominating defense? Tom Marino, NFL scout for 35 years, gives us the scoop on the Patriots players from a talent standpoint. Some news was good, some not so much.

The New England Patriots have a horde of players listed as defensive backs, cornerbacks and safeties on their official roster. Because players have the ability to play more than one position, we wanted a Scout's opinion of how each payer fits. Scout.com's NFL personnel expert and former NFL Scout, Tom Marino, shared his thoughts on the Patriots' secondary.

Many readers have asked where Eugene Wilson will play, corner or safety. Others believe Brandon Meriweather can play cornerback for the Patriots if Asante Samuel holds out. The team's official site lists players as defensive backs because their roles remain undefined right now.

An example of one player who could fill multiple roles for New England is Wilson. He is slotted as a safety right now, even though they list him as a defensive back. Chad Scott and Randall Gay have been starting cornerbacks and both have played safety for the Patriots. Both Gay and Scott are listed as corners on the current roster.

We asked Tom which of these defensive backs can play safety and which are better suited for corner. Here are Tom's observations along with Patriots Insider Jon Scott's analysis of what he's seen from these players since their arrival in New England.

From Patriots roster:

CORNERBACKS

Gemara Williams: No: 42 Ht: 5-foot-8 Wt: 185
PI's Observation: Acquired as an undrafted rookie free agent May 2006. Williams did not play in 2006. He was on the team's reserve roster after a brief appearance during training camp. In 2007 he lined up as a DB at minicamp, as well as the gunner on special teams.
Tom Marino's Comments: Williams is too short to consider at safety. Will see time as a DB.


CB Ellis Hobbs (Getty images)

Eddie Jackson: No: 29 Ht: 6-foot-0 Wt: 200
PI: Signed with New England as an unrestricted free agent in March 2007. Jackson is recovering from an injury suffered in 2006. He did not participate in the minicamps.
Marino: He played both corner and safety at Arkansas. Jackson played some with the Dolphins and Panthers. He can really run if this is the same guy, but is stiff in the hips.


Antwain Spann: No:
31 Ht: 6-foot-0 Wt: 190
PI: Acquired as a free agent in 2005, signed January 2006. Sent to NFL Europe in 2006. Spann played sparingly as a reserve DB and on special teams in 2006 after spending most of the year on the practice squad. Was not part of 2007 June minicamp
Marino: Spann is strictly a corner. He was signed as an undrafted free agent two years ago. Other than his limited playing time, I don't know much more about him. He attended Louisiana-Lafayette and a California JC


Asante Samuel: No: 22 Ht: 5-foot-10 Wt: 185
PI: Selected in the 4th round of the 2003 Draft. Samuel, if he sorts out the contract mess, will start at corner. He has not been around Foxboro during the off-season, and claims to be willing to sit out till week 10 unless he gets a fair deal or is traded. A solid corner with ballhawking skills, Samuel may not be worthy of top cornerback money, but he deserves consideration among the top 10.
Marino: He will miss most of camp, but what else is he going to do, get a job at Wal-Mart? He should be back.


Randall Gay: No: 21 Ht: 5-foot-11 Wt: 190
PI: Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2004. Gay has played both corner and safety for the Patriots in 2004-06. He started in Super Bowl 39. He was at June minicamp lined up as a CB and and extra DB not as a safety.
Marino: Gay is more of a safety type - smart, borderline speed.


Tory James: No:
28 Ht: 6-foot-2 Wt: 192
PI: Signed by New England in April 2007. James lined up with the second and third units at corner during June minicamp. He was repeatedly beaten on deep passes, although he was in position for most of the short routes. The Patriots appear to have him slated as a reserve corner, possibly for nickel or dime packages.
Marino: James has been a corner all of his life, but has lost a step or two in the last year. He played poorly for the Bengals in 2006


Ellis Hobbs:
No: 27 Ht: 5-foot-9 Wt: 190
PI: Drafted by Patriots in the 3rd round of the 2005 Draft. Hobbs is listed as the starting corner opposite Samuel. Entering his third year, Hobbs has to work on consistency. He was burned early in the 2006 regular season, but stepped up well in the playoffs.
Marino: Hobbs is a little guy, but he has skills


Chad Scott:
No: 30 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 205
PI: Acquired via free agency April 2005. Scott played both corner and safety for the Patriots in 2006. Scott left the Steelers after eight seasons after only playing in seven games his final year. The Steelers had other corners they were comfortable with, so they parted ways with Scott who signed with the Patriots and missed all but three games his first season due to injury. He contributed significantly in 2006. Scott took reps at the spot vacated by Asante Samuel in the team's recent minicamp. If Samuel is out, then look for Scott to be the first one to fill the void.
Marino: Chad Scott from the U of Maryland was a top round selection of the Steelers. He is a veteran with a lot of experience, but I question if he can run any longer. Scott is the typical Cover 2 type of defender. This still looks like the team's weak area.


Mike Richardson:
No: 35 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 188
PI: 2007 Draft pick, 6th round. Watching Richardson in minicamps, he seems to have closing speed and ability. He switched in with the third team during veteran minicamp.
Marino: He played at Notre Dame, home to Charlie Weis (former Patriots offensive coordinator). Richardson has had a very up and down career, but he has the speed and know how. Richardson will probably be a back up special teams player. There is no chance he'll play safety in New England in my opinion.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

DB Eugene Wilson (Getty images)

Larry Anam: No: 41 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 197
PI: Undrafted rookie free agent acquired in late April 2007. Anam looked good in rookie minicamp. He was able to do all the drills well, although he dropped a couple balls during the hands drill. In veteran camp he struggled with coverage on the WRs. He lined up on special teams and at corner.
Marino: The Boston College defender was signed as a free agent, one who can really run. The concern with him is that he has limited skills.


Eugene Wilson:
No: 26 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 195
PI: Selected by New England in the second round of the 2003 Draft. Wilson lined up as a safety and a extra defensive back during the team's recent minicamp. Most of the time he was with the first unit alongside Rodney Harrison. Wilson is penciled in as the starting safety even though he's listed as a DB.


Willie Andrews:
No: 23 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 195
PI: Selected in the 7th round of the 2006 Draft. Andrews spoke with PI last season. He talked about wanting to make an impact and just get an opportunity to play. Andrews lined up as a WR, even switching to a white jersey, in training camp his rookie season. In 2007 he lined up as RB on the scout team. His obvious burst of speed and natural athletic ability allow him to cover ground quickly. He lined up primarily as a corner or an extra defensive back. He did line up at safety a number of times during veteran minicamp.
Marino: They drafted him last year [7th round], but I never saw him play live. Special team prospect who will have to show something this year.

 

SAFETIES

Brandon Meriweather: No: 38 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 195
PI: Selected in the 1st round of the 2007 Draft. Merweather was not at the team's veteran minicamp. He was held out reportedly for a hamstring
injury. If he does not suffer a setback, he could compete for a role at safety with Wilson moving to the slot, or even vice versa.
Marino: See Meriweather profile for more Meriweather analysis. It looks like he eventually ends up as the starter by default.


Mel Mitchell: No:
24 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 225
PI: Signed as a free agent in April 2006. Injured during the 2006 training camp after signing on as an unrestricted free agent, Mitchell has not been part of the team's minicamp.
Marino: An athletic free agent who played for the Saints. He is a product from Western Kentucky. Mitchell is probably a better athlete than football player.


Safety James Sanders, 3rd year

Artrell Hawkins: No: 25 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 195
PI: Signed as a free agent November 16, 2005. Hawkins has filled in for an injured Eugene Wilson the last two years. With 12 starts at free safety in 2006 and four at strong in 2005, Hawkins has demonstrated the ability to pick up the defense quickly and protect the deep middle of the secondary.
Marino: Hawkins is a marginal corner who was switched to safety.


Rashad Baker:
No: 32 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 198
PI: Signed as a free agent November 6, 2006. Rashad Baker joined the Patriots mid season in 2006 after the New England struggled dealing with its annual spate of injuries.
Marino: Baker was an outstanding prep WR from NJ who attended Tennessee. May have been with Green Bay or Minnesota - decent punt return man, but notfamiliar with his currrent playing skills


James Sanders:
No: 36 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 210
PI: Selected in the 4th round of the 2005 Draft. Sanders was limited in 2005 (10 games/ 2 starts), but showed progress in 2006 (16 games/ 5 starts). Mostly a special teams contributor, Sanders was forced into the starting lineup when injuries took their toll. Suffered his own season-ending injury in '05.
Marino:
A two-time All-conference defender out of the WAC. Something about him that I liked at Fresno.


Rodney Harrison:
No: 37 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 220
PI: Signed as a free agent March 2003. Harrison has been the glue to hold the Patriots defensive secondary together. When he's on the field, he's the unquestioned leader of the unit. Knee and shoulder injuries cut short his past two seasons. He looked like he may be losing a step a after the Super Bowl in 2004, but his instincts make him a valuable asset on the field. Spent time getting attention by the trainers at points during minicamp. Has a way's to go before he's 100%. Will start at safety if healthy.
Marino: Harrison is probably all done. He is 35 years old! [35 is old by NFL standards for safeties].

MORE:
Patriots Roster
Recent Patriots Articles
Minicamp reports (scroll down)

(interactive)
Asante Samuel thread
Q &A with Insiders
General Patriots Discussion


Patriots Insider Top Stories